Susan Jones has no shame in admitting that she's not the world's best cook.
"Whenever someone says, 'Everybody bring a dish,' I'm not happy," she says.
Jones is from Indiana and is the editor and publisher of the New Carlisle News. She's also been a board member of Historic New Carlisle, her town's historical society, for 20 years. For the first five years, the group's bimonthly fundraiser teas were a point of anxiety for Jones.
"We fill our dining room table with wonderful treats that everyone makes — savory finger sandwiches, gorgeous little to-die-for cookies," she says. "And for years, I would show up with this plate of little hard cookies or dry brownies — something that would always be left over after the tea. It was humiliating."
Then one windy day, everything changed. She was taking her dog Wally for a walk on a country road when she noticed papers flying all over the place. She started picking up some of the pages.
"They were recipes. Somebody had cleaned out their kitchen and maybe put them on their computer and dumped them in the recycling," she says.
A recipe for strawberry trifle caught her eye. "It looked like it would be fancy and it would be delicious, and I could actually do it," she says.
It turned out to be incredibly easy. In a large glass dish, you layer angel food cake squares with strawberries and a whipped cream mixture. After a few layers, you top it off with more whipped cream, three whole strawberries and a few fresh mint leaves. "[It's] a gorgeous dessert," she says.
Jones took the trifle to the next historical society fundraiser — and found herself with a new "go-to" recipe for her "bring a dish dilemma."
"My dream after every tea was to walk to my car with an empty dish," she says. "I made my first trifle [and] took it to the tea. It was a hit, and it brought me the credibility I longed for among the best cooks in New Carlisle."
Recipe: Strawberry Trifle
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
12 ounces whipped cream or Cool Whip
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 angel food cake
3 quarts fresh strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
Mix cream cheese and powdered sugar until creamy. Add whipped cream and vanilla. Cut angel food cake into small squares. Slice all but 3 or 4 strawberries. Gently mix sliced berries in bowl with 1/4 cup sugar; let sit for 15 minutes. Cover the bottom of a large trifle dish (clear, stemmed bowl) with a layer of the cake squares. Follow with a layer of cream cheese mixture, then strawberries. Alternate, ending with the cream cheese mixture on top. Garnish with reserved whole strawberries and mint leaves. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.