Party Eats -> Five Steps for a Simple Cheese Plate

Who doesn’t love a good cheese plate?

styling by jennifer oatsvall  |  photo by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

A cheese plate is hands down my favorite snack at any gathering or restaurant. In fact I sometimes choose a restaurant based on whether they have a cheese course! My friend and fave light catcher, Alyssa, recently posted our cheese plate shoot on her website and asked me for some tips on creating a cheese plate at home. I thought it such a great idea that I’m reposting here. These tips are centered mostly around a small gathering of friends using easy assemblage.

styling by jennifer oatsvall  |  photo by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

Five Steps for a Simple Cheese Plate

  1. Cheese: choose two. Ignore the rules about buying with regards to texture and flavor. That’s great for large cheese boards but for a simple one with friends, just buy what you like. For example: sharp cheddar + havarti or a goat cheese + gouda.

  2. Meats: choose one. Go to the deli counter or check out the pre-packaged meats in that part of the store. Prosciutto is a universal favorite. A salami or capicola are also yummy choices.

  3. Fruits + Veggies: choose three or four. If you don’t have time to slice, choose fruit such as grapes, cherries, bite size tomatoes + berries and pre-cut veggies like broccoli florets and carrots.

  4. Vehicle: choose one. Your favorite cracker, a sliced baguette, brioche or Hawaiian bread torn into pieces. Bread will start to stale once sliced so if you don’t want to babysit your cheese board all evening, go with crackers.

  5. Extras: choose two. Extras consist of nuts, spreads such as honey or jam, seeds, or dried fruit. In nuts, almonds are a traditional choice for cheese boards. If you want to be a little bit different, try shelled pistachios or macadamia nuts. A really good honey is excellent with everything on a cheese board. For jams, peach, strawberry, or blackberry are all quite palate friendly. Salted sunflower seeds or toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) would be a delicious and unique alternative to nuts. Love dried fruits? Apricots, prunes, figs, and golden raisins are all readily available.

Date night cheese plate for two  |  styling by jennifer oatsvall  |  photo by    alyssa joy photography

Date night cheese plate for two | styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

And if you want to step it up and try your hand at more, by all means do it! Make that hummus! Poach those pears! Bake bread! You can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. The wonderful thing about cheese plates is that the possibilities are endless! xo, jennifer

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{Hard good sources: platter is antique ironstone, handmade honey bowl + spoon is Facture Goods, handmade blue-green plate is Feast + Fern. Chartreuse linen from World Market, grey linen from Restoration Hardware.}

Bake It Up -> No Knead Bread Recipe from Alyssa Joy Photography

Guest post. This recipe from Alyssa Joy Photography is so easy; even for non-bread bakers like me. I can attest to its yumminess because, yes, you bet your arse we ate it while photographing it! Do check out Alyssa’s amazing photography skills on her website and instagram. xo, jennifer

styling by jennifer oatsvall  |  photo + recipe by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo + recipe by alyssa joy photography

From Alyssa:

The thought of making bread at home is often intimidating. But this recipe I’m sharing with you today is super simple to make and the result is a beautiful, perfectly crusty, flavorful loaf of bread that looks like it came straight out of a bakery. I’ve made this recipe many times over the last few years and it’s never failed me!

I first discovered this recipe when my friend Katie posted photos of this amazing homemade bread years ago, initially on her tumblr blog. She sent me this blog post by The Londoner, which explains the recipe in detail and has helpful process photos. I’ve compiled the instructions from that blog post with my personal experience of making the bread many times. Just follow the directions below and it’ll be a no-brainer! I recommend making the dough in the evening, letting it rise in a warm place overnight, and baking in the morning.

styling by jennifer oatsvall  |  photo + recipe by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo + recipe by alyssa joy photography

No-Knead Bread

3 cups flour
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 tsp yeast
1.5 cups water

Mix ingredients together in large mixing bowl until just blended - no need to over-stir it. It won’t be pretty or really look like dough. If it’s a bit dry, just add a little more water until all the flour is blended together. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place. I usually turn my oven on low for a few minutes, then turn it off and put the bowl in there and leave it there. Let dough sit overnight/all day.

After rising, turn oven to 450 F and preheat a dutch oven pot in it.

Place the dough on floured surface. Don't knead or punch it down. Just flip the dough over a couple times to coat it in flour so it’s not sticky anymore. Place the dough in the dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, and 10-15 minutes with the lid off, until the crust is brown and crispy.

Slather in a nice healthy amount of butter, drizzle with some honey, and enjoy!

styling by jennifer oatsvall  |  photo + recipe by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo + recipe by alyssa joy photography

If you don’t own a dutch oven, you could also use any large oven-safe pot and lid, a pizza stone, or a large cast iron skillet. This week I baked the bread in a cast iron skillet and loosely covered the bread in aluminum foil for the first 30 minutes, and it worked great!

Also: dutch ovens are wonderful, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to get one that works well. The colorful Le Creuset and Staub dutch ovens are glamorous and gorgeous and I definitely want one someday, but this $40 Lodge 5-quart dutch oven on Amazon does the trick just as well.

Snack Time -> Candied Pecans

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

I love candied pecans. I took elements from recipes and blended them together to get all the elements I love the best. Sweet, salty, buttery, and a hint of heat. Since pecans come in an array of package sizes, I altered the recipe for smaller 16 oz bags and larger 24 oz bags which is what I purchase from a place in Georgia (Adcock Pecans in Tifton). Use the smaller measurements for a smaller quantity of pecans and the higher for a larger bag. These are addictive. When we were photographing them, it was the one subject we couldn’t stop eating. :)

Candied Pecans

Ingredients

16 - 24 oz whole pecans

1/2 - 1 stick butter, melted and cooled

1 - 2 egg whites

1/3 c brown sugar, packed

1/2 - 2/3 c white granulated sugar

1 - 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper (1/2 tsp will not set you on fire)

1 - 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 325. Place a piece of parchment on a half sheet or jelly roll pan. Add pecans to a large bowl. Pour the melted butter over the pecans. In a separate small bowl beat egg whites until stiff. Add sugars, salt, cinnamon + cayenne. Pour over pecans and stir until evenly coated. Spread evenly on pan. Bake pecans for 3o minutes being sure to flip and stir them every ten minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack covered in parchment paper. As they cool, I give them a stir to keep from sticking to one another. When cool, eat until you explode. :)

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

Cocktail Time -> Mulled Winter Sangria

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    alyssa joy photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by alyssa joy photography

If you desire a warm hug in a glass in cold, wet weather as much as I do, you are in luck. Last week the weather was so gross day of our Christmas party and I really wanted a warm drink that was comforting and felt cheerful. I flipped through many a cider and mulled wine recipe but nothing jumped out at me because what I really wanted was sangria. It’s my favorite party drink because wine and fruit and you mix it up in a pitcher and forget about it. But it’s also cold. And it was cold outside. And raining. So I thought I’d try my hand at a warm version. I’ll be honest, this was a gamble on my part as I am not a drink maker. But it turned out great plus it’s really easy to throw together. Also, crock pot! Make and walk away. AND it keeps well in the fridge if there is any left + reheats in the microwave beautifully. The first batch disappeared really quickly - always a good sign - so I threw together a second batch. I’ve had several people ask for the recipe so thought I would throw it on the old blog to share.

NOTE: obviously the end result will vary depending on the wine purchased. My first batch was made with a Côtes du Rhône Villages (75% Grenache/25% Syrah blend), the second with a Cabernet. They each had their own personality but the first batch was my favorite and the one that disappeared quickly. I had some of the cabernet batch left over and it mellowed nicely in the fridge (and I might’ve enjoyed having it around to sip on in the evening). I would suggest letting it marry longer if you choose a cab or merlot varietal because it definitely became quite lovely the next day.

Mulled Winter Sangria

Ingredients

1 bottle red wine (read NOTE above)

2 c unsweetened apple juice (I used Martinelli’s)

2 c cranberry juice (not cocktail)

1/2 c black rum (I used Gosling)

1/4 - 1/3 c orange liqueur

1 orange

1/2 - 3/4 c brown sugar, packed

4 cinnamon sticks

1 - 2 tsp whole clove

1/2 - 1 c fresh whole cranberries

Directions

You can use a crock pot or do this on the stove top. Several ingredients have a range. This is because I literally made this up as I went so there were a couple adjustments; mostly around sugar/spices as I did not want to make it a sweet drink. I would start on the low end of the measurement and move up from there.

Add red wine, apple and cranberry juices to crockpot. Using a vegetable peeler, peel three good strips from the orange being careful to avoid the pith (it will make the drink bitter if too much pith) and toss in crock pot. Slice the orange in half and juice directly into crock pot. Sprinkle in the sugar, spices, and cranberries. Turn crock pot on high and give it all a good stir before putting the lid on. Let it heat for 30 minutes. Give it a taste test (careful, it will be hot) and adjust spices + sugar as needed to taste.

Seasonal Entree -> Whole Roasted + Stuffed Pumpkin Magic

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    Alyssa Joy Photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by Alyssa Joy Photography

Let me begin by saying there is a degree of “fly by the seat of your pants” when doing a whole roasted + stuffed pumpkin. Size and variety of pumpkin both play a part in how long it takes for it to cook through. That being said, it is an easy recipe as most of your effort is in prepping the pumpkin and ingredients. The rest is just hurry up and wait. I used Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in Around My French Table as my main guide as well as perusing a couple of other versions I found online.

Most people use pie pumpkins for this recipe for their small size. But I love a challenge so of course I bought an heirloom variety twice the size of a pie pumpkin. A fairytale pumpkin to be exact; approximately 6ish pounds. I can’t say for sure on weight as my kitchen scale doesn’t go that high. As most pie pumpkins are half that weight or smaller, you can see why I’m harping on “guide” here. Especially since heirloom varieties often have thicker flesh. Everything below is approximate so add as much or as little as you want of something. All the ingredients are pre-cooked anyway so if there is something you love (bacon!), by all means, add more (mushrooms!). I recommend baking this on a sheet pan or in an oven safe skillet/braiser. Be sure to read recipe through before beginning. If you have questions feel free to ask!

Whole Roasted + Stuffed Pumpkin

(adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in Around My French Table)

Ingredients

1 pumpkin, washed thoroughly (mine was a ‘fairytale’ variety, 6ish lbs)

2 cups pre-cooked rice (I used basmati cooked in chicken broth)

1 pound bacon, cooked crisply and diced or sliced into lardons (I used about 8 slices)

portobello mushrooms, sliced + sauteed (I used a half dozen or so)

1 small onion, diced sauteed

1-2 clove garlic, minced

5 oz (-ish) cheese of choice, cubed (I used emmenthale. Gouda would also be great.)

thyme, few sprigs, de-stemmed + more for garnish

1 cup (-ish) heavy cream

nutmeg, pinch freshly grated

kosher salt + pepper to taste

olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and center a rack. I lined a baking sheet with foil and then lightly sprayed the foil. Things didn’t get messy but I also chose a more dense variety of pumpkin. Cut the top out of the pumpkin. This isn’t a jack o’ lantern so make it a bit wider so you have room to work. Scoop out the seeds and strings. Thoroughly season the inside of the pumpkin with salt + pepper.

In a large bowl, mix the rice, bacon, mushrooms, onion, garlic, cheese, and thyme. As I prepared each ingredient I used salt + pepper accordingly. Test for salt + pepper preference and add accordingly keeping in mind the bacon and cheese are going to release salt into the mix. Fill the pumpkin with the mix all the way to the inside top. You may or may not use all the filling. Season the cream with nutmeg and a little salt and pepper to taste. Remember not to overdo it because bacon + cheese! But I did find in mine that I needed to add a bit to the cream. Pour the cream over the rice mixture but not all at once. Pour over a half cup and check the moisture level. Your mixture might require more or less than the recipe calls for. You want it moistened by not soupy as the pumpkin is going to release moisture into the rice mixture as well. Put the cap on. Rub olive oil over the outside and sprinkle with salt. Pop it in the oven. Mine took approximately 3 hours to cook. This means that you WILL NEED to cover with aluminum foil once the skin starts to darken to keep it from blistering too much. It is done when you can easily pierce the pumpkin flesh with a fork. You will need to periodically check for doneness as it cooks. I checked at the two hour mark and again 30 minutes later. You may want to remove the lid for evaporation purposes if the stuffing is too moist for your liking. When it is done you can scoop it from the inside like a pot of stew being sure to pull some of the pumpkin into the mixture or you can cut into wedges. I did the old scoop and pull as I wanted to keep its shape for serving.

Be sure to check out Dorie’s recipe as well as she has ideas for different ingredients. While researching I discovered Armenian and Turkish versions called ghapama - stuffed with rice, dried fruits, and honey! - and I will definitely be trying that in the future. Good luck! You got this!

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by    Alyssa Joy Photography

styling by jennifer oatsvall | photo by Alyssa Joy Photography