Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Th Art of The Cheese Board

I come from a long and proud line of cheese lovers. Never once did a holiday or major family gathering happen without the humongous "Cheese and Pepperoni Tray", a staple in the average Italian New Jerseyian's diet.

My brother and I would compete to see who could eat the most cheese, and still have normal digestive function the next day. (He won.) But it wasn't until I moved out on my own that I realized that there were other cheeses than Mozarella, swiss, cheddar, provolone and Velveeta. In fact, I had no idea that actual mozarella came in little delicious balls and not in plastic wrapped chunks, or that Velveeta, as useful as it is, is not actually "cheese". My eyes were open to a big (and tasty) new world.

The Cheese Board is as unique and mysterious as the person who creates it, but it is easy to get intimidated at the thousands of marvelous varieties of cheese from around the world. My advice is to start simple - ask your favorite deli or specialty grocery for a sample and ease you way into the world of cheese.

I have helped design numerous cheese boards over the years-from simple to elegant-displayed on boards, planks, marble slabs, trays, mirrors and any other type of surface you can think of, and guide my clients to think of the event type and the other dishes being served when selecting cheese varieties. You can keep it simple with domestic varieties, or add some exotic imported types, but either way, you want to try and keep a balance of sharp and mild flavors.

Eddie Ross, Lifestyle expert, suggests using several cheeses of varying textures, colors and heights to your cheese board to add visual interest, much like you would an entire buffet. He also recommends using chutneys as a compliment to hard cheeses. (A chutney is a type of condiment associated with South Asian cuisine. They are made from a highly variable mixture of spices, vegetables, and/or fruit.)

Are you ready to design a cheese board? Here are some great links to get you started:

7 Secrets To a Beautiful Cheese Board

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Why We LOVE Appetizers

Photo: Caprese on A Stick
Find the simple recipe at
When entertaining guests its easy to get caught up in the details of the menu. 

An important life lesson I learned from Jenny, my very first customer, is that while the food/beverages are important, the gathering is more about the people and the experience than the amount or type of food you serve. No one will remember what they ate-but will remember feeling welcomed and at home at your gathering. 

Jenny, the wife of a professional athlete, unashamedly drank and served wine from a box as she declared "grapes are grapes-wine is wine"; used her index finger stuck in the center of casseroles to test for "done-ness" ; and shrugged off burnt garlic bread side dishes and with "that's life in the big city kid". I learned so much from working with her and watching her entertain, (which she did quite often), particularly her selection & presentation of appetizers. It was at Jenny's gatherings that I first saw a "Shrimp Tree" assembled by attaching shrimp to a foil-covered foam cone with toothpicks, and other food presented in vessels other than an ordinary plate or tray. (Party Genie's Crudité Stations are patterned after the way Jenny would present hers-simply yet artfully with as many different varieties and colors as possible. )

Party planning experts will even tell you that while you want to prepare something delicious for your guests, keep it simple! Simple, recognizable, easy-to-prepare food, presented in creative ways, lets your guests know that you care enough about them to leave yourself free to mingle and make memories rather than in the kitchen cooking while your party is happening.

This is why we love appetizers! They can be prepared quickly, simply and even ahead of time and leave you stress-free as your guests arrive. In fact, in my humble opinion, I would just be happy to serve appetizers & other finger foods and a box of wine and every event, and call it a party!

 You can start your soiree off right with these party foods and easy recipes for dips, spreads, finger foods, and appetizers:

Blue Cheese Crostini with Balsamic-Roasted Grapes...
Party-Perfect Meatballs...
Marinated Mozzarella...
Mustard-Dill Tortellini Kebobs...
Shrimp Mojo de Ajo...

There are about 80 different appetizers at the top link below - (Courtesy of Southern Living - and 15 more at the second link (You're Welcome!) so easy to prepare - visually & gastric-ally appealing - for your next casual or elegant gathering. The hardest part will be narrowing down your favorites!

Which one(s) would you like to try?

Do you have any other favorite appetizer recipes to add? If so tell us in the comments area!