Chef Salad Reinvented: Fresh Buttermilk Dressing and Fried Chicken

Earlier this week I was in the mood for buttermilk dressing. NOT Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing in a plastic bottle, or any other facsimile. I wanted REAL buttermilk dressing. You know, the kind with actual buttermilk in it. If you’ve never tasted freshly made buttermilk dressing, you need to promptly make a batch (and it’s super easy, so it really is quick). Dressing made with actual buttermilk, garlic, lemon and herbs is almost an entirely different food than the bottled variety sold on grocery store shelves. And, once you try it, you’ll never go back.

So after whipping up a jar (in less than 5 minutes, I might add to entice you to do the same) and dipping some snap peas and little yellow tomatoes in it, I realized I wanted to do more with my dressing. My daughter Sophie loves a chef’s salad, so I started playing with the idea of reinventing and updating this dish a bit for our dinner. My first change was to abandon the standard roasted turkey element. None of us like it all that much anyway, so why bother? And, as long as we had already bought some buttermilk, why not make fried chicken tenders coated in panko and Spanish paprika instead? Ham slices also sounded boring, so I opted for prosciutto drizzled with olive oil and slightly crisped in the oven as a substitute. Of course we needed tomatoes (as they are in season and so sweet this time of year), but with salty prosciutto and crispy chicken, I wanted my tomatoes to stand out. I therefore decided to roast them to draw out their maximum sweetness. Finally, I needed to ponder the merits of including hard boiled eggs. I do quite like them, but wasn’t sure how to serve them with fried chicken on greens. That’s when I came upon the idea of poaching the eggs instead. I adore how the cracked yolk in poached eggs add richness to Salad Lyonnais, and thought it would also work well with fried chicken, bitter greens and prosciutto. And, because I have a hard time leaving well enough alone, I added some Scarichi to the buttermilk dressing for a new dimension of vinegary heat.

Served on rocket, the final result was a mix of everything I love on one plate. The sweet roasted tomatoes were the perfect foil to the salty prosciutto, while the fried chicken’s crispiness and the poached eggs velvety yolks added a luxurious decadence. Mixed with Scarichi, the dressing added complexity and spiciness to the dish.

Better yet, both my kids loved this dish and ate lots of extra veggies on the side dipped in that luscious buttermilk dressing. You really can’t ask for more in a family dinner.

Reinvented Chef Salad

Makes: 6 servings

1 lb clean rocket, arugula, or whatever green you like (I prefer the more bitter greens for this dish)
1 batch fried chicken tenders
6 pieces prosciutto
1 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/4 lb Gruyere cheese cut into thin long strips
6 eggs gently poached (see instructions below)
1 batch fresh buttermilk salad dressing (with added Sriracha sauce if that’s your thing, and it should be if you a like a little heat in your dressing)
Olive oil


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Sprinkle olive oil on a baking sheet and lay the cut tomatoes on top. Sprinkle on more olive oil and sea or kosher salt. In a separate pan, do the same thing for the prosciutto slices.

3. Place the baking pans in the oven for 3-5 minutes or until the prosciutto is slightly crispy. Remove prosciutto from the oven. Continue cooking the tomatoes until they look slightly singed and roasted and then remove them from the oven. When prosciutto is cool, break into 1-inch pieces.

4. Set out serving plates and stack you greens (rocket, arugula, etc.) in the middle of each one. Top with prosciutto pieces. Sprinkle on some buttermilk dressing and then set your chicken tenders on the green, placing the strips of gruyere and tomatoes on top of the chicken and greens. Finally, set your poached egg on the top, sprinkle on a bit more dressing and serve.

5. Serve with bread, or, even better, fresh buttermilk biscuits!

Note: Be sure to lightly poach your egg as the salad tastes wonderful when the yolk mixes into the rest of the salad.

Fresh Buttermilk Dressing

Makes: One batch

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
3 small or 2 medium green onions minced
1 Tbsp Italian parsley minced
1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Scarichi, minced jalapenos, cayenne pepper or anything else spicy can be added to add some heat

1. Mince green onions (the white and green parts), parsley, and garlic. Set in a bowl.

2. Squeeze in your lemon and then add the buttermilk, sour cream and mayonnaise. Mix with a whisk.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste, and, if you want it a little spicy, 1 Tbsp Scarichi or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders

Makes: 6 servings

1 pound chicken tenders (the inner part of the breast) or 1 pound cut up chicken breasts
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 1/2 cup panko
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp Spanish paprika (or regular if you don’t have any)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (leave this out if you don’t want it mildly spicy)
1 tsp salt
Enough vegetable oil for frying

1. Place chicken in a bowl and cover with buttermilk. Let sit overnight, or for at least one hour. When ready to cook, mix in one raw scrambled egg and thoroughly coat each piece of chicken.

2. Place panko, flour, paprika, cayenne (if using) and salt in a bag and shake. In batches (being sure not to overcrowd) place chicken pieces in the bag and gently shake so each piece is thoroughly coated. Remove chicken from bag and repeat until all chicken is coated.

3. Heat enough oil in a large pan to cover the bottom by 1/4-inch and when oil is hot, place enough chicken pieces in the pan to line the bottom (but don’t crowd the pan or they won’t crisp up). Brown on each side until golden and then remove from pan. If you want your chicken hot in the salad, you should hold the chicken in a 250 degree oven until ready. Continue frying until all the chicken is cooked. If the pan gets too hot (and you’ll know it will be too hot because your chicken will brown too fast) just lower the heat.

Tips for Poaching an Egg

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a slow simmer. Be sure not to fiercely boil the water. Also, you can add 1 tsp vinegar if you’d like, but it is not needed.

2. Crack egg in a dish and then gently slide the egg into the water. Gently capture any escaped white and push toward the egg.

3. Cook for about 2 minutes or until the whites are firm and then remove from the pot. Set on a dish until ready for use (no longer than 5 minutes).


Comments (6) »

Baking A Whole Chicken

roasted chicken
Long long ago (which in this digital age means a few decades prior to now) people used to eat chicken for fancy Sunday suppers. After a day at church, the family would gather around the dinner table. Bobby, with his favorite baseball cap set next to his dish, and Sue, with hair in pigtails, claimed the drumsticks. Meanwhile Mother in her apron and Father in a button-down shirt had their fill of the breasts or thighs. After dinner, Ma would collect the remainder of the chicken — carcass, drippings and all — so she could make a nice soup or meat pie later in the week. Doesn’t that sound homey, and well… quaint?

Well, in the modern-day equivalent of this scenario, this is my house on a Sunday (although insert a morning reading the New York Times instead of church, bickering kids who roll their eyes at their parents for the mild-tempered Bobby and Sue, and jeans with t-shirts and sweaters for the clothes. Oh, and toss in a crazy dog and a messy house). I’ve also been known to make a whole chicken on a Tuesday or Thursday (or, as you’ve probably picked up by now, any day of the week). So although my version of this American tale is a little different, the premise remains the same: I bake a whole chicken for one dinner, and then wrap up everything (and I mean everything) that is left for another meal (or two) later in the week.

Although my method for cooking chicken was once de rigueur in America, it now seems old fashioned. Chicken, however, is more popular than ever. According to the USDA, “Chicken consumption more than doubled between 1970 and 2004, from 27.4 pounds per person to 59.2 pounds.” Yet during this time of increased chicken eating, the tradition of baking a whole bird for a family dinner has almost disappeared.

Most poultry eaters these days simply pick up a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the grocery store (and that’s only if they’re actually cooking dinner instead of picking up take-out). They think that not having to deal with those bones makes cooking easier (a notion I will argue in a second). Plus most people are also more interested in the breasts because they have less fat than those delicious thighs and legs. But if you’re cooking from scratch (that is, not purchasing something pre-cooked with a ton of fat, salt and starches added to it) one leg or thigh will not clog your arteries or make you fat, especially if you eat it with a large serving of vegetables. According to the Daily Plate (a food calorie site), a thigh has 237 calories, while a grilled skinless breast has 120 calories; sure the calorie count is almost double, but 237 calories for a main part of your dinner is quite good when you consider that a chicken burrito has 334 calories in it. Also, if you eat that chicken breast lightly breaded and fried (as many people will), you jump up to 247 calories with 133 fat calories (the baked thigh has only 12 fat calories). That thigh is no longer looking so fattening, is it?

Now I realize that many people don’t like to make a whole chicken because they think it’s difficult and time intensive. But, just like pudding and pancakes, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike boneless and skinless breasts, which often need to be dolled up in a pan with other ingredients because they become dry and a bit tasteless when baked on their own, a whole chicken is a simple endeavor that has juicy results. In the name of full disclosure, I need to admit that baking a chicken takes about an hour and a half, but other than the first 5-7 minutes of prep work, this is all baking time.

storing leftovers

Making a whole chicken is also a great way to stretch your food dollar as it will bear two to three meals for your family. After our roasted chicken dinner, I often make a soup out of the carcass, chicken pot pie with gravy (which I’ll cover next week), or creamy chicken and rice casserole. If I get an especially large chicken or if I make baked potatoes with the first meal (which fills everyone up) I then usually have enough chicken left over for a third meal where only a minimal amount of meat is required, such as tacos, quesadillas, or stir fry.

Here are some general directions for baking a chicken. I am not providing a recipe because this meal is so easy that strict instructions aren’t necessary. Give it a try and you’ll see how good this traditional family meal can taste, while also saving you a few bucks later in the week when you’re eating some delicious pot pies.

How to Bake a Chicken

chicken ready to go in the oven

Preparing Your Chicken

Remove the offal from the chicken (I like to cook these up for my dog, but you can do whatever you like with them, which includes sticking them in the compost bin) and rinse out the bird, including the inner cavity. Set your chicken in a baking pan and pat dry with paper towels. You want to keep the skin fairly dry so it’s crispier later.

Decide what type of fat you want to use to flavor your chicken. Now is the time to get creative. I’ve used olive oil mixed with lemon zest, fresh rosemary and garlic; butter; and even a bit of bacon fat (only about a tablespoon for the entire bird, which ends up tasting pretty amazing, by the way). Whatever you use, be sure to also season with salt and pepper (less salt if using bacon grease), as well as any herbs you like (I usually go with thyme). Spread everything all over the chicken and also under the breast skin.

Place a chopped half onion inside the cavity. This will help flavor the chicken as well as the drippings. You could also add a half lemon, herbs, or an apple.

uncovering your chicken

Baking the Chicken

I bake my chicken in a 375 degree convection oven. If you don’t have convection, just bake at 400 degrees. Be sure to get the oven nice and hot before you place the chicken in it.

covered chicken

The key to baking a great chicken is to cover it for about 60 minutes and then finish it off, uncovered so the skin gets crispy, for another 20-30 minutes or until clear juices run from the meat (the USDA recommends cooking until the chicken is 165 degrees). The larger your chicken, the more time you’ll need to bake it. Don’t be afraid to use a meat thermometer. Better to be safe than sorry.

You can use a pan with a top (such as a Le Creuset Dutch oven) or you can simply tightly cover a standard baking dish or large cast-iron pan with aluminum foil. I’ve tried both methods with equally succulent results. Either way, covering the bird will keep the juices from evaporating in the hot oven. You’ll also get some nice pan drippings that you can use later in the week for a soup or chicken pot pie gravy base.

pan juices

If your chicken drippings start to dry out once you uncover your pan, simply add between ¼ and a ½ cup of water or chicken stock to the pan. This will keep your drippings from burning. Don’t worry about the extra moisture in the oven. I’ve done this numerous times and the skin on my chicken was still crispy.

Serving the Chicken
Carving a chicken can seem a bit daunting, but once you see how easy it is (below) you’ll hopefully feel ready to conquer the job. I found this great video on You Tube (what would we do without You Tube?), which stars Norman Weinstein of the Institute of Culinary Education giving instructions on how to carve a chicken. Well done, Norman!

Saving the Leftovers

Be sure to save EVERYTHING that is left over from your scrumptious chicken dinner. This means stick the carcass, leftover meat, wings, drippings and even the fat into a big container to be used later. Next week I’ll show you what to do with all this; in the meantime, happy chicken eating.

Related Posts

Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole

Comments (75) »

Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole

creamy chicken and rice casserole

The casserole is undergoing a resurgence in popularity. After years of being maligned as a tasteless and gloppy suburban dish made with Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, it is finally coming into its own. Blame it on the economy and the rising cost of food, but high-end cuts of meat seared faultlessly and served with the perfect wine are passé in this environment: extravagant and unseemly amidst layoffs and foreclosures. Comfort foods are the new at-home gourmet chic, and there’s nothing more heartening and reassuring than a chicken casserole.

Now if you’re someone who still thinks a casserole is a jumble of congealed leftovers, than think again. This may have been the case a decade or two (or three) ago, back in the day when Campbell’s soup had a best-selling cookbook featuring dishes like Green Bean Bake and Vegetable Beef and Biscuit Casserole. But although they have a new book called Campbell’s Casseroles, One-Dish Meals and more (Plastic Comb) — okay, what the hell is “(Plastic Comb)”? — I’m happy to see that it’s ranked # 416,157 on Amazon. No. Modern casseroles are not your mama’s 1970s dinner.

Casseroles can take many shapes and forms. And while some may use leftovers, this doesn’t mean they should be avoided. After all, chicken enchiladas — which are often made with leftover chicken — is a type of casserole. And don’t forget about ooey gooey macaroni and cheese (which often uses leftover pasta) and cassoulets (which can be made out of leftover duck, sausage and beans with stellar results). Fresh ingredients that are baked together in a sauce are some of the most satisfying and affordable types of dishes you can make for a family dinner.

My Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole is a good example for how this type of dish can really stretch your food dollar. Whether you use leftovers from a previous night’s dinner or start from scratch, you only need to use about half the meat you would normally serve your family because the rice adds substantially to the dish. And, with some local onions and mushrooms added into the mix, it is ample enough to feed a family of 4-6 people while costing less than $15 to make. Truly the perfect savory mid-winter meal.

Following is my recipe. Made with a rich onion and mushroom gravy that undergoes a velvety transformation when sour cream is added, I like to think of it as a type of chicken stroganoff. But no matter how you classify it, when it comes out of the oven all bubbly and creamy and warm, it is the ultimate in comfort food.

creamy chicken and rice casserole

Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole

Makes: 1 large casserole

This is a great dish to make if you have leftover baked chicken (and be sure to use the juices from the baking process). But if you are starting from scratch with uncooked chicken, just poach it in some water. This keeps the meat moist and also provides a nice broth that you will use to help develop the gravy. I’ll provide steps for both methods below.

mixing the mushrooms into the chicken

Ingredients with Pre-Baked Chicken:

2 cups already-cooked chicken plus pan drippings
1 1/2 – 2 cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked white or brown rice
1 large onion halved and then sliced thinly
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (I like to just chop up the ends of some sliced bread in a cuisinart).

Preparation with Pre-Baked Chicken:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Shred leftover chicken and set aside in a bowl.
3. Add oil to a hot pan and add the onions. Cook on medium heat for two minutes.
4. Add the shredded chicken along with the pan drippings from the previous night’s baking of said chicken (including about a tablespoon of that glorious chicken fat if you have some).
5. When drippings are incorporated into the chicken and onions, add the butter, flour, thyme, paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until everything is fully incorporated.
6. Add chicken stock and mushrooms and mix thoroughly.
7. Simmer for 5-10 minutes on low heat with the cover on.
8. Incorporate sour cream and then add the rice, mixing fully. If the mixture seems thick, add in another 1/2 cup chicken stock.
9. If baking in a separate dish, this is the time to butter the inside and then set the mixture inside, topping with the breadcrumbs. If baking in the same pan you used to cook the ingredients, (which is my preference) then just top with the bread crumbs and set in the oven.
10. Bake for 20 minutes and then serve with a nice salad or steamed vegetable.

cooking the chicken

Ingredients Using Fresh Chicken:

2 chicken breasts or 4 thighs raw and on the bone
1 cup water
1/2 – 1 cup chicken broth
2 cups cooked white or brown rice
1 large onion halved and then sliced thinly
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (I like to just chop up the ends of some sliced bread in a cuisinart).

Preparation Using Fresh Chicken:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place oil in a hot pan and then lay the chicken inside. Season with a smattering of salt and pepper.
3. When chicken is slightly browned on the outside, add in the water and cover so everything steams. Cook for five minutes on medium heat.
4. Remove chicken and broth from the pan and then add in the onions. Add in a little more oil and then cook on medium heat for two minutes.
5. While the onions cook, strip the chicken from the bone and chop into 1/2-inch pieces. It’s okay if the chicken isn’t fully cooked.
6. Mix the chicken into the onions and add in the butter, flour, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir until everything is fully incorporated.
7. Add chicken broth you just created while steaming the chicken plus 1/2 cup chicken stock plus the mushrooms and mix thoroughly.
8. Simmer for 5-10 minutes on low heat with the cover on.
9. Incorporate sour cream and then add the rice, mixing fully. If the mixture seems thick, add in another 1/2 cup chicken stock.
10. If baking in a separate dish, this is the time to butter the inside and then set the mixture inside, topping with the breadcrumbs. If baking in the same pan you used to cook the ingredients, (which is my preference) then just top with the bread crumbs and set in the oven.
11. Bake for 20 minutes and then serve with a nice salad or steamed vegetable.

Comments (19) »

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

sliced lemons
It’s January, which in the Bay Area (and all of California, for that matter) means it’s citrus season. While much of the rest of the country is frozen over — today in Boston the forecast was 34 degrees and snowing — we’re lucky enough to live someplace where winter means fresh oranges, limes, grapefruits and lemons. And queen among the local citrus trees — at least in my book — is the Meyer lemon.

Meyer lemons are an amazing fruit. Originally created in China as a lemon and mandarin orange hybrid, it has an appealing sweetness lacking in other lemons. And, with a fragrant and thin rind, barely any pith, and ample juice, it’s really the ideal cooking lemon.

I planted my Meyer lemon tree around five years ago, and although it’s given me a steady stream of fruit since we first set it into the ground outside our front porch, this is the first year that our tree was crowded with lemons. So what do you do with an overabundance of sweet and tart Meyers? In my case, I had great plans to make marmalade. So with my friend Kim’s help, we set to work slicing a small mountain of Meyers collected from my tree.

Kim hard at work

After the lemons were all sliced, we set them in a pot and covered them with water to steep overnight. This allows some of the pectin in the pith beneath the rind to release into the water. It also makes the lemon slices more malleable. In the morning, we added some sugar along with a satchel of the lemon seeds, pith and lemon ends (which we had saved and tied in a cheesecloth) to the pot. After simmering for an hour, the mixture was ready to go. It was sweet and tart with a nice mild bitter marmalade edge. If you don’t like any bitterness in your preserves, you can omit the seeds from the recipe, but you may end up with a runnier marmalade as the seeds add pectin.

marmalade in a jar

Now normally I would can my jam, but the ennui that has enveloped me all January was still too strong, so Kim and I instead plopped some of the marmalade into washed jars to be used immediately and then I also froze some for later use. I hear that marmalade improves with age, so if you have the time and inclination, it’s worth canning.

The next morning after the kids left for school, I sat and ate toast topped with Meyer lemon marmalade. Such a lovely mid-winter treat that is easily made if you live in the right climate.

lemon to be cut

Homemade Meyer Lemon Marmalade

According to Kim, the key to great marmalade is slicing the lemons sliver thin. So be sure to use a sharp chef’s knife. Here’s what you do:

1. Wash the lemons and set in a bowl.

slicing off the ends

2. Cut the ends off the lemons and then slice in half length-wise.

removing the inner pith

3. Slice out the pith in the lemon’s inner core and set into a bowl to keep for later use. You should also set the lemon ends in this bowl.

4. Remove the lemon’s seeds and place into that bowl of pith and ends.

slicing the lemon

5. Cut lemons into paper thin slices.

6. Place lemon slices in a large pot, being sure to scrape the juice from the cutting board in as well so you retain the juices. Soak at least over night and up to two days.

Here’s the recipe we used. The sugar amount is flexible and should be determined by how sweet you like your marmalade. Kim and I both like ours a bit tart, so we used the lesser amount. When your batch is complete, you can either can the jam in hot jars, freeze it in plastic bags or containers, or refrigerate and then eat within a week or two.

Makes: 6 small or 3 large jars of jam

5 cups thinly sliced lemons with the seeds, ends and inner pith removed and set aside
5 cups water
4-5 cups granulated sugar


1. Place lemon slices in a large pot and cover with water. Let steep overnight.
2. Once lemons have steeped, add the sugar to the pot and mix.
3. Place the seeds, pith and lemon ends in cheesecloth. Tie up and set into the mixture.
4. Bring the lemons to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for one hour.
5. Can or freeze.

Related Posts
The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Preserving Tomatoes
Meyer Lemon Tart with Berries

Leave a comment »

Puree of (Frozen) Pea Soup

Last Saturday I awoke to a partially defrosted freezer. I won’t get into a discussion here on the pros and cons of built-in refrigerator/freezers, but let’s just say that they’re like a spoiled super model in a factory: nice on the eyes but not a great worker.

So with loads of food thawing out before me, I got to work separating items into groups: items still frozen that could go in the other freezer (yes, I actually have another one in the garage); items that should go in the fridge to be used later this week; items to toss out immediately (I mean, if we haven’t eaten that 6-month old bean soup yet, we probably won’t); and items to cook pronto.

Now going through the entire contents of your freezer can be an eye opening voyage into the workings of your personality. For instance, I realized as I chucked and stored that although I have a depression-era conscience (I bag and save all sorts of pastas, soups, and stews like a gourmand pack rat) I also have an 80s-era mentality when it comes to using said food (I don’t like leftovers so mostly buy new stuff and ignore what I’ve kept).

In the midst of my sorting, I realized that I also have a problem with the amount of frozen peas that I buy. Now I am not being hyperbolic here. I had 7 bags of frozen peas in my freezer: some unopened; others partially eaten; and others that had been used as ice packs. I tossed the ice pack freezers and then saved the others.  But once I was through combining the savable contents of my in-house freezer with my garage freezer, it was all too quickly apparent that I wouldn’t be able to fit everything. And so, in a moment of frugality (I mean, how could I throw out those 2 perfectly good bags of unopened peas that wouldn’t fit) I set to work making pea soup for lunch.

So now, although my in-house freezer is still on the fritz (after two repairmen visits), I have a new recipe for a lovely pea soup that is perfect for a rainy day. It’s fast, easy, and even uses leftover mashed potatoes, if you have those on hand. If not, you can plop in more butter and whole milk for creaminess.

So here it is.

Broken Freezer Frozen Pea Soup

Makes: 4-6 servings


1 bag frozen peas

1 Tbsp  olive oil

1 Tbsp butter

1/2 onion finely chopped

2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup leftover mashed potatoes or the inside of a  baked potato

1/4 cup milk

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Heat oil and butter in a medium-sized pot.

2. Add onions and cook until translucent.

3. Add peas and cook for a few minutes.

4. Add broth and simmer for five minutes.

5. Add mashed potatoes and milk and mix thoroughly.

6. Puree ingredients thoroughly using either a hand or stand blender.

7. Salt and pepper to taste.

Related Posts

Fresh Spring Pea Soup
Roasted Cream of Corn Chowder with Parsley Pistou
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Comments (12) »

Holiday Posts Roundup

Now that it’s rainy, cold, and the middle of December, it’s time to start thinking about holiday meals and desserts. Here’s a list of some of my favorite holiday posts of the last year.

Hot Chocolate with Homemade Marshmallow Whip — I think this is my all-time favorite holiday post. The hot chocolate is creamy and chocolatey, and the homemade marshmallow whip is fluffy and decadent. The perfect holiday drink.

How to Save a Fruitcake — If you have a dense and dry holiday cake sitting around the house, turn it into something wonderful with just a few minutes work.

The Hot Toddy — There’s truly no finer drink than a hot toddy when you’re feeling cold or sick.

A No-Hassle Holiday Breakfast with Leftover — See how easy it is to make an impressive breakfast with holiday leftovers.

You say Yorkshire Pudding, I say Baccalà — See what happens to a holiday dinner when a New York Italian marries a Midwestern Presbyterian.

Comments (2) »

Trifle: An Easy Holiday Dessert

Trifle is a dessert I rarely had as a kid, although I dreamed of it often. Over the Christmas holiday, my mother would entertain me with tales of Zuppa Inglese, an Italian version of trifle, along with the many other dishes her Neopolitan-raised grandmother prepared. Home baked lady fingers or cake molded into a dish with Italian liqueurs drizzled artfully on top and then fruit and whipped cream nestled in mounds. I loved that the dish’s name included “Inglese,” as my many readings of books like The Secret Garden made me fantasize about the possibility that I was actually an English heiress who somehow became entrapped in my San Diego life. But Zuppa Inglese also made me yearn for the close-knit Italian family and traditions now absent from my life after my family’s move to California. It was the perfect hybrid of all that I desired — the comforts of a family left behind as well as the mystique of merry Olde England.

Yet as much as I begged my mother to make Zuppa Inglese for our own Christmas feasts, she refused. After all, there were only the five of us in San Diego, so she said that making homemade lady fingers was just too time consuming and also too much work for a small crowd. I’ve since learned, however, that she didn’t think the dish was worth eating without strawberries steeped in Anisette, and as she couldn’t very well serve us an alcohol-laden dessert, she opted to simply wait until we were older. This isn’t to say I suffered a lack of goodies. Between the sweet ricotta cakes, struffoli, and numerous cookies, there was no shortage of treats; but I still yearned for trifle.

My cravings were satisfied when I met my husband, whose family hails originally from places like England and Germany. Trifle was the name of the game at his family’s Christmas dessert table, although their trifle was made with pound cake and the alcohol was not in attendance. So now, after 16 years of joining my husband’s and my own family holiday traditions, I’ve become pretty adept at making this tiered holiday dessert. I’ve also realized that although homemade lady fingers in Zuppa Inglese are wonderful, trifle doesn’t necessarily have to require a lot of work.

Making trifle shouldn’t be difficult. As much as I love lady fingers drizzled with Anisette, I am rational enough to admit that my good intentions for baking them myself are more idealistic than realistic. I do, however, like to make cake. That said, if you aren’t one to bake anything, don’t let that stop you. Just buy a cake and assemble. The truth of the matter is that trifle can be one of the easiest holiday desserts you can create. In essence, making a trifle should be a trifle (pun intended). Although you can make everything from scratch, you can also simply purchase many of the layered items and then construct your trifle as you see fit.

In addition to those lovely lady fingers, there are many other items you can use for the base. My holiday favorite is gingerbread, but sponge cake is traditional, and pound cake works beautifully. The toppings themselves should be chosen according to your own individual cravings. I personally love lemon curd with my beloved gingerbread, so often use that along with a fresh berry sauce and whipped cream. But you can also use jams, pastry cream, crème fraiche, persimmons, or frozen peaches that have been thawed out and cooked in a little sugar. Trifle is sort of a kitchen sink dessert, so add in whatever you thinks sounds appealing. This includes alcohol. If Anisette or Chambord sound like nice additions, drizzle some on. If you’re not in the mood or serving the dish to children, just leave them out.

Once you’ve established your ingredients list, just layer everything in a glass bowl so you can show off the different tiers of goodies. I like to invert the top of a cake plate (which people also often use as a punch bowl) as this puts the trifle on a little stand that can be displayed on the holiday table. If you don’t have one of these, a regular large glass bowl works just as well.

So this holiday season, throw together your own trifle or Zuppa Inglese with whatever you like. This dessert actually tastes better if it sits for a day or so in the refrigerator, so it’s a great make-ahead dish for holiday parties.

Here are some basic directions along with lists of potential ingredients you can use, but really, the sky’s the limit.

trifle in a bowl

How to make a trifle
1. Make or purchase your cake or cookies of choice, slicing them into 2-inch pieces.

2. Make or purchase your sauces, jams, curds or creams.

3. Cut up your fruit and cook any fruit compote you might include.

4. Whip up or purchase your whipped cream.

5. If using alcohol, have it on hand for assembly.

6. Place your bowl next to your ingredients and then layer them. I start with the cake or cookies at the bottom, and then top these with a sprinkle of whatever alcohol is to be used (Note: I omitted the alcohol from my recipe years ago to make the dish kid-friendly, but if you’re not serving children, it’s a nice addition). You can then layer on the fruit or jam so it seeps into the cake or cookies. Top these with any pastry cream, lemon curd, crème fraîche or whipped cream you decide to use and then start all over again until you have a full bow. End with a layer of whipped cream and then top with berry sauce, chocolate shavings, fruit slices, cherries, or whatever else sounds good.

Possible Trifle Bases

Gingerbread cake
Vanilla cake
Ladyfinger cookies
Pumpkin cake
Pound cake
Sponge cake
Meringue cookies

Possible Trifle Fillings

Lemon curd
Whipped cream
Pastry cream
Berry sauce
Jam (heating it first makes it easier to drizzle on the cake)
Greek Yogurt with orange zest mixed in
Crème fraîche
Chocolate cream

Possible Alcohols to Include

Grand Marnier

Possible Fruits and Nuts

Sliced fresh berries or frozen berries cooked into a compote or sauce (Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries)
Crystalized dried fruits
Poached pears

Related Posts

Comments (1) »