Tag Archives: hors-d’oeuvre

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!

Holiday Appetizers: hors d’oeuvres and finger foods, yum!

roasted grapes

Tips for making your holiday appetizers truly appealing.

Planning a holiday party? Start with all the ones you’ve seen – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Why remember the bad and the ugly? Because, we don’t want to do that!

The best ones, I’m sure you’ll agree, are actually the most memorable. These are the ones where everything came together – from start to finish.

The ideal way to start ANY party (holiday, birthday, anniversary, anything!) is for guests to be greeted at the door with a cocktail and a tray of hors-d’oeuvres and finger foods.

It’s also important to have additional finger food out for your holiday parties so guests can snack at their leisure.  Do easy appetizers that don’t need to stay hot and taste great either warm or cold. That way it won’t matter when your guests arrive or how long the food is out (but definitely do not leave it out overnight).

Remember – you don’t always have to serve a seated dinner for your events. Some of the best holiday parties are appetizers only! No surprise, but a finger-food party is easy on guests as well as the host. Appetizers are prepared before guests arrive, they’re easier to eat, you don’t need forks and knives, and you definitely don’t need tables! In fact, when parties are all about the appetizers and finger foods, everybody is portable! That means you and your guests can walk around talking to each other.

Let me give you a couple of finger food ideas:

People love my fresh ricotta with roasted grapes on crostini. I’ve been serving these at my parties forever. They’re so easy and quick to prepare it’s crazy – the best appetizer recipes always are.  Use this recipe from one of my favorite websites – Alexandra’s Kitchen. To make the roasted grapes really sing, it’s important to have fresh ricotta. I follow the incredibly easy recipe from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa.  You can use store bought fresh ricotta but when it’s this easy to make – why?

My other “can’t miss” party finger food is prosciutto wrapped asparagus. This is so easy that just about anyone with minimal kitchen skills can manage. Make sure you blanch the asparagus tips first – here’s a video I did for the easy way to blanch your veggies. Then you wrap the asparagus tips in prosciutto and quickly grill. This is one dish that definitely does not need to stay hot. The crispy prosciutto tastes great and is much easier to eat than when the prosciutto is not grilled.  They are so popular with my friends that I always make a lot – I don’t want to run out!

And, that’s the way to have a fun party!

My Favorite Holiday Appetizer

proscciutto wrapped asperagus - horizontal

Finger Food Idea – prosciutto wrapped asparagus – it’s EASY

Everyone has a favorite holiday appetizer: finger foods for the Christmas office party, New Year’s party, or any other gathering. After twenty years in the restaurant business, I’ve collected all sorts of great and easy holiday food ideas – from hors-d’oeuvre to main courses.

This one is an easy finger food idea. A very dear friend of mine can’t boil eggs without step-by-step instructions. She saw me cooking this recipe and said, “Fran! Even I can cook this one!” It’s really that simple.

Finger Food: Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

  1. This is the ‘hard’ part: pick your asparagus carefully. Make sure that you buy asparagus spears that have tight heads. What I mean is that all of the little buds should be tight and very close to the stalk.
  2. Wash your asparagus in cold water and break off the “woody” lower end of the stem. Make it even easier so that you don’t have to guess, bend each asparagus spear until they snap in two. That’s the natural point where the soft edible part begins.
  3. For appearance, after you’ve snapped them cut all spears about the same length.
  4. Blanch your stalks to bring out that appetizing bright green color. Just drop them briefly (about 15-20 seconds) into boiling water. Take them out right when the color brightens. Immediately immerse them in ice water to stop them from cooking.
  5. Wrap each spear with enough prosciutto to completely go around the stalk. You want to leave both ends of the asparagus spear exposed.
  6. Preheat your grilling pan. Add a little olive oil – just wipe some on for flavor. No puddles of oil.
  7. Grill the prosciutto-spears, turning as needed, just until they start to brown.
  8. Remember that the prosciutto is already cooked, so you don’t have to make these really crispy but they will crisp a bit. This will be about 3-4 minutes. Make sure that you roll them in the grill pan so they color evenly.

Serve this alongside another insanely easy appetizer like slender morsels of mozzarella cheese wrapped with fresh basil leaves. YUM.

And as always, have fun!