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Food

How to Make a Cheese Board

Today, I’m finally sharing my “process” for making pretty cheese boards. I have gotten so many requests for this post, so I’m excited to show y’all how to make the cheese board of your dreams, because I’m not the only one who dreams about amazing cheese boards, right? …Right?!

First things first, you need the perfect dish. I have three that I rotate pretty consistently- this slate one (or the smaller version if I’m serving fewer people), this white one with a raised edge, and this fun marble one. I currently have my eye on this white and rose gold one.

Next, I pick my cheeses and arrange them on the board. When I make a cheese board, I like to include at least one cheese that everyone loves, like cheddar. Super sharp cheddars are my favorite, but if I’m serving a crowd, I try to stick with a mild or regular sharp cheddar.

Some of my favorite cheeses to include are Cotswold (Gloucester cheese with chives in it, sooo good), Sartori Montamoré (everyone that tries this loves it and asks me what it is and where to buy it!), Red Dragon (cheddar with whole grain mustard in it), Sartori Espresso BellaVitano (their classic BellaVitano cheese with an espresso-rubbed rind), and Cabot or Tillamook cheddar. I also like to add a bleu cheese like Salemville Amish Gorgonzola crumbles or Stilton, but I’m usually the only one that eats it around here.

Next, I add the meats. I do not pretend to be a cured meat expert. I usually just go to the store and buy what looks good or is on sale. That being said, I know I like hard salami like the one in the top left that you can neatly slice and place on the board, and a thinly sliced one that you can fold or roll and arrange in a fun way on the board. I also think prosciutto looks so pretty on the board when you just haphazardly drape and fold the slices into little piles.

Next, I add the crackers. I love using a mix of different shapes and flavors, though I usually try to stick to more neutral flavors so the crackers don’t overpower the taste of the cheese. I typically pick up a box or two each of water crackers, buttery crackers, and those long, thin bread sticks (which my store was out of when I went shopping for this shoot). When in doubt, everybody loves Ritz crackers! Typically, I would try to vary my cracker shapes a little more than I did in this post, but I totally thought we had a box of square ones at home. Grocery shopping fail! You can also use thin slices of fresh bread, though I tend to prefer the crunch of a cracker.

The key to a cheese board, especially with the crackers I think, is to make it look kind of messy. When I first started attempting to make cheese boards years ago, I would neatly stack everything and try to make it symmetrical. The result? My boards looked bare and BORING! The most appealing cheese boards are the ones where you can’t really see any of the actual plate because there is yummy goodness tucked into every nook and cranny.

Next, I add some fruit. The meats and cheeses we’ve already added tend to be salty, tangy, and savory. Adding fruit, fresh or dried, helps to round out the flavors of the board by adding some sweetness. Also, this is your chance to add some color to the board!

Clemetines and fresh or dried apricots are two of my favorites to use because the orange color really pops against everything else on the board. Plus, clementines are easily segmented, making eating easier. Grapes, dried cranberries, plums (halved or sliced), and fresh or dried cherries are also great options. Apple and pear slices pair nicely with cheese but tend to turn brown quickly, so I usually try to avoid using them in cheese boards that will sit out for a while.

Next up, sauces, spreads, and other little extras. Here I included a mini jar of a fruit spread and a little container that had a mustardy-sauce in it. Sometimes I will add another container or two filled with baby pickles, olives, or banana peppers. Other good condiment options are mini jars of jam/jelly/preserves, pesto, any kind of mustard, honey, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, or really anything else you think would pair nicely with the cheeses you’ve chosen. When I hosted friendsgiving in the fall, I included a little jar of a pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s.

If you’re really lacking ideas, I recommend just strolling the condiment aisles of your grocery store to see what catches your eye. The “European foods” section of our grocery store always has little bottles and jars of interesting condiments like pepper jelly, savory jams, fig spreads, bruschetta, etc.

Time to fill in the holes! In this step, I add various kinds of nuts to fill in the larger holes, scooting and adjusting things here and there as I go. The crunchy, salty nuts seem to be everybody’s favorite part once they’ve had their fill of cheese. Plus, this step really helps pull the whole board together.

My tip is to buy more than you think you need so you can really fill every nook and cranny of your board. My favorites are almonds, pistachios and cashews. You can buy raw or roasted, salted or unsalted, flavored or unflavored- whatever you think your guests will enjoy the most (though I recommend salted, because who doesn’t love some salty goodness!).

Lastly, I like to add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Not only do they smell great, but they’re an excellent way to fill in any leftover gaps after you’ve run out of nuts you’ve added everything else. If you did a better job than I did of filling in all the gaps, then you can just lay the rosemary on top of the cheeses or wherever else you think it looks pretty. To me, this last step is the one that really gives your board that extra something that takes it from “cheese board” to “Instagram-worthy cheese board.”

Food Lifestyle

Quick Chili with Red Beans

There are very few things that sound more appealing than a warm bowl of chili on a chilly autumn evening. Pun intended (I’m sorry…I had to.).
This post was actually supposed to go up yesterday, but I woke up feeling like I had been hit by a freight train. I’ve got a nasty cold/flu/something with a mild fever, so there was no productivity in the forecast. Instead, I spent the day in a zombie-like state, napping, sniffling, cuddling with the dog, and watching an interesting combination of Pretty Little Liars and Barefoot Contessa, during which I learned, quite surprisingly, that Ina Garten is not that much better at decorating cookies than the rest of us. Major ego booster.
I’m still stuck on the couch with a fever today, but lucky for me I’ve got leftovers from this recipe in the fridge so all I have to do when I need a bite to eat is pull it out of the fridge, eat cold microwave and eat, and go back to bed.

 

My trusty (pink!) Onion Goggles. I seriously use these all. the. time.

 

Ingredients:
1 lb lean ground beef (I used 93% lean ground sirloin)
2 cans red/kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 cup beef broth
2 T chili powder
1 T tomato paste dissolved in about 2 T warm water*
1 t cumin
1 t unsweetened cocoa powder
salt to taste
Heat stockpot over medium-high heat. Add beef to pot and cook it until browned, adding a teaspoon of water every now and then as needed to keep it from scorching. Add onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute or two. Turn heat down to medium/medium-low. Add broth, tomato, tomato paste and seasonings, mixing well and scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the residue from the beef all mixed in. Place lid on the pot and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the red beans and mix well. Simmer uncovered for 10-20 minutes more. Spoon into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream, cheese, chives, hot sauce, or whatever else you like on your chili. Serve with cornbread, crackers, or crusty French baguette.
*The tomato paste may seem unnecessary, but it helps give the chili a rich red color. If you don’t mind spicy food, you can increase the amount of chili powder to 1/4 cup or more and omit the tomato paste. I don’t like lots of spice, so I only use a small amount of chili powder and rely on the tomato paste for color.
*Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Food Lifestyle

Slow Cooker Cheesy Potato Soup (Gluten Free)

It only seemed right that my first official blog post of fall should be a warm and delicious soup recipe.
This recipe is hands-down the best homemade potato soup I’ve ever tried. Aside from tasting delicious, it’s quick and easy to prepare since you just throw everything into the crock-pot. Your house will smell like warm potato-y garlic-y goodness, which we freely welcomed yesterday on the first day of fall. I adapted my recipe from this one. The original recipe left out a few steps, like when to add certain ingredients, so Cory and I took measures into our own hands- I added veggies when I wanted, and he kept taste-testing and requesting that I add more cheese. 🙂
Ingredients:
 
5 lbs potatoes diced (you can peel if you want, I didn’t. In the words of dear Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody got time for that!)
4 cups sharp cheddar, shredded (3 3/4  cups for soup, 1/4 cup for topping)
8 cloves of garlic, grated on a microplane
1 medium onion, sweet or yellow, diced
1 cup celery, diced
2 8oz bricks of cream cheese
5 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
toppings: green onion, bacon crumbles, etc.
Directions:
In your slow cooker, combine potatoes, garlic, onion, celery, chicken broth, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
Once cooked, remove the chunks of potatoes and place in a blender with some of the cooking liquid. Puree until you reach your desired consistency. If you have an immersion blender, you can puree the potatoes/liquid right in the slow cooker. If you prefer a chunkier soup consistency, only puree part of the potatoes. Pour the pureed mixture back into the slow cooker.
Microwave the cream cheese until softened and melty. Pour into slow cooker. Add the shredded cheddar, reserving a little to use as a topping. Stir in milk a little at a time until blended. Place the lid back on the slow cooker and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes so the cheese can melt completely. Stir to make sure everything is evenly distributed.
Divide into soup bowls and top with toppings of your choice- we used shredded cheddar and sliced green onions. I was going to top it with a dollop of sour cream, but we quickly realized that the cream cheese made the soup so rich and creamy that the sour cream would have been overkill for us.
If you are eating gluten free, this recipe is flour-free unlike most potato soup recipes, so this is perfect for you. If you are NOT eating gluten free, I recommend serving this soup with a crusty French baguette and the seasonal beer of your choice.
And there you have it…the perfect fall meal!

 

Dishes: Noritake Colorwave in graphite
Bamboo Cutting Board: Snow River
Food Lifestyle

Recipe: Indoor S’mores Dip

Have you ever wanted to make s’mores, but you couldn’t because you didn’t have access to a campfire or fire pit?
 
Oh, you haven’t?
Yeah, me neither.
But just in case you ever get that desire, this recipe is perfect. It’s just s’mores in dip form, which makes it the perfect rendition of the quintessential summer dessert without having to build a fire, smelling like a bonfire afterwards, getting bit by mosquitoes, or any of the other side effects of making actual s’mores.
Can you tell I’m totally not a fan of the outdoors? #diva
My recipe is adapted from this one. I made a few simple changes and the recipe turned out great, so feel free to mix it up to find your preferred chocolate-to-marshmallow ratio.
Ingredients:
2 cups chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate)
1 cup little marshmallows, plus extra for topping
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup crushed graham crackers ( put some crackers in a ziplock and crush with heel of your hand)
Graham crackers, strawberries, animal crackers, etc. for dipping
Place chocolate chips, milk and 1 cup of marshmallows in a saucepan. Heat on LOW, stirring constantly until melted. It’s important to keep the stove on a low setting and stir often to keep the chocolate from burning. Burnt chocolate is not your friend.
Pour into a broil-safe container, making sure there is room on the top for the crushed graham crackers and marshmallows.
Sprinkle the crushed graham crackers onto the chocolate mixture. It’s okay if the chocolate is starting to harden…it’ll melt again in the next step.

 

Cover the top with marshmallows. Turn on the broiler, and broil for about 30 seconds to 2 minutes, until the marshmallows are done to your liking. Don’t take your eyes off of it, because the broiler can take things to fire extinguisher necessary in the blink of an eye!
Serve with anything that goes nicely with chocolate 😉
DISCLAIMER: Do NOT make this dessert if you live alone and don’t have company, or if you, oh I don’t know, live with a husband who hates chocolate. You will end up eating almost the entire bowl in one sitting. And then, because it is so sugary and rich, you’ll feel nauseated for the next three days. I know from experience, guys. I took one for the team. Not one of my finest moments, but it’s not like I wanted to eat it all. It was all in the name of responsible blogging, y’all. I swear!
Food Lifestyle

Agua Fresca

{rocks glasses, tall version here}
I had agua fresca for the first time when we were on our honeymoon in the Mayan Riviera last summer. It was love at first taste! I’m not a big fan of juice, so I was pleasantly surprised how much lighter and less sweet the aqua fresca was from regular juice. I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that these are so simple to make at home- it’s just fruit, sugar, water, and lime juice. You can use this recipe with just about any kind of fruit, but I used strawberries here. The measurements I use are the product of lots of trial and error, so feel free to adjust the ingredients to your liking!
Ingredients:
4.5-5 cups fruit, chopped for smoother blending
1/4 cup sugar or sugar substitute (I used Splenda), plus more to taste at the end
juice of 1 lime, plus more to taste at the end
3 cups of water
Pour everything into the blender. I hope your blender is nice and water-stained like mine.

 

Blend until it is nice and smooth with a watery consistency.

 

Place a fine mesh strainer into a pitcher.

 

Slowly pour the blended liquid into the strainer.

 

Use the back of a spoon to push all the liquid through the strainer, leaving just the seedy, pulpy leftovers.

 

If you want, add more lime juice and sugar to taste. Serve in a glass full of ice, and garnish with a lime wedge.
Linking up with Buttercream Bakehouse today!

 

Food Lifestyle

Baked Brie en Croute

 

This recipe is SO good. I don’t even like Brie that much, but the Brie with the cranberries in this recipe creates a perfect marriage of salty and sweet. Best of all, it’s pretty low maintenance as it requires little preparation other than some time in the oven. Even though it is so simple to make, it looks fancy, making it the perfect dish to serve to guests.
Ingredients:
1 small Brie round
1 can of whole cranberry sauce (not jellied!)
1 sheet frozen pie crust dough, thawed according to package instructions (I use Pillsbury)
crackers for serving
Preheat oven to 375. Lay pie crust dough out on a large rimmed non-stick baking sheet.

 

Spread cranberry sauce in the middle of the dough. Make it about the same size as the wheel of Brie. You can add as much/little as you want. I usually use about a 1/4 cup.

 

Place the Brie on the cranberry sauce.

 

Wiggle it around to make sure it is centered on the dough.

 

Pile more cranberry sauce on top. I would guess that I use about a 1/2 cup on top. Maybe a little more.
Whatever you do, don’t throw away the rest of the cranberry sauce at this point. The first time I made this, I threw it away because I thought that I didn’t like cranberries…but when I took this out of the oven and tasted it- Oh. Baby. I wished I had more cranberry sauce to melt over the top because I didn’t put much on the inside. So keep the leftover cranberries, just in case.

 

Fold up the pie dough over the Brie.

 

Pop in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, until the pie crust starts to get golden brown.
Very carefully transfer the finished product to a serving dish. Serve warm with crackers, apples, or a spoon. Your choice.
Food Lifestyle

Bacon and Cream Cheese Jalapenos

Sometimes I find it refreshing to depart from our usual routine and serve a variety of small bites for dinner instead of a normal meal with a main dish. I made these bacon-wrapped, cream-cheese stuffed jalapenos from Brown Eyed Baker last week as part of our Superbowl small bites meal. I really am not a fan of jalapenos, but I like bacon and I like cream cheese, so I thought I’d give it a try. They were so good! I didn’t follow the recipe exactly (surprise!). Before stuffing the jalapenos, I mixed the softened cream cheese with smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Also, I used turkey bacon in place of regular bacon because it’s (slightly) healthier and we had some on hand. But, let’s be real, these would’ve been so much better with real bacon.

 

 

 

Food Lifestyle

The Pefect Cup of Iced Coffee

Fact: I only drink coffee iced. I really don’t enjoy hot drinks. I started drinking coffee shortly after starting law school, but I quickly found that making the perfect cup of iced coffee can be a pain. For the past two and a half years, I have experimented with all kinds of iced coffee methods. I’ve brewed coffee over ice (too watery), I’ve tried the iced-coffee K-cups that are supposed to be stronger so they don’t get too diluted when you brew them over ice (still too watery), and I’ve tried buying my iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts every morning (perfect, but expensive). My latest method was to brew hot coffee the night before, let it cool to room temperature so I could transfer it to a plastic container, refrigerate it overnight, then make it to my liking the next morning. So. Much. Work.

Then, last week, I stumbled across the Pioneer Woman’s method for making the perfect cup of iced coffee. It requires a little work to brew the coffee, but it makes enough brewed coffee to last for an entire month, and it is perfect.

Pioneer Woman, bless you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart (and from my classmates’ hearts because I am significantly less grumpy now that I’ve found a delicious way to get my daily dose of cold caffeine). Now if I could only find a way to brew DDP* at home, we’d be golden.

Tall Glasses; Nail Polish; Beverage Dispenser and Straws: Target (old, similar straws, similar dispenser)

*Diet Dr. Pepper for those of you who aren’t addicted to delicious, fake sugar and chemicals and carbonation. Mmmm.

Food Lifestyle

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Fudge

Homemade fudge is one of my favorite holiday treats, but I never got a chance to make (or taste) any this holiday season. Even though Christmas has come and gone, I decided to make a quick batch of fudge using only the things that I already had in the pantry. I started with this plain fudge recipe, but changed a few things to accomodate my pantry contents. The end result was so good! I was a little concerned, as I always am when I stray from an actual recipe, but the fudge turned out to be delicious- so much so that I wrote down my recipe to make next Christmas.
Ingredients:
1/2 cup of mint-flavored hot cocoa mix
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups of confectioners’ sugar
4 Andes Mints
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup of milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

 

Roughly chop the Andes mints.

 

Add all the dry ingredients to a large, microwave-safe bowl. Mix thoroughly.
Add milk. Place the butter on top, and microwave until the butter melts (about 2-3 minutes).
Take out of the microwave, and add the vanilla. Stir vigorously until smooth.

 

Pour into a greased pan. *Tip: Use butter to grease pan instead of oil or Pam spray. I used Pam spray, and it left the bottom side of the fudge a little oily.
Let sit for a couple hours, then cut into small squares. To speed up the process, you can place the pan in the freezer for a half hour or so.