Cheese Board

For a busy holiday party, I find it easier to serve an appetizer or cheese board while everyone is waiting for the dinner hour.  When guests arrive, it is very easy to have many types of cheese, nuts, dried fruit, condiments, crusty and multi-seeded bread ready to go. Guests can serve themselves while they enjoy conversation with others and the family.

I usually set up the table earlier in the day or the day before, depending on the guests’ arrival time.  I have the serving dishes ready to go and mark them with post-it notes so it is an easy task to assemble at the last-minute.

This technique has worked for me over the years and keeps me from not having to hunt for a certain platter or dish just as the party is starting.

This past Easter I served a cheese board with four cheeses, complimented with many choices for both sweet and savory snacking.

Here are some photos which included the following choices:

white cheddar cheese with blue seedless grapes, fig jam, and hard salami

mini mozzarella balls with grape tomatoes and fresh basil

black and green olives with small dill pickles

aged cheddar with blueberry honey and candied tangerine slices

Bremner wafers with candied ginger nuts

Gouda cheese with natural almonds and dried cherries

Dill Havarti cheese with crusty bread and multi-grain seeded bread

Carr’s crackers, raspberries and bar cheddar cheese

Chocolate eggs and jelly belly beans

Actually Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Wednesday was National Grilled Cheese Day.  I don’t really remember that day from past years, but thought I would celebrate this year with actually preparing grilled cheese sandwiches–Not just made indoors on a grill, but made outdoors on a charcoal grill.

The feat was totally easy since I have a new grilled cheese basket by The Charcoal Companion.  This non-stick basket is perfect for any type of grilled sandwich on an open grill.  The rosewood handle is especially nice and the basket clip keeps the tool together for easy turning.  I was able to fit three smaller sandwiches with plenty of cheddar cheese for each sandwich into the basket. The sandwiches are held together nicely without any worries of losing a sandwich into the charcoal.

It took only minutes before the cheese was melty, gooey and so delicious!  The actual outdoor charcoal flavor adds that extra special taste that cannot be achieved indoors. The basket is the perfect size and really could be used to grill flat vegetables as well.

I plan to be using my grills so much more this year as I have come to appreciate all types of outdoor grilling and various foods that can be easily made on the grill today with the proper tools. Grilled cheese is also perfect for tailgating season.  There is just something about cooking food outdoors that makes it taste extra special!

Baskets can be found at Wal-Mart, World Market, many specialty cooking stores and even online at The Home Depot or bbqguys.com.

Boska cheese boards

For Easter appetizers this year, I plan to share a cheese board with my family. I was recently introduced to a company from Holland that offers so many lovely products for preparing and serving cheese. They offer everything from slicers, graters, boards, and knives to fondue and raclette sets. Their products are high quality and were beautifully displayed at the home and housewares show in Chicago last month.

Here is what I plan to serve this year for my cheese board:  olives, dried apricots, cranberries, candied oranges, white cheddar cheese, fig jam, red onion jam, crackers, almonds, pickles, grapes, nuts, honey, Gouda and Jarlesberg cheeses. In addition, I will offer crusty bread slices, apple slices and raspberries.

Here are some photos of the Boska products that are available online on their website designed for United States residents.

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Chicago’s French Market

We ventured over to the West Loop of Chicago to visit Chicago’s French Market one morning a few weeks ago.  The market earned a Zagat spot for markets to visit; along with the Melrose Market in Seattle, the St. Roch Market in New Orleans, and the Krog Street Market in Atlanta–so, it deserved a look see.  As a true foodie, I wanted to investigate what this European market could offer the shopper.

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We found a diverse selection of fresh food to order from 30 booths, along with fresh flowers, classic chocolates, cheese, pastries, macaroons, and grocery items. I would say that late morning to lunch would be the best time to visit, as many of the offerings were best taken at lunch or late afternoon for dinner.

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There was an ample selection of items, including something for everyone. We sampled some breakfast beignets at the table space in the front of the market.  There is additional seating within the market which has a Parisian design, as well as seating within the lobby area of the building.  The striking yellow umbrellas and red awning over the main door can’t be missed. When in town, do visit if in the neighborhood.

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Easy tortellini soup

We have had a few chilly days here in Michigan, and it doesn’t take much for me to bring out a soup recipe.  I have so many favorites and always welcome leftovers.  This recipe makes around 8 medium-sized soup bowl servings.

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I love the zesty flavor based on the type of diced tomatoes used for cooking. I use chili ready tomatoes, which includes a nice profile of spice.  Actually, that profile is perfect for this soup.  I have tried it with other variations of tomatoes as well, and if you are a tomato fan, you will like this recipe no matter which canned product is selected.

To begin the soup recipe:  Use about 2 tablespoons margarine to saute 4 cloves of fresh chopped garlic.  When softened, add 4 cups of chicken broth and boil.  Add 1/2 bag of slightly thawed frozen cheese tortellini to the mixture on the stovetop.  CooSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESk 3 minutes and then add one can of diced tomatoes.   Bring back up to a boil and cook another 2-3 minutes.

To finish the soup, I used fresh basil from my garden, chopped in thin strips, and added some chopped dark green romaine lettuce to the pot.  I continued to lightly boil the soup for another minute or so.  Serve with shredded or freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle with parsley flakes.

A great way to warm up on a chilly day.

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Pizza soup with Pepperoni

With weather reports this past week coming in for our area, I was questioning if Spring was ever really going to take hold in Michigan.  I am still wearing a sweater, and yes, still eating soup.  My husband has learned over the years that I only offer certain foods, menus or dishes during appropriate months of the year.  He knows not to ask for mashed potatoes in July.  But, it took a few years for him to fully understand how I classify foods by season. Mostly, I focus on fresh vegetables of the season and look for the protein that best matches with those offerings.

However, that being said, and heading into May, I am still serving soup. In other years, with warmer temperatures, hot soup would be off the menu in March, and only replaced with a chilled soup offering until September.

I found this recipe for pizza soup prepared in a slow cooker from Taste of Home.  It is another recipe that calls for assembling the ingredients, and walking away for 7 1/2 hours. I modified the recipe to include frozen tortellini, instead of cheese ravioli, and feel that my version is super tasty. Try this recipe year round and  let it become one of your favorites. It freezes well, and makes about 6-8 servings from this recipe.

Assemble these ingredients:  2 cans of stewed tomatoes/14.5 ounces, 3 1/2 cups beef broth, 1 white medium onion, 1 small green pepper, 1 small package sliced mushrooms, 1/2 package sliced pepperoni, dried oregano, 3/4 package of frozen cheese tortellini, shredded Parmesan cheese and sliced black olives

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Add the first seven ingredients to a slow cooker and place on low for 7 1/2 hours. Add the tortellini and increase to high, cooking for another 1/2 hour. Serve with shredded cheese and sliced olives as desired. A great offering with a side salad and crusty bread.

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Bistro onion soup

French onion soup is one of my all-time favorites.  I have tried several recipes over the years and have three other onion soup recipes already posted on this blog. However, this recipe is made in a slow cooker. I prepared the onions at the start of the day, turned on my Cuisinart slow cooker and never looked back. Eight hours later, I had an amazing soup that was delicious and authentic.

Broiled cheese toasts can be added to the top or the soup could be ladled into crocks and broiled the old fashioned way for the cheesy crusty topping admired by most aficionados. Even broiling some cheese and placing on top of the soup will work for a quick alternative.

Easy and classic, I recommend this recipe for your romantic bistro night at home. Served with a side salad or crusty bread and wine will make the evening complete.

Assemble these ingredients: 2 tablespoons margarine, 2 tablespoons olive oil, dried thyme, 1 1/2 large yellow onions,  2 medium red onions, fresh garlic cloves, salt, pepper, 4 cups beef broth, 1/2 cup red wine

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Cut the margarine into bits and place in the slow cooker.  Add 4-5 fresh garlic cloves, oil, thyme and then the sliced onions. I slice the onions in medium to large strips.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

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If nearby, it will be fine if you give the mixture a stir every couple of hours. Around 7 1/2 hours into cooking, place the beef broth and wine in a sauce pot and bring to a boil.  Add to the slow cooker and continue to cook for 15 minutes on high.

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If serving with cheese toast, prepare them under the broiler and place on the soup before serving. I used Swiss and Gruyere cheese broiled on top. Save this recipe, as it is a real keeper. I used inspiration for this recipe from Eating Well magazine, Jan-Feb 2016 issue.

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