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.

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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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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Gourmet food shopping

On a recent trip through Charlotte, North Carolina, we shopped at our favorite gourmet store — Dean and Deluca. The entire store has expanded into a lovely restaurant, enlarged store from our last trip, and a wine shop. Although I often order from their mail order, actually visiting one of their few shops is really a treat.

If I lived nearby, I am sure you could find me there on a regular basis as the shop includes everything from bakery items, chocolate, gourmet pastas, deli items, cheeses, an amazing selection of chocolate and tea. Those are some of my favorites, but the list goes on.

I love the look of this shop, as well as the attention to keeping the shelves fully stocked. Although we have also visited their Georgetown shop in D.C. and one of their NYC locations, I think this Charlotte store is my favorite.

I stocked up on spices and other products that I usually am not able to find in Michigan. They have both an indoor and outdoor cafe which were busy and added to the great atmosphere of this location. If in Charlotte, don’t miss this one. And plan to spend a bit of time to see everything.

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Herb Potatoes

Try this easy way to make a small serving of red potatoes which are full of flavor and quite tasty.  No one will have to be committed to eating a large potato, and they look very nice side by side in a chafing dish for serving with a buffet.

I used small red potatoes, but any small size fingerling potato would work as well for this recipe.  The key to the recipe is slicing the potatoes in half and roasting for 30-35 minutes cut side down.

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I set my oven to 425 degrees and just sprinkled the potatoes with a dash of sea salt.  After roasting, I mixed 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese with 2 tablespoons softened margarine and a mixture of oregano, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.  Any green herb mixture will do to liven up the potatoes.

Finish the dish by broiling for one minute.

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Cheese fondue

For easy entertaining, I have served a variety of cheese fondue recipes over the years.  Some have been made with classic cheddar cheeses, and others are made with a different flavor profile.

This past Christmas, I served a new recipe that I enjoyed along with my guests.  One of the best features of serving a fondue is that by offering a variety of dippers, everyone can create their own meal.  Guests seem to voice a favorite choice by the end of the evening.

Here is my new recipe for cheese fondue:  Begin with one cup of white wine.  Bring up to a boil in a sauce pan, and then add 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Add one wedge of Fontina and one wedge of Fontinella cheese which have been shredded or cubed to melt evenly.  Then add, one square of white cheddar to incorporate fully.

When the cheese is melted, combine in a measuring cup 1/2 cup of Angry Orchard cider with 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch.  Then, slowly pour into the fondue while stirring.  Season with grated nutmeg.

Serve in a fondue pot and keep warm.  Offer a variety of dippers for guests. I served celery sticks, carrot sticks, radishes, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, green and black olives, pickles, crusty bread, bread sticks, turkey sausage sticks and roasted white chicken.

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