grapefruit vanilla bean trifle

Image: Olaiya Land

In the dreary days of February, my mind turns to spring dreams. Green grass and tiny daffodils elbowing their way up through the soil. The season's first asparagus stalks and baby morels. Raspberries. Strawberries. Apricots! Easter hams and rhubarb pies.

All of which leaves me feeling rather let down when I come back down to Earth and remember we’re still sailing through the mid-winter doldrums.

Image: Olaiya Land

This is a time of year that requires extra creativity in the kitchen. The novelty of autumn’s bounty of apples, pears and squash is long gone. Tender spring things are still weeks away. And Kale, popular and Instagram-friendly as it is, can only take you so far.

Luckily, this is the month we are given citrus.

Image: Olaiya Land

Jewel-toned citrus in all its shapes and forms is the answer to the culinary blues. Bright and subtly floral, it’s the winter ingredient that tricks our palettes into thinking spring is nearly here. 

Sweet-tart grapefruit is my very favorite member of the citrus family. It's annual appearance at the grocery store never fails to brighten my day. Sort of like a beloved uncle who comes around once a year with bad jokes and pocketfulls of candy. 

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

It’s difficult to improve upon a perfectly ripe grapefruit section scooped straight from the rind. But as I looked around our kitchen at the mounting piles of grapefruit, I decided it was time to kick things up a notch and transform my winter citrus bounty into something a touch more fancified. 

Which leads us to this Grapefruit Vanilla Bean Trifle. It’s a delicious pile of controlled chaos--towering layers of cake, cream, meringue and citrus that collapse into a fluffy, creamy mess when you scoop them into your bowl. This is the sort of dessert that will help you shake off a winter funk. The sort of dish that will make you forget winter all together.

At least until you reach the bottom of the trifle dish.

Image: Olaiya Land

Grapefruit Vanilla Bean Trifle

  • 5 large, ripe grapefruit (I used a mix of red, pink, gold and white grapefruit)
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 recipe Grapefruit Curd, chilled (see below)
  • 1 recipe Vanilla Bean Meringues (see below)
  • 1 recipe Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake, cooled completely (see below)

*Note: This trifle is most beautiful right after you assemble it, before the citrus can release any juices. But it is about a gazillion times more delicious the next day. I recommend you make this a day in advance and store it covered in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it. Leave off the last layer of meringue crumbles until right before you serve it so they stay crunchy.

- Almost all the components of this trifle can be made in advance. The cake can be baked up to 2 days in advance. The curd can be made up to a week in advance. The merengues can be baked a week or more in advance if you bake them fairly dry and store them in an airtight container. 

Image: Olaiya Land

Remove the skin and pith from the grapefruit. Cut the flesh into supremes over a medium bowl so you catch all the juices. (Here’s a video on how to do it.) Set aside.

Place the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer along with the sugar and beat to stiff peaks using the whisk attachment. (You can also use a hand beater or a wire whisk and a mixing bowl.) Take care not to over beat the cream--you want it stiff, but not grainy. Gently fold the chilled grapefruit curd into the whipped cream until only a few faint streaks of yellow remain. 

Cut the cooled cake into roughly 1-inch pieces. Arrange the cake pieces in the bottom of a trifle dish or large bowl in a tight layer. Depending on the size of your dish, you may not use all the cake pieces. You can freeze them for another use, or--my favorite option--snack on them alongside your afternoon cup of coffee or tea. 

Spread half the grapefruit cream mixture over the cake. Arrange half the grapefruit sections over the cream. (Take care to lift them from their juices with your fingers or a slotted spoon so the trifle isn’t too wet.) Crumble a layer of meringue pieces over the grapefruit. Spread the rest of the grapefruit cream over the meringue and top with the rest of the grapefruit sections. Crumble additional pieces of meringue over the trifle just before serving.

Serves 8-10.

Grapefruit Curd

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit zest (from 1 large grapefruit--grate an additional 2 teaspoons zest for the olive oil cake, below)

  • ¾ cup freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice

  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 5 large eggs

  • 4 large yolks (save the yolks from your meringues for this)

  • Pinch kosher salt

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces

Set a fine mesh sieve over a medium bowl and set aside.

Place the juices, zest, sugar, eggs and salt  in a medium heavy saucepan. Whisk well to combine. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often with a heatproof spatula, until just warm to the touch. Add 1 piece of the butter and cook, stirring constantly with the spatula to prevent scorching, until the butter is almost melted. Repeat with the remaining 9 pieces of butter. 

Continue to cook, stirring often until the curd has thickened and is beginning to bubble, about 1 minute longer. 

Strain the curd into the bowl and discard the zest and any bits of cooked egg. Cool for 15 minutes then place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd (to prevent a skin from forming) and chill in the refrigerator until very cold, at least 4 hours.

The curd will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator before serving.

Makes about 3 cups.

Vanilla Bean Meringues

  • 9 oz superfine sugar (about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons)

  • 1 vanilla bean (I used a Tahitian vanilla bean since they are beautifully floral)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • Pinch salt

  • 6 oz egg whites (from about 5 large eggs)--reserve the yolks for curd

  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 250° F. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper. 

Place the sugar in a small bowl. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. Add the vanilla seeds to the bowl with the sugar. Using your fingers, rub the seeds into the sugar; this will keep the vanilla from clumping together in the meringues. Add the cornstarch and salt. Whisk to combine and break up any clumps.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites at medium speed until soft peaks form, 2-3 minutes.

Increase the speed a little and slowly sprinkle in the sugar mixture. It should take you about a minute or more; adding the sugar too quickly or before the eggs form soft peaks will result in a less stable meringue that might spread or weep. A minute or so after all of the sugar mixture has been added, add the vinegar. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until the meringue forms very stiff peaks, 5-8 minutes longer. You will know the meringue is stiff enough when it will hold the whisk attachment perfectly upright with no other support.  

Spoon the meringue into 6 heaping mounds, each about 4 inches wide on the parchment-lined sheet pan (be sure they aren’t touching). If you want drier, crunchier meringues, use the back of a spoon to flatten each meringue a bit so they are thinner. If you like more marshmallowy meringues, leave them as fluffy mounds.

Bake the meringues until they are crisp and dry to the touch on the outside but still white (not golden or cracked), about 80-90 minutes for flat meringues and about 2 hours for thick ones. Check on the meringues periodically to make sure they aren’t coloring or cracking. If they are, rotate the sheet pan and reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

When the meringues are done, turn off the oven and let the meringues cool completely in the oven. If you're not using them right away, store the cooled meringues in a tightly sealed container (I like a large mason jar). They will keep for a week or two, depending on how dry they are cooked, in a well-sealed container.

Makes 6 large meringues.

Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake
Adapted slightly from Yossy Arefi

  • 1 cup (200g) sugar

  • 1 3/4 cups (225g) all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup (175ml) fruity olive oil

  • 1/4 cup (55g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

  • 1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 cup (240ml) whole-milk kefir or buttermilk, at room temperature (I used kefir)

Follow this recipe, omitting the rosemary and substituting 1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest for the lemon zest.

kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette

kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette on
kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette on

As usual, I’m late to the party. 

Because we are well into citrus season, and because you don't live under a rock, you probably know that citrus this year is amazing. 

I, on the other hand, had somehow managed to make it to the middle of February without eating one single orange or grapefruit or pomelo. Which is why I was unaware that we are in the middle of a perfect storm of citrus deliciousness. 

kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette on

I did a little online sleuthing and discovered that last year’s drought, combined with unusually cold weather and rain (finally!) in southern California have resulted in one of the juiciest, most flavorful citrus crops in years. Now I’m on a mission to consume as much citrus as possible before the season ends. I highly recommend you join me.

Peel-and-eat is never a bad strategy. But if you need fresh inspiration for what to do with all that excellent citrus, let me introduce you to one of my favorite winter salads:

kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette on

In true So Cal style, it’s got a variety of jewel-toned oranges, sweet medjool dates and a handful of spicy pepitas for crunch. The kale is sturdy enough for all those big flavors. The vanilla and shallot vinaigrette adds both earthiness and zing. 

I made this for lunch today and decided it’s the perfect salad for jazzing up a grey winter day. Healthy. Bright. And full of bold flavors. 

kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette on

I for one will be making this salad many more times before winter's over. And hoarding as much citrus as I can manage.

kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette on

Kale and Citrus Salad with Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette

  • 1 bunch young kale (I like Lacinato kale), stems removed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • Fine sea salt
  • 4 oranges (I used a mix of blood oranges, cara caras and heirloom navel oranges)
  • 4 large, fresh medjool dates, pitted, halved and sliced crosswise into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup spiced pepitas (see below)
  • 1 recipe vanilla bean vinaigrette (see below)

For vinaigrette:

  • 1 vanilla bean

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot (from 1 small shallot)

  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • Pinch fine sea salt

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil


For spiced pepitas:

  • ½ cup raw hulled pepitas

  • ¼ teaspoon olive oil

  • ¼ teaspoon toasted and ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon honey

  • Pinch cayenne

  • Pinch fine sea salt


*Note: By the time I finished shooting this salad, I was super hungry and decided it needed a little more substance. I tossed in some leftover roasted chicken and it was transformed into filling lunch. A little leftover roasted salmon would work, too.

kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette on

Place the torn kale in a large bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Rub the salt into the kale leaves (this helps tenderize the greens) and set aside while you make the vinaigrette.  

Using a paring knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and place them in a medium bowl with the sugar, shallot, sherry vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Add the oil in a thin stream while whisking. Set aside for at least 10 minutes to allow the shallot to mellow and the flavors to come together.

Place the pepitas in a medium skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until they begin to turn golden brown, pop and smell nutty. Immediately transfer the hot pepitas to a small bowl and add the olive oil, cumin, honey and salt. Stir to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set the seasoned pepitas aside to cool.

Slice the peel and pith from the citrus and cut them into rounds about ¼-inch thick. Place them in a small bowl and spoon a bit of the vinaigrette over them. Dress the kale with the vinaigrette to taste. Set the greens and citrus aside for another 10 minutes or so to allow the vinaigrette to work its magic.

kale and citrus salad with vanilla bean vinaigrette on

To assemble the salad, add the citrus (along with any juice at the bottom of the bowl) to the kale. Add half the pepitas and half of the sliced dates. Toss gently to combine. Place the salad on a serving platter or individual plates and top with the remaining dates and pepitas. 

The dressed kale and citrus will hold for a day in the fridge (don’t add the pepitas or they’ll get soggy). The vinaigrette will hold for 3-4 days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

Makes 4 servings.

honey-watermelon cocktails with a vanilla salt rim

honey-watermelon cocktail with a vanilla-salt rim //

We’ve been having a full-on, sweltering, no-joke sort of summer here in Seattle. I’ve lost track of the number of days the temperature has peaked above 90°. Whether or not to buy an air conditioner is a hot topic of conversation. And you can actually swim in the (normally frigid) ocean this year.

I’m not complaining (well, maybe a little bit) because for once, it actually feels like summer in Seattle. There’s no ambiguity this year; summer is happening. It is undeniably time to get your beach-game on, grab your flip-flops and gather your people together for an impromptu picnic or barbecue.

And it’s definitely time for watermelon.

honey-watermelon cocktail with a vanilla-salt rim //
honey-watermelon cocktail with a vanilla-salt rim //

Sweet, ripe, juicy watermelon is summer by the slice.

There have been Seattle summers where carving fat wedges of watermelon under grey skies and pouring rain would have felt...wrong. But this year, I’m buying watermelon after watermelon, in celebration of all this sun.

So this week I wanted to share a recipe for a watermelon cocktail that’s just right for a summer gathering with friends or family. It’s dead easy to make. Just whiz some watermelon in the blender, juice a few limes, stir together a honey simple syrup and you’ll be pouring up this bright summer cocktail in no time.

honey-watermelon cocktail with a vanilla-salt rim //

honey-watermelon cocktail with a vanilla-salt rim //

Honey-Watermelon Cocktails with a Vanilla Salt Rim

  • ½ cup honey (I used wildflower honey)
  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 cups strained watermelon juice (the approximate yield of 1 mini seedless watermelon)
  • ½ cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • 10 oz. (1 ¼ cup) gin
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges, for garnish

*Notes: I used Maldon sea salt (because it's my fave) and Hendrick's Gin (because its floral notes work really well with the watermelon, honey and vanilla). But feel free to experiment and see what you like.


First, make a honey simple syrup by combining the honey and ¼ cup boiling water in a heatproof bowl or measuring cup. Stir until the honey is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Make the the vanilla salt while the simple syrup is cooling: cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise with a sharp paring knife. Use the knife to scrape out the vanilla seeds and rub them into the salt until they are evenly distributed.

Make the cocktail base by combining the watermelon juice, lime juice, 6 tablespoons of the simple syrup and the gin in a mixing bowl or pitcher. Whisk to combine. (The cocktail base can be stored for up to 3 days, covered, in the fridge.)

To assemble cocktail: Pour some of the honey simple syrup into a small plate with a lip. Transfer the salt to a similar plate. Dip the rim of a lowball or stemmed cocktail glass into the simple syrup then place the glass in the vanilla salt and turn to coat the rim evenly. Fill the glass with ice, fill with cocktail base and garnish with a lime wedge.

Makes about 8 cocktails.

honey-watermelon cocktail with a vanilla-salt rim //