Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Easy, Cheesy Holiday Apps

by Maria Noel Groves, Co-op Wellness Educator
with Heidi Pope, Cheese Buyer

The holidays bring out my inner Martha Stewart... and my inner psycho. Grand plans of fancy spreads can become a harried reality - honestly, who has the time? Fortunately, cheese is easy to please. Even your basic cheese-and-cracker platter can go from mundane to gourmet with barely any extra effort - just a change in perspective. These tasty appetizers multitask as elegant edible decorations for your table as well.

Here are some simple cheese spreads. An attractive platter and cute cheese knives go a long way to dress things up, but even well-placed porcelain white plates and bowls, baskets covered in cloth napkins, or wooden/bamboo cutting boards will do the trick. Don't forget the herbs and fruit! Whether or not people eat them, they'll make your platters pop.
  • Surround a log of seasoned goat cheese with an arrangement of nice crackers, using dried cranberries or fresh grapes as accents.
  • Snip sprigs of fresh herbs (ie: sage, thyme, rosemary) to place atop cheese blocks or spreads. You can also use larger bunches of herbs and hardy kale tucked around and under the cheese blocks for flare.
  • Surround a large bowl of grapes or other fruits (ie: strawberries, an opened pomegranate) with a stylish arrangement of cheese and crackers on a large platter.
  • Serve baked, wrapped brie on a board with slices of crusty baguette, accented with fresh strawberries or glistening cranberries.
  • Small bowls of paté and hummus (decorated with a sprinkle of paprika and some snipped herbs) will keep the dairy-free folks happy. Also check out Daiya brand dairy-free "cheese."
For crackers, choose a mix of gourmet and tried-and-true styles. Locally made Craquelins crisps are always amazingly delicious and gorgeous on the table. Standard fare crackers help fill the gaps - Kashi and Back to Nature have a wide range of great options, and sometimes you can catch them on sale this time of year. My personal faves include the Harvest Whole Wheat Crackers and the Sesame Tarragon, which are fancy without offending bland taste buds.

Not being a fancy cheese expert, I turned Co-op cheese buyer (and fellow foodie) Heidi Pope for tips on how to branch out of my cheddar-jack rut. Here are some of her recommended easy cheesy canapés that are sure to amaze your dinner guests without sending you into breakdown mode preparing them.
  • Bellaviva dried pear slices topped with a slice of Courrone Brie, a bit of La Quercia Prosciutto Americano, and a tiny drop of Modenaceti Balsamic Glaze.
  • Classic Lazzaroni Bruschette topped with a slice of Olli Toscano salami and a piece of Manchego. Top with finely-chopped herbs.
  • Original Sea Salt Mediterranean cracker topped with Vermont Creamery Quark, finely-chopped ham, and a dollop of Bonnie’s Red Pepper jelly.
After you put out your spread, give yourself a treat! Heidi recommends her favorite holiday treat: Drinking Moonlight Meadery's Kurt's Apple Pie with some Grafton Cellars Naked Cheddar.