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Holiday Entertaining 101: Cheeseboards, Cookies and Cakes, Oh My!

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The food-lovin’ folks over at DishTrip.com are here to fill you up on ideas to entertain throughout the holidays. From cookies to cheese, your guests will scream “more, please”!

Cheese Board 101

As a cheese monger at Talula’s Table (Kennett Square, Pennsylania), Sarah Reese spends most of her days playing with cheese—wrapping, cutting, selling, and her favorite—making cheese boards! Your own local cheese shop is skilled in crafting the boards you want, but with a little knowledge, you can create your own beautiful spread on your own. Creativity, along with some delicious, ripe cheeses, can take you far in the world of entertaining. Keep reading for a simple how-to!

What You Need:

  • A platter, board, slate, or slab—as long as it’s large enough to comfortably display your fromage! She loves larger, decorative plates or the classic slates from Brooklyn Slate Co.
  • 4 or 5 different cheeses: You can never have too much, especially with larger parties! Pick a variety—different milks, textures, colors, and shapes. We eat as much with our eyes as we do our mouths, and contrasting choices can easily draw your friends in. Fresh, citrusy goat cheeses, silky cow’s milk like Camemberts, sticky and pungent washed-rind beauties, piquant and bold sheep’s milk blues, crumbly chunks of cloth-bound Cheddars—they all have a home on your soon-to-be cheese board. Think around one ounce per cheese, per person, and add a few all around, just in case.
  • Accoutrements: Don’t forget about all of the extra little fixings—a lot of things you can find in your pantry or fridge at home! Salty mixed nuts, sweet dried fruits, fresh seasonal fruits, crusty breads and crisp crackers, and honey are always great, simple pairings for most any cheese. There’s always the classic pairings to follow—cheddar and apples, blue cheese and figs, fresh Chevre and honey, Manchego and Membrillo, etc. It’s fun to be creative and take the traditional pairings a bit further. Right now, Sarah’s favorite go-to snack is a little hunk of St. Agur, a dreamboat of a blue. It’s a French cow’s milk delight—creamy, lightly peppery, and super dense. She has also been pairing it with her new favorite cracker—Effie’s Oatcakes, in Pecan. The sweetness of the cracker tones down the blue just a hint, and follows the idea of the traditional blue and sweet pairing. Another recent favorite are these amazing, mini jars of jam from Quince & Apple—they are perfectly sized for a board and come in a million different flavors! The Pear with Honey and Ginger? To DIE for.

Cheeseboard 

What to Do:

  1. Take stock of your cheese-making inventory. Arrange your cheeses from left to right, or clockwise, depending on your board, from mildest to strongest. Your palate will thank you! Sarah likes leaving the smaller, individual size cheeses whole, while slicing down the cut-to-order Cheddars to more manageable bites. Add your extras and put out a few different knives—little butter knives for the soft wheels and triangular shaped knives for the more firm Cheddars. Put jam and honey into little teeny jars and stick a small wooden spoon into it—your guests and friends will appreciate the extra touches.
  2. Play around with it. Sarah is always surprised with how many fun things she has in her kitchen that can turn a few pieces of cheese into something beautiful and friend-worthy!

Holiday Cookie 101

There’s one thing that causes a festive stir at Laura Koster’s (a Dish Trip contributor—calm family Christmas celebrations each year: Gram’s gingerbread cookies. A huge batch of these will silently disappear from their “secret” hiding place on Christmas Day.

Her Gram began making these gingerbread boys circa the 1940s. She’d present a round tin of the gingerbread boys, each decorated with cinnamon red hots for eyes, nose and buttons, and packaged in a plastic baggie with a red yarn bow. The following original recipe comes from Miller Cookie Cutter Company, and was distributed with their gingerbread boy cookie cutter, now an heirloom in her family.

Gingerbread Men 

Gram’s Gingerbread Boys

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup molasses (look for Grandma’s brand)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vinegar
  • 7 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. ginger
  • 4 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

Cream shortening, add sugar gradually and cream thoroughly. Blend in molasses. Sift 2.5 cups flour with soda, spices, and salt and stir into syrup mixture. Add vinegar and remaining flour, alternating with buttermilk. Chill dough well. Roll out .25 inch thick on a lightly floured board and cut out into shapes. Roll the cookie dough thicker for soft gingerbread and thinner for crisper cookies. Red hot cinnamon dots are used for buttons, eyes and decor. Press red hots in for buttons and eyes before baking. Bake 10 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees.

Icing: Mix together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 tsp., 4 tsp. hot milk and 1 tsp. vanilla. Dye color of choice. Icing is not overdone, merely used for trimming and accents.

For replica of the original “jolly gingerbread boy” cookie cutter, visit cookiecutters.com.

Holiday Nibbles 101

Don’t have time for an all-day project like crafting holiday cookie cut-outs? Consider serving a dessert spread instead. Dish Trip’s Sandy Essinger-Hileman reveals that such spreads are time-efficient and always a “hit” when served at holiday parties for “nibbles.” She also shares that her lemon and cranberry recipe (seen below) looks especially appealing when she uses holiday-shaped bread tubes.

Cranberry Bread

Lemon-Cranberry Poundcake

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup butter – softened
  • ¼ cup (4 oz) cream cheese — softened
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour — divided
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz lemon low-fat yogurt
  • 3 teaspoons lemon extract

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray baking pans with cooking spray.
  2. Beat together sugar, butter and cream cheese at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine 2 tablespoons flour and cranberries in a small bowl, and toss well. Combine remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with yogurt in small amounts, beating well after each addition. Fold in cranberries and lemon extract; pour cake batter into your prepared baking pans, about ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. A tester inserted in the center should come out clean, and the cake should spring back when lightly pressed.
  3. This recipe will fill two standard loaf pans, four mini-pans, or three to four bread tubes. You can also bake in a 10-inch tube pan and glaze with ½ cup powdered sugar mixed with 4 teaspoons lemon juice while still warm.

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @dishtrip or friend Dish Trip on Facebook for more dining details in a city near you.  Thanks for reading—we’ll see you on the next Dish Trip! We toast to each and every one of you this delicious holiday season! Happy Holidays from the entire Dish Trip team!

Dish Tip for Dish Trip? Do you have a favorite recipe or holiday tip that we should know about?  Share with us in the comments below.  

This Contribution Written By Dish Trip Team Members: Amy Strauss, Sarah Reese, Laura Koster, and Sandy Essinger-Hileman