December 20, 2017

Dear Friends,

What was I THINKING? I invited my family to celebrate Christmas at my house Saturday while I’m trying to avoid carbs, especially sugar. I can’t punish them for my overindulgence. But if I bake cookies or make candy my willpower will snap like an old rubber band.

Here’s the plan: I bought enough wrapped chocolates to fill a candy dish; I’ll send any excess home with my niece. I will buy a plateful of lovely handmade cookies (I saw some beauties at Earth Fare) but no ginger cookies, my favorites. And I will make decadent chocolate-peppermint trifles.

The trifles will not wreck my diet because I’m making just one miniature trifle for each person. Three of them — mine and my diabetic husband’s and brother’s — will be made with sugar-free pudding, cake and whipped topping to reduce the carb count.

I’m serving the individual trifles in squat, footed Italian prosecco glasses. In my test batch, I drizzled 1/2-inch-thick rounds of pound cake (cut to snugly fit the glasses) with peppermint schnapps, added a layer of chocolate fudge sauce, then a layer of vanilla pudding sprinkled with crushed candy cane. The layers were repeated, crowned with a puff of whipped cream and decorated with a miniature candy cane. If the glass is tall, you may want to add whipped cream between each set of layers. Lined up on the buffet table, the trifles should be real show-stoppers.

The trifles can be made with a rich homemade custard or boxed vanilla pudding. If you use boxed, add a splash of vanilla to bump up the flavor. I bought the pound cake, but if you have gobs of time to spare (ha!) you could make a sponge cake or pound cake from scratch. Roughly crushed amaretti cookies (from an Italian or specialty-foods store) would be delicious, too. I recommend buying premium fudge sauce from a fancy-foods store. The trifle recipe is so simple that inferior ingredients could sink the flavor.

My blueprint can be expanded or shrunk to accommodate two to dozens of diners. You could even make one big trifle instead of individual ones, although you’d lose the impact of all those adorable little trifles.

f you need an easy but gorgeous finale for your Christmas buffet, here you go. You’re welcome.

 

CHOCOLATE-PEPPERMINT MINATURE TRIFLES

 

PEPPERMINT TRIFLE

 

• Pound cake, thawed if frozen
• Peppermint schnaps
• Fudge sauce, warmed
• Vanilla pudding, homemade or from a mix Crushed candy canes
• Whipped cream or topping
• Miniature candy canes

Line up the other ingredients in the order above. For each trifle you will need about 1/4 cup fudge sauce, 1/4 cup pudding and 2 tbsp. crushed candy canes. The exact amounts will depend on the size of your glasses.

If the glasses come to a point, fill the point with pudding or whipped topping. Then begin layering with a cake round, a tablespoon or more of fudge sauce, the same amount of pudding, some crushed candy cane and, if the glass is deep, a layer of whipped topping. Continue layering until the glass is almost full. Top with more crushed candy, a dollop of whipped cream or topping and a whole miniature candy cane. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

NOTE: Making beautiful layers of ingredients without smearing the glass can drive you nuts. My tip is to drop the ingredients from tiny spoons (espresso or iced tea spoons) into the very center, then use a long straw or other slim implement to spread it evenly to the edges.


GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Pan-seared, oven-finished thick pork chops with Italian herbs and a wine reduction, French green beans, baked sweet potatoes; pickled eggs; chocolate pudding; scrambled eggs with horseradish; chocolate-peppermint mini trifles.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Steak salad in a tortilla bowl crowned with french fries (which I virtuously skipped) at Brimfield Family Restaurant; barbecued ribs from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Medina; a thin-crust veggie pizza from Earth Fare; grilled chicken breast with feta, roasted red pepper and escarole at Village Garden in Cuyahoga Falls..


THE MAILBAG

From Bob P.:
I grew up in Akron but have lived in North Carolina for more than 30 years. I am on a quest that has led me to you. No, not the Holy Grail, but the holy grail of Akron appetizers, the sauerkraut ball. Of course, they are unheard of down here.

I have searched the net and get a variety of recipes, but which one is truly what I grew up with? The cream cheese recipes confuse me — I don’t remember them being creamy. I thought with your storied career you may be able to help.

Dear Bob:
The sauerkraut balls against which all others are measured are the ones that were served at the old Bavarian Haus on East Market Street. They were the size of a golf ball with a crispy-crunchy coating and creamy, tart filling of sauerkraut, ground ham and chopped onion. The creaminess is slight, and doesn’t come from cream cheese.

The restaurant is long gone, but Chef Dick Mansfield gave me the recipe in 1995, before all traces of the building were plowed under. He mixed batches in a big plastic bucket, so you can figure the recipe makes plenty — Mansfield says eight dozen. Feel free to cut the recipe in half.

Don’t, however, be tempted to add enough flour to firm up the sauerkraut mixture. The raw mixture should be so soft it would spread and flatten if the balls were fried without freezing. They must be frozen, and deep fried straight from the freezer, to produce that crisp exterior and soft center.

This recipe won’t disappoint you, Bob. Maybe you can fry up a ginormous batch and teach those barbecue boys a thing or two about good Midwestern eats.

SAUERKRAUT BALLS
• 1 1/4 lbs. ground ham
• 6 eggs
• 2 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic or 1 tsp. garlic powder • 1 tsp. black pepper
• 3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1 medium onion, minced fine
• 5 lbs. sauerkraut, drained and chopped
• 4-6 cups flour
• 1 egg beaten with 1 cup milk
• Flour for coating
• Dry, unseasoned bread crumbs
• Oil for deep-frying

In a very large bowl, combine ham, eggs, garlic, peppers and onion. Add sauerkraut and mix well with your hands. Add flour a little at a time, kneading until the mixture is smooth and can be shaped into soft balls. Use only enough flour to achieve the proper consistency. The mixture will be soft and sticky.

Pull off chunks of the mixture and roll between your palms to make balls the size of a golf ball. Place on cookie sheets and freeze until firm, about two hours. While frozen, roll in the flour, then in the egg-milk mixture, then in the bread crumbs. Freeze again and transfer to plastic freezer bags until ready for use, or fry immediately without thawing.

To fry, heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry a few at a time until the coating is golden brown and a fork easily pierces to the center. If the oil is too hot, the outsides will burn before the insides thaw and cook. Makes about 96.

From Brad P.:
My wife and I are retired. We have a passion for food. It seems like the Akron area lacks the “foodie’’ culture that is so rich in other parts of Ohio. We have taken the culinary walking tour in Asheville, N.C. — outstanding. We go to the Traverse City, Mich., area yearly. It is amazing for food, wine, craft beer and so much more.

Can you make us aware of a culinary group in our area that shares our passion? Is there such a thing? We are looking for a way to be around others in this area who share our passion, to talk and share and experience.

Dear Brad:
The foodie culture in Ohio was INVENTED here in Akron at West Point Market. No one else in the state had the ingredients that were available to Akronites, nor a mentor as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as retired owner Russ Vernon.

Although the store has downsized, it still holds regular wine tastings that many passionate local food lovers attend. You will also find such people congregating at the Countryside Farmers Markets and events sponsored by the Countryside Conservancy (cvcountryside.org). And finally, you could try a couples dinner class at the Western Reserve Cooking School in Hudson. Does anyone else have a suggestion?

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