Perfect Little Starter Plate

April 6th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Quick, Rituals

One of these days Andy will write his post calling bull$#@t on starters. (He could, in fact, fill a book dedicated to calling bull$#@t in general.) “Why,” he always asks “do we spend so much time putting together a delicious dinner if our guests are just going to fill up on cheese and crackers and approach the table stuffed before they even lift their forks?”  I think he has a point, but I also know that a well-curated starter plate is one of the great pleasures in life, and if assembled correctly can actually make you hungrier. As usual, I have a formula in the back of my head when I’m putting one together. It goes something like this:

Perfect Starter Plate = something sweet + something crunchy + something pickled + something from a pig + something aged

The trick is just to not have an obscene amount of any one thing. Above, you’ll see a small hunk of aged Manchego, about a quarter pound of Parma (you could do regular prosciutto or Serrano ham), some cornichons from Trader Joe’s (the best in my opinion and there would be more in that bowl if the girls didn’t eat them like popcorn right from the jar), and some pecan-raisin crackers from Eli’s Bread. Lesley Stowe’s raincoast crisps (Whole Foods) hit the sweet-crunchy note nicely, too.

Have a great holiday.


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The Family Cheese Plate

March 15th, 2011 · 13 Comments · Entertaining, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

Before kids we were mushroom-stuffers and tomato-scoopers. Before kids we weren’t afraid of the adjective “hot” before the word “appetizer.” I think when we lived in Brooklyn — when the girls were as distant on the horizon as the suburbs were — we might have even served a chilled avocado and cucumber soup as an amuse bouche for our friends Jeni and Ben. We don’t do the amuse bouche anymore when we are entertaining. In fact, we don’t use the word “entertain” anymore. These days, it’s more like we have friends over or we have what you might just call “giant family playdates.” All of which is to say that the cheese plate has never been more vital a move in the married-with-children culinary repertoire. Cause when you’re at the point that we’re at, you just want to buy a bunch of crowdpleasers — cheeses that are somewhere between Kraft twisted bi-color sticks and aged Stilton, things you don’t have to cook or carve or stick toothpicks into — and then be done with it.

Crowdpleaser Cheese Plate
You can find most of these at Murrays, Dean & DeLuca, or Whole Foods.

La Tur (pictured, above) This is an airy, mild cow-milk-goat blend — probably too mild for hardcore cheese afficionados, but kids will eat it like it’s cream cheese.
Point Reyes Blue – Award-winning blue from the family-run northern California dairy farm. For the kids, it’s a good introduction to stinky. For the grown-ups, it’s just plain good.
Humboldt Fog – The bougie staple. It’s a tangy, but not too tangy goat that’s chalky in the middle and creamy around the rind.  I don’t think I’ve been to a party in the last decade where this wasn’t on the cheese board. The kids love it because little layer of ash down the middle makes it look like a piece of cake.
Trader Joe’s Cheese Twists (not pictured, sorry!) Not the actual sticks made of cheese, but the sharp cheddar baked twists, which I usually shove in a jam jar to give the plate some height.
Aged Manchego Aged is operative word. You want something with some bite. My friend Joyce was the first one to tell me to go ahead and pair it with fig or quince paste on a baguette slice. PER.FECT.
Quince or Fig Jam Such an easy way to elevate the spread. And did I mention so delicious with aged Manchego or Parm?
Baguette, preferably fresh, preferably skinny, cut into thin slices. No need to toast.
Halved pomegranate Purely decorative unless my 7-year-old attends your party — she will decimate it in about 3 seconds.

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