Thursday, December 10, 2015

#DairyChristmas: Festive Parmesan Frico

parmesan frico topped with spinach and apple
Petite, lacy Parmesan cheese crisps topped
with lemon-herb marinated spinach and apples.
Don't let their fancy name fool you;
these appetizers are super simple to make.

Dairy has always been part of our Christmas celebrations – from oyster soup (think fresh oysters swimming in whole milk and butter) and cheese balls with crackers to homemade eggnog and butter cookies to grasshopper and pink squirrel ice creams (for the adults only, *wink*). It only makes sense, seeing that Glen and I both grew up on dairy farms.

white Christmas on the dairy

That also means that Christmas has always been spent with our cows and calves. Dairy cows and calves need care every day, regardless of what the calendar says. Since we continued the family tradition of dairy farming, our holiday traditions continue to include cows and calves.

December the calf

Because I'm balancing chores with holiday celebrations I like to have a repertoire of make-ahead recipes. That way I can still share something delicious with family and friends, even if I'm always rushing to get everyone ready and out the door. These Festive Parmesan Frico are one of the most flexible recipes I have: I can prepare all of the ingredients the night before and assemble the appetizers right before a gathering, or make the whole recipe from start to finish in about 30 minutes.

bite-sized parmesan frico appetizer

But what I really love about these appetizers is how good they taste.

Parmesan is my favorite cheese – it's the one I can't be without in the house. I keep both finely grated Parmesan (for sprinkling on cooked veggies and pasta) and shredded Parmesan (for salads, mostly) on hand. The shredded Parmesan we eat is made right here at the Land O'Lakes cheese plant in our town, with milk from our cows. I think that's pretty cool.

parmesan cheese, apple, spinach, vinaigrette

When the Parmesan combines with the apple and the spinach and the lemon-herb vinaigrette, something magical happens. These bite-sized appetizers are both sweet and savory, while at the same time being light and fresh. For me, they help balance out all the cookies and treats I find myself nibbling on while baking.

parmesan frico with marinated spinach and apples

If you're looking for something fresh to balance out your holiday treats, give these Festive Parmesan Frico a try. Maybe they'll become part of your repertoire, too.

P.S. Frico is the Italian word for a dish made with cooked cheese wafers. It's pronounced freak-o; if you really want to sound Italian, roll the R.

Festive Parmesan Frico

Festive Parmesan Frico
Parmesan Cheese Crisps topped with Marinated Spinach and Apples

Yield: 48 bite-sized appetizers


1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (NOT finely grated)
1 large apple (preferably with red skin)
1 cup baby spinach, packed

For the vinaigrette:

½ teaspoon dried thyme
⅛ teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon hot water
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
⅛ teaspoon onion powder
⅛ teaspoon mustard powder
dash of black pepper


To make the Parmesan crisps (photo below):

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place mounds of Parmesan cheese 3-4 inches apart on pan, using 1 level TEASPOON of cheese for each mound. Using your fingertips, gently flatten the cheese into a thin, 2-inch circle. The cheese shreds should be touching, but there should be gaps within the circle.

Place baking sheet in oven for 5 minutes, watching carefully after 4½ minutes to make sure cheese doesn't overcook. Crisps will be light golden brown when done. They will be bitter if overcooked, so it's better to err on the side of undercooking.

Remove pan from oven and let crisps cool for several minutes. Using a thin spatula, transfer crisps to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to finish cooling.

Repeat with remaining cheese until you have about 48 crisps. I can make 16 crisps at a time with my super-big baking sheet, so it takes three turns. I do not recommend putting more than one sheet of crisps in the oven at a time.

To make the vinaigrette:

Crush thyme and rosemary with a mortar and pestle, if you have one. Combine herbs and hot water in small jar. Cover with lid and let sit for 5 minutes. Add juice, oil, sugar, and spices to jar. Cover tightly and shake vigorously to blend vinaigrette.

To make the frico toppings:

Coarsely chop the baby spinach and toss with one tablespoon of the vinaigrette. Let marinate for 15 minutes or overnight.

Core and slice the apple into 8 or 10 wedges. (I use my apple wedger.) Don't peel. Then, slice each wedge, cross-wise, into ¼ inch slices. Toss with remaining tablespoon of vinaigrette.

To assemble the frico:

Arrange Parmesan crisps on serving platter. Using your fingers, place a small pinch of marinated spinach on each crisp. Then, place one or two apple tidbits on top of the spinach.

Festive Parmesan Frico is best assembled as soon before serving as possible, but it can be assembled and refrigerated for a short time before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge; the crisps will soften slightly, but the appetizers will still be tasty.

Any extra spinach and apple can be tossed together with a bit of Parmesan cheese for a yummy salad.

Make it ahead: The Parmesan crisps can be made up to two days in advance; once completely cool, place them on a baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap; store at room temperature. The apples and spinach can be prepared the night before serving; store, covered, in refrigerator; the lemon juice in the vinaigrette will keep the apples from browning; note that herb flavors intensify with time.

Make it fancier: Replace the dried thyme with ½ tablespoon chopped, fresh thyme. Replace the dried rosemary with ½ teaspoon chopped, fresh rosemary.

Make it simpler: Replace the vinaigrette with 2 tablespoons of your favorite prepared vinaigrette.

Variations: Make the flavor of the vinaigrette milder by omitting the rosemary. Change up the flavor by using basil, sage, or another herb in place of the thyme and rosemary. Omit the herbs all together if herbs aren't your thing; this vinaigrette is delicious without the herbs, too.

making parmesan cheese crisps


Looking for more holiday inspiration? Sixteen of my fellow dairy bloggers have joined me for #DairyChristmas. You can find their holiday recipes and stories by following these links:

#DairyChristmas #HappyMooYear

I am a farmer-member of Land O'Lakes Cooperative. Affiliate links were used in this post.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Southern Food Bloggers Retreat + Buttermilk Pound Cake

Southern Buttermilk Pound Cake with Plum Sauce
The amazing pound cake recipe I brought home from Alabama.

Blogging has led to a number of really neat experiences for me, but the best experiences have resulted when friends, farming, and food combine. Last month, I participated in the Southern Food Blogger Retreat in Prattville, Alabama. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect of the retreat, but it turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences ever.

Charolais heifers at Pintlala Cattle Company

I made a whole bunch of amazing new friends, got to visit a beef cow-calf farm, and learned so much about how to be a better blogger.

Enough Movement

One of the retreat's sponsors was Elanco. Elanco is the company that's coordinating the Enough Movement, which is working to create conversations about and solutions to food-insecurity, both now and in the future. As both a blogger and a dairy farmer who relies on modern and innovative farming methods, Elanco invited me to participate in the retreat.

Southern Food Bloggers Retreat participants

I was a little nervous about signing up for the retreat, mostly because I didn't know what to expect and I sometimes feel awkward around food bloggers. But I shouldn't have been nervous at all! The retreat organizers and other bloggers were so incredibly friendly and welcoming. They really did epitomize southern hospitality. And since the retreat was limited to a small number of participants, it was easy to get to know everyone. The retreat participants and presenters were Sarah from The Magical Slowcooker, Ashley from The Hill Hangout, Beth from BethCakes, Mary from Chattavore, Paula from Call Me PMc, Kyle from The Blogger Network, Melissa from Served Up with Love, Jennifer from Bake or Break, Cris from Recipes that Crock, Brandie from The Country Cook, Liz from The Farmwife Cooks, Stacey from Southern Bite, Leah from Beyer Beware, Stacy Lyn from Game and Garden, Christin from Spicy Southern Kitchen, Brooke from Rural Gone Urban, Taylor from Household Management 101, Christy from Southern Plate, and (not pictured) Stephanie from Plain Chicken and Kim from Kim Box Photography.

retreat center

To make the retreat even more enjoyable, it was held in this cozy cottage tucked into the woods. Even though I was learning lots, the casual atmosphere really made it feel like a get-away.

friendly Charolais heifer

One evening of the retreat was spent learning more about farming and family traditions with the Henry family of Pintlala Cattle Company. The beef cow-calf farm is home to the curious Charolais heifer above and a host of other Charolais and Angus cattle.

The Henry Family
Mike and Denise Henry and family

The heifers we met were certainly friendly, but not nearly as friendly as the Henrys themselves.

Mike Henry and sons

After the Henrys showed us around their cattle handling facility and explained their farm, we drove over to their house for dinner.

cow in window

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the window painting that greeted us when we arrived at the house. The bossy in the window is a reference back to the days when the Henrys were dairy farmers.

Dessert at the Henrys' farm

In addition to their cattle business, Mike and Denise Henry also have a catering business. So I wasn't surprised by the amazing dinner they prepared for us. I didn't get a picture of dinner, but I did take a picture of the pound cake. It was SOOO good! Denise said the recipe was passed down from her mother. I thought a family recipe was a fitting end to a dinner conversation about the heritage of farming.

Denise was kind enough to share the recipe for her buttermilk pound cake. The buttermilk gives this cake incredible flavor. You can find the recipe below.

blown glass bird and vase

After three fabulous days with my new friends, I didn't really need another sign that I had made the right decision in attending the retreat. But I got one anyway during the shopping trip for those of us with later flights. We went to an antique mall that was nothing like anything I've ever seen in Minnesota. I found several pieces I loved, but the vase above is the most remarkable. The bird figure above was my grandmother's – the same grandmother whose love for baking I inherited. The bird was passed to me after my grandfather died and now sits in my kitchen windowsill. I didn't think I would ever find another piece of any sort to match it. But here was a matching vase!

So now the list for my visit to Alabama includes friends, farming, food, and family heirlooms.

Southern Buttermilk Pound Cake

Making this cake myself was my first attempt at baking with Crisco (or any other brand of shortening). Normally, when I find a recipe that calls for shortening, I automatically substitute butter. I do keep a small container of shortening on hand for making dipping chocolate, so I used that for this cake. I made Denise's recipe again using butter and it yielded a fabulous cake, but it wasn't quite the same. Also, none of the stores in my county sell butter and nut flavoring – actually, I didn't even know what butter and nut flavoring was – so I substituted vanilla extract and hazelnut extract.


3 cups sugar
1 cup Crisco shortening
5 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
¼ teaspoon baking soda
3 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon butter and nut flavoring


Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a tube pan.

Cream sugar and shortening together in large bowl. Add eggs and mix well. Stir baking soda into buttermilk. Alternately add flour and buttermilk mixture to bowl. Stir in flavoring.

Pour batter into tube pan and smooth surface. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until top of cake is golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Southern Buttermilk Pound Cake

Recipe courtesy of Denise Henry.

Group photo by Kim Box.

Brand names mentioned are purely for educational purposes.