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Cheese boards are a great start to a meal (sometimes even a meal on their own) and a great conversation piece at a gathering. It’s kind of the pregame for food and allows people to socialize while tasting some new cheeses and possibly try some new wines. I actually put this one together the other day when I caught myself staring at a pack of dried figs and thinking, “Now, what could I do with those?” I was actually checking out some dried Greek figs on a string that were packaged neatly. After thinking about how I would prepare them and what I’d serve them with, I actually decided to go with some dried Mission figs. I knew I wanted to stuff and bake them and I knew the Greek figs were known to be very “seed forward” if that makes sense. The mission fig is what most people are used to snacking on out of hand and the dried version is actually pretty reminiscent of Fig Newtons. So Mission figs it was..and is.
Number 1. I love cheese. One of my local grocers here actually has a humongous cheese case and fills some of the baskets with leftover cuts of cheese that are below 5 bucks. That’s kinda perfect for this board because you can really go a little variety crazy on your cheese selections. A few basics to keep in mind with creating any cheese board is:
Try and keep your different offerings of cheese between 3 and 5 varieties. I chose 3 selections because it’s a smaller platter for 2-3 people and I wanted to keep it simple.
*Offer a variety of cheeses such as hard and soft as well as one’s that are made with different types of milk, like goat, sheep, or cow’s milk.
*Add a fresh fruit component as a palette cleanser between foods as well as mix it up with some dried fruit.
*Stick to cheeses that are not layered with flavor like a simple Parm or Brie and stay away from the flavored ones such as an herb or garlic cheese.
*Offer something salty or acidic such as olives or cornichons.
*If you want to have a bit more variety you can add some cured meat(s) which pairs wonderfully with the cheese.
*Offer either a bread or cracker selection, keeping it simple with the flavors as to not overpower the cheese flavor.
*Add a handful of nuts for crunch as well as for pairing with the cheese and fresh fruit.
*Estimate about a pound of cheese for every 5 guests. I bought about 3/4 lb. cheese for this board.
*Try cheeses from a particular region of the world…maybe even your own home town!
Go ahead and pre-cut the cheese into serving sizes before service and refrigerate until about an hour before you serve the cheese to allow it to get to room temp again. This will actually help the true flavors of the cheese shine through and reveal little nuances that would’ve gone undetected with the colder cheese.
These are the cheeses I chose:
Naked Goat: 6 month aged goat cheese from Spain. It has an oiliness but is at the same time buttery. It is a firm cheese with grassy notes. This is great served with a crispy white wine.
Fromage D Affinois: A double cream cheese reminiscent of brie that is completely addictive. It’s from cow’s milk and has an edible white rind. It is earthy and buttery and goes great with walnuts or grapes (hint, hint). This was my soft cheese of choice and it’s important to let this one rest at room temp so that it softens nicely and is perfectly spreadable on whatever bread or cracker vessel you choose. This cheese pairs well with a sparkling wine like champagne, a cider, or wheat beer.
Blue Valdeon: This was my fig stuffing cheese and I chose to use the rest of the wedge on my board. It’s pretty pungent but deliciously so. It is deeply veined but is balanced in saltiness and spice. This is actually a mixture of cow and goat’s milk. This would pair well with a Porter or Stout beer or even a Reisling wine.
It’s funny that most of these cheeses have a recommendation of white wines. I just picked up my favorite Pinot Noir and it didn’t let me down, per usual…especially with the blue cheese.
This platter has a handful of grapes as well as some sliced fresh cantaloupe. I scattered walnuts around the platter. My “piece de resistance” was the stuffed figs. They were so delicate and delicious but had a pungent bite from the bleu. The recipe is here below:
- 10-12 Black Mission Figs, Dried
- 1/8 lb. Blue Cheese
- Olive Oil, 1 Tablespoon
- Balsamic Vinegar (A good one), 1 Tablespoon
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 350°. Remove hard stem end from fig. Split figs in half lengthwise. Make a little indentation with your finger and place a pinkie nails worth of cheese in the center. Top with other half of fig, pressing together slightly to seal, and set to side. In a small bowl toss figs with a glug of oil. Place on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and drizzle with fine Balsamic Vinegar. Bake for 5 minutes and set to side to cool.
Slice your cheeses into thin 2 to 3 bite pieces. Arrange cheese in varying directions. Add dried fruit and nuts. Set crackers or bread on platter and top with fresh fruits. I made my crackers from scratch using a super simple recipe you’ll find here.
If you love cheese the way I do you’re really gonna love putting these boards together for friends….or maybe just you and someone special. It’s really a great excuse to try some new flavors in cheeses and in wines and what a new and exciting world to have open up before you-the world of CHEESE! What kind of accompaniments do you like to have with your favorite cheese(s)? Maybe you prefer something with a little more salinity. Olives from Spain or maybe Prosciutto from Italy. Tell me!
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Pumpkin pie. Pecan Pie. Some sort of fruit Pie. That’s typically what pops into one’s mind when they think of the Thanksgiving dessert table. Yes, table. Growing up, we visited my family in middle Georgia and for dessert there was a TABLE filled with an array of desserts. And for a little kid peering down the long church borrowed folding table, it was a buffet of sweet and udder deliciousness meant for my tiny tummy. My Aunt Kathy, which I’ve mentioned in one of my previous posts, was a hell of a cook. Everything she made was comfort food at its finest. Buttery. Rich. Indulgent. Delicious. How could it be anything but delicious when it was being made by the hands of the sweetest woman on earth?
When I was thinking of pies to make this season my mind immediately went back to all three of the pies I mentioned above. The pumpkin recipe on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can has always been a dependable recipe. The same goes for the ol’ faithful recipe for pecan pie located right on the Karo syrup bottle. The only exception I made with the pecan pie (after reading several other versions) of pecan pie was to cook the sugar and syrup before adding it to the recipe as opposed to just stirring everything together and pouring it in a pie shell. I also wanted to do a homemade crust for each.
The crust I used for all three mini pies was the same I used for my Southern Tomato Pie which is an awesome crust by Alton Brown that uses both lard and butter. It is the flakiest, richest, butteriest crust that’ll ever touch your tongue. And believe me, it won’t be there long.
I used muffin tins that make 12 muffins per tin and are about 3 inches in diameter. The pie crust will come up the tin only about half way, making a truly “mini” pie. The pecan and apple pies both benefit from a knife being run around the edges slightly to help loosen the baked on sugar. Once all of the pies have cooled completely they will release fairly easy from the greased muffin tin using the edge of a butter knife or a spoon.
6 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Lard
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Sugar
1/4 Cup Water, Iced
Make sure your fats (in this case your lard and butter are super cold…like put in the freezer cold). Mix Flour, Salt, and Sugar in bowl of food processor. Add in butter and pulse until butter is in pea sized clumps. Add lard and pulse just a couple of times until it is in small chunks as well. Through food processor feeder slowly add half the water and pulse a couple of times. If it’s still super dry, add rest of water.
Once it’s looking like the dough in the video you can watch here, remove it from the food processor and put it in a Ziploc bag. Gently shape it into a ball and refrigerate for 30 minutes. I left mine in the fridge for about an hour while I prepared everything else. The picture to the right is of a perfectly golden brown crust after it’s baked in the oven.
Libby’s Pumpkin Pie Mini’s
This recipe makes enough filling for about 25 mini pies! I doubled the recipe on the pie crust for this recipe.
Double recipe of Pie Dough/Divided
3/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 teaspoon Ground Cloves
2 large eggs
1 Can (15 oz.) Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin
1 Can (12 oz.) Carnation Evaporated Milk
Mix sugar and spices in bowl. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar spice mix. Gradually add in milk. Put filling to side.
Preheat oven to 425°.
Spray a nonstick 12 count muffin pan lightly with cooking oil. Working with one recipe of dough at a time, roll out pastry to 1/8″ thickness. Keep the other dough in the fridge until ready to use. It’s much easier to work with cold dough versus warm dough. Using a cookie cutter ( 3 1/2″ – 4″ diameter) (or cup, or lid, or whatever you’ve got on hand with about the same diameter) cut out your pastries. You’ll probably only get 8 or 9 in the first go, so carefully gather your dough and roll it out again to get your remaining discs. If you need to refrigerate the dough again to firm it back up, feel free to do so now. Gently press each into the molds. Using a small measuring cup gently pour the pumpkin filling into each mold almost to the edge of the crust. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 350° and bake another 10 minutes until set.
This pie uses the ingredients exactly as they are written by Karo Corn Syrup. The method of preparing is only slightly different. This makes about 15 mini pecan pies.
1 Cup Karo Light Corn Syrup
1 Cup Sugar, granulated
2 Tablespoons, butter
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1-1/2 cups pecans,chopped.
15 Additional pecan halves for decorating (optional)
Spray muffin tins with a nonstick cooking spray. Roll out dough to 1/8″ thickness. Using a cookie cutter gently cut out circles to form pies. Heat corn syrup and sugar in a sauce pot until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Beat eggs in medium sized bowl. Add butter to hot mixture and either let cool to room temperature or temper sugar into eggs slowly to avoid cooking eggs. Stir in extract and pecans. Using a small measuring cup, gently scoop the batter into the pie shells, filling almost to the tip top. Top each with a pecan half. Bake at 350° for 15 to 17 minutes or until filling is set. If you’re using a thermometer the temp should be 200° or you can insert a knife gently near the middle and it will come out clean when they are done cooking.
Pear Walnut Mini Pie:
This recipe makes 12-15 mini apple pies. I top each with a walnut half before baking.
7 Bartlett Pears, Peeled and Sliced (about 6 cups)
2 Tablespoons Butter
1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 cup Light Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Allspice
1/2 Cup Walnuts, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Flour
Mix together both sugars and all spices and salt. In stock pot melt butter. Add Pears and sugar mixture and gently stir. Bring to a simmer and sprinkle over flour. Bring back to simmer and stir gently for a minute or two until thickened. Remove from heat. Let cool to room temp.
Roll out Pie Crust to 1/8″ and cut out rounds using a cookie cutter. Grease muffin tins and line with pie crust. Gently spoon in cooled filling and top with a walnut half.
Bake at 425 for 10 minutes. Lower oven temp to 350 and cook 25 to 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool completely before removing from muffin tin.
The pumpkin mini pies are delicious (and additive) and the recipe by Libby’s is pretty much no fail. You can always add a little more spice if you feel the need but it’s unnecessary. The pear and walnut pies are perfect lil bites of Autumn flavors with a bit of crunch from the walnuts. By far though, my favorite and family’s as well, were the pecan pies. This recipe has the perfect ratio of filling to pie crust. The pie crust is so rich and the filling so heavenly and sweet. We loved the added crunch from the pecans. Those were the first to be eaten. I may double the recipe next time so there’s more to go around.
When you think of Fall and desserts and family gatherings, what desserts in particular pop in your head? Have you ever tried your hand at a home made pie crust? It’s so worth it. To be able to handle the dough. Feel it squish between your fingers. Roll it out. Watch it go from some flour and butter to the tastiest little thing you’ve ever popped in your mouth! If you’ve never made one, what’s holding you back? Comment down below:)
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Italian food has always been and will probably always be my favorite cuisine to make. I’m sure living in Sicily for three years gave me a certain affinity towards not only the culture, but the food as well. Much of the food is prepared quite simply with few ingredients. But the ingredients share one commonality. Freshness.
Unlike Americans, you’ll typically see Europeans at the market daily. It’s not uncommon for them to purchase the groceries that they need for only that day, and perhaps for breakfast the following day. Even then, in the small town I lived, most Sicilians stopped at their local cafe for a caffè (coffee) and a pastry for breakfast each morning.
I lived above a little woman named Nuncia in the small town Piano Tavola, which was about 20 minutes from Catania. Catania is a beautiful ancient city sitting at the foot of Mt. Etna, an active volcano. It’s the second largest city on the island (Palermo being the first) and is rich in history and culture. Besides having the best view of the volcano, the town is full of things to see and do.
Several castles still stand on the island and the Ursino Castle is open to tourists to view from the inside. The Piazza Del Duomo is the main square in Catania filled with shops and resturants. This is also where you’ll find the market, which is open stalls of any and everything you could possibly want to take home for dinner. The food is fresh and grown locally in the fertile soil around the volcano. There’s an array of vegetables, fruits, meats and cheeses. In this same market you’ll also find the Pescheria (fish market) where fish that were swimming just that morning are displayed on tables full of packed ice. You can’t get fish any fresher.
This recipe pays homage to the ingredients used in Sicily and to the techniques carried out by the locals. Fresh vegetables, prized panchetta, zippy citrus, and crunchy toasted pine nuts. Even local Sicilians can’t always have (or have time to make) fresh pasta. All of my coworkers and friends in Sicily swore by Barilla pasta when fresh just wasn’t an option, so that’s what I’m using for this simple recipe.
The creaminess in this dish surprisingly does not come from the dairy but rather the emulsification between the hot pasta water and the fat from the pancetta. I still like to cheese this guy up with salty and sharp pecorino which lends its own body to this dish. For the noodle shape I chose a simple spaghetti noodle that gets coated nicely by this voluptuous sauce and wraps ever so nicely around your fork. This recipe makes enough for 3 to 4 servings. I’d recommend a side salad and maybe some bread to go along with it.
Pancetta, Broccolini, and Pecorino Romano Pasta:
*8 oz. Broccolini, stem ends trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
*1/2 Box Spaghetti Noodles, Barilla (8 oz.)
*3 oz. Pancetta, Diced
*Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
*1 shallot, minced
*2 Cloves Garlic, minced
*1 tablespoon lemon zest
*1 cup pasta water, reserved
*1/4 to 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
1 – 2 tablespoons Pine nuts, toasted (optional)
Prepare an ice bath for the broccolini. Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the water and boil broccolini for 2 minutes. You don’t want to over season the water for the noodles because the panchetta and cheese both contain a high amount of salt on their own. Remove from water and plunge into ice bath until cool and remove to colander to drain.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to now boiling water and cook pasta to al dente. About 9 minutes. Start rendering pancetta in cold pan large skillet or 9″ deep pan. Cook on medium low heat until almost crisp. Add in shallot and cook for 2 minutes or until translucent and add in minced garlic. Cook another minute or so until fragrant. Season with fresh pepper and salt and stir in lemon zest. Using tongs gently add in cooked pasta as well as 1/3 cup of the pasta water and toss to coat. Make sure to reserve about a cup of the pasta water to the side if your pasta is done before the pancetta. Add more pasta water as needed to create an even emulsion and add in about 1/4 cup of your grated pecorino. Toss and add the broccolini in to the dish. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Serve immediately with more cheese grated over the top.
This recipe is very simple but does take some technique. The trick is to have everything prepped and ready to go into the pan. So before you even turn the burner on and start cooking, make sure you’ve got all your prep work done. Garlic and shallots chopped as well as pancetta diced and broccolini trimmed, etc. With the prep work out of the way this dinner will come together very very quickly. The pine nuts are totally optional and are there to add a little textural crunch. If you’re not a fan of them..or the price..feel free to leave them off the plate.
When you think of your favorite Italian meal what does it include? If Italian is not your favorite cuisine, what tickles your fancy?
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