A Proper Cheese Plate

With the holidays coming up, I think it’s important to go over what I like to call the basics of putting together a cheese plate. I must say that this is the easiest way to put out “appetizers” and it always goes over well with your guests. I don’t think there is any reason to do much more than this when hosting a party. Although I must say that I always make Ina Garten’s sausage stuffed mushrooms as well because they are simply out of this world.

Here are the 7 components of a fantastic cheese tray:
1. Sharp Cheese
Choose a sharp cheese like an aged cheddar, aged gouda or parmesan.
2. Blue Cheese
Choose a good blue cheese such as stilton, moody blue (Smoked Blue Cheese), or gorgonzola.
3. Goat Cheese or Sheep’s Milk Cheese
Choose a delicious, tangy chèvre, goat gouda, drunken goat, or manchego.
4. Cheese Spread
This is a great option to have in case there are any children at the party. I often go with a port wine cheddar cheese spread. If the store is open, I will go for our own hand-mixed champagne cheddar.
5. Brie
Choose some type of brie-like cheese such as Fromage D’Affinois, Delice de Bourgogne, St. Andre, or St. Angel. You can also top them with fig jam or have a side of chutney as an option. The possibilities are endless.
5. Cured Meat
Choose prosciutto, chorizo, salami, or sopressata. Go wild and choose a couple!
6. Pickled or Brined Item
Choose from olives, cornichons, gherkins, roasted red peppers, or marinated artichokes.
7. Cracker or Fresh Bread
Choose any type of cracker that you prefer or a freshly baked bread. Of course, I like to use French bread from the bakery. I also prefer to use pita chips, flatbreads, and nut and fruit crackers such as the Almondina brand.
An arrangement of these will make for a successful cocktail hour. Everyone will be pleased to meet your cheese tray at your next holiday party.

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This is a cheese platter that I put together for a customer at the bakery. Their guests were happy with the choices I made…Five Counties, Delice de Bourgogne, Stilton, Miticrema, and Bellavitano.
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This is a cheese platter I put together for a friend and I for a fun summer picnic on my back deck. It was all we needed for dinner. Everything you see here can be found at my bakery. That’s an advantage of owning your own store!
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This graphite serving board allows you to write the name of the cheese onto the platter using a piece of soapstone. My friend Kelly got this for me for my 30th birthday and I love it!
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Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms

This is one of my favorite holiday appetizers to make for a crowd.  This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite food network star’s, Ina Garten.  It is simple to make and will please everyone’s tastebuds.  The hint of sherry and fresh flavors really make them special.  You should make them for your Christmas Day appetizer this year…it’s just that easy.

Ingredients

16 extra large white mushrooms, olive oil, 2 1/2 tbsp sherry, 1 lb. Bob Evans or Jimmy Dean sage sausage, 6 scallions minced, 2 garlic cloves minced, 2/3 c. panko, 5 oz. cream cheese, 1/3 cup parmesan, 1/2 bunch fresh parsley minced, salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and chop finely.  Set this aside.  Place the caps in a shallow baking dish and toss with 3 tbsp of olive oil and sherry.  Set this aside.

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Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the sausage.  Make sure to crumble the sausage in the pan as you are cooking it.  Once the sausage is browned, add the chopped mushroom stems and cook until tender.  Stir in the scallions and garlic and cook for another five minutes.  Add the panko crumbs and stir well to combine everything.  Lastly, fold in the cream cheese on low heat and continue until the cream cheese is melted and thoroughly incorporated.  Turn the heat off.  Stir in the parm and parsley.  Then add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the mixture is cool enough to handle, fill each mushroom with the sausage mixture.  There will be plenty of stuffing so make sure to put a heaping pile of it in the mushroom.  Arrange the mushrooms in a single layer in the same baking dish in which you have pre-treated the mushroom caps.  Make sure they are snug in the pan so they do not move around when you place them in the oven.
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Bake until the stuffing is browned. You can only imagine how great they will look once they are cooked. I got so engrossed in the dinner party in which I served them at and forgot to take a final picture. You can check out Ina’s recipe here if you want to take a look at the final product.

Pretzel Perfect

So I mentioned on my Thanksgiving recap that I would post the soft pretzel recipe I made for an appetizer.  I pinned the recipe for the pretzels when I saw them on Food Gawker a couple months ago, and I knew they would be great for the Thanksgiving crowd at my house.  Let me tell you something.  Re-prioritize your life today and make these now.  Your family and friends will thank you.

I’m still trying to get the hang of dealing with yeast, but this time it worked out for me.  The recipe has a few different steps but each step is pretty easy.  Just remember to budget an hour to let the dough rise.  It was the toughest hour of my day, I was chomping at the bit to get those pretzels in the oven!

Soft Pretzel Bites

Yields about 100 bites depending how big you cute them, recipe from Snixy Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 Tbs light brown sugar
  • 1 packet of active dry yeast
  • 3 oz melted unsalted butter (3/4 of 1 stick)
  • 2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • 12 cups water
  • 3/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Salt for the top of the pretzels (I just used kosher because I couldn’t find pretzel salt in the store)

Method

  1. Put your dough hook on your stand mixer or hand held electric mixer.  Mix together warm water, brown sugar, yeast, and melted butter.  Let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Add salt and flour and mix until dough starts pulling away from the bowl. About 3-4 minutes.  Turn out on a floured surface and knead with your hands into a ball.
  3. Coat a bowl with Vegetable oil, place dough in bowl, and turn over to make sure it is coated with oil.  Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour.  It should double in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 425.
  5. Bring a the 12 cups of water to a boil and add the baking soda.  Divide dough into 8 portions.  Roll the portions into long skinny strips and slice into small nuggets.  They will puff when you boil them so you can be conservative when you cut them.
  6. Drop the nuggets about 15 at a time in the boiling water for about 30 seconds.  Push them a little to make sure they get wet on all sides.  After 30 seconds pull them out with a slotted spoon or strainer.
  7. Put the boiled nuggets on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush them with egg wash and sprinkle them with salt.  Pop them in the oven for 10-15 minutes until they are a medium brown.  Careful they don’t burn on the bottom!
  8. Grab some mustard and enjoy!