Okay, people, the holiday season is here and that means people dropping by with gifts and lovely bottles of wine to share and you need to be prepared. In the olden days, I would make fussy appetizers and hor d’oeuvres that would require hours in the kitchen and would often take me away from my guests. The oohs and ahhs were good for the ego but I realized that just as I was ready to sit down and relax, my friends were getting their coats on to leave.
I thought it was more important to wow them than to sit and have a glass of wine with them but with age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes a much more enjoyable, relaxed holiday season.
What I do now is make sure my fridge is stocked with a variety of nice cheeses, a couple of nice charcuterie items like pate, sliced Italian salamis etc and spicy, savoury jams. jellies and chutneys. This way, I feel like I can invite friends over last minute without having to worry about what I am going to serve them. Keep a variety of crackers on hand and don’t forget the ease of canned fish! Dump some of Scout’s Rainbow Trout into a bowl, drizzle with chili oil, more fresh dill and some crumbled feta. An instant addition to your charcuterie board with zero fuss.
I have a couple of dollar store bins that I keep in the fridge – one for meats and fish and the other for cheeses. When I find out that Mr and Mrs Doubtfire are popping over tonight, I can have a nice spread ready in 15 minutes.
How to Build a Charcuterie/Cheese Board
These are just suggestions based on what I like. Try to just have a variety of textures, something spicy, something sweet, something vinegary or acidic and you are good to go. If you don’t have a board, use a platter. Don’t have a platter? Use some plates. Don’t stress, your guests are here to see you, not write a review for Gourmet.
- Hard cheese: chunks of parmesan, aged gouda, asiago.
- Firm cheese: gruyere, comte, manchego, colby, cheddar.
- Semi-soft cheese: havarti, butterkäse, muenster.
- Soft cheese: burrata, mascarpone, stracchino.
- Blue cheese: gorgonzola, dunbarton blue, marbled blue jack.
- Italian dried salamis, sopprosata, saucisson sec, Spanish Chorizo
- Proscuitto, Iberico ham, Speck
- Bresola for a non-pork addition, thinly sliced roast beef and chicken pates
- smoked salmon, cured salmon, smoked trout or a seafood rillette and canned seafood are great
- grapes, strawberries, fresh figs
- dried figs, apricots, dates
- selection of olives
- grainy mustard, jams, savoury jelly, honeycomb, little hot peppers, cornichons
I do like to include a couple of homemade treats so every year I try to make one savoury jam myself, like this cardamom peach jam. You might make some sweet things like cookies, or chocolate truffles or buy something tasty. I also try to make different types of spicy cookies or crackers to serve with the cheese and charcuterie.
I am sharing my absolute favourite spicy shortbread with you. You can freeze the logs of uncooked dough for up to a couple of months. You can also keep a log in the fridge for about a week and just slice off as many cookies as you are going to need for the
evening so that you can always have a fresh batch of shortbread for your guests.
I don’t know about your levels of control but I know that if I bake up 20 of these cookies when I only need about 10 I will eat the other ten myself. They’ll be gone before I finish my morning coffee the next day and I don’t need that. These cookies are nothing but butter and cheese so don’t forget when you are scarfing them like popcorn. You will want to do that.
Spicy Cheddar Shortbread
makes about 30 cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
15 grinds black pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne
200 grams finely grated sharp cheddar
1 cup unbleached flour
lightly toasted pecans
1 egg white
coarse salt like kosher for sprinkling on the top (i used fleur de sel but kosher works fine too)
Using either a hand mixer or your stand mixer, cream together the butter, salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne. Now, grab a wooden spoon and start mixing in the cheese and flour a bit at a time until just combined. Use your hands to work the dough until it sticks together and put half of it on a sheet of parchment paper and press it into a log shape, probably about an inch or an inch and a half in diameter.
Wrap it up in the parchment and put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes. You can also freeze it (I always freeze half to use later) by wrapping the log in a double layer of plastic wrap and then covering that in foil.
Preheat the oven to 350, put the rack in the top third of the oven and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Remove your cookie log from the fridge and carefully slice into 1/4 to 1/8″ slices and arrange on the cookie sheet. Brush the tops with some beaten egg white, sprinkle with a touch of course salt and press a chunk of toasted pecan into the centre of each cookie.
Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 15 minutes.
Cool on the baking sheets for five minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely. If you store them in a tightly covered container in the fridge and just take them out an hour before serving, they will keep for weeks.