Cooking with the sisterhood: Balsamic Marinated Strawberry Trifle

Balsamic Marinated Strawberry Trifles.TheCubanReuben.comMy mother-in-law, Bette Jo, has been an active member at her synagogue for years,  and some of her closest friends are those she met participating in her temple sisterhood. These are the women whose kids grew up alongside my husband and his brothers, and who jumped at the chance to throw me a fantastic bridal shower when I married Kenny. Several of them made the trek to L.A. to celebrate our nuptials with us, and a couple even acted as official witnesses during our ketubah signing ceremony. Over the years, some of Bette Jo’s sisterhood friends and I have connected via social media, and every time I post a cooking or blog-related post, they are always quick to respond.
Last year, after I posted a photo from one of my cooking classes, Marci and Judi both commented about how they wished they could join the class, but given our current distance at the time, their participation was out of the question. I responded with a promise to hold a cooking class the next time I was in Columbus, whenever that might be. A couple months ago, when Kenny and I settled our plans for a visit to his hometown, I reminded Bette Jo of my promise, and a plan was quickly hatched. Of course, within moments of the official announcement for the class, Marci and Judi sent in their RSVPs (though, as they were the impetus of the whole event, I did give them a heads up that this was in the works).

The Women of Temple Israel working hard to cook a tasty dinner. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

The Women of Temple Israel working hard to cook a tasty dinner. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

Bette Jo graciously offered to host the event in her home, and with her help, I relished coming up with a menu that I hoped would include ingredients that might be new to these women. Bette Jo made sure her knives were sharpened, and when I arrived to town, we had a blast going from store to store, procuring all the ingredients on my list. Soon, the night of the event was upon us, and ten Women of Temple Israel joined us for a cooking class and a fun dinner amongst friends.

We chatted as we cooked, sipping on a Summer punch Bette Jo had made (and some of us had spiked), and we quickly navigated through four of our five dishes before we got cozy around the dinner table to feast on the fruits of our labor. By the time dessert rolled around, the ladies were pretty full, but once they knew what we’d be making, we all managed to make room for our Marinated Strawberry Trifles. I could see the skepticism written across a few faces as they saw that we would be marinating our strawberries in a good balsamic, but the dubious looks quickly subsided as we whisked together freshly made whipped cream, Barbi’s favorite ingredient. We assembled our trifles in little decorative mason jars that Bette Jo found for the occasion, and soon, the women oohed and aahed at the tangy and sweet flavor from the unusual pairing. I knew my recipe had earned their stamp of approval when every single trifle-filled mason jar turned up empty at the end of the night. This was good news for the ladies, as they now had a handy take-out container to fill with our leftover pasta dish.

The Women of Temple Israel showing off their desserts. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

The Women of Temple Israel showing off their desserts. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

As the night came to an end, and Kenny, Bette Jo and I finished putting away the last of the dishes, I checked my Facebook page, and sure enough, I found comments and “likes” from the women who started it all. I now understand why this group is so important to Bette Jo, and I am thrilled that I was able to share this experience with them. I’m already thinking about what recipes we’ll make next time I’m in town!

Balsamic Marinated Strawberry Trifle
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 4-6
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
A tangy twist on a traditional trifle.
For the strawberries:
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, stemmed and quartered
  • ½ cup of good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp superfine of baker's sugar
For the cream:
  • 3 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
For the trifle:
  • 12 vanilla meringue cookies
  1. In a baking dish, add the strawberries, vinegar and baker's sugar. Stir to combine, and set aside to marinate for 15-20 minutes.
  2. In a separate bowl that has been chilled, add the whipping cream, and using a mixer with a wire whisk,
  3. whisk until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla and sugar, then continue to whisk
  4. until stiff.
  5. In individual glasses, spoon 2 Tbs. of the whipped cream. Using a different spoon,
  6. add 2 Tbs. of the marinated strawberries to each glass. Crumble in some of the
  7. vanilla meringue. Keep building layers until the glass has reached desired level of
  8. fullness.
  9. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving time.


Gone Fishin’: Pan-fried Perch

Pan-fried Perch.TheCubanReuben.comWhether it is in a little lake, or deep in the sea, there’s just something about fishing that has appealed to my husband, ever since his childhood fishing trips alongside his grandpa. When Kenny met Joe, my brother’s father-in-law, several years back, they quickly discovered common ground in their shared favorite pastime. Every time they find themselves together at family functions, the topic of a fishing trip always comes up (usually by Kenny asking Joe when they’re going fishing). With Kenny’s nights and weekends tied up with business school for the past 3 years, it was hard for him to get away, but sure enough, the weekend right after his graduation, he and Joe planned their expedition.

Kenny woke up bright and early in the morning to meet Joe and his son, Manny, and they headed on their way. Joe had picked out the perfect spot along the coast for this “boys only” fishing trip, and soon they were one with the sea.

Kenny and the sea.

Kenny and the sea. (Photo by Manny Campa)

A few hours later, Kenny returned sunburned and satiated, with a cooler full of fish he expected me to prepare. Now, regular readers of this blog will know that I am somewhat of a rookie when it comes to preparing fish, but particularly when the fish does not come filleted. I quickly searched YouTube for some help with how to prepare this bucket of perch awaiting me, and found this very helpful video.

Soon, I was off to a great start on dinner. Joe had suggested pan-frying the perch, and naturally, I looked for fresh and light sides to accompany the catch of the day. I landed on a nice summer salad of crisp cucumbers and juicy ripe tomatoes, and rounded out the meal with a lemon-scented orzo pasta that would complement the lemon I squeezed atop my piece of fish.

Joe and the fish.

Joe with the catch of the day. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

For as down as I am on fish, I have to say that this was quite tasty. Maybe it’s because the fish was as fresh as it was, or because just about anything tastes good breaded and fried, but this was by far my best tasting fish dish to date. The flavor of the fish was very mild, and the seasonings I used in the coating really helped to enhance the dish. With this new recipe in my repertoire, Kenny and Joe just might be going fishing a bit more often.

Pan-fried Perch
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 2-3
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
A quick and easy way to prepare the catch of the day!
  • 1½ cups flour
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup half and half
  • 1½ lbs fresh perch, skinned (filleting optional)
  • ½ lbs butter
  • 1 lemon, cut in wedges
  1. In a shallow dish, combine flour, salt, Old Bay seasoning, paprika and black pepper. In a separate dish, beat the egg and the half and half together, and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Melt butter in pan over medium heat.
  3. Dredge the perch in the flour mixture, dip in the egg mixture, and return to the flour mixture before carefully placing in the pan with the melted butter. Brown on each side for about 2 minutes.
  4. Remove from pan, and drain on paper towel.
  5. Serve immediately, and garnish with lemon wedges.
I found this link very helpful to learn how to skin and fillet fresh perch: