How to Expertly Make a Cheese Plate

How to Expertly Make a Cheese Plate

The holidays are upon us. This week is Turkey Day and before we know it, Santa will be here. As a foodie and holiday lover, I find myself attending a ton of holiday events throughout the season—maybe even hosting a few too.

A cheese plate is a must for any good event. It is quick to put together and instantly wows the crowd. But if you are like me, you have probably asked yourself, “How in the heck do I put together a good cheese plate?”

It took years of practice to finally master my cheese pairing skills. I ate a ton of cheese for the good of the cause. At the end of the day the main principal to apply is include all of the tastes and textures. Below are a few more principals that will help you create a great board:

  1. Variety of Cheese is key. I do not expect you to know everything about cheese (I certainly do not), so there are few good ways to get a good variety on your board. Look for different textures and colors. For example, grab a cheese that is speckled with peppers, or one that is encased in a rind. A second way to add a good variety is to pick up a range of softness, get a super hard cheese like parmesan and a super soft cheese like brie. Make sure you have at least three to four cheese featured on your board.
  2. Add something fresh. Cheese is a rich preserved product, so adding something fresh to your plate instantly adds another note. Grapes are preferable, but fresh fruit like apples or pears work great. Who doesn’t love apples with cheese?
  3.  Sweetness. If you have selected your cheeses properly you will have included a cheese that needs a sweet counterpart. Blue cheese loves honey. Another sweet option is a jar of artisanal jam or jelly.
  4. Nuts are needed. Salt and texture come from this addition. Again, another way to add layers of flavor to an otherwise boring presentation.
  5. Throw on some fancy pickled products. I am not referring to hamburger chips or pickle spears. Open a jar of olives, pickled okra, or any pickled vegetable. Including good pickled items adds a pick-me-up to the dish. The vinegar cuts through the decadent cheese and cleanses the palate.
  6. Meats are mandatory. The argument can be made that adding cured meats make the board more of a charcuterie than a cheese plate. I disagree. A few cured meats satisfies the meat lovers in the room and adds even more dimension to the party. I often find myself lean towards prosciutto.
  7. Clean out your pantry. If you are struggling to fill up your board take a dive into your pantry. I often throw together a adequate presentation with just a few items from the pantry.
  8. Serve more than one type of cracker. Nobody wants a sleeve of ritz crackers thrown next to the cheese. Amp it up a little and give your guests a variety of crackers. I also love toasting bread points to add into the mix.

Happy Holidays and I hope you are inspired to get out there and use your own creativity in sharing food for the season.

 

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Muscadine & Ricotta on Rye

Muscadine & Ricotta on Rye

Do you know what a muscadine is? It is okay if the answer is no, considering most southerners would answer the same.

My childhood included a giant muscadine vine in the back yard, and most years it produced plethora of the juicy fruits. We had so much fruit growing in the backyard, my mother and I even tried our hand at making muscadine wine. It may have turned out a little on the vinegary side.

A muscadine is the south’s version of a grape but gooier and a bit more tart. They are in season right now and can be found by the carton full at your local farmer’s market. I naturally scooped up more than I could reasonably use in one recipe because finding them inspired me to create.

You can eat them like a grape, but after years of tasting the unique fruit, I can advise you that straight off the vine is not the best option. Roasting them at a high temperature breaks down some of the fibrous material and subdues the chewy fruit. It also adds to the overall flavor since by roasting you are caramelizing the natural sugars.

You can do a lot with a raw or roasted muscadine, but for this years bounty a muscadine toast sounded like an interesting option. A quick call to one of my all-time favorite Savannah restaurants, Cotton & Rye, and I scored a gigantic warm loaf of fresh baked rye bread.

The last ingredient I selected to round out the flavors was fresh, creamy ricotta with a squeeze of lemon.

I think you will find this recipe simple, unique, and quite delicious. Since muscadines are so unique and often difficult to find, I would love to hear you ideas on how to use the fruit.

For another childhood southern recipe click here.

 

Onion, Feta, & Fig Tarts

Onion, Feta, & Fig Tarts

I cannot say that this recipe is a traditional southern one, like most of my posts are. But maybe you will find it so delicious that it will be incorporated into your traditions or celebrations.

The idea behind this recipe is simple: using farm fresh, seasonal, sustainable, and local ingredients.  A tenant which can be said to be southern. Edna Lewis and so many other inspriational southern cooks just like here based their kitchens around this idea.

Truly, there is no better food that what is local to your area and what is in season.

It is finally fig season. It lasts a very short time, but if you are lucky enough (like I was) to source fresh figs you buy them all up. Unlike my husband, I was not lucky enough to grow up with a giant fig tree close by which produced an abundant amount of the unique fruit. My mom preferred her peach tree.

As for the feta, it is locally sourced from Bootleg Farm. Savannah’s beloved goat farm which produces fresh goat cheese. Read more about them Here.

A quick carmalization on some onions and I had a winning recipe. Buttery puff pastry sits at the base for these ultra savory and slightly sweet seasonal tarts.

You can eat these savory puff pastry tarts on their own or pair them with dinner. I will post later detailing what I did with these little beauties.

An overhead photo of the warm tarts

Cajun Meat Bread

Cajun Meat Bread

Most southern food is bone sticking and hearty. A style that can be contributed to the economics of survival.

This recipe is not different. A full loaf of bread is stuffed with meats, cheeses, and vegetables before being baked off. The result is a spicy gooey filled bread that acts as the perfect appetizer for any party.

This is a dish that I have eaten since I was a little girl, even considering it is difficult to find many versions of it in cookbooks or online.

Everyone in my family loves it. It originates from my Aunt’s mother, Mary Joyce, who is Cajun through and through. It is one of those items that is always present at family gatherings – especially large ones. A fact that is evident by the size of the portions used in the original recipe that was given to me:

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Personally, I do not cook for 80-100 people. I have a small family. So, the challenge with recreating this recipe was doing so in a way that would feed a smaller group. Lets say 10-12 people.

During my first test run of the condensed version of this recipe, I realized that the original recipe was missing some important instructions. A lack of instruction can easily be attributed to the fact that May Joyce has made this time and time again, so writing down all of the finite details was not something she needed to do. She has them all memorized.

To fill in the gaps, I did a little digging.  I found a recipe for creole meat bread by Emeril Lagasse, click here.

There is a large difference in creole and cajun food. Creole food is the result of many nationalities who settled in New Orleans. In many creole recipes you will find inspiration from West African, Spanish, Haitian, French, and many other cultures.

Cajun food comes from the Acadian people and has a French influence. You will find Cajun food primarily outside of the city…where my family lives.

Comparing the two, although one cajun and one creole,  helped fill in some of the gaps.

I present my version of meat bread. Of course it will never be good as the original I ate growing up. It is not easy to include the love that is thrown into every family recipe that is made for you, instead of by you.

For another Louisiana inspired recipe, click here.

Prosciutto & Manchego Cheese Crackers

Prosciutto & Manchego Cheese Crackers

Nutty, salty, crunchy, cheesy crackers—what could be better? I absolutely adore this recipe. It is easy yet a show stopper.

On top of that, this recipe is my take on a southern classic: cheese straws. As a southern girl, my go to cooking style is just that. When I get the opportunity I jump at the chance to revamp a classic southern recipe.

Every true southerner has been to a party or shower and sampled some homemade cheese straws. They are nutty, spicy (because of the use of red pepper), baked crunchy little cheese treats. Like sweet tea, cucumber sandwiches, or deviled eggs, you will can usually find cheese straw on the table of a party that is below the mason Dixon.

A stack of square baked manchego cheese crackers

Although I could not find any reliable sources on the true origins of this southern delicacy, I can tell you the idea behind them (at least in my not-so-expert opinion). The base recipe is a simple, half biscuit-like mixture and half shredded cheddar cheese. You pipe out the cheese mixture onto a sheet pan and bake them until nice and crispy.

Since you use shredded cheese, it is very easy to swap out cheddar with any comparable semi-hard cheese. To make my version a bit more fancy (cue my favorite Reba song), I swapped out the cheddar for Spanish Manchego cheese. Manchego is close to the top of my list of favorite cheeses.

A jar of manchego cheese crackers filled with cripsy proscuitto ham

I wanted to take the flavors a little further and balance the cheese flavor, so I crisped up some prosciutto and tossed it into the mix. You do not have to toss ham in, you can keep the prosciutto soft and serve it on the plate with the cheese crackers. I also thought a note of sweetness would be nice, so I plopped a jar of fig jam next to the platter.

The result, a slightly updated classic that everyone at the party I attended loved just as much (if not more) than the tried and true original version.

As with most of my recipes, this one is interchangeable. You can use any semi-hard cheese, toss in something extra, pair the finished crackers with any cured meat, and use any type of jam you would like. Challenge yourself and see if you can come up with your own winning flavor combination.

A slate tray of two types of manchego cheese crackers and proscuitto ham

Toasted Barrel

Toasted Barrel

I can’t think of two more delicious items than cheese and bourbon. Everyone (save a few picky eaters) loves rich, decadent flavors that deliver the paradigm of what Southerners have been taught that good food is supposed to be.

Luckily for Savannah, Michelin Star-trained Chef Thomas Ciszak felt the same. Last weekend marked the beginning of his ideal whiskey/cheese mash-up with the opening of the low country’s newest casual dining bar and restaurant—Toasted Barrel. Toasted Barrel is the creation of delectable food maestro Chef Ciszak.

As Chef Ciszak put it, “Toasted Barrel is an ideal place to enjoy a cocktail or a light meal, featuring fresh, [and] delicious ingredients.”

The location is perfect for locals and visitors alike. The artfully decorated restaurant sits on the corner of Oglethorpe and Montgomery, within the SpringHill Suites and just a short stroll from the new Cultural Arts Center.

If you have not figured it out by now, “Toasted” refers to the long list of toasted sandwiches and dishes available on the menu, and “Barrel” represents the over forty available high-end bourbons.

The stand out cocktail for me was the Smoky Deal—a bacon-infused bourbon-based mixture. Head bartender Jordan Sox explained how the insanely unique infused dark liquor is created:
“We take bacon fat and we take Four Roses bourbon, we put them together and we freeze it.”

The mixture is, of course, strained before it is used, and the final flavor tastes like the most concentrated (and delicious) maple bacon essence you’ve ever tasted. Overall the finished cocktail tastes like a smokey sweet bourbon dessert.

The recommended sandwich pairing is the Bacon Schmelz—because one can never have too much bacon in their life.

One Hot Cucumber is the ideal cocktail to balance the richness of each gooey cheese sandwich. Citrus forward and piney Hendrick’s gin is combined with fresh lime and light coconut water for a smooth and easy-to-drink companion that pairs well with a lot of Toasted Barrel’s rich, savory sammies.

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The Monkey Barrel was created by Sox for the grand opening of Toasted Barrel. “It is a variation on a daiquiri, but with overproof Jamaican rum, Four Roses bourbon, creme de banana, and fresh lemon juice,” Sox explained as I sat at the bustling and beautifully adorned bar.

The reason for the addition of bourbon into a rum drink is due to Toasted Barrel’s focus on bourbon, but the additive is not anything but complementary to the base drink.

As the name would suggest, the grilled cheese selection is robust. I am confident in saying there is a toasted masterpiece perfect for any toasty dairy connoisseur.

Chef Ciszak selected Auspicious Bakery bread to adorn each one of his cheese filled artworks, and as anyone who knows grilled cheeses knows, the bread is extremely important.

Starting at the very top of the list, the Classic Cheese grilled cheese sandwich is just as bold as any of the unique combinations listed on the menu. Often times the simplest dishes are the most difficult to execute well, but The Toasted Barrel has simplicity figured out.

A river of melted cheddar cheese flows between slices of buttery grilled Auspicious toasts, and the robust serving of cheese inside is created by the use of double the amount of cheese of one of their other sandwiches. Simple yet well seasoned, this rendition is the quintessential toasted sandwich.

Fluffy scrambled eggs, sweet sausage, and sharp cheddar cheese make up the Breakfast Melt. Any good cook or chef knows just how difficult a good scrambled egg is to perfect, yet Chef Ciszak has done so. The succulent eggs add moisture to the spiced sausage and salty cheese.

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My favorite was the Toast “Monsieur,” a grilled cheese upgraded with salty sweet maple glazed ham, ultra savory gruyere cheese, and tangy grain mustard. The grain mustard serves to add texture and cut through the richness of the ham and cheese combination.

I saved the Crispy Goat for last because it could almost be dessert. Fork tender roasted beets come layered with sticky fig jam, tart balsamic, and velvety chèvre cheese. Any earthy flavor of the beets were cooked away with the roasting leaving behind a delicate root vegetable that held up well to the sweetness of the fig jam. Chef Ciszak’s use of balsamic vinegar rounded out all of the sugary notes, while the smooth chèvre cheese brought the entire dish home.

If you do not end up trying multiple sandwiches, a side item or two accompanies any main dish properly.

I grabbed multiple servings of Toasted Barrel’s Hand Cut Fries, and I do not know which tasted better, the fries themselves or the sriracha mayonnaise accompanying them. The Belgian style fries, cut thicker than most, are pillowy on the inside, crisp on the outside, and speckled with just the right amount of salt. The mayonnaise was not too spicy, instead working to coat the mouth with silky savory taste of sweet vinegary pepper.

When you find the Tater Tots listed on the menu of sides, do not be fooled into thinking you will be served modest rounds of white potato. Chef Ciszak created his own version using sweet potatoes and parmesan cheese. Tender, tiny pillows of silky sweet potato are fried until they have an outer shell of crunchy goodness. The petite crunchy clouds are then served with salty and nutty parmesan cheese to balance it all out.

Finally, because what is a grilled cheese without tomato soup to dunk it in, the restaurant offers their San Mariano Tomato Soup accompanied with five spice croutons as a side item.

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Like any succulent homemade tomato soup, their version is thick with seasoning and spices visibly floating about the savory soul warming concoction. The five spices on the crouton only deepen taste of the vivacious dish.

Original article is here.

 

Ultimate Cornbread

Ultimate Cornbread

Officially, it is the time of year for parties, potlucks, family gatherings, and anything in-between. Fall is the time of year that I love most, mainly because all of the festivities gives me an excuse to cook – as if I needed one. For most cooks, the love of cooking comes from sharing your finished dish with others.

But with all of the doing and making everyone gets a bit tired, which is where quick and easy recipes come into play. A home cook can never have too many delicious quick recipes, the kind you lean towards when in a pinch or too busy to really put work into a dish.

A homemade batch of cornbread can easily fill in the gaps for any potluck or gathering. For me, the problem is that making perfect cornbread is not something I have mastered – until I came up with this recipe.

There are many schools of thought on cornbread; some like is sweet, some like it course, some like it filled with things, etc. Personally, I love the sweet version that comes straight from a box. I grew up eating sweet skillet cornbread, so anything short of what I grew up with was was never good enough.

Until this recipe, I did not know out how to make sweet cornbread that stayed together when sliced. And because everyone has their own preference in cornbread, I wanted to include as much in one recipe as possible…creating the ultimate cornbread.

My version uses honey as one of the sweeteners along with fresh sweet corn on the cob stirred right in. To balance everything out, fresh jalapenos are added for a little heat. Finally, smoked cheddar cheese is grated over the top to add a final layer of umami. As the cornbread cooks, the cheese becomes bubbly and browns on the top of the bread.

The best part, the dish takes only 15-20 minutes to mix together and bake – perfect for anyone in a pinch or just plain overworked.

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