Strawberry Banana Trifle

Dessert is a favorite word in my vocabulary!  Cakes, cookies, tarts, pies, puddings; they all have a special place near and dear to me.  Baking is the first culinary adventure I embarked on, while standing on a chair in my mother’s kitchen stirring pudding to make pies.  After some time, I graduated to cookies and my hunger for knowledge kept me testing out more and more recipes for sweet treats.  Baking is common tradition shared in families, and mine is no different.  The most fabulous pound cake ever is made into lambs every Easter by my godmother and covered with a unique cream cheese like frosting.  She bakes, then freezes the cakes; which I think contributes to their dense, silky texture. The recipe is not mine to share, and even with it my results have never achieved lamb cake status.  Some recipes are all about the method.  I have included the Joy of Cooking pound cake recipe; which is very similar and always bakes a nice cake.              
Today, I am mixing a little of all my favorite aspects of dessert and offering a trifle recipe to take along to your next party, or serve at home to loved ones.  This dish is a constant in my repertoire
 because I can make parts of it when I have time and not have to spend too long on the day I wish to serve.  Since it’s June and strawberries are in season and gorgeous, I went with Strawberry Banana; however feel free to mix the fruit choice up to your tastes or whatever looks best in the produce department. Blueberries, raspberries, peaches, cherries; these all work wonderfully! This also works great served in individual portioned glasses, parfait style. 


    • 2 loaves of pound cake cut into cubes. (The loaves can be made in advance or you can purchase from your local bakery.)
      • 2 pints heavy whipping cream, made into whipped cream
    • 1 serving crème patisserie (I usuallly make this the day before I am serving the trifle. The pastry creme should be used within three days of preparation.)
  • 1 lb. fresh strawberries sliced and allowed to sit with 1 teaspoon of sugar mixed into for 20 minutes.
  • 4 ripe bananas, sliced with a small sprinkle of lemon juice to keep from turning brown


  1. Apply a small amount of crème patisserie to the bottom of a deep bowl.
  2. Layer the first loaf of pound cake, distributing evenly through the bowl.
  3. Spread the sliced bananas on top of pound cake; leave a few pieces aside for garnishing.
  4. Spread the crème patisserie in a thick layer on top of the bananas.
  5. Layer the second loaf of pound cake, distributing evenly.
  6. Spread the strawberries and their juice on top the second layer of pound cake, leaving a few slices for garnishing
  7. Top with an even layer of whipped cream, using all of it.
  8. Garnish with remaining fruit.
  9. Allow Trifle to sit for at least 3 hours before serving.



Southwestern Chicken Chili

Busy weeknights are a common place occurrence at the Jennirific house.  Sometimes dinner makes it into the crockpot in the morning and sometimes it just doesn’t.  I am sure we all have those days. 
This recipe is a go to for me because it turns out wonderfully no matter which method I am able to apply to it, crockpot or stove top.  Packed with veggies, protein, and fiber this meal will keep the family fueled through all their activities!


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 fresh jalapeno chile peppers, seeded and chopped (you may increase amount to taste)
  • 2 medium chopped red, green, and/or yellow bell pepper
  • 2 15- to 15-1/2 ounce cans Great Northern, pinto, or cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 ounce can Black Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pot of Pot of Gold Bouillion
  • 1 lb chopped cooked chicken* (see note below)
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped.
  • Shredded Monterey Jack cheese (optional)
  • Broken tortilla chips (optional)


  1. Add olive oil to a 4 quart or larger stock pan along with chopped onions.
  2. Sauté onions until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and jalapeno pepper and continue to sauté, 1 minute
  4. Add bell pepper, beans, cumin, salt, chicken stock, and bouillon.
  5. Allow to come to boil
  6. Add chicken, cover, and reduce heat to a low simmer.
  7. Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  If chili seems too thin to your taste, remove lid while cooking to help reduce the liquid and thicken the chili.  The chili will continue to thicken after cooking, do not reduce all liquid.
  8. Stir in about ½ cup of chopped cilantro
  9. Serve, garnish with cheese and chips if desired.

Finished cooking and ready to serve!


  • In a slow cooker stir together the drained beans, chicken, onion, sweet pepper, jalapeno pepper, garlic, cumin and salt. Stir in chicken broth.
  • Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours. If desired, top each serving with shredded cheese and broken tortilla chips.

*A note regarding adding cooked meat into recipes.
For this recipe I usually cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the same pot I will cook the chili in.  This allows the chili to soak up all the flavors left over from the cooked chicken.  That being said, you have to season the meat before cooking.  A simple sprinkle of black pepper, salt, garlic powder, and onion powder will give your meat a great flavor and ensure the dish you are adding it to also has a great taste.  Meat without seasoning equals bland food as an end result. 

Why Buy Local?

I couldn’t say it any better. Local food is the way to go!


1. Locally grown food tastes better.
Food grown in your own community was probably picked within the past day or two. It’s crisp, sweet and loaded with flavor. Produce flown or trucked in from California, Florida, Chile or Holland is, quite understandably, much older or it is picked green so it can ripen in transit. It rarely does, so it does not taste the way it would if ripe. Several studies have shown that the average distance food travels from farm to plate is 1,500 miles. In a week-long (or more) delay from harvest to dinner table, sugars turn to starches, plant cells shrink, and produce loses its vitality.

2. Local produce is better for you.
A recent study showed that fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Food that is frozen or canned soon after harvest is actually more nutritious than some “fresh” produce that has been on…

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New England Style Crockpot Beans

A summertime staple at cookouts and the dinner table of my youth, Baked Beans represent warm weather and grilled eats.  How sad was I when I was told that I had an allergy to tomatoes and had to forgo one of my favorite side dishes?  Luckily, with a little research, I came across the difference between Southern style  and New England style beans.  Turns out folks up in Maine and their neighbor states find adding ketchup to beans is a crime akin to adding ketchup to a hotdog in Chicago.  Finally, something this South Side Irish girl had in common with Yankees out east, beans!
Traditional recipes call for a bean crock and hours of baking in the oven, which would hardly suit during the humid summers of Chi-Town.  Good thing my best friend the Crock Pot is always there to keep the heat down in the kitchen while still delivering delicious food!

New England Style Baked Beans, Grilled Corn on the Cob, and BBQ Brined Chicken. Classic Summer Fare!


  • 1 pound of beans (I used a combo of Great Northern, Small Red Kidney, and Pink Beans)
  • ½ pound of bacon, cut into 1” pieces
  • ½ medium yellow or sweet onion cut into 1” pieces
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt


  1. Soak beans overnight in cold water.
  2. Drain most of the liquid, leaving only a ½ of the soaking liquid in the crock.
  3. Add all ingredients to the crock, fill with water until beans are covered.
  4. Cook on LOW for 10-12 hours, monitoring water level and adding more if needed to keep beans submerged.
  5. Remove lid of crockpot during the last hour of cook time in order to allow beans to thicken.
  6. Serve with BBQ favorites and Enjoy!


Seed Selection – Sow What?

We’ve all heard the nursery rhyme about Mary and her gardening prowess.  What really made that garden grow though was diversity.  In today’s plant kingdom, diversity is losing the war being constantly waged upon it.  More and more we see that fields rolling with amber waves of grain, corn, or beans that have been planted from a relatively small and homogenized list of seeds available from catalogs or large distributors.  This affects the whole scale of agriculture reaching from the large corporate owned farms to the backyard gardener.  With so few options being utilized we’re giving up regionally-developed differences in plant DNA and losing out on what makes eating, and growing, local so unique.

“Why is where we buy our seeds an important topic?  We eat and grow plenty of crops; I see everything in my grocery produce department.  Isn’t that diversity?”

Some have asked me questions of this ilk when I climb off my soapbox and engage in real conversations regarding food.  I tell them how genetic diversity protects our food supply, often using The Great French Wine Blightas a prime example. In today’s modern seed market mostly what is found is Hybrid Seeds.  They have been bred with an emphasis on yield at the expense of hardiness, resistance, and inability for farmers to save seeds to be replanted next season.  Reliance on these seeds also enforces the use of chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides and requires lots of water often times leading to irrigation systems that do harm to the land.   

This National Geographic infographic by John Tomanio is staggering. Using the metaphor of a tree, it charts the loss of U.S. seed variety from 1903 to 1983. And what you see is that we’ve lost about 93% of our unique seed strands behind some of the most popular produce. No strong root system for this tree.

Heirloom seeds, sometimes referred to as open pollinated seeds, are genetically diverse and have been handed down throughout generations.  Typically, heirlooms have been developed over time for optimal response to their local climate and soil by virtue of being hand-selected for particular traits.   These varieties produce a plant with better flavors and hardier profile. Growing heirlooms gives farmers and gardeners a role in maintaining the biodiversity of our planet. While hybrid seeds have been bred to resist particular diseases, there are occasionally threats that could possibly wipe out entire crops when a new disease arrives, due to the lack of diversity in varieties commonly planted. Every time an heirloom seed is planted, that seed stock is regenerated, maintaining that gene pool with its own taste, growth habits, and resistance to disease and insect pests.  The renewed effort by many gardeners’s to keep heirloom seeds alive is a vital tradition that hopefully will continue to grow not just in the U.S. but worldwide.

Antipasti Pasta Salad

April showers bring us May flowers, so the saying goes.  The month of May also kicks off the outdoor party season!  Graduations, Communions, Wedding Festivities, Summer Holidays, and my favorite type of party; the Just Because start in earnest this month.  Many of the shindigs I attend are potluck style, with the host providing the main course eats and us lucky guests providing sides and appetizers.  It is always interesting to see what others bring to share and of course swapping recipes and getting clued into the ingredient lists behind the tasty, but often heavily processed dishes. 
Antipasto, meaning “before the meal” classically is the first course in a formal Italian meal.  Traditional antipasto includes cured meats, olives, pepperoncini, anchovies, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, various cheeses, pickled meats and vegetables (either in oil or in vinegar).  I was introduced to this collection of yumminess in grade school by an Italian classmate and eagerly brought the idea home to the dinner table.  It was a hard sell for my Midwestern, blue collar family with big appetites and a thrifty pocketbook.  They enjoyed it, but always asked if we could just have pasta with it and call it a meal. It was too much to add into our regularly scheduled weekly pasta night, hence the inspiration for Antipasti Pasta Salad.  The trick here is to make the pasta the night before and cook it just barely al dante.  While the pasta rests overnight in mild vinaigrette dressing it will soak up flavor and maintain the perfect texture; chewy yet firm.
Prepare to be a Pot Luck Rockstar at your next party and have the recipe handy!


  • 1 lb whole wheat pasta.  Rotini, penne, or cavatelli work well.
  • 1 cup of Basic Vinaigrette Dressing
  • 1 medium onion, red or sweet.
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 16 oz jar of Mild Gardinera
  • 1 16 oz jar of Mild Pepper Rings or Pepperoncinis
  • 1 lb hard salami cut into 1 inch rounds
  • 1 lb slicing pepperoni cut into 1 inch rounds*
  • 1 lb mozzerella cheese
  • 1 lb pepperjack cheese


  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions the evening prior to assembling the salad.  You are aiming for al dante, do not over cook or your pasta will be mushy.
  2. Toss cooked pasta with the Basic Vinaigrette Dressing and place in a storage bag in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. Chop onion and pepper into 1 inch squares.
  4. Add 1/2 the jar of gardinera, veggies only and at least 1/2 the jar of peppers.  This is to taste and you can add more or less to your preference.
  5. Toss all vegetables together in a large bowl.
  6. Cut the salami and pepperoni int 1 inch cubes

    At my local deli they slice the meat into 1 inch rounds, I order 4 of each for 1 lb of salad.

  7.     Cut the cheeses into 1 inch cubes

    Slice the brick of cheese in half to achieve a 1 inch diameter

  8. Mix into vegetable, meat, and cheese mixture 1/2 of the oil from the gardinera and 1/2 of the liquid from the jarred peppers
  9. Gently fold pasta into all other ingredients.  Allow salad to rest for at least 3 hours.  The longer it rests the better the flavors will meld together.

Basic Vinaigrette

Use this simple dressing on salads, veggies, sandwiches, and even as a quick and easy marinade for proteins.  The accepted ratio of oil to vinegar is 3:1, feel free to substitute different types of oils (grapeseed, sunflower, peanut) and vinegars (red wine, balsamic) to achieve different flavor profiles. Be sure to check out the video below for a visual on making vinaigrette without a blender for those days when you don’t want to pull out the heavy equipment.



  • 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery salt
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil



  1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together vinegar, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, and beau monde seasoning.
  2. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking until emulsified.  Other methods include shaking ingredients in a jar or using a blender.

Time to Make the Buttermilk Doughnuts

I woke up this morning to dreams of summer and Paul Bunyan doughnuts.  Warm, dense, and delightfully spiced these buttermilk confections have been making mouths drool for decades in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.  The opportunity to enjoy a fresh made doughnut at the cook shanty may be months off, but my desire to attempt to recreate this classic was today.

Get out your cast iron skillet and throw healthy breakfast concerns out the window, today we make doughnuts!


  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  •  ¾ cup granulated sugar
  •  ½ teaspoon baking soda
  •  2 teaspoons baking powder
  •  1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  •  ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •  2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
  •  ¾ cup buttermilk
  •  ¼ cup sour cream (next time I am using greek yogurt!)
  •  ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  •  Vegetable oil for frying



  1.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and sour cream until combined. Add the melted, cooled butter and whisk again.
  3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the liquid ingredients into the well. Using your best kitchen tool, your hands, slowly fold the flour into the liquid center until the mixture forms a sticky dough. For better results, chill dough 20 minutes in the refrigerator before working with it.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and pat it out until it is about ½-inch thick. Use two round cutters (3¼-inch and 1½-inch). Dip the large cutter in flour and press out the rounds. Dip the smaller cutter in the flour and cut out the center of each dough round. Arrange doughnuts and doughnut holes on the parchment-lined baking sheet, pat the dough scraps back together, and use them to make as many more doughnuts and doughnuts holes as possible. Chill the unformed dough while you heat the oil.
  5. Pour enough oil into a deep skillet to make a layer approximately 1 inch to 1½ inches deep. Slowly heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is 365 to 370 degrees F.
  6. Once the oil reaches temperature, lift the large doughnuts off the baking sheet with a fork or tongs and place them gently in the hot oil. Do not crowd the skillet – make no more than 3 doughnuts at a time. Once they have browned on one side (this takes 2 to 3 minutes), turn them over with fork or tongs and continue to cook for another minute or just until browned (the longer they rest in the pan, the more unwanted oil they will soak up).
  7. Using a fork, tongs or slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the paper towel-lined baking sheet.  Continue to fry the rest of the dough until finished. The doughnut holes will cook faster (only about 1 minute on each side) and can be made in two or three batches after the doughnuts are done.
  8. Immediately after frying, quickly shake the doughnuts in a storage bag filled with cinnamon sugar mixture. If you like, you can also wait until donuts are cooled and glaze them with the flavors of your choice. Serve immediately.

    A simple glaze of Nutella warmed in the microwave for 45 seconds.

Knife Skills 101

I have often been asked why such importance is placed on knife skills.  The food taste just the same, some think, regardless of how neat they chopped, diced, or julienned.  However, attention to detail pays off in even cooking and delicious presentation.  We eat with our eyes first and a pretty plate can go along way in the culinary world.

My first 8 weeks spent in culinary school were filled with perfecting all these cuts.  The vast piles of carrots, celery, potatoes, and onions I tortured in creating cuts that past the mustard to the large, intimidating French chef that taught all incoming culinary hopefuls still haunts me a bit, lol.  Hopefully you can have a more light-hearted experience while mastering your best cuts at home 🙂

Fantastic illustrated tutorial on basic knife skills!  Check out Illustrated Bites , you won’t be disappointed.

Illustrated Bites

Knife Skills

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