Recipe of the Week: Mint Holiday Trifle Dessert

One of my fave show-stopper desserts is a Cookies & Cream Trifle. I make it for parties, showers (like my friend Stacie's baby shower above) and for holiday desserts. At this time of year, our local Trader Joe's sells "Mint Joe-Joe's," which are chocolate sandwich cookies with a mint cream filling. Think chocolate meets candy cane in a delectable cookie. They help transform the Cookies & Cream Trifle into a Mint Holiday Trifle.

Warning: This recipe includes many specialty items that are already prepared. If you don't live near a Trader Joe's store, you might need to check on other alternatives. I'm happy to help with ideas. Leave a comment.

-1 pint organic whipping cream
-1 tablespoon raw organic sugar or honey
-2 packages instant chocolate pudding mix (Trader Joe's brand skips all the preservatives and other junk. I have also made my own chocolate pudding, which is very simple to make if you have time.)
-4 cups raw milk, divided
-1 package cream cheese (or Neufchatel)
-2 boxes ladyfingers cookies (Trader Joe's sells a soft version but you can get these at other Italian specialty stores as well.)
-1 box Mint Joe-Joe's cookies (or other chocolate sandwich cookies like Oreos)

1. Pour whipping cream into mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Blend in sugar/honey while the cream is beating. Set aside.
2. Place the 2 packages of chocolate pudding and 3 cups of milk in the mixing bowl and blend until pudding thickens. Add cream cheese and blend in. Set aside.
3. Place chocolate cookies in a large ziplock bag and use a mallet to crush. (You could also use a food processor but you want to make sure the cookies stay coarse, not emulsified.) Set aside.
4. Begin assembly of trifle. In the bottom of your trifle bowl, arrange a layer of ladyfinger cookies. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of remaining milk. Spread about 1/4 of the pudding mixture on top of the ladyfingers. Spread about 1/4 of the whipped cream over the pudding. Top with 1/4 of the crushed chocolate cookies.
5. Repeat these layers three more times and finish with the crushed chocolate cookies. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

**Sometimes I garnish with chocolate shavings or a chocolate-dipped strawberry to really add pizzazz. I also have made a kids' version with gummy worms between layers for a garden dessert.

Serve about 15.


Cooking Club: I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

This past weekend we hosted our 6th Annual Cooking Club Christmas Party. This year the theme was a "Green" Christmas and we tried for a menu full of local and organic specialties. All the guests also brought new or used cookbooks wrapped in something recycled. As is our tradition, the ladies cooked and the guys cleaned up.

The menu included:

Organic Spicy Greens with Butter Lettuce, Feta cheese and sliced Fuyu persimmons

(except we used local Gouda cheese from Bravo Farms & ground almonds instead of walnuts)

Pomegranate Beef served over Quinoa
with Pomegranate Salsa

Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread with Cinnamon whipped cream

Many of the recipes were from Eating Well magazine. We also used a few other new recipes. The Pomegranate Beef was the Main Course and it featured an easy crockpot recipe using grass-fed beef from a local rancher in Tulare. The roast turned out beautifully tender and flavorful. We topped it with a Pomegranate relish or salsa (recipe below). My friend Cori helped me can (or jar) the salsa and we also sent our guests home with a jar as a gift.

Pomegranate Beef

-3-lb. grass-fed beef roast
-1 cup pomegranate juice
-1 (15-ounce) can organic fire-roasted tomatoes (We found them at Trader Joe's).
-1 cup golden raisins
-1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 teaspoon marjoram
-1 teaspoon thyme
-1 teaspoon oregano
-1 teaspoon rosemary
-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
-2 teaspoons sea salt

1. Combine all ingredients except for roast.
2. Pour mixture over roast in a crockpot.
3. Cook on low setting 5-6 hours until roast is fork tender and easy to shred.
4. Serve over rice or quinoa. Top with Pomegranate relish/salsa

Pomegranate Relish/Salsa

-Seeds from 2 medium pomegranates, about 1-1/2 cups

-1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion
-1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped, green jalapeƱo pepper
-1 tablespoon lemon juice
-1 tablespoon organic sugar
-1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Gently fold together pomegranate seeds and remaining ingredients.

Makes 1-1/2 cups.

And the star of the evening was the old-style Christmas gingerbread with a fun twist - pears. This recipe was adapted from William-Sonoma's "Seasonal Favorites" cookbook. This dessert surprised us all and we were actually scrambling for seconds.
Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread
1 1/2 cup unsalted organic butter, softened
1 1/2 cup organic brown sugar
4 large Bosc pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 large cage-free eggs
1/2 cup organic dark molasses
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (a pinch)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup boiling water
Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1/2 pint whipping cream
1 tablespoon organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Using a non-stick skillet, melt 1/2 cup of butter. Stir in 1/2 cup of brown sugar and stir until sugar melts. Add pear slices and cook, stirring occassionally until pears begin to slightly soften (about 5 minutes).
3. Arrange the pears (with all their juices and butter) in an even layer over the bottom of an 9x13 baking dish/cake pan.
4. In a mixing bowl, beat together remaining 1 cup butter with 1 cup brown sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).
5. Add the eggs and molasses and beat into mixture.
6. Add flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Beat until fully incorporated. Do not overmix. Turn on mixer and slowly pour in 2/3 cup hot water into the batter and blend until incorporated and batter is smooth.
7. Spoon the batter over the pears in the dish. Bake until springy to touch (approximated 35-40 minutes).
8. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes on a rack.
9. While the cake is cooling, beat whipping cream. Add 1 tablespoon organic sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
10. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate (or invert individual slices with a spatula). Cut into squares and serve warm topped with cinnamon whipped cream.

Serves 10-12.


Recipe of the Week: White Chocolate Persimmon Cookies

Before I moved to California, I had never even heard of a persimmon before. Now that I live in California's Central San Joaquin Valley I find the robust orange fruit everywhere in the winter. Inevitably, someone graces our family with a bag of persimmons during the Christmas season. There are two types: The "fuyu" persimmon is like an orange, squatty tomato and firm when ripe. These are great in place of apples or pears in your fave dishes. The "hachiya" persimmon is the acorn-shaped variety that becomes mushy to the touch when ripe and can be squeezed out to use in smoothies or for baked goods like cookies and breads.

Below is our newest recipe for Persimmon Cookies with a new twist. The white chocolate chunks and dried cranberries give these cookies added depth. We picked up the white chocolate chunks at Whole Foods. Of course, you can put chocolate chips of any kind in this recipe. They are wonderful served with a cup of hot cocoa or tea. Check out these other persimmon recipes, or feel free to share your own uses for the persimmon. We have an abundance this week!

White Chocolate Persimmon Cookies


1/2 cup butter, organic softened

3/4 cup honey or 2/3 cup organic brown sugar

1 egg

2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or other flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup persimmon pulp (2-3 soft & peeled)

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup white chocolate chunks

1. Cream together butter & honey/brown sugar.

2. Beat in egg.

3. Sift dry ingredients and add to butter mixture.

4. Stir in nuts, cranberries and white chocolate chunks.

5. Lightly grease cookie sheet and drop tablespoons full onto sheet.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until golden brown on top.


Recipe of the Week: Winter Spiced Quinoa

Can I get some Quin-what? Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) was discovered by the Inca Indians high in the Peruvian mountains.  The name itself literally means "mother grain."  The Q-stuff has the highest protein content out of all the grains.  Quinoa is considered a "complete protein," which means it has all nine amino acids that the body must get from food.  But that's not all - Quinoa also contains iron which increases the oxygen in the blood.  Numerous studies have shown that lack of iron in the blood causes fatigue. In other words, this is a great grain to kickstart your day.

A few weeks ago we did The Great Pantry Challenge. One of the items we had in our pantry was a bulk bag of quinoa from a friend. That inspired us to think of a lot of creative ways we could employ this wonder grain. We normally use quinoa much like we would rice or pasta for dinner. Recently, I've been seeing some breakfast quinoa recipes like this one. The Food Network's Ellie Krieger also has a breakfast quinoa in her new So Easy cookbook. Here's a new twist on breakfast. Think oatmeal minus the mushy. Bon appetit!

Winter Spiced Quinoa

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 small pear, cut into small cubes (or apple)
1/4 dried cranberries (or blueberries or other dried fruit)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup raw milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Bring water and quinoa to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Reduce heat to simmer and cover, cooking for 15 additional minutes until water is evaporated.
2. Meanwhile toast pecans in the toaster oven or on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes. (Feel free to skip this step if it's a busy morning!)
3. Add pears, dried cranberries and pecans. Stir into quinoa.
4. Add milk and cinnamon and stir.
5. Serve in bowls and drizzle with maple syrup.

Serves 3-4.


Recipe of the Week: Split Pea & Chicken Sausage Soup

I'm the kid who hated peas when I was little. The mushy texture and green color just turned me off. But just because I hated them as a kid doesn't mean I have to hate them now. Our taste buds change multiple times throughout our lives so it's good to keep trying foods.

My friend Stacie made a batch of Split Pea Soup a few weeks ago for our Playgroup. She did it in the crockpot and it turned out fabulous. She threw in diced potatoes and some other fresh produce she had on hand. I couldn't stop eating that stuff! Yes, that's right, the pea-hating me was hogging all the Pea Soup. I decided it was time to do some experiementing on my own. The following recipe was the result. My daughter and hubby were fighting me for the last bowl.

I made this version on the stove top but you could try it in the crockpot if that's easier for you. I just needed mine done in a hurry. Do you have a spin on Split Pea Soup? Please share in the comment section.

Split Pea & Chicken Sausage Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
32 oz. cage-free, organic chicken broth
2 cups dried green split peas
32 oz. water
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 12-oz. package chicken sausage, chopped into bite-sized pieces (I chose a Spicy Andouille Sausage from Trader Joe's but you can decide what variety suits your taste.)

Serves: 4-6

1. Add olive oil to small pot/saucepan and turn to medium-high heat.
2. Saute onion, celery, garlic and ginger in olive oil until onions turn translucent and celery is softened.
3. Add chicken broth, split peas, cumin, basil, salt and water. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes.
4. Lower heat to simmer soup for 30 minutes until most of the liquid is gone. Meanwhile, saute chopped chicken sausage in a separate frying pan.
5. When soup is desired consistency (add water if too thick), stir in sausage. Serve.
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