Supporting the Little Guys

As the crab apple trees and lilacs both came into their full glory, filling the yard with the fragrance of a delayed Spring, I took an additional day of vacation to extend a long weekend, and frantically scrambled to eliminate as much dog and cat hair as possible, while putting together an extra-special spread for the women of my book club.  We are usually pretty low key, but it’s not every day we are honored with the author at the table with us!

Crab Apple Blossoms and Lilacs in Duluth

With a couple of mutual friends in the club, the author of Locally Laid was gracious enough to find time in her busy schedule to join us for the evening to discuss her book.  Lucie Amundsen was fresh off the circuit of events surrounding “One Book Northland,” the annual community-wide book event in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a frequent speaker and instructor on both writing and agriculture-related topics.

Locally Laid, the book

In full disclosure, but honestly not influencing my review of the book (otherwise, I would simply not have put together a blog post at all!), I have come to know Lucie through a variety of intersecting organizations and activities. Before I became acquainted with Lucie personally, though, I became acquainted with her eggs — those of you following my blog for some time may recall this frittata recipe and encouragement to vote for Locally Laid Eggs as part of the Super Bowl commercial promotion contest (link to that post here)!

Lucie herself is kind, smart, and humor-filled — and the book reads as you would expect from someone like that: well-written, funny, and enlightening about what smaller farmers face in trying to break into the big ag industry and over-crowded grocery shelves. While my family has been a fan of “LoLa,” the little chicken that could (along with her “truly worth-every-penny” eggs) from the beginning, I was not aware of the full story behind this start-up until reading the book. Alongside the business story you also receive a healthy dose of classic Northern Minnesota life and understand why we love it here.

Chicken napkin rings to honor Locally Laid.

My book club has gathered every other month or so for the past 5 years, rotating among our dining room tables in the evening after work, enjoying interesting conversation (sometimes which even touches upon the book!), while sharing a light dinner and wine. The book’s theme this time gave me a chance to break out the chicken napkin rings, and do a little fun browsing for “compatible” wines.

Poultry, Agriculture, and "Uncaged" Wines

And a special book club guest provided an excuse for a festive (yet simple-to-prepare) dessert: Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse (link to full recipe provided).  To add a little color, I mixed in some raspberries with the blackberries, and used a four-berry preserve.  The recipe is easily adapted to a variety of fresh fruit preserves and berries.  It can be partially prepared ahead of time and ready to assemble just before serving – a perfect book club option!

Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse

If only I had hosted this book later in the summer, I could have gone to “Farm LoLa” and picked the berries myself to use in the dessert!

Locally Laid is an award-winning book, and is an excellent choice for an engaging book club discussion.  If you are fortunate enough, perhaps you (with or without your book club in tow) can catch Lucie at one of her upcoming speaker events, listed on Locally Laid’s website: http://locallylaid.com/the-book/.

~ Kat

Dessert for Summer Potlucks When You Have No Time to Cook (If the Cat Licks the Beaters, Even Clean Up Goes Quickly)

Kudos to those who enjoy and/or have time to spend hours crafting an elegant dessert that creates a memorable end to a meal.  I tend to be the one who thinks as I am working, “Crud, what are we going to make for the neighborhood gathering tonight?” and then runs a quick lunch-hour errand to pick up ingredients to throw together shortly before departing for the event (or frankly, runs an errand to pick up the end-product dessert itself!) .

Freshly washed berries

As we enter the season of family get-togethers, potluck celebrations, and graduation parties, I just had to share the newest of my “when you have no time to cook” recipes: Pillsbury’s Mini Fruit Pizzas While you are certainly welcome to make sugar cookies from scratch, I dutifully followed the recipe and gratefully placed the refrigerated sugar cookie dough squares on my cookie sheet (and thought to myself, “This could go even more quickly if I purchased plain sugar cookies from the bakery!”).

With time to spare before the oven timer went off, I whipped together the three-ingredient frosting (8 ounce package cream cheese, 2 Tablespoons frozen limeade concentrate and 1/2 cup powdered sugar), and set it aside as the cookies cooled.

Frosting the sugar cookie mini fruit pizzas

One of our cats, recognizing the time crunch I was in before we needed to head to the neighbors’ house, pitched in and took care of the pre-wash rinse cycle for the beaters.

Pre-wash rinse, courtesy of the cat

The recipe called for three cups of fresh berries and kiwi fruit, and I lazily went with items I could just rinse off, no cutting required!  Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries topped my fruit pizzas this time, but the kiwi suggested by the recipe would add a nice touch of contrasting color, don’t you think?!

mini fruit pizzas 5_24_13

Or perhaps strawberries, pineapple?

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The small bite dessert was enjoyed by all, no serving utensils or plates required, making clean up a snap (even without the cat’s help).

mini fruit pizzas 3 5_24_13

I was rushed in dropping berries on the frosted rounds, but the possibilities are endless for creating mini works of art!

mini fruit pizzas 4 5_24_13

The full recipe for Mini Fruit Pizzas can be found on the Pillsbury website, here.

Ciao! ~ Kat

An Elegant Holiday Dessert Option for the Non-Baker

As you may have gathered from some of my other posts, I rarely cook since my husband actually enjoys it and gets annoyed with me puttering pestering interfering helping in the kitchen while he is exercising his creative cooking skills.

As we were brainstorming ideas for dessert to bring to our upcoming dinner club (kicking off our 21st year of quarterly gatherings this December! ~ more on our dinner club tradition in this post and this post), I fondly recalled one of the rare occasions I prepared dessert, which happened to be for one of our December dinner club gatherings several years ago.

I share this recipe with you, fellow non-bakers, as a gorgeous holiday option that doesn’t take all day (or multiple days) to prepare ~ Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries, courtesy of a 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine.

Kat's version of Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries
Kat’s version of Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries

Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries

Ingredients for cake:

  • 2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Ingredients for berries: 

  • 1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups mixed berries, cut if large
  • (Kat suggests using Chambord instead of Sherry and then cutting back on the sugar instead ~ this wise suggestion was in one of the comments to the recipe.  As for the berries, use whatever fresh berries are in season ~ different berries could easily change the look of the cake to suit different occasions or holidays.)

For cream:

  • 8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Garnish:

  • confectioners sugar

Instructions for making the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.

Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely.

How to macerate the berries:
Bring Sherry (or Chambord if following Kat’s suggestion) and sugar (go light on the sugar, especially if you’re using the Chambord) to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them, gently tossing to coat. Let stand 15 minutes.

(Kat suggests: If you are serving this dessert other than at your own home, you can macerate the berries ahead of time and bring them in a sealed container to top off the cake before serving – however, some berries tend to get “soggier” than others, so ideally, macerating the berries relatively close in time to serving tends to provide a better fruit texture).

Final steps: making the cream and assembling the cake:
Beat mascarpone and cream with sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.

Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of cream and replace top half. Serve with berries.  (Kat suggests: Wait to pour the berries over the top until shortly before serving, so as not to create a soggy sponge cake resembling a holiday jello “poke” cake instead.)

To link to a printable copy of the original recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Mascarpone-Filled-Cake-with-Sherried-Berries-242873

A nice dessert liqueur or perhaps a small glass of limoncello served alongside would nicely complement this elegant end to a holiday meal!

Ciao! ~ Kat