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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.

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

Seasonal Dessert -> Summertime Strawberry Shortcake Mini Bundts

Is there anything more quintessentially the fourth than a strawberry dessert? Even though they're out of season here in Tennessee, it's hard to justify a July celebration without something strawberry. So here's to them being in season elsewhere and being able to still get them at the grocery store! 

I love strawberries and wanted to do a shortcake for the fourth but I also wanted to do something other than the usual biscuit or angel cake style. Enter mini bundts! I baked up a vanilla citrus batter in my mini bundt pan and then split them in half after they cooled. I plopped a couple hefty spoonfuls of fresh whipped cream, pressed macerated berries into the cream, and garnished with a little lime zest + a sprig of basil. They check all the boxes: simple? Yep. Homemade? You bet. Adorable, individual morsels of deliciousness? I mean...

The recipe I used is below but if you already have a favorite vanilla bundt recipe, by all means use it. I chose this recipe for the pale color of the cake's outer crumb.

Summertime Strawberry Shortcake Bundts

     (cake recipe adapted from The Culinary Jumble)

Ingredients

1/3 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

2 small eggs

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup of milk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

whipped cream (below)

macerated strawberries (below)

garnish, lime or lemon zest + basil or mint sprig

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 320°F. Prepare a mini bundt pan with non-stick baking spray. *Even if your pan is nonstick, I recommend spraying as I had a difficult time removing these from my nonstick pan.

Using a stand or hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each until incorporated. Mix in the lemon juice.

In a separate bowl, mix baking powder, flour, and salt until well combined. Gradually add to the butter mixture, alternating with the milk, until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into prepped mini bundt pan. Bake for approximately 18-23 minutes, checking for readiness with a wooden toothpick or skewer. *This batter will remain pale so don't let them brown or they will be too done.

Cool for ten minutes and flip onto wire rack. Finish cooling before adding cream + berries. This recipe made six mini bundts in my pan. 

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream 

1 - 2 tablespoons confectioners or granulated sugar (see note)

1/2 - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

If you've never whipped cream before, let me assure you that it is very easy. The cream needs to be straight from the fridge because room temp cream can't hold air. I also like to chill my bowl and beaters beforehand in the freezer for about ten minutes. I recommend using either a hand mixer or a balloon whisk. A stand mixer is just overkill for this as it comes together very quickly.

Pour whipping cream into a well-chilled glass or metal bowl. I like to put mine in the freezer for about ten minutes before whipping. Add sugar and vanilla (amount is personal preference). Beat the cream to the desired consistency: soft peaks (thick enough to hold its shape in soft, billowy pillows), stiff peaks (cream stands in firm peaks when the beaters are lifted). For this recipe I stopped just before stiff peaks because I wanted the cream to have a soft appearance but also be firm enough to grab the berries. Be sure not to over beat or you'll make butter!

Whipped cream can be made up to 1 day ahead. I recommend using confectioners sugar over granulated if this is necessary. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If liquid separates from the cream, whip it again to incorporate the liquid. *Note: you can make whipped cream with either confectioners or granulated sugar. I do both. The difference between the two is the ability of the cream to hold together and not weep. Confectioners sugar contains a small amount of cornstarch that discourages weeping if the whipped cream stands longer than a few hours. Cream comes together so quickly that I always prepare it before serving. 

Macerated Strawberries

Macerated strawberries is nothing more than strawberries taking a swim with an acidic liquid, such as a liqueur or flavored vinegar, or sugar. Strawberries have enough natural water that a sprinkle of sugar will soften and juice them right up. Feel free to add another layer of flavor with citrus zest, your favorite liqueur, or herbs such as basil or mint. Depending on the amount you desire, hull and quarter a half to full pint of washed strawberries. Sprinkle with sugar and let sit for about 30 minutes. 

Assembly

Slice mini bundt cake in half and place bottom on saucer. Add two generous spoonfuls of whipped cream to the bottom cake half and press individual macerated berries into the cream. Add the top half of the cake, a small spoonful of cream, a berry or two, and your chosen garnish. If desired, drizzle a little of the macerated berry juice over the cakes before the final spoon of cream.