Category Archives: Entertaining

Cheese Board

A Dinner Party Cheese Board

Last month I wrote about how I was going to focus on putting effort into cheese presentation rather than slinging a few hunks on a board and calling it a day. I haven’t completely cleaned up my act yet, but I think this arrangement for a recent dinner party hosted by my sister turned out pretty well.

Here’s what’s on the board (clockwise from the top):

Cheese Board

  • Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche — goat’s milk

(That beautiful color comes from soft ripening with tree ash.)

  • The Savannah Bee Company Cheese Honey

(My current go-to honey.)

  • Lazy Lady Farm Oh My Heart — cow’s milk

(A Brie-style only available from Sept. through April.)

  • Raspberries
  • Cypress Grove Chèvre Lamb Chopper — sheep’s milk

(A mild cheese perfect for people who don’t think they like sheep’s milk cheese.)

  • Piave — cow’s milk

(Similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano but more of a table cheese. This is one of my favorites for pregnant women as it’s aged, pasteurized and delicious.)

  • English cheddar — cow’s milk

(Even the least adventurous eaters are willing to eat cheddar, so I always include one in every assortment I serve.)

Ina Garten Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

I typically avoid recipes that call for what I consider to be luxury machinery — mainly a food processor or stand mixer. After all, I live in New York City. I barely have room for a stove. Take up precious counter space with a rarely used stand mixer? No, thanks.

So when my sister showed me Ina Garten’s recipe for tomato crostini with whipped feta (which you can find here), I was immediately skeptical. While I adore the Barefoot Contessa, the first step calls for mixing together feta and cream cheese in a food processor. I advised skipping the recipe and subbing in something simpler for the party Alex was throwing. But my little sister did what she often does — she ignored me.

Alex was undeterred by her lack of what seemed to me like critical machinery. Instead, she mixed together the cheeses and whipped in a healthy dose of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper all by hand, actually achieving a fairly creamy consistency. While she does have a surprising amount of upper arm strength for being such a slim thing, I think she proved that this recipe is easily manageable even if you lack the convenience of a food processor.

The cheese mixture was then spread onto crostini, forming a base for garlicky marinated tomatoes. Alex chose an heirloom cherry variety, which I think actually made her version look more colorful and appetizing than Ina’s. (I’m waiting for lightning to strike me for saying that…)

Here’s the Food Network photo:

Ina Garten Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

And here’s Alex’s:

Ina Garten Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

She eliminated the pine nuts simply because she didn’t want to buy a whole bag and only use a handful. But if you have some lying around at home, I would include them to give the appetizer another layer of texture.

Ina Garten Tomato Crostini With Whipped Feta

 

These crostini were a big hit at my sister’s party and are definitely going into my recipe box.

Granite Cheese Board

My Renovation Regret

Last summer, Dave and I embarked upon a gut renovation of our kitchen. As pretty much everyone who has endured home construction warned us, it took three times as long and cost way more than we expected.

Our kitchen went from this:

Kitchen Before Renovation

To this scary stage:

Kitchen During Renovation

And, eventually, to this:

Kitchen After Renovation

After spending months reading every home design magazine I could get my hands on, I thought I was a complete kitchen expert. I had zero regrets with my choices (um, I mean our choices)… that is, until now.

I was having lunch with my friend Michelle and chatting about her recent kitchen renovation when she told me that she had saved the piece of granite countertop that was cut out to make an opening for her sink. And she’s now using it as a cheese board!! I think I actually dropped my fork. How had I not thought of this??

I love my countertops. I actually trekked out to New Jersey three separate times just to find the perfect stone. And I let the installer throw away a piece big enough to serve at least nine cheeses in style! It seriously pains me.

Michelle, who is clearly way smarter than I am, was kind enough to share the following photos.

Sink Cut-Out

Her sink cut-out became this beautiful cheese board:

Granite Cheese Board

This is such a terrific idea. I’ve already sworn that I will never renovate again. But if I ever renege on that promise to myself, I will definitely end up with a gorgeous cheese board matching my new counters.

Cheese Presentation

Cheese Presentation

I love the way cheese plates are presented at restaurants — with perfect triangles of manchego, thick wedges of blue and precise rectangles of gruyere. I’m just way too impatient to do that at home.

(And I don’t have a stellar track record. The last time I attempted a pre-cut cheese board for a friend’s party, I chose a triple-creme that was wholly inappropriate for a hot car ride in July. Even with my AC cranking, the beautiful pyramid of rectangles I had constructed turned into a gelatinous pool by the time I arrived. We still ate it, but it sure wasn’t pretty.)

Instead, when hosting friends or family, I typically put out big hunks of cheese and a couple of knives in a serve-yourself format. That’s why I love when my sister-in-law is in charge of putting together the cheese course. Not only is Stacey’s presentation so attractive, her perfectly proportioned slices and wedges keep me from overindulging before we even get to dinner.

Check out her handiwork at a recent family event where she created two small boards:

Cheese Presentation

Cheese Presentation

My 2014 resolution (yes, I know I’m quite late) is to put more effort into presentation. I’ll be posting photos as I go and I’d love to post yours too. If you create a beautiful cheese board, please send me pictures!

Using dental floss to cut goat cheese

Using Dental Floss To Slice Goat Cheese

Cutting perfect rounds of goat cheese for a cheese plate, salad or a pizza is always a pain. Using a knife — even when the cheese is straight out of the fridge — often ends up with it crumbling and looking like this:

Crumbled Goat Cheese

Not exactly picture-perfect. Cue the secret weapon:

Use dental floss to slice goat cheese

(Just make sure to use an unflavored variety of floss or your cheese will turn out minty fresh…)

First, wrap the floss around your index fingers:

Using floss to cut goat cheese rounds

Then use your thumbs for leverage as you slice through the cheese:

Slicing goat cheese with dental floss

Shimmy the floss under the bottom of the round in order to get it cleanly off the cutting surface.

And voila! Here are the pretty circles that you’ll end up with:

Goat Cheese Rounds

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini

The Easiest Appetizer Ever

Let me set a scene for you: I’ve invited friends over for dinner at 7 pm. I inevitably end up being stuck late at work, the subway is delayed and there’s a long line at the bakery, where it seems the entire neighborhood is suddenly clamoring for baguettes. I get home at 6:45, finding myself with zero food ready and a mere 15 minutes before my guests arrive.

Cue the pesto mozzarella crostini.

This is the quickest appetizer in my arsenal (other than throwing out a hunk of cheese and a knife, which I usually do in tandem with this app.) Plus, these little crostini are both elegant and seriously foolproof, a rare combination in the culinary arts.

All it takes are four simple ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • One baguette
  • Pesto
  • Plain or marinated baby mozzarella balls (also known as bocconcini)

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini Ingredients

Here’s how to do it:

  • Preheat the broiler
  • Slice the bread and lightly spritz it with cooking spray
  • Broil the bread till golden

(Note: Watch the crostini like a hawk. They can go from perfectly toasted to blackened hockey pucks in a matter of seconds.)

Crostini

  • Cut the mozzarella balls in half
  • Spread pesto on each crostini

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini

  •  Top with two mozzarella halves

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini

  • Sprinkle with pepper, if so desired

(Note: I only add pepper if I’m using plain mozzarella balls because they just look too naked. If I have marinated mozzarella, the herbs and red pepper provide a little extra flavor and give the balls a shot of pretty.)

Pesto Mozzarella Crostini

The whole shebang takes under ten minutes, dirtying only a baking sheet and cutting board, which I can quickly clean and stash away before anyone arrives. Plus, gobbling up these little guys typically distracts my guests from the fact that I haven’t yet started dinner. Wine also helps with that.