Tag Archives: snacks

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!

Entertain like an Italian and Enjoy the Spirt of the Aperitivo

Open up your home and celebrate

Enjoy the relaxed pace and informality of a timeless continental style.

One of the reasons I became a restaurateur is that I love to entertain. And, one of my favorite ways to entertain guests follows the Italian Aperitivo style: informal and wholly intimate.

It’s a time to invite everyone – it can be a group of only friends after work or add family and have everyone all at once. This style is not about impressing people with your silverware and fine china. It’s all about the spirit of the gathering; making everyone feel welcomed and together as one happy group. It’s really a very simple way to socialize over light cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

Aperitivo is also not about impressing anyone with your kitchen prowess. Very often, Italians serve prepared foods that they’ve picked up at the local market to make it easier. Aperitivo itself is more of a prelude to dinner. In fact, the prefix ‘apero’ in Latin means to ‘to open’ – as in to open your stomach to get it ready for a lovely meal.  So, the food is just that – small things.  It is not meant to be dinner. 

In Italy everything for the table revolves around what’s in season and it’s the same for the food for Aperitivo. That just means getting the ingredients that are in season and building a menu around those items.  So even if you do decide to cook make sure that you keep your menu focused on what’s fresh in the farmer’s market right then.  But for any aperitivo there is one snack item that is always included no matter the season – potato chips!  Italians LOVE potato chips! They are prime aperitivo food even in the most fabulous hotels in Milan.

They also don’t worry about making sure that everything matches on the tabletop. In the Italian culture, like everywhere else in the world, they pass down their treasures through their families – linens, silver, glassware, china, et cetera. If you don’t have all of that, try visiting estate sales – I just wrote a blog about it. But – even if all you have is plastic and Melmac – go for it anyway. It’s the gathering that matters most.

A part of embracing the aperitivo style is getting familiar with the Italian habit of after work cocktails. It’s different from our Happy Hour where the focus is more on having drinks together with your friends. Italians like to sip, and they tend to talk more than they drink so the focus is more on the gathering than the drinking.

Because “friends and family” often means kids, welcome them at your aperitivo. Let them join in the snacking with virgin cocktails or smoothies. And, because we want it as intimate as possible, tell everyone to turn off their phones. A friend of mine collects all phones at the door (to be returned at the end). It’s a great idea—I think I’ll try that myself.

So, have an aperitivo!  Mix up a batch of Negronis, add some small snacks and prepared foods from your market and enjoy!

Check out my video for more ideas on entertaining Italian-style.

Drinks and Snacks for Your Super Bowl Party!

Cool Drinks and Great Snacks for Your #Superbowl – #SB51

I’ve tried all kinds of ways of hosting a Super Bowl party. You can go the route of a big meal – one or two big dishes. Another way is to line up some cool drinks and have lots of savory snacks on hand.

Mix up a batch of “Minty Moscow Mule Punch” for your Super Bow party. From Real Simple.

This approach gives everyone some variety and easy choices. They’re also good for the ‘quick snap’ as a friend of mine likes to describe it – one cup, one napkin, and you’re off and running back to the big screen.

It’s important to serve beverages that will go best with whatever menu you’ve planned.  If your crowd likes sodas and beer then set up a couple of ice filled coolers with bottled sodas (more fun than cans) and some interesting beers (perhaps a Belgian ale, a local craft beer and a lager).

If your crowd is more into a full bar, then set up / mix some batch cocktails that you can serve in a pitcher so you aren’t playing bartender all day.  Here’s a great drink recipe for a Minty Moscow Mule Punch that is very popular. Or what about White Negroni Punch (see featured photo above). Remember – make these well before your guests show up.

Don’t forget to have enough ice on hand.  Start making ice the day before and fill up gallon ziplock bags with ice cubes so you’ll have a head start. I use this party guideline: 2 pounds of ice per person for a party.

Even if I decide to bring in platters of sandwiches and salads I will always make some snacks to put my personal touch on the party.  Important rule for Super Bowl snacks – make more than enough. Nothing is worse than running out in the middle of halftime. I love these four recipes – they really hit the spot:

A plate of “Cacio e Pepe Chips” from Bon Appetit. Make a lot. They’re addicting!

Cacio e Pepe Chips – featuring kettle-cooked chips and grated percorino! Great with just about any beer.

Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts – this is an absolute winner. You can prepare this recipe 2 days ahead of your party.

Spiced Popcorn with Pecans and Raisins – a real head-turner at my parties. And, habit-forming. Plan on your guests eating two or three servings a piece so if you’re doing this one make sure you make a lot!

Buffalo Wing Popcorn – no kidding, what a combo. Another addicting dish.

I always recommend that you not use your regular dinnerware for these kinds of gatherings. But try (really try) to resist the urge to use paper plates. Not only are your average grocery store disposables kinda flimsy, they’re really ugly. I mean, seriously!  I get my disposables (plates, cutlery, and cups) from EMI Yoshi. They’re plastic, recyclable, AND they’re really cool looking.  Find them on Amazon.

Have a great time!