Tag Archives: appetizer ideas

Home Entertaining Tip: Create a Great Cheese Board

Make it colorful and fun: alternatives for cheese boards, knives, serving bowls.

I have a friend who grew up in England. One afternoon last spring, we sat out on her patio overlooking the valley with a light breeze blowing over our shoulders. We were having tea served in exquisitely painted china that her father collected decades ago, some light crackers, and slices of cheese served on matching silver plates. So elegant and light – so her.

Later this summer, I visited another friend. We sat in her living room as her kids chased each other around in the backyard with a water hose. As they squealed, we chatted over tumblers of wine coolers, crackers and cheese served on dinner plates.

We all have different ways to entertain, all different styles. Even for the friend who’s coming by for just a moment, we offer a little liquid refreshment and/or something to nibble.  And, if you come to my place, there will be cheese.  The unexpected visit can be just as much fun as the party you’ve planned. All it takes is a little imagination.

First, cheese boards come in all sizes, shapes, and materials – you can really use almost anything flat including a china platter.  If you took a survey, most people don’t even bring out a cheese board either because they cut the cheese before guests arrive or they think they don’t have something that will be ‘right’ to use. But let’s say you want to use a board – you can find them truly almost anywhere. Sometimes I use a beautiful flat, squarish piece of black slate as a “board” of sorts: the cheese and fruit look so beautiful against the dark color of the tile. My point is, your “board” can be made of almost any material.

Cheese knives also come in all shapes, sizes, and materials as well. Maybe you want to slice the cheese ahead of time, but it’s not a rule. Many times, I will cut a few slices or pieces and leave the rest of the piece of cheese ‘whole’ for my guests to cut.  My video shows some of the knives I’ve collected on my travels. I even have one with a handle that is shaped like a mouse that I picked up a few years ago in a small shop in Paris.  It’s a great story to tell my guests, and it looks fun on the plate.

Along with the cheese and crackers, you may want to add olives, gherkins (small pickles), nuts, or perhaps truffle honey, and so on. Place these ‘extras’ in individual small bowls or containers – the more colorful and fun the better – place them either directly on the board if there’s room or next to it on the table for easy access. Pick ones that add visual interest to your cheese board.  You’ll need small spoons or small spreaders as well for the honey or preserves – remember sweet, whether it’s dried fruit or something else, pairs perfectly with cheese.

The trick is to pick up the boards, small bowls, containers, cheese knives and spoons/spreaders as you see them and not to wait until you actually NEED them. I’ve always found that if I’m searching madly for something the day before a party, I rarely see what I’m looking for. Take your time and have fun planning.  If you’ve found things you love to use you will already have the right tools for that unexpected guest!

5 Minute Recipe for Parmesan Crisps – for salad or snacking

parmesan crisps

A quick recipe for Parmesan Crisps that will also introduce you to the Silpat non-stick baking mat.

Here’s a recipe that you can literally use for anything – add to a salad, as a topping for a dish, or just for snacking. One very nice benefit of this recipe, if you haven’t been already introduced to the “Silpat,” here’s your opportunity because they will make your cooking/baking life so much easier.

Silpats are made from fiberglass and food-grade silicone. Use them with a high-quality baking sheet, and NOTHING will stick to them. They can be washed and reused thousands of times. They’re approved by every international agency that watches out for food safety, and they’re Kosher certified. Every professional kitchen has been using these products for years. In fact, they’re so commonplace among chefs and bakers that saying the name ‘Silpat’ is like saying “Kleenex” or “Xerox”. There’s nothing else like it.

One more thing about Silpats – they do save lots of time, but they can also make a whole world of difference on the final taste of your dish. Just think: no more after-taste from whatever greasy non-stick oil or spray you usually use on your baking sheet. You can learn more about them from the Silpat company website. And, the best thing is you can buy them just about anywhere. I got mine from Sur La Table – you can see it in my recent video.

Aside from the Silpat, you’ll need finely grated Parmesan cheese. For the best flavor, I highly recommend cheese from Parmigiano-Reggiano. This cheese comes directly from the Parma region of Emilia Romagna in Tuscany, Italy. It’s the original, it’s the best, and you’ll love the nutty taste.  Unfortunately, if you try this with a standard parmesan cheese you may end up with a ‘bitter’ tasting crisp!

  1. Before you do anything, preheat your oven to 400F degrees. I can’t stress this enough.  You want to put your baking sheet into a hot oven or the cheese won’t melt well.
  2. Place a Silpat baking pan liner directly on your cookie sheet.
  3. Spoon out piles of the grated cheese directly on the Silpat. Your piles can be as big or small as you like. Then gently press the cheese piles into a round shape – they don’t have to be perfectly flat. When the grated cheese melts, the rounds will end up whatever size you flatten them to. They won’t spread, but don’t crowd them on the Silpat – leave a bit of space in between.
  4. Bake for about 4-5 minutes until they are golden and crisp.  Be sure to watch them because they can turn too crispy quickly.
  5. Allow the rounds to cool for a couple of minutes and then gently transfer to parchment paper to hold for your party.  Serve them at room temperature.

They can be stored in an airtight container for no more than 3 days.  Be sure to place parchment paper between the layers of the crisps, so they don’t stick to each other.

You could ‘float’ small crisps in tomato soup or sprinkle them on top of a Caesar salad or even break up larger ones as a quick appetizer with wine.  Serve them with just about any light crisp white wine or even a light red like a Syrah.

Have fun and enjoy!