Sweet and Savory Cheese Board

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Cheese boards are one of those apps that when you put it out on the table everyone will “oooh” and “ahhh” and think that you went to a ridiculous amount of trouble to put it together when in reality, they really are super easy to pull together. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to cheese boards and it doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive other. Simply, choose a variety of foods that you love, pile them up on a pretty platter or board, and serve. It’s really that simple! You can make them as creative or as simple as you like, just use some (or all) of these simple guidelines to create a delicious and appetizing cheese board for your next party.

First things first, you’re going to want to grab some kind of board, platter or tray. The one pictured above I happened to find at Home Goods® a while back for just a few bucks. It’s a great size and perfect for this type of thing however, if you don’t have something similar don’t sweat it. Take a look through your kitchen and use whatever you have on hand. Things such as a wood cutting board, a glass platter, a piece of slate, or even a cookie sheet will work great for your cheese board! As long as it can hold food, it’ll function!

Next up, and probably the most important part, is to add some cheeses to the board. Try and mix it up with different varieties, textures and strengths. I’m not a huge fan of the “moldy and stinky” cheese variety but if that’s your thing, go for it! On the board above I added sharp provolone, a mellow Swiss, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. You can slice up the cheese and assemble it on the board, leave the cheese in large chunks served alongside cheese knives, or a combination of the two. It’s nothing more than personal preference so you really can’t go wrong here. If you’re going to leave it to your guests to cut their own cheese, be sure to leave a separate knife with each cheese variety. Sharing cheese knives will contaminate the flavor of the cheese and make them taste less than stellar.

Once your cheeses are in place you’re going to want to add in some salty goodies. Things like roasted nuts, a variety of olives, dried sausages, and other charcuterie meats like salami, pepperoni or prosciutto. Because olives are wet and oily I recommended adding them to a small bowl before placing them on your cheese board. It’ll keep the other foods on the board neat and dry. I chose to assemble some of my meats on a small festive dish but don’t feel like you have to, they can be added directly on top of the cheese board as well.

At this point you’re going to want to add in some sweet things to balance out all of that salty and cheesy goodness. I love to add things like dried apricots (not pictured on the above board), fresh grapes, dried cherries and a sugary sweet bowl of nuts. For this board I used cinnamon sugar almonds but any kind of sweet, candied nut will do. You can even add some nice, dark chocolate if you so desire. Again, there are no hard and fast rules here so add in whatever sweet treat appeals to you!

Now it’s time to layer in some crackers, breadsticks and/or torn bread chunks. I really love adding breadsticks because it gives the board a little height plus, my kids love munching on them at parties! Depending on what you’re serving on the board, you can also add in some condiments as well. Things like spicy mustards, chutneys, honey and jams are perfect to include. You can serve them right out of the jar with a little spoon tucked inside or transfer them to a pretty little bowl that you add to the board.

If after everything is placed on the cheese board you feel that it looks a little too empty, add in some extra fruit, crackers, or fill in the empty spaces with lettuce, herbs, and other brightly colored veggies. Be creative, have fun with it, and your guests will absolutely love it! Lastly, keep in mind that cheese boards aren’t just for parties. They also make great, easy lunches/dinners as well. We have an awesome Italian deli by our house so on the weekends I love to go pick up a few things, assemble them on my board, and serve it for lunch. My husband and kids love it and the kids really enjoy getting to choose exactly what they want to eat. When I make it for us I usually buy a nice, crusty loaf of bread to serve alongside the board. We love to tear off chunks to dip in good extra-virgin olive oil seasoned with herbs, Kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. So delish! Enjoy!!

QUICK TIPS FOR DESIGNING A CHEESE BOARD

1) Choose a board

2) Choose your cheeses making sure to include different varieties, strengths, and textures.

3) Add in some salty goodies such as nuts, olives, and meats.

4) Add in some sweet goodies such as dried and fresh fruits, chocolate, and/or candied nuts.

5) Add in crackers, breadsticks, and/or bread chunks.

6) Add in sweet and spicy condiments.

7) Garnish and fill in the empty space as needed.

Pull Apart (Stuffed Garlic Knots) Christmas Tree

garlic knots

So these delicious garlic knots were originally in the shape of a Christmas tree however, in my haste to serve and eat I forgot to take a picture.The original recipe from Southern Living Magazine® Magazine can be found right here and you can see what the finished product will look like. It makes for a great holiday presentation on your appetizer table and it was absolutely delicious too!

In my version, I substituted the cream cheese with ricotta cheese. I felt that was more in line with the flavors of this dish and I do not care for hot cream cheese. However, feel free to use whatever is more to your liking as both cheeses work equally well in this dish. I also made a quick marinara sauce to serve alongside the garlic knots but you can also use a store made or jarred version as well. I skipped the pepperoni and bell pepper garnish this time around but it definitely makes for a festive presentation if you choose to include it!

Ingredients

  • 1 can of refrigerated pizza dough
  • 4 oz. cream cheese OR ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 7 oz. basil pesto
  • 2 tbs melted butter
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Rosemary sprigs, for garnish
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper, optional
  • Bite-size pepperoni pieces, optional
  • Marinara sauce, for serving

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a cookie sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll out the pizza dough on a flat surface. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 36 squares.

In a bowl combine the cream cheese OR ricotta, mozzarella cheese, and basil pesto.

Add a spoonful of the cheese and pesto mixture to each pizza dough square. Pinch the corners together then close up the seam of the dough square to form a ball around the mixture. Place the ball seam-side down on the pan. As you place the mixture filled dough on the sheet pan, arrange the dough balls in the formation of a Christmas tree.

Bake the completed Christmas tree for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

While the Christmas tree is in the oven combine the butter and minced garlic in a small bowl. Melt the mixture in the microwave for about 20 seconds.

After taking the Christmas Tree out of the oven, brush it with the fresh garlic butter. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, chopped red bell pepper, and mini pepperoni for a festive holiday look. Tuck the sprigs of fresh rosemary under the edges of the Christmas tree for a final festive touch. Pair with a bowl of marinara sauce for dipping.

 

 

 

Cranberry Brie Bites

Cranberry Brie Bites

Looking for a quick and easy appetizer to serve at your next holiday get together? You might want to check out these delicious Cranberry Brie Bites. They are perfect for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and are sure to be a hit with all! The original recipe is from the Delish.com website and can be found right here . With just a few simple ingredients you can pull these together in just minutes! If you don’t care for Brie, you can always substitute in a different cheese such as a nice Gruyère which would work wonderful in this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 tube Pillsbury® Crescent Dough (I use the sheet instead of the rolls)
  • Nonstick cooking spray, for pan
  • Flour, for rolling out the dough
  • 8 oz. wheel of Brie cheese
  • 1 cup of whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 6 sprigs of rosemary, cut into 1″ pieces.

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375° and lightly grease a mini muffin tin with cooking spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll out crescent dough, and pinch any seams together. Cut into 24 squares. Place squares into muffin tin slots.

Cut the brie into 24 pieces and place one piece inside each of the crescent dough cups. Top with a spoonful of cranberry sauce, some chopped pecans, and one little sprig of rosemary.

Bake until the crescent is golden, about 15 minutes.

Serve warm.

Potato Croquettes

Potato Croq1

There are three things that I love most in the world. My husband. My kids. And mashed potatoes. I mean honestly, what is better than creamy, buttery, homemade mashed potatoes smothered in steaming hot gravy? Almost nothing UNLESS of course you turn those scrumptious mashed potatoes in a crispy potato croquette.

Because I adore mashed potatoes so much I usually end up making way too much when I cook them so I inevitably will have leftovers. Most times I have too many leftovers to eat before it’s time to toss them so I like to put those potatoes to good use before that happens, That is where potato croquettes come in. They are really simple to make as most of the work is already done for you. The first time that I made them I used straight mashed potatoes and nothing else. They were absolutely divine but I wanted to up the ante so the next time I made them I added diced ham (or prosciutto) in the croquettes along with small chunks of mozzarella cheese. Absolute heaven! I usually double this recipe because I would rather have “too many” potato croquettes than not enough. You can always freeze what is left and then bake them off the next time a craving hits. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of cooled mashed potatoes
  • 2 tbs finely minced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbs grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Oil for frying

Instructions

Combine the cooled mashed potatoes, onion, garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and mix until well combined.

Set up 3 bowls, one for the egg, one for the breadcrumbs, and one for the flour.

Form the potato mixture into 2-3″ logs. Dip them first in flour, then egg, and then breadcrumbs.

Attach a deep fry thermometer to the side of a large pot. Add the oil and heat until it reaches 350ºF. Maintain the temperature between 350-375ºF while frying.

Add the potato croquettes to the hot oil, 3-4 at a time. Cook for about 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a cooling rack or paper towel lined plate. Cool slightly and serve.

Potato Croq2

Whiskey BBQ Cocktail Meatballs

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These little meatballs are always a huge hit at parties and holidays. They are the perfect mix of sweet and spicy and there is no way you’ll be able to eat just one! If you’re feeding a smaller crowd, you can easily halve this recipe and yield the same delicious results. If you’re short on time you can use a bag of frozen cocktail meatballs however, to achieve the best results, make them from scratch. Homemade meatballs are so easy to make and they have a VERY noticeable taste and texture difference from their frozen counterparts. You can use whatever homemade meatball recipe you normally use, just be sure to roll them smaller so they are cocktail size.

Also, a good whiskey will make for an extra good sauce so choose something that you would drink on its own. Don’t run out and buy some expensive bottle of whiskey just for this recipe however, also realize that the $5 bottle you have on hand might not make for the smoothest, richest flavor. I’ve used a few different whiskeys for this recipe but my personal favorite is Tullamore Dew. It has a really nice, well rounded flavor and it really makes the sauce sing!

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs cooked cocktail meatballs, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 – 3/4 c whiskey
  • 1 1/2 c ketchup
  • 1 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c water
  • 2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbs spicy mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

Instructions

Combine all of the ingredients in medium sized saucepan and bring to a low boil. Lower the heat to medium low and let simmer slowly until the sauce is thickened. About 20-25 minutes.

Adjust your seasonings to taste, if you prefer a very spicy sauce then add a little extra black pepper.  Also, if you like a stronger whiskey flavor, add the full 3/4 cup of whiskey however, you can cut it back to the 1/2 cup if you prefer.

Once the sauce is thickened add the cocktail meatballs and heat them through. Allow them to lightly simmer in the sauce mixture for 40-45 minutes so that they have a chance to absorb all of the flavors of the sauce. Don’t let them go too long or the meatballs will become mushy and fall apart. Serve hot.

**NOTE** – These meatballs can be made in advance, they are even better the next day after they’ve had a chance to sit in the sauce overnight. To reheat the meatballs just place them in a saucepan over medium low heat until they are nice and warmed through. Give them a few gentle stirs during reheating so that they warm evenly and don’t burn.