Putting together an appetizing cheese board is one of my favorite things.
We gather each evening, sip wine, talk about our day, sharing the time with family and friends, often as the sun slowly sets.
A few easy elements will ensure your cheese boards are exciting, tasty and everyone will enjoy.
First, you need cheese! Pick something you like. If you have more than one cheese, choose different varieties; creamy like Camembert or Brie, sharp like cheddar or goat, or blue, aged like Gouda or Parmesan Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. If you are unsure, ask someone at the cheese counter to help you select. Often you can taste the cheeses too so it is beneficial to talk to the cheese person at your store.
For our evening appetizer platter often I just put out one great piece of cheese. In a pinch, you can use cream cheese, just dress it up with the rest of the elements of a great cheese platter.
Next, after you have the cheese, select some fresh fruit.
Grapes, pears, apples, fresh figs, cherries, berries, you don’t need a lot, but some.
Next add some dried fruit: apricots, dried cranberries, or dates make great choices for this category. If you have enough fresh fruit, you don’t need dried fruit too. You decide.
Choose some nuts: Almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts (filberts), Brazil nuts, cashews are some suggestions.
This is my favorite part, selecting some “toppings” to compliment. Choose marmalade, whole fruit jams, pepper jelly, or honey. This is where I like to use the honey that comes in the comb; slice off a bit, place the cut comb on the platter and let the honey drizzle and ooze all over. Scoop it up with a spoon to drizzle it over the cheese.
The flavors you choose here can really set your platters apart.
If you wanted to add olives, pickles or charcuterie meats to a cheese platter you can. That brings it into the entertaining and party realm and is still easy and goes a long way when entertaining.
Finally add some crackers, flat breads, lavash, toast points or bread to a bowl or basket on the side.
The state of our food supply is in crisis and WE are the ones to do something about it.
This is the beginning of a mission. There is a way we can fight back against big food corporations.
Cassie Parsons is a local chef and farmer who has an on-fire passion about local and honest food. This past February she did a TEDx talk about her big idea. In her speech she declares
“Our food supply is broken.”
And she’s right. She’s spot on.
Cassie’s TEDx Talk is linked below, give it a listen, Please.
This is what I have to say about the state of our food.
“America has the worst food in the world.”
We have the most and the worst. Quantity does not make quality food. Quantity has never made quality in any industry. Still there are so many that go hungry; that is another discussion for another day.
We are in a state of change and increasing awareness. There is no reason to feel helpless about our food supply unless you decide not to do anything or you think someone else will do it instead.
That’s what Big Food is counting on, good old American apathy.
We’re world champions in apathy, we’re apathetic champions off the freaking chart.
You know what?
I hate to be the one to break the news, but the time for change is here; it’s NOW and it’s up to us.
We can’t let this go.
I want to talk about what we can do to stop Big Corporate Food from developing, planting and growing GMO‘s and other food atrocities they have developed and forced on us. They think we don’t need to know; they think we don’t care.
Worst of all is they think they can get away with it.
Here is the biggest thing, We DO have a choice. We have to demand the truth as to what is in our food, how it is processed and how the animals are treated and what’s in it; we have to get involved with our food.
Two news reporters were fired for not watering down a report about Monsanto and recombinant bovine growth hormonecausing cancer in humans who drink milk from cows treated with rBGH. rBGH is injected into dairy cows every two weeks to increase milk production which increases profits at the expense of human health. Click the link above to read the article.
Have you heard of rBGH? Big Food feels you don’t need to know if the milk you drink and give to your children is from cows treated with rBGH. You only find it mentioned on milk without it.
You don’t need to know that commercially grown strawberries can have residue of up to 13 different pesticides on them.
You don’t need to know that in order to “water” the plants, workers need to wear hazardous material suits “to protect them”.
From what?! Aren’t they supposed to be “watering”?
The bees are dying due to the use of GMO seeds for growing crops.
Monarch butterflies are affected by GMO corn crops. You can hardly find non-gmo corn anymore, even then, I’d question it. Same with soy and soy products.
If you read food labels, you may have noticed high fructose corn syrup products appears in nearly all processed foods.
What about additives, preservatives, FD&C color dyes for food, drugs and cosmetics (FD&C means that it has been approved for use in food, drugs and cosmetics) and who knows what else they put into products. How many of us read a label, see a list of 40 or so ingredients, glaze over it and buy the product anyway?
Those aren’t “cherries” on your cherry danish from that favorite fast food place, but a “cherry-like” substance with full cherry flavor. Read it.
Leave the products on the shelves! Drive by fast food, you and your family devserve better.
How can we make a change?
With our purchasing power and the decisions we make. Learn to make some of the “processed” food we buy at home; pickles, condiments, sauces, salad dressings, mayonnaise there are so many easy things to learn.
When we buy food that has come from a long distance from where we stand, we pay for that in more than money. When we buy those products, we no longer support our local economies. That money goes back to where the product came from or was produced.
Cassie explains this in her TEDx talk. I suggest when you are finished reading this post, go get a cup of coffee, glass of tea or whatever refreshing beverage you want, come back and watch Cassie Parsons talk. There’s a link at the end of this post and only about 18 minutes long. It will make you think.
It will empower you and implore you to do something too. When you process your own condiments and other food, you know your ingredients, you know what you are serving; you know ALL the ingredients and the quality used.
Yo wont find pink slime in your burgers if you grind your own meat, you won’t find bone scrapings and other left over bits if you learn to make your own fresh sausage.
If you do this right, you also know who raised the pig and get the casings from the same farmer.
If you make your own pickles, know the farmer who grew the cucumbers. There are farmers markets in nearly every city on nearly every day of the week. There is no reason not to find one and use them.
Beyond benefits of local foods, you gain the benefit of a stronger local economy, a stronger social community, which leads to great places to live and raise families. Why? Because you know who is growing your food, what they are growing and how. You share things, trade things, eat healthier, you build a better community.
Your health will be infinitely better. My grandfather used to tell me you can grow it yourself, pay the farmer, or pay the big grocery stores and then pay the hospital bills. He grew all his vegetables and raised a large family with fresh bread, fresh fish and good food.
If we decide to make our own processed foods (yes, there is a learning curve) we can have an impact on big food profit. If products sit on the shelves, if people stop buying them, it will have an impact on profits, which would get BCF attention.
Maybe then, Monsanto and other companies would listen to “Please No GMO!”
Watch this, out of the mouths of babes, the young people get it and it scares them.
If everyone learned just one thing they could make, make enough to share with neighbors, swap, make things together and share. This is not only about building our health, but community and quality of life.
We don’t have to feel helpless or voiceless in this food crisis. We have a choice. WE can do something, each and every one of us.
Ask questions about the food you buy.
Support local farmers.
Learn to make basic condiments, with a group and share.
Start a pickling group or whatever. Make food about people, health and community again; take the profit away from Big Corporate Food.
Stop the apathy and get involved, your health depends on it.
Whether you call it Ketchup or Catsup, we all love vibrant tomato ketchup for one reason or another. I can’t imagine eating pot roast without it, and it is divine with burgers and fries.
Did you know you can make it at home? Leave all the preservatives, artificial flavorings, high fructose corn syrups, red dyes behind you and follow this recipe. This looks vibrant, tastes great and your friends and family will simply LOVE it! Best of all, you know exactly what is in the food you are serving.
This is one small way we can take control of our food and avoid GMO‘s, high fructose corn syrup and other hidden sugars, fats, salts and preservatives. Take a stand against Big Food and learn to make your own ketchup! It’s small, but it will have a very healthy effect of your family!
Combine the first four ingredients. Bring to a boil; remove from heat then set aside to cool.
Wash the tomatoes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove the core from the top of the tomatoes and cut a shallow X into the bottom end.
A “Tomato Shark” makes removing the blossom end simple and quick
Scratch a shallow X on the bottom
The skin will split when ready, the more ripe the tomato, the quicker this happens.
When the skin splits, plunge into ice water to stop cooking.
Slip the skins off the tomatoes, cut and squeeze out the seeds.
Set a large bowl of ice water near the pot of boiling water. Place the prepped tomatoes into the boiling water. As soon as the skin splits, remove and place the warm tomatoes in the ice water to stop cooking.
Slip the skins off the tomatoes. Slice them in half around the center of the tomato, not from top to bottom. Squeeze gently to remove all seeds. Do this over a strainer that is over a bowl to catch the juices that come from squeezing the seeds out.
Cut the tomatoes in quarters. Combine half of the tomatoes with ½ cup sugar, onion, garlic and cayenne pepper in a deep stainless steel pot. Bring to a boil and allow the tomato mixture to boil vigorously for 30 minutes, stirring often to avoid scorching.
After 30 minutes, add the remaining tomatoes and sugar and boil for another 30 minutes. At this point you will need to stir it often as the mixture gets thick.
Strain the vinegar and discard the spices. Add the spiced vinegar to the boiling tomato mixture, stirring constantly for 15 minutes or until the desired texture is reached.
Test the consistency by placing a small amount of the ketchup on a small plate. There should be no watery run off. If there is, keep cooking.
For smooth ketchup, puree using a stick blender, or use a blender to puree the hot mixture. Bottle the hot mixture in sterilized jars or another non-reactive container.
Store under refrigeration unless processing in a water bath canner. An “Old Wives” trick is to wrap each jar in brown paper to protect the color during storage. Not necessary if you store the jars in the refrigerator.
Making prepared horseradish is quite easy. The best benefit is you only have the ingredients intended without chemicals, preservatives, added colors or flavorings.
Label of commercially prepared horseradish – see all the added ingredients?!
I am campaining to stop buying processed foods and to process any foods we use myself. Horseradish is one of those staples we always have in our fridge.
We use it in Bloody Marys. Robert makes the best mix! He’s kind enough to share his recipe below.
We use prepared horseradish in a mix with brown sugar and mustard as a glaze for salmon, we mix it with sour cream or mayonnaise for a side with roasted or braised meats.
I like to mix prepared horseradish with orange marmalade and lemon juice for a dip for shrimp or spring rolls or chicken fingers and to add punch to salad dressings.
Armoracia rusticana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You have to be careful of fresh horseradish because it can clear even the most stubborn sinuses. This is why it is combined with other things rather than eaten straight.
So when you do look for fresh horseradish, you need to locate a good solid root. No soft spots or mushy places. The root should be firm and solid.
It will have dark brown skin and the flesh underneath is pure white. Discard the outside peel and any leaves or shoots coming off the root.
If you grow horseradish, be prepared, you cannot simply pull the plant out of the ground. It gets fully established and spreads. You have to cut a section of root out with your shovel, don’t pull it up.
Keeps up to 2 months in the refrigerator
1 8-10 inch piece of fresh horseradish root
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water, if needed
Measure the vinegar into a small bowl, add the sugar and salt; stir until both are dissolved. Set aside.
Scrub and then peel the horseradish root. Chop it coarsely and place it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping blade.
Cut the horseradish into chunks to process in the food processor
If you have a shredding plate on the food processor, you can shred the root instead of chopping it by hand.
Pulse the food processor until the horseradish is roughly processed, Drizzle the vinegar, sugar and salt mixture into the bowl to form a loose paste. Add water if needed to thin. Process until the texture of the chop is as you desire.
When removing the lid from the work bowl, do NOT put your face directly over the bowl! Horseradish is quite “pungent” like mustard is and can be used in crowd control sprays.
The aroma could cause severe eye, nose and throat irritation.
Avert your face while opening the bowl and work in a well-ventilated room, under the stove vent or near a fan would be best.
Adding the vinegar as soon as possible after the food processor processing is important as it “sets the heat” of the horseradish. So what that means is finish once you start. Don’t go answer the phone and get into a conversation for 30 minutes. You’ll lose all the heat in the horseradish.
The entire process can be completed and cleaned up within 15 minutes.
Once you have finished processing to the desired texture, place the mixture into glass jars and store in the fridge. It will keep up to 2 months. We use it up so fast, I don’t really know how long it would last!
The sugar in the mix helps counter the bitter quality often found in horseradish prepared without it. Can you leave it out? Yes.
Can you substitute honey? Sure, but no artificial sweeteners because they also contribute a bitter quality, especially with the vinegar.
Can you leave out the salt? Not advised but if you want, you can cut it back a bit.
Can you use different vinegar? Yes, make sure it has between 5-7% acidity. Really, there is no need to use anything other than a simple white vinegar.
To make it pink, add some shaved beet or beet juice while processing.
So, now it’s time for a Bloody Mary!
Robert’s Bloody Mary Mix
1 32-ounce bottle Low sodium Hot and Spicy V-8 Juice
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 Tablespoon prepared Horseradish
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Texas Pete Hot Pepper Sauce to taste
Shake everything together well. Store in the refrigerator. Use as is or add vodka and ice as desired.
Sprinkle a few celery seeds on top of finished drink, garnish with celery stalks.
How wonderfully flattering to have been nominated for The Liebster Award from Virginia at Our Growing Paynes!
LIEBSTER AWARD RULES:
1. List eleven random facts about yourself.
2. Nominate eleven bloggers for the award.
3. Let them know about the nomination.
4. Answer the eleven questions you were asked when you were nominated.
5. Ask eleven questions for the new award winners to answer.
11 Random Fact about Me:
I really hate shopping for anything but food. I love food shopping and everything about food.
If there were someone who would pick out my clothes, shoes, accessories and say “Here, wear this today, let me do your hair and make-up” I would be a very happy girl!
I float on the top of water really easily. Fresh water, salt water, swimming pools, I can float. I am also afraid there is a fish out there that wants to eat me. gulp. I believe the lake only has little fish. . .
Going for a good gallop on a fast running horse is an exhilarating experience! We used to do that as kids, but now there’s nowhere to go for a full gallop. Anyway I’d need a horse and don’t have one of those either.
I don’t drink distilled alcohol. Love wine and champagne. Beer, not so much unless its a Stella Artois on Blvd. St. Michele looking at Notre Dame.
When spending time alone, I like to turn the music up really loud and sing and dance until I loose my breath. I don’t care what the neighbors think; they haven’t complained. Luckily, I can’t keep it up for long. Just a few good songs. (I don’t like ear buds)
I have started a Spoon Feast Pinterest page but don’t know how to get people to find it! Same with Etsy, I have a store but I can’t find it anymore so I gave it up. geesh. But really, Can anyone find the Pinterest page? I should have a contest. . .
I can do 20 push-ups, on my toes, guy style. Really! I can life one leg also, but can’t do one armed or clap yet. 😉
I know a lot about gemstones. I studied once to be a Graduate Gemologist. I never took the final exam. Message: Don’t Give up! Finish what you start!
I adore flowers as much as food. I like to capture the beauty in photos. I should give up trying to grow vegetables and grow a nice seasonal cutting garden. Hum! That sounds like a good idea! Have you ever eaten/tasted a sage flower? Simply amazing! First the beauty, the color and the scent and then how it disappears like a drop of honey on your tongue , really, have you ever had that?! I insist you must try it. Keep your eyes out for fresh sage flowers.
I talk to my plants and believe it does them good. My house if full of plants, inside and out!
Nominate 11 Bloggers and let them know:
I know some of these bloggers will respond and pass this award along and others won’t. They all deserve a shout-out and a visit anyway!
I vaguely remember traveling on a train with my mom to Canada from Michigan. My sister and I would hold coloring book pages to the window and color the opposite side, for some reason we were highly entertained by this.
2. What food would you like to try but haven’t had the chance?
I have had a vast food exposure all my life, but I think it may be Durian if I can get it past my nose!
3. If you were able to form a charity what would it be?
I would start a college scholarship to be awarded to anyone who needs funding for college. There would be qualifying criteria. Additionally, i would start a business incubator to help people start their own businesses and gain financial independence, and the knowledge and the ability to do so.
4. What fashion trend should be banned?
The one that has everyone showing their undergarments! Cover up for crying out loud! I don’t need to know your bra color or that you wear superhero underwear. Enough of this PLEASE!
5. What makes you crack up?
I laugh at the silliest things. Mostly from observing people and interactions.
6. What is your pet peeve?
Incompetence and people who don’t follow through with what they say.
7. How far do you live from where you were born?
I was born in Mt. Clemens, Michigan but never lived there. I’d be guessing to find it on the map. I currently live in a totally different part of the USA, the Southern States and love it down here. Charlotte, NC is my home but I have relatives all over. My mom is from Nova Scotia and my Dad, Michigan so we are well represented all over it seems.
8. What is your favourite season?
SPRING! I love the change from cold drab to the total awesome beauty of flowers! (Only I don’t like the sneezing!)
9. What is your day job?
I am a Certified Executive Chef (lots of other certifications too) and teach culinary school at the largest community college in North Carolina. I love teaching and I especially love teaching Garde Manger which is where students learn all about salads, sandwiches, curing meats, pickling, making condiments, smoking, sausages, and artistic carving skills.
Peacock carved from Daikon Radish in Garde Manger
10. Where do you want to retire?
While my initial reaction is to say in the South of France, a nice big country house on a clean deep lake would be rather nice. Location will have to be determined later but somewhere in the American South or the South of France.
Here is a pickling primer that will provide some basic guidelines on making your very own homemade pickles.
There are no recipes but here are some basic steps to follow to ensure your pickles turn out amazing.
I really want to encourage you to try making your own pickles!
Sterilize everything you use. Use the Sanitize button on your dishwasher or boil jars, utensils, and lids to ensure no bacteria will interfere with the pickles fermentation process.
While this step sounds intimidating, please be assured, it isn’t.
Wash towels you use in a bleach cycle, then heat dried.
If you don’t have a dishwasher, simply bring a very large pot of water to boil in the stove and then, using tongs, dip the jars, lids and seals, spoons etc. into the boiling water and let them sit until ready to use. (Turn the heat down to a low simmer once it boils). It is not necessary to cover the pot but you can if you like, to control the amount of humidity in the room.
Pickling Hints and Tips
Select perfect produce. No blemishes or scars, cracks, avoid bruised food.
Gently scrub produce to remove garden debris and lurking insects. Soak for 30 minutes in water that has 1/2 cup salt per gallon.
Do not trim or cut produce for the soaking step, soak them whole. Remember, produce can float so move it around some while it is soaking.
Placing a plate on top will help hold the items under the water.
For cucumbers, trim 1/4 inch from the blossom end only. It contains an enzyme that can make pickles mushy.
Use plain white or apple cider vinegar. You need 5-7% acidity.
Sugar is used to counteract the bitterness of the vinegar and salt. If you must substitute, experiment to ensure you like the flavor of the brine. Personally, I don’t care for artificial sweetener.
Be sure to wipe the rim of the jars after filling to ensure a good seal.
Pickling Jars with wire bales and silicone or rubber seals
If canning, follow directions exactly. Take a class to learn the safety features.
Always use a water bath canner, NEVER a pressure canner! A pressure canner will turn all of your pickles to complete mush. Ew, who likes mush?
Pickles will keep for up to 12 months in the refrigerator. I don’t bother to process my jars, just refrigerate them.
If your pickles become slimy or have pink floaties and bubbles, don’t taste them, just throw them away. These are signs the pickles have become contaminated with something. It could be yeast or bacteria but either way, don’t eat it. This is why it is so important to have very clean equipment, jars and hands when pickling.
All the pickles recipes found on Spoon Feast are for small batches and are ready to eat typically within a day or two. But, they continue to improve with age.
Find recipes you like and can manage. If the recipe starts out with 50# of cucumbers, find another recipe.
Here are links to the pickle recipes on Spoon Feast.