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Monday, 29 October 2012

Perfecting The Cheeseboard

Cheese can be the sole offering when entertaining! Yes Cheese & wine alone can make
for a rich and delicious night of munching and mingling.

“A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.”                                                      
                                                                                                     -   Émile Zola, The Belly of Paris

For many, cheese is a best-loved food. However, and while for some, the love of cheese does not go beyond the grilled cheese sandwich or as a condiment in cooking, for many others, cheese is an ingredient with its own legacy, stories and is an experience on its own - in a way, similar to that of wine! No wonder cheese and wine have forever been paired together and have been treated by the gourmands as experiences that awaken all your senses. 

A good block of sharp cheese is all you need to
create a memorable experience
Personally, I love cheese, and find it to be fascinating. I find that retreating to a good block of sharp cheese paired with some fruit and wine is all you need for a memorable afternoon or evening. A good block of cheese hardly ever needs any accompaniments, which when used - in my opinion - should be, only to bring out the goodness of the cheese itself, and never to mask its flavours. To me, good artisanal cheese can speak miles about a land, its produce, a process and about the people who make it. Savoruing cheese is a journey that starts at purchasing, from tasting, selecting, to actually having, cheese is such a marvelous and enjoyable experience! Yes such is cheese; beyond the grilled cheese sandwich! I guess I agree with Anthony Bourdain, who wrote - in his book: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook - : “You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.” 

 In this post, I wish to explore the marvelous experience of the cheeseboard. I am hoping to inspire you to go for new cheeses, and to look beyond the surface when savouring this remarkable produce. I want to encourage you to really taste cheese, and try to figure out the different notes, aromas and flavours each one offers. Remember, cheese is an experience, not an ingredient to only fill hungry stomachs! Ultimately - and staying true to my blog's current focus: 'Quick & Easy Recipes for fuss-free home entertaining - I am hoping you will be inspired to bring out that cheeseboard more often when entertaining at home. My friends know that when lounging at my house, the cheeseboard is a must and they all enjoy it thoroughly :) so will yours. 
so read on and enjoy...

Celebrate good cheese by serving it with minimal condiments

The Cheeseboard
In the 19th century, cheese was considered to have a masculine taste, if such a thing exists! It was therefore, usually served at smoke-rooms to the gentlemen who entertained, while the ladies mingled in another room. It was usually paired with brandy and liqueurs, the gentlemen's preferred drinks at the time. It was not necessarily served at the beginning, middle or end of a meal, it was rather always on offer for those visiting the smoke-room. Cheese has gone a long way since then, both in types, potential eaters as well as course of service. While in France, cheese is usually served pre-dessert as a way to consume any left over wines from the meal. In the US & UK, it is usually served after the meal is done as an extension for those who wish to stay, and nibble on some cheese as they drink. Today, cheese is viewed as an extension to a meal, and even frequently served without the tie up with meal courses. Besides its role in cookery, cheese is now a star offering in many lounges, wine bars, restaurants and even in home entertaining.

Serving your guests a cheeseboard is a very elegant touch. Especially if your guests are big on food, and experiences brought about by foods; they will definitely enjoy a variety of cheeses - through your take on the cheeseboard - and will look forward to the pairings you suggest. However, when it comes to the cheeseboard, some find it to be tricky business! There is an array of cheeses to choose from, and most people are clueless as to which cheese, what wine, what condiments, and even what board!

The actual cheeseboard
Anything can be used as a cheeseboard. You can either buy a dedicated cheeseboard, or re-purpose kitchenware you already have to use as a cheeseboard. For instance, you can use a wooden chopping board for an inviting, homely and more country feel to your presentation. For a slightly brighter and more elegant feel, you can use a marble slab to serve your cheese selection on. You can also go for river stone as a cheese platter, or even serving plates if you wish. Just bear in mind that if you choose a board that cannot be used for cutting and slicing, you must cut and slice the cheese into portions before placing it on the serving board/platter. Also note that, while this works when entertaining at home, you must know that it does not work in a more formal set up, due to the

Cheese Cutting Etiquette
There is an etiquette to cutting cheese, where 
  • A host should, if must, cut only a few pieces of the cheese and place them by the bigger block/wedge of the same cheese, leaving the rest of the block/wedge uncut and up to guests to cut themselves. For those who savour the experience of cheese, they usually like to cut it themselves to examine the veining, texture or even colouration of that cheese.
  • Cheese must never be picked with a fork, therefore a two-pronged blade knife must be placed by the cheese for cutting and picking into diners' plates.
  • The idea behind having a selection of cheese is to savour different types of cheese and observe the differences in experience. It would defeat that purpose if the flavours of various cheese are mixed together through the use of the same knife. Therefore, in formal affairs, a cheeseboard must have a separate knife for each cheese type.
  • Guests are never to pick up, feel or hold cheese blocks/wedges by hand as they cut the cheese. Therefore for hard textured cheeses, a small napkin is usually placed by the cheeseboard for guests who find it difficult to slice through. This napkin will then be used to hold on to the cheese as they cut.

Click here for an article to help you understand cheese types and cheese categories

Which Cheese to choose
Nowadays there are a million options when it comes to cheese. Many shops are offering lots of tantalising good quality cheeses, and artisanal cheeses that you can choose from. Cheese does not have to be the fanciest and most expensive to be good. In fact, the most palatable cheeses are made by artisans and small farms, who usually use the best quality milk, which makes all the difference to the final product. When it comes to choosing which cheese to have, or even understanding cheese pairing for drinks or in cookery, you must first understand the actual cheese and its properties. This can only be done by knowing the types and classifications of cheese. Click this link for understanding cheese types and varieties, as I will be referring to those types below. Once you know the types, these are the most frequent choices:

Which Types & How many Cheeses must be on the cheeseboard...

There are plenty of interesting cheeses
to choose from. like blues, sheeps' milk cheese,
Goats' milk cheese...etc.  Be adventurous and
try new cheeses.
While there are no set rules as to how many cheeses, usually three types of cheese are the least to go for. Frequent choices in small cheese platters usually include:
  • Cooked Cheese Variety: Downy or soft
  • Soft Cheese Variety
  • Veined Cheese Variety
With that said, I do, however, sometimes celebrate one type of cheese! Especially if I had purchased a special artisanal cheese block and want to share it with my friends. In this case you really want to have a large block of cheese, because the worst thing would be for guests to get into the flavour but then the cheese runs out! You also want to make sure that the cheese type is most likely to be liked by your guests. We all know that not everyone is into blue cheese, in which case you are better off serving a variety to please everyone.

Cheese enthusiasts, normally offer larger cheese platters with 5 - 6 types of cheese, including:
  • Goats' Cheese
  • Soft Downy Cheese
  • Soft Washed Cheese
  • Hard Cheese
  • Veined Cheese
  • Pressed Curd
In general, an interesting cheeseboard offers a mix of Hard vs Soft cheese, Fresh vs Aged cheese, and Domestic vs Imported cheese. It is also very interesting to offer a mix of cheese sources: cows', sheep's, goats' and blue cheese. There is also the smoked cheese varieties to consider, which are another dimension of flavour altogether.

How to best serve cheese...
Contrary to common belief, cheese is best when served at room temperature. Remember, despite being a dairy product, cheese is a preservation of milk, therefore is less sensitive to room temperature. With that said, it is not a suggestion to leave cheese out of the fridge overnight, however it is to let you know that it should stand at room temperature for at least one hour before serving. This is because the fats in cheese soften at room temperature, releasing its full flavours and making it easier to cut through and bite into. This makes for a better experience.

Condiments must always enhance or bring out the natural flavours of cheese, and must never mask them. However, condiments are what wins your guests over. They will enjoy exploring the pairing suggestions, and discovering how the cheese flavour develops with each condiment. Condiments also make the cheeseboard more interesting than just piling cheese on a plate! Like with wine, a soft flavoured cheese must be paired with soft flavoured condiments, and for sharper accompaniments you should go for sharper cheeses..You must always think of the eating experience, the flavours and the textures. Like for instance, soft textured cheeses, pair very well with the crunchiness of toasted, fried, or dried bases.

The Most Common & Best-loved Condiments and Accompaniments to Cheeseboards
  • Fruits are the best known accompaniments to cheeseboards. Most commonly used are grapes, pears, apples... But even here you can add another layer for a more interesting experience, like wine poached pears with Camembert for instance.
  • Fruit Jellies and preserves are another way to use fruits as condiments to cheese. My utmost favourite is Orange Marmalade and sharp Aged Cheddar Cheese.
  • Nuts (raw or toasted) are a fabulous accompaniment to cheese. Walnuts, pecans, almonds and even pine nuts can do wonders with soft cheeses, and some hard cheeses.
  • Vinegars can bring out the flavour of some cheeses, like Balsamic Vinegar & Burrata for instance, or aged balsamic and goats' cheese.
  • Honey, is a fabulous pairing with sharp hard cheeses, and is frequently used to flavour cream cheeses.
  • Tapenades, sundreied tomatoes and pestos are all good accompaniments to cooked soft cheeses.
  • Herbs and Leaves are also very common to serve with cheeses, like chives, rosemary, basil, thyme...etc. Keep in mind the strength of the flavours against the cheese and the overall experience.
  • Breads, crackers, crisps, crepes, sticks...etc are all fabulous contrasts of textures and flavours by the cheeseboard. These also offer a base for your guests to create their flavour combinations and textures. These are also more filling than cheese on its own.
While my preferred option is serving cheese as is, for variation, I would sometimes go for fried cheese, cheese balls, herbed rolled cheeses, cheese-stuffed olives, and even grilled cheese canapes. You can make an assortment of prepared cheeses, and place them in a different platter next to the cheeseboard for an all round cheese experience.

Pairing Cheese & Wine
These are general guidelines, however as is always the case with food, there are many exceptions to the rules:
  • Light Red Wines are best served with soft cheeses with a downy rind, goats' milk cheeses and pressed cheeses
  • Robust Red Wines are best served with soft cheeses with washed rinds and veined cheeses
  • Dry Fruity Wines pair best with goats' milk cheeses
  • A Smooth White Wine pairs very well with Blues & Roquefort cheeses
  • Rose Wines are best with processed or cooked cheeses

Hope you have enjoyed this post that covers all things 'Cheeseboard Experience'. And I hope that I was able to inspire you to go out there and become more adventurous when it comes to cheese. Cheese is fascinating experience when had right and when you are open to its flavours, textures,  aromas and overall palatability. It is an experience of enjoyment, of indulgence of the senses, cheese is way more than those grilled cheese sandwiches, Mozzarella over pizza or the Parmesan over spaghetti! 

So enjoy, and offer your guests your take on the cheeseboard the next time you entertain... Do let me hear from you and leave me a comment before you go, you know I love your feedback :)

Relative Links

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Rolls & Tartines, Fast Yet Elegant Home Entertaining!

Tartines - Open-faced Sandwiches

"As with wines that improve with age, the oldest friendships ought to be the most delightful."     - Cicero

When we think home entertaining we mostly think fussy! We fuss about what to cook, how to serve, what drinks... we also fuss about how it will all be received, how talented we will appear, how impressive we are to our friends, how we could be criticised... we fuss and fuss and then fuss some more! Most would agree that they like to entertain at home, however, most would also tell you that sometimes it becomes so much hard work and drama that by the time the guests arrive, they have become too tired to actually enjoy! That all they want is for everyone to leave so they can go to sleep! While that can be one scenario to your evening with friends, it really does not have to be one! There are ways to entertain elegantly and with good style, without the fuss, and without the hard work! In fact, you will enjoy every second of it, maybe even sneak a few bites and have a drink while putting together a mouth watering variety of food for you and your guests to enjoy! Sounds like the party starts before the bell rings!
Not only that, but with this kind of food, you will encourage your guests to be social, interact, and even give them something to talk about!
That's what I like!

Sandwiches are everyone's very old friends. Who does not like to tuck into a sandwich? I actually prefer a good healthy sandwich for lunch over a heavy cooked meal! Sandwiches are easy to pick up and bite into. They offer a variety of flavours and textures, and are delicious. Just because a food type is very familiar that does not mean it is no good for entertaining nor does it necessarily mean that it can't be impressive!

Sandwiches are in fact a very good option when entertaining, especially when you are busy and have just a few hours to shake your magic wand before your guests arrive. All you need to do is spend 30 minutes at the supermarket and an hour preparing the food, 30 minutes of glamming up and you are ready to go lol !!

In the photo, Tartine of thinly sliced Salmon Sashimi, rolled over Wasabi and Ginger Cream Cheese
At the back, Tuna Sashimi with Lemon Cream on bread strips

Tartines are open faced sandwiches that can either be large sandwiches sliced into smaller portions or mini open faced sandwiches. I like tartines. Yes, because I can see what I am eating, but mostly because tartines allow me to present the sandwich elegantly. Being open faced, you can play with the presentation, and can even go the length of creating shapes with the toppers, like a strip of smoked salmon shaped as a flower and the likes.

Mini Tartines are very similar to canapes, in fact many canapes are technically mini tartines! Canapes are stereotypical of posh entertaining, elegant presentation and known to be a canvas for the creative chef to design beautiful, complete, and all rounded goodness in one bite. So is a tartine. However, it can be more of two bites instead of just one offering more to the greedy palate!

Depending on the ingredients, how you prepare them, pair them and finally present them; your tartine can look very elegant - like the Tuna Sashimi in the photo above - or you can go for a more casual look - like in the Roast Beef tartines in the photo to the right. Both options are fast to prepare, easy to make, and delicious. The only difference lies in the choice of ingredients and way of presentation.

Tips for making fabulous, mouthwatering tartines 

  • Be creative, just because it is a sandwich does not mean it has to be boring. Try different breads, a variety of ingredients, go for new combinations. Think outside the box or reassemble the box, if you must, to make it more interesting.
  • Think of the eating experience as you design your tartine. Offer a variety of flavours, textures and presentations. 
  • Use vegetables to bring in freshness to your tartine. Remember, a little bit of crunch always goes a long way!
  • Don't go too high with your creation, no one can open their mouth that wide. 
  • Add sauce but not overly, no one wants drippings on their favourite shirt. 
  • Pair the tartine with the right drink and the experience is complete.
  • Secure everything in place with a tiny skewer (there are many elegant skewers out there, but tooth picks also work if your are being casual). 
  • You can serve the tartines in multi-layer platters, Offering different varieties in each platter. Place these platters all around the room, and your guests can help themselves and pick the varieties they like, while they still mingle.
Classic Tartines include 
  • Roast Beef, mustard and gherkins
  • Turkey, cheese and tomatoes
  • Chicken, pickles and garlic paste
  • Tuna, mayonnaise, radishes and lettuce
  • Smoked Salmon, cream cheese and capers
  • Mozzarella with basil and tomatoes
  • Roasted Vegetables
Those are the classic options, but be creative and come up with unusual combinations, that is how your food becomes interesting, and that is your ground for impressing your guests and pleasing their palates.

Rolls are just as good as tartines. While rolls don't offer much choice in presentation, they are still amazing as they can enclose a variety of mouthwatering fillings. With that said, you can still be very creative with rolls. You can make these rolls using a variety of breads such as the Arabic thin Shrak bread, Tortilla, 1 fold Pita bread, crepes... etc. You can fill rolls with just about anything. Rolls are better casings for sauce and oozy foods such as bananas over chocolate with toasted hazelnuts for instance, they can be a parcel for any creation you can think of.

You can serve the rolls intact as rolls, or you can treat them as roulades and slice them up before serving. This depends on the type of filling you use and how it can hold. Once the roll is ready, you can either place them as they are on the serving platter - as in this post's first picture - or you can roll them in sandwich paper - to keep everything in place, carry out a theme or keep them clean, if are outdoors for instance. For an extra touch you can use blanched chives to secure the roll or even to create edible ribbons on it...
Just mind you the more detailed the more time consuming the whole preparation becomes.

Sample Rolls to inspire you

  • Seared Tuna with pureed Avocado, sour cream, shredded cabbage, chopped parsley and a sprinkle of lime juice. Wrapped with Tortilla.
  • Palestinain Musakhan Rolls: Caramelised onions with baked chicken, sumac and olive oil. Wrapped in Shrak bread. recipe here
  • Falafel, sliced tomatoes, chopped parsley and tahina sauce wrapped in pita bread.
  • Meat or Chicken Shawarma, pickles, tahina sauce in Pita bread.
  • Roasted figs, honeyed ricotta in a crepe.
  • Shredded roasted beetroot, shredded spring onion roasted duck and plum sauce in a crepe.
  • Banana over chocolate spread with toasted hazelnuts in Shrak or a crepe.
  • Strawberry over honeyed mascarpone and orange zest in a crepe ..... etc.

Rolls can be made with a variety of fillings offering many options
They are delightful as they are fast to prepare and easy for guests to pick up 

Tartines and rolls are also a very good way for re-purposing leftovers. If you have leftover roasts: beef, chicken, turkey...etc, then use these leftovers for to make succulent sandwiches.

We all have last minute guests, and we all have days when we feel like being in the company of our friends without the big fuss. Tartines and rolls allow you to be generous, to offer your guests mouthwatering, beautiful and filling food, all while also offering them a night filled with socialising, catching up and fun. Most importantly a night where you are in the mood and form to actually hang out with them! I love these sandwiches, and I have on many occasions made tartines and rolls for my friends, as we lounged at home, with drinks and fabulous music. The perfect catching up night!

Let your hair down, play some music, make tartines and catch up with your friends. These are the simple Joys of life!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Lemon Crepes

Who doesn't like crepes? Savoury or sweet, crepes are a fabulous meal.

There is not much art required for making fabulous crepes, but a little bit of imagination can take you places you never thought possible. Technically crepes are super easy and relatively fast to prepare, provided you allow the batter the 1 hour of rest required. Otherwise, and in terms of flavours there is a million ways to go about the additions to crepes, creating a whole new concept each time! For instance, instead of going for the palin old milk, why not go for flavoured milk, say a lemon milk as in my recipe here. Simply, add the grated zest of 1 lemon to 2 cups of milk. Bring the milk and zest to a boil and leave it to cool. Once cool, use this lemon milk to make the batter. You will get marvelous lemon crepes that you will want to have very often :)

In line with this week's focus on: quick and super easy recipes, here comes one very simple to make yet marvelous to have Lemon Crepes Recipe.

You Need
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp melted butter
7 tbsp lemon milk

Mix all the ingredients together. Thin the mixture with extra milk if necessary. Pass the batter through a sieve and let it stand for at least 1 hour, covered at room temperature. Make the crêpes using regular butter and following instructions above.

Lightly grease a heavy-based frying pan and heat it gently. Remove the pan from the heat add 2 tbsp of the batter. Lift and tilt your pan to spread batter into a thin layer. Return the pan to the heat and brown on 1 side only. Flip over to the other side to ensure it is cooked through, just do not brown it.

Top each crepe with a small piece of butter and finely grated lemon zest, then fold the crêpes into 4, and arrange on buttered plate. sprinkle with Icing sugar and top with Caremelised thin round lemon slices. You can prepare a lemon sugar syrup and serve with these crepes.

Now you can have a perfect Lemon Crepe any time :))

Hope you like this recipe, and that you will give it a try this weekend for a special breakfast. The weather is cooling down and if you are up early in the morning, you can enjoy these in your garden and smell the freshness. Do let me know which is your favourite crepe? and if you like the Best-loved oldie (crepe Suzette) then press this link for both recipes: Regular & Flambee!

You know I love to hear from you, so do leave me a comment before you go, and drop by again soon for more quick and easy recipes :))

Monday, 8 October 2012

Toffee, Hazelnut & Milk Chocolate Bars - And another take on the chocolate chip cookie

Makes 40 Squares, 30 Bars   |  Easy

Melt-in-your-mouth Toffee, Hazelnut & Milk Chocolate Bars

Cookies don't always have to come in the same old round, chocolate-chip-like look! Cookies can come in bars. These look very casual and non-fussy, a little extra homely! Because they are! Very casual, very non-fussy and ultra homely. They are gooey, luscious bars of chocolate-oozing goodness with a chewy toffee cookie base and a good crunch from the toasted hazelnuts!! What more can I say?

These bars are everyone's favourite at home. They are extremely easy to make, and really delightful to have. You can whip these in minutes! Bake and cool them, then slice them and place them in a nice cookie jar for snacks after lunch or with tea. If you tie a nice looking ribbon around a nice cookie jar filled with these cookies, you will have a delicious gift for a friend or neighbour...

Give this recipe a try, you will be happy you did :)

PS you can still make these in the round chocolate chip cookie fashion, and use the chocolate pieces whole instead of melted. This will give you another take on the chocolate chip cookie.

You Need
175g butter, softened
75g caster sugar
75g soft dark brown sugar
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
150g flour, sifted
Pinch Salt
50g roughly chopped hazelnuts, toasted
225g milk chocolate pieces (optional melted or used as chocolate pieces)

Preheat Oven to 350F. Grease a jelly roll sheet and line with baking paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, Cream butter and Sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Gradually add sifted flour and salt. Mix well. Spoon and spread the mixture onto the prepared baking tin. Top with chopped nuts. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes. Melt the chocolate on a double boiler. Pour melted chocolate over the toffee bar. Leave to set for a few minutes. Cut into squares or bars, just as the chocolate is about to set. Cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

You can also sandwich two bases together, while the chocolate is till warm, as in the pictures.

You can sandwich two bases together while the chocolate is still warm 

Serve the bars alongside a bold flavoured coffee, or with vanilla tea. A very easy, very quick recipe for the day when we are in a rush, or have last minute visitors for tea :) 

I hope you enjoyed today's recipe, and that you will give it a try, I would love to hear from you about your fixes for doorbell guests :) What do you usually serve  if you had just about an hour before your guest arrives? Do share with us and leave us a comment below, I know everyone could use some inspiration with this :)

Happy Baking ...

Looking for a different dining experience? Tomorrow the 9th of October is Ugandan Independence Day, so why not celebrate this occasion with Tribes MOE? Drop by Tribes and experience the delicious Ugandan cuisine in a fantastic celebration atmosphere.