There are many things that get a FOOD Maven excited; finding a new imported cheese, revamping an old recipe, discovering the latest autumnal delectables to hit the farmers’ market, just to name a few. There is also a certain holiday that gets not only my foodie brain swinging into high gear, but my foodie mouth salivating at high speed: Thanksgiving. This year come turkey time, I’m counting my blessings and finding myself with even more to give thanks for. With a new man on my arm, The Dinner Belle busy catering store launches and holiday soirees all over the city, and Mamma Belle coming to visit me next week for a few jam-packed days filled with doctors visits, theater tickets & Hanukkah hullabaloo, I’ve begun to see the forest through the cancer trees, and I’ve even caught myself smiling.
That said, sitting down with Erin yesterday to review this week’s Dinner Belle events, my smile quickly faded as I was reminded that I will once again be catering a Black Friday British Breakfast at Topshop, without her. As much as I love serving food in the temples of the fashion gods, taking on this event solo while Erin is out of town with her man for Thanksgiving, is only giving me heartburn. The event itself is not what adds to my anxiety (breakfast for 300, no sweat!); it’s our history with Black Fridays passed that makes my palms sweat.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a night owl, a grazer of late night eats and drinks; but I am also my own boss, and I take deadlines and timelines seriously. Never one to party into the wee hours on a “school night,” it was this time last year that I set my alarm for a 5am wake up call to prepare an early morning breakfast buffet for the hungry hordes of shoppers. While living in the West Village has obvious pros, one of the cons is living in a building that not only has old and tricky wiring, but suffers from electric outages on the only night all year when I had to wake up (rather than go to sleep) at dawn! Deep in dreamland, and without the necessary electricity to rouse to me, my alarm clock didn’t go off, my buzzer didn’t buzz when my sous chef showed up at my apartment at 6am wondering where the hell I was, and my phone was set to silent. I was dreaming of turkey legs and sweet potato pie when I suddenly (and unbelievably luckily) came to out of my dreamy food coma state. By this time, I should have already unloaded my cab and been smearing cream cheese on salmon bagels for Topshoppers, but instead, I laid in bed sorting the 15 texts and voicemails I had collected, trying to remember what I time I was supposed to be at Topshop. 30 minutes ago!
I kept my cool, got dressed in the dark (thankfully there were no cameras that day…my bed head was not exactly on trend), scooped up my Dinner Belle staff in a cab and booked it to the venue. Not only did we get our English spread of breakfast pastries, bacon butties and teas out in time, but we flew through our food in under two hours flat. It was perhaps the shortest event I’ve ever worked, and certainly the most stressful. Topshop was none the wiser, and in fact, loved us so much we’re not only catering for them again this year, but also helped them celebrate their one year anniversary on US soil!
Cut back to yesterday, and Erin reminding me to keep my ringer on tomorrow night, just in case my electricity decides to once again play tricks on me. That I will do, and I’ve even asked my Mamma for an early morning wake up call to be on the safe side. Confident that Black Friday will go off without a hitch this year, all I have left to worry about is packing and making my flight to Chicago.
Friday afternoon I’m jetting off to the Windy City to celebrate what’s left of the holiday weekend with Mr. Mixologist and his fam. This is not my first interaction with Mom and Dad, but going to their hometown is a whole different ball of wax. For many of us out there, who find themselves recently attached and taking the next step to get to know the ones we adore that much more, the hometown visit is a holiday mainstay that wields the power to make or break a relationship. I’m not worried about that, in fact, I’m really looking forward to finding myself in the company of Mr. M’s relatives, but I do need to make sure to pack all the “right” outfits and a recipe to not only wow his parents, but all his siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and little cousins alike. It would be all too easy if I could just make my mouth watering Hot Toddies, but there’s already a mixologist among us, and I’m not sure how well it would go over if I get the little ones drunk.
As I rummaged through old cookbooks for inspiration and thought back to Thanksgivings passed, I remembered the relatively simple dessert I piled together for my Tribe a few turkeys ago. A pumpkin trifle. Not too fussy, and the type of dish that looks like it took hours to prepare when it secretly only takes about 30 minutes to whip together, this eye candy treat is filled with layers of salty caramel, chocolate ganache, pumpkin custard and whipped cream, topped with pecan brittle and espresso-brushed lady fingers. It is a surefire hit with people of all palettes, and promises to seal the deal for me and Mr. M’s Chicago clan. Anyone looking for a last minute recipe to impress “the fam” without having to stand in front of a stove for hours should take notes.
Pumpkin Trifle (feeds a tribe)
There’s no science to layering a trifle. The trick is to pick the most delicious ingredients you can imagine tasting good together, and layering them in the most attractive way possible. Come summer, I’ve been known to concoct a berry trifle made with dry sherry-infused cream, but for turkey time, pumpkin reigns king.
You can never go wrong with a pumpkin-chocolate-caramel pairing, so gather together the best of what you’ve got laying around or can easily pick up, and layer your trifle in advance. You might even consider doing it today, and letting the flavors heighten and marinate overnight. The trifle will prove a perfect centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table, and will last as leftovers all weekend long till you run out of turkey sandwiches or soup. Just keep it refrigerated and covered in plastic wrap until you’re ready for the unveiling. I actually think trifle tends to taste best at room temperature, so feel free to leave it out all day before serving.
In the photographed version, I whipped together organic pumpkin pie filling with mascarpone cheese to make a sort of custard seasoned with freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg; I made a simple whipped cream to act as the white layer, and boiled up a batch of my favorite salted caramel. I melted dark chocolate ganache with a bit of butter, brushed espresso over lady fingers (tiramisu style), and candied pecans into a crunchy praline I broke into pieces atop the trifle. You could try this version, or go in any number of directions building your bowl of pumpkiny peace on Earth.
With my fears of waking up to no power on the back burner, and the reassurance that my cell phone will be on and set for 5am, I am grateful that I not only get to feed the fashionistas once again this year, but also to jet off to share and prepare a dessert I love with a new family I am thankful for.