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.


Plum Cake for Rosh Hashana

Plum Cake

The Jewish High Holidays are quickly approaching, and as it seems like they creep up on us each year, this year is no exception. Today, I have a very special treat that comes straight from one of my mother-in-law’s additions to my family cookbook, and has elevated our Rosh Hashana table for several generations.

Everytime I ask Bette Jo, my mother-in-law, about this recipe, a big smile spreads across her face as she remembers the story behind it. It’s amazing how cooking techniques and recipes change over time. My husband’s great-grandmother, Ruth Sunshine, was famous for her plum cake, and it has remained a true family treasure.  When Ruth handed down the recipe to Bette Jo, then a newlywed, Bette Jo was shocked to see that there was no mention of specific oven temperature, and that the only mention of cook-time was “bake until done.” Lucky for us here at, my dedicated mother-in-law tested and tweaked until she determined the missing details in the recipe. Maybe cooks in the old-world had a better sense of their kitchens, but today, baking is a precise science.

Our family’s High Holiday feasts would be incomplete without this classic, Eastern European, hand-me-down recipe, and I have yet to try one that comes close to being as good as Bette Jo’s. After a decadent meal, this dessert is the perfect ending, as it is not overly sweet. The juice from the plums moistens the thin, dense layer of cake, and the sprinkling of cinnamon perfumes and adorns every bite. I should mention that it is hardly surprising that one of Bette Jo’s most favored dishes includes lots and lots of cinnamon, because this is her signature spice. Each serving of this cake is ornamented with its own plum half sitting like a ruby gemstone sanded with cinnamon and sugar, and according to my sweet-toothed husband, begs to be crowned with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Although traditionally found on our high holiday menu, this plum cake recipe would also make a perfect pairing with an afternoon tea.

Bette Jo's Plum Cake (adapted from Ruth Sunshine)
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Jewish
Serves: 24
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Old world, no-fuss approach to a simple and classic dessert.
  • 12 prune plums, sliced in half lengthwise
  • ½ cup butter or margarine
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cinnamon
  • ¼ cup melted butter or margarine
(See note below)
  1. Cream together the butter and sugar.
  2. Add egg and mix well.
  3. Alternately add flour, baking powder, and milk. Add vanilla.
  4. Spread batter in greased jelly roll pan.
  5. Lightly sprinkle the top with flour, and place plum halves on cake. Mix sugar and cinnamon topping together, and sprinkle as much as you want on top of cake.
  6. Drizzle melted butter over cake.
  7. Bake at 300 degrees for ½ hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
This makes a lot of the cinnamon/sugar mixture. You do not need to use all of it. Use what you want, and save the rest for cinnamon toast!


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