Banana Cream Trifle

I love Thanksgiving week. There is an excitement in the air as we anticipate the upcoming feast. I have been hosting Thanksgiving for about 18 years. At first it was stressful, but as time has gone on I have developed a routine that works for me. I clean out the pantry in October and make a list of non-perishables to replace. I shop the sales to restock baking essentials. I am always looking for new and interesting side dishes to add to the menu, too. I make the cranberry orange relish several weeks ahead and freeze it. The weekend before Thanksgiving I finish most of the shopping. We clean the house on Saturday and my husband tucks in the yard for the winter, bringing in the last of the beets, carrots, leeks, and cardoons. He also gathers enough firewood for a roaring Thanksgiving evening fire. Sunday we begin decorating the family room for Christmas. Monday I set the table and my husband and son make the turkey brine. Tuesday, the men brine the whole turkey and few extra wings (since that is my husband’s favorite cut).  I make the stock for the porcini mushroom gravy, take the cranberry relish out of the freezer along with the Italian sausage for the stuffing. I also bake the pumpkin mascarpone cake roll.  Wednesday, flowers are purchased for the tables and any last minute perishables. The night before Thanksgiving the kitchen is buzzing with activity. I make roll dough and refrigerate it overnight. My husband and I bake the pies together; this year the flavors are coconut custard, chocolate mousse, and sour cherry. My mom and sister are making the apple crisp and pecan pie. The extended family helps with side dishes of sweet potato soufflé, potato gratin, and peas with mushrooms. Thanksgiving morning we bake off the rolls, roast the turkey, and assemble the antipasto and salad. The stuffing and gravy are last. I know some people make their stuffing ahead of time but I prefer it made fresh. After we have consumed our feast, and the leftovers are divided up, we settle in front of the fire with a movie. My husband roasts the chestnuts in the fire. Then we set up the dessert table with the pies, cake, spumoni ice cream, roasted chestnuts, mixed nuts, and some fruit. It is wonderful and I am so grateful for my family and the blessings we enjoy.

Just one last dessert recipe to share: this delicious Banana Cream Trifle. It is an easy recipe if you are hosting the holiday or taking a dessert elsewhere. Prepare it the day before you intend to serve it. Make the custard, then layer ladyfingers with bananas and top with whipped cream. If you love banana cream pie, use the custard recipe and layer with bananas in 2 pre-baked pie shells. Happy Thanksgiving!

Banana Cream Trifle
Vanilla Custard
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup vanilla granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
pinch of kosher salt
2 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch

Remaining Ingredients
36 ladyfingers or Savoiardi
5 large bananas
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup confectioners sugar

For the custard: in a 4-quart pot combine milk, cream, and vanilla sugar. Scrape the vanilla bean and add both seeds and pod to the milk. Add butter and salt. Whisk until well combined. Turn the heat to medium and let heat, whisking often until mixture is hot but not boiling. While milk is heating, whisk together whole eggs and yolks in a bowl. Add cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Once milk is hot, remove one cup and slowly whisk into the egg mixture. Whisk egg mixture back into the hot milk on the stove. Whisking constantly, let custard cook until it is thickened and smooth. It should take about 5 minutes. Remove custard from heat and let cool 5 minutes.

To assemble the trifle: Crush 12 ladyfingers in the bottom of an 8-cup bowl. Cover crushed cookies with 2 cups of the custard. Slice 1-1/2 bananas and layer slices over custard. Repeat with crushed cookies, custard, and bananas two more times. Beat the cream with confectioners sugar until soft peaks form. Spread over trifle. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight. Serves 8-10.


Posted in Christmas, Custards, Desserts, Easter, Fruit, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

Chocolate Mousse Pie

I like to have a chocolate dessert on our Thanksgiving table. This year I have been experimenting with chocolate mousse pie in preparation for the holidays. This is my favorite recipe so far. Bake the pie crust and make the chocolate mousse the day before you intend to serve it. Top with whipped cream and grated chocolate when ready to serve. The mousse recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman.

Chocolate Mousse Pie
1 (8-inch) pre-baked pie crust
1-1/4 c. Guittard semisweet chocolate chips 
1-1/2 Tbsp. salted butter
1 Tbsp. water
3 large eggs, separated
5 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2/3  c. + 1-1/4 c. heavy cream
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4  c. confectioners sugar
1 Tbsp. grated chocolate for garnish (optional)

In a double boiler combine chocolate chips, butter, and water. Turn heat to medium high and heat for 5-7 minutes until butter and chocolate are hot and melting. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth. Whisk egg yolks into the melted chocolate. Transfer chocolate mixture to a large bowl and refrigerate while whipping egg whites. Whip whites with 2 Tbsp. of the granulated sugar until stiff, then gently fold into chocolate mixture. Beat 2/3 cup of cream with remaining 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar and vanilla. Fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour into cooled pie shell. Cover with plastic wrap and let chill 4 hours or overnight. When ready to serve beat 1-1/4 cups cream with confectioners sugar until soft peaks form. Spread whipped cream over pie filling and sprinkle with grated chocolate. Makes 1 (8-inch pie). Serves 8.



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Cranberry Orange Relish

A friend gave me this recipe almost 25 years ago. I have experimented with it over the years adding other flavors, but my family prefers this simple version. It’s also good with a bit of drained, crushed pineapple added to it.

Cranberry Orange Relish
1 (12 oz.) pkg. fresh cranberries
zest and juice of 1 large orange
2 cups sugar
pinch of kosher salt

Rinse cranberries in a colander. Discard any shriveled berries. Place in a food processor. Grate orange zest over cranberries. Add orange juice. Pulse to finely grind cranberries. Scrape the bowl then add sugar and salt. Pulse until smooth. Place in an airtight container and chill. It will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week. It freezes well. Makes 3 cups.


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Savoy Cabbage with Pepperoni

When my father was growing up his mother occasionally made a side dish of escarole with pepperoni. I’ve never seen it on a menu in any Italian restaurant, but it is very good. I like it even better made with sweet Savoy cabbage in place of the escarole. It can be made a day in advance and reheated. You could add more chicken broth along with some parsley and cheese for a simple pasta dish as well. If you are not fond of pepperoni feel free to use another variety of cured dry sausage, bacon, pancetta or prosciutto instead. It would make a nice side dish for Thanksgiving.

Savoy Cabbage with Pepperoni
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup very thinly sliced pepperoni
1 medium head Savoy cabbage, cored & sliced, or 6 cups sliced
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. When oil is hot add onion and sauté 7-10 minutes until the onions are soft and beginning to turn golden. Add garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes until soft. Add pepperoni, stir and cook 1 minute. Add cabbage and mix. Add chicken broth and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook 15-20 minutes until cabbage is tender. Serves 6.


Posted in Pasta, Thanksgiving, Vegetables | Leave a comment

Apricot Cream Salad

I enjoy looking through community cookbooks. I don’t cook from them often, but I love comparing regional culinary differences, particularly when it comes to holiday traditions. A friend loaned me her copy of the Louisiana community cookbook Pots, Pans and Pioneers II, where I came across a recipe called Apricot Delight. It looked like an interesting variation on popular southern congealed salads, and it is the inspiration for this recipe. I did not grow up having a molded salad on our Thanksgiving table; it was not a part of our culinary traditions. But if you come from a family that does, this apricot cream salad is an easy make-ahead recipe for the holiday. It also adds lovely autumn color to your table.

Apricot Cream Salad
1 cup canned apricot halves, reserve the syrup
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 drop almond extract or to taste
2 (3 oz.) pkgs. apricot gelatin
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup reserved canned apricot syrup
1 cup apricot nectar (I like Kern’s brand)

Grease or spray a 6-cup jello mold and set aside. In a food processor combine canned apricots, sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, and whipping cream. Pulse until smooth. Add almond extract and pulse again. Set aside. In a saucepan combine gelatin, water, and reserved apricot syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often until the gelatin is dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk in the apricot nectar. Transfer gelatin mixture to a large bowl. Let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk in the cream cheese mixture. Mix until smooth. Pour into the prepared mold. Cover and chill 4-6 hours until set. Unmold just before serving. Serves 12.


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Roasted Fennel and Leeks

Our Italian American family always has fennel in some form on the Thanksgiving table. Often it is served raw as part of the antipasto. It is also a delicious side dish roasted. Fennel has a strong licorice flavor eaten raw, but mellows and is quite sweet when roasted. This is a simple fennel recipe that can be made a day or two in advance. The variations could include adding lemon or orange zest, Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, or sundried tomatoes and olives. You could also add sliced red cabbage for a more complex dish.

Roasted Fennel and Leeks
4 fennel bulbs
3 leeks
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the fennel bulbs and trim off the top stalk. Cut the fennel bulb in half from the stalk to the core. Remove the bottom tough core. Slice lenthwise into 1/2 thick slices. Pat dry with a paper towel and place on a half sheet baking pan. Trim leeks and chop then rinse in a colander to remove dirt. Pat dry with a paper towel and add to the trimmed fennel. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Toss vegetables to coat with oil. Roast for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and golden around the edges. Serves 6.


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Triple Chocolate Cookies

These triple chocolate cookies are meltingly soft with a rich chocolate flavor. You can’t eat just one. Guittard is my favorite brand of chocolate chips, so use them if you have access. The recipe was given to me by my husband’s aunt. She made them for many family gatherings.

Triple Chocolate Cookies
2-1/4 c. flour
2/3 c. cocoa powder (I like dark cocoa powder)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. fine salt
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 c. white granulated sugar
2/3 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 (12 oz.) pkg. semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. milk chocolate chips

In a bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl beat together butter, sugars, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Gradually add dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll cookies into balls the size of a large marble. Bake for 9 minutes until just set. Remove cookie sheet to a rack. Let cookies sit on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes 80 cookies.



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White Bean Dip with Roasted Garlic, Lemon and Sage

White bean dip is an easy appetizer that is often on our Thanksgiving menu. I prefer using roasted garlic rather than raw along with lemon and sage. Serve with toasted baguettes, pita bread or chips. I don’t recommend freezing this creamy dip. Make it fresh for best results. You can also take these same ingredients and make a delicious salad by combining the beans with a bit of tuna, along with green olives, celery, green onions and some fresh herbs.

White Bean Dip with Roasted Garlic, Lemon and Sage
2 (15 oz.) cans small white beans, rinsed and drained (I like S&W brand beans)
8 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 medium lemon
2 Tbsp. water
1 sprig fresh sage leaves (10-12 medium leaves)
1 Tbsp. chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Begin by roasting the garlic. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the top off a head of garlic to expose the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap in foil and roast for 25 minutes until soft. Remove from oven and squeeze roasted garlic out from 8 cloves for the dip. Save any extra for another use. In a food processor combine beans with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and 2 Tbsp. water. Purée until smooth. Add herbs, salt and pepper. Purée. Taste. Adjust salt to your liking. If it seems a bit too thick and chunky, add an additional tablespoon or two of water and purée. Makes 2-3/4 cups. Serves 8-10.


Posted in Appetizers, Christmas, Easter, Salads, Thanksgiving, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Hazelnut Gelato

October is National Italian American Heritage month so I am posting a few of my favorite Italian recipes before the month is over. Hazelnut gelato is a wonderful autumn ice cream and one of our favorites. I recently came across LorAnn hazelnut flavor bakery emulsion and added some to this recipe. It definitely enhanced the flavor. You can purchase it through I bought it locally at Orson Gygi baking supply store. I am planning to make this gelato for Thanksgiving to accompany the pies and pumpkin cake. The recipe is adapted from Frances Mayes book  Under The Tuscan Sun.

Hazelnut Gelato
1 c. toasted hazelnuts, chopped
6 large egg yolks
1-1/2 c. sugar
4 c. half and half
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
2 c. heavy cream
zest and juice of half a large lemon
1-1/2 tsp. LorAnn hazelnut bakery emulsion
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Begin by toasting hazelnuts in a 375 degrees oven for 8-10 minutes or until fragrant. Place toasted nuts in a dish towel and rub off skin. Then chop nuts. While nuts are toasting, begin making the custard. In a bowl whisk together egg yolks and 1 cup of the sugar until smooth. In a 2-quart saucepan combine half and half along with the remaining 1/2 cup of the sugar and kosher salt. Cook on medium low heat, stirring often, until it is almost boiling. It should take 7 minutes or so. Whisking constantly, pour about 1 cup of the hot liquid into the egg yolk mixture. Pour yolk mixture back into the hot half and half in the saucepan and whisking often, cook until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Do not boil the custard. This should take 5-7 minutes. Pour custard into a bowl. Cover surface directly with plastic wrap and chill until cold. Then add cream, lemon zest and juice, and flavorings to the cold custard base and mix until smooth. Add toasted nuts. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes 2 quarts.


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Spinach, Beet and Apple Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

For the first time in several years we have had a good crop of beets from our garden. Lately, we have been grating them raw into this light and refreshing salad. It is a versatile recipe that could include shaved fennel and toasted nuts or even some cheese. The inspiration for this recipe came from my husband’s colleague Kim. It is a pretty salad and would be a colorful addition to any Thanksgiving or Christmas table.

Spinach, Beet and Apple Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 (6 oz.) pkg. baby spinach, rinsed
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 medium red beets, peeled and grated
1 small Persian cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 large green apple, peeled and chopped
6 pitted dates, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine salad ingredients in a bowl. Whisk the vinaigrette ingredients then drizzle over the salad just before serving. Serves 6.


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