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Quick and delicious cheese plates

It’s September, or as I like to call it, “the perfect cheese platter time of the year.” I know, it’s a mouthful, but that’s just how I feel about September and cheese.

Since September is also the holy-goat-we’re-so-flipping-busy time of year, cheese platters are good for quick entertaining. Cutting all those summer veggies can be mighty tedious. It’s a heck of a lot quicker to slap three cheeses on a platter and call it a day.

So how do you maximize your cheese plate chances of success?
You taste, you find your favorites and you learn about these three guidelines.

1. Most cheeses come from one of 4 categories: aged, soft, firm, or blue.
(And if you just giggled when you read that list, welcome to my brain.)

You can pick one cheese from every group and your speedy cheese plate appetizer wins.
You can also pick a selection of cheeses from one category for comparison’s sake (all soft cheeses! all blue cheeses… on second thought, all blue cheeses is too much for most cheese enthusiasts).

2. Cheese comes from milk of the holy animal trinity: sheep, cow and goat.
Some cheeses are blends of different animal milks. Some are straight up sheep’s milk, cow’s milk, etc.

You can organize your platter by animal (e.g. a selection of cow’s milk cheeses). Or mix it up by offering one of all three.

3. You can find cheese made in most parts of the world. Take a tip from Cheesewhizzes and organize your plate by country of origin. (Spanish cheeses [cheethes]! Italian cheese! Swiss!)

Bonus quick cheese plate tips:

  • Generally, you want no more than five cheeses — let’s not fatigue our palates.
  • A good guideline is to buy one ounce per person per cheese. Then you won’t have cheese overload.
  • Label your cheese ahead of time so guests know what they’re getting.
  • Use a different knife for each cheese. Butter knives work well if you’re low on dedicated cheese knives. (Dudes, I run a cheese club and I never have enough cheese knives).
  • Add “Take the cheese out of the fridge about an hour before serving” to your to-do list — room temperature brings out all the good flavors.

Elsewhere: The imitable Joanne Goddard from A Cup of Jo has created some of the most instructive (and stylish) posts on the topic.

Speedy cheesing to you!

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Malcolm’s Winning Cornbread Recipe

Several years ago, I picked up the second place award in the chili cook off.
My dear brotherfriend, neighbor and second place chili winner, Malcolm, won the first place cornbread award.
He got this recipe from an old job in San Luis Obispo.

It’s magically rich, buttery, cheesy and creamy.
You GO, cornbread.

Malcolm’s Winning Corn Bread Recipe
2 sticks of butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
7 ounce can of diced, roasted green chilies, drained
1 12 ounce can of creamed corn
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a 9” cake pan or prepare a muffin pan for filling.

With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. When the butter and sugar are all smooth, add in the eggs, green chilies, creamed corn and grated cheese.

Sift together the flour, yellow cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Gently stir the dry mix into the wet mixture. Transfer to the cake pan or the muffin pan.

Bake the speckled gorgeousness for about 25 minutes, depending on the size of the baking pan.

You’ll know you’ve done well when you see a light brown, toasty crunch on the top.

If I’d known perfection was that straightforward, I wouldn’t have spent so much effort on homework.

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Malcolm’s Chili Verde of Love

garlicMalcolm’s Chili Verde of Love recipe won this year’s chili cook off.

I know he’s good at making it because he makes it a lot. See, his daughter is allergic to almost every ingredient in the world EXCEPT for the ingredients in this chili.(I’m talking gluten, eggs, dairy, beef. This girl is ALLERGIC.)

Since Malcolm’s recipe is more of a collection of ingredients, I present to you Elise’s recipe for Chile Verde. (Because [understatement alert!] that Elyse a smarty pants when it comes to food, that one.)

Good work, Malcolm.
And kudos, Joanie Loves Bocce, we took this chili cook off right.

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Helen Jane Makes Sloppy Joes

this is a good sloppy joe

How long has it been since you had a good sloppy joe?
Ten years? Fifteen? Are you telling me you’ve NEVER HAD A GOOD SLOPPY JOE?

Sloppy Joes are good for big groups, they’re semi-customizable and they have a surprisingly complex flavor.

Fire up your slow cooker, buy some processed, whitebread buns, American cheese and enjoy some Lay’s potato chips, utterly unironically.

1 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork
(if you don’t feel like buying two meats, just buy 1.5 pounds of ground beef, life is hard enough as it is)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped fine
Couple, two three celery ribs, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
Two 6 ounce or one 12 ounce can of tomato paste
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Hot sauce to taste
American cheese
Hamburger buns

Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat, squirt some oil in there too. Put the meat, onion, bell pepper and celery in that previously mentioned skillet.

When the meat is brown and the onions are see-through (seven, eight minutes?), slop it all into your slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients from garlic on down. Stir it until it looks like, well, sloppy joe mixture.

Cover and cook on low for as long as you’re going to need it.

If you’re cooking in a dutch oven or pan, preheat the oven to 300° F. Brown the meat like I told you before, add the rest of the ingredients and stick that ovenproof sloppy joe pan into the oven for three to four hours.

And I can’t stress this strongly enough:

This must be served with those thin, crisp potato chips and white buns. Whole wheat doesn’t work, Kaiser buns won’t work, I’m talking get-squished-behind-your-teeth white buns.

Same thing with potato chips. I’m as big a fan of Kettle Chips as the next guy, but they just don’t go with sloppy joes.

Dig? Good.

It’s great for bocce, great for a party and hasn’t been exploited by those more ironic than me. Make sloppy joes today and the world will be much, much better.

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Asian Man Ribs Recipe

As work heats up and the weather does too, I find myself on the prowl for more crockpot recipes. This one works for a fancy party, a not fancy party or dinner. We serve with steamed edamame, steamed rice and an easy green veggie stir fry.

Cutting the ribs into individual pieces means they can be perfect finger food for parties.

We didn’t mean to call them Asian Man Ribs.
But that’s what happened.
And now we can’t call them anything else.

2 racks of baby back ribs
1 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 scallion minced
1 tablespoon chili sauce (I use Siracha)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped fine
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Cut the ribs into 3 sections each.
(This will make marinating the ribs easier.)
If you have a giant bowl or pan that could hold the ribs and the marinade, you could put them in there.

Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a big bowl. Mix well. Pour over the baby back ribs and make sure they’re well-covered. You could also divide the marinade between large zippered plastic bags. Refrigerate and allow to marinate for at least 8 hours or up to 24.

Pull out your slow cooker.
Pull out the ribs from marinade.
Put the ribs in the slow cooker.
Cook ’em on low for 6-8 hours.

Cover a pan with foil.
Put the ribs on the pan.
Take the remaining marinade and scrape into a saucepan.

Bring the sauce up to high and bubbly. Turn down to low and simmer until reduced by half.

Turn on the broiler.
Put the ribs on a pan.
Paint the ribs with the reduced marinade.
Broil the ribs for a hot minute, until the glaze heats up.

Serve sprinkled with fresh chopped cilantro and/or chopped green onion.
Yeah, they’ll like it.
So will you.

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The Ensalada Strikes Back

The Ensalada Strikes Back

Thanks to the Empire Strikes Back running on a constant loop at our house, last week’s bocce theme was Star Wars inspired food.
(Your almost three year old daughter is similarly obsessed with Princess Leia? Then you’re aware of all the Star Wars in our house.)

Inspired by the HJEntertains.com Salad Week, I brought The Ensalada Strikes Back

Based off of this recipe, I learned that Ensalada is a whatever salad with a few basics. Also, that it has similar ingredients in Russia and Spain and Peru and if that doesn’t convince you of aliens, I’m not sure what will.

The Ensalada Strikes Back

It’s a mayonnaisey, crunchy, old-fashioned style salad.
It tastes like something your mom brought to a church picnic when you were little.
And that’s a good thing. This salad is craveable.

I served it in a hollowed out cantaloupe, aka the Death Star, as well as serving individual portions in take-out containers with forks jammed in the sides to resemble At Ats. More specifically, ATSTs, as they had only two legs.
(Oh, yes it does matter, said my husband.)

The Ensalada Strikes Back

No rules, just add your favorite crunchy veggies and let the force fill you with goodness.

1 head Romaine lettuce, shredded
3 large red potatoes, steamed or microwaved, cooled, peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced small
2 Cuyoga beets, roasted, peeled and diced
1 bag frozen peas
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Sherry vinegar
Olive oil
salt to taste

Put all the veggies in a bowl and mix gently. Whisk together the mayonnaise and vinegar in a bowl. Add to the vegetables. Salt and pepper the mixture. Gently fold until all is mixed.

Serve inside a hallowed out melon made to look like the Death Star. Enjoy.

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Mom-style Potato Salad

There’s something about the potato salad made by mom. Mayonnaisey, pale, studded with crunchy bits of celery and always with the crumbled hard-boiled egg, Mom-style Potato Salad is a truly satisfying way to round out a barbecue.

Digression: Do you call it a barbecue?

I said this on the Twitter, but, growing up, when we cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, it was “Grilling out.” James snickers at this term because, well, where else are you going to grill?

He stands by his southern Californian term of “Barbecuing.”

Where I’m from, barbecuing implies that you’re cooking something slathered with barbecue sauce.

What’s your experience? Does Wikipedia have anything to say on the matter? Any ideas on this kersniffle? Aye, my people, let’s get, back to potato salad.

2 pounds potatoes (I like Yukon Gold)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium sweet onion, chopped fine
2 stalked celery, chopped fine
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup water
1 cup mayonnaise
1 hard boiled egg, chopped fine.

Wash the potatoes good. Fill a large pot with cool water and then put the potatoes in that pot. Bring the water to a boil, then cover, turn the heat down and simmer the potatoes for a half hour. While you’re waiting for the potatoes to cook, whisk together the oil and vinegar in a small bowl. You’ll know the potatoes are done when they’re cooked through but not mushy.

When they’re cooked, drain the potatoes, cool them a little and then peel them. Cut the potatoes into chunks and put them in a large bowl.

Mix the vinegar, and oil mix together in a small bowl. Drizzle the vinegar/oil mixture over the warm potatoes, stir them gently and let them cool completely.

Only after they’ve cooled, stir in the onions, celery, parsley, salt and pepper.

Whisk together the water, mustard and mayonnaise. Pour over the vinegared potatoes and mix until everything is nestled together quite beautifully. If you’re ahead of the game, chill the potato salad for a day before serving with the chopped hard boiled egg on top.

Mmmm. Momstyle.

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Bocce Pasta Salad Recipe

This Bocce Pasta Salad recipe is the perfect side for grilled chicken breasts with a squirt of lemon. I eat this with a big spoon (a shamefully big spoon).

1 pound dried orzo pasta
3 tomatoes
15 sundried tomatoes
1 small red onion
40 basil leaves (one bunch basil)
7 ounces feta cheese (solid, not crumbled)
1 large lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper

Cook the orzo for 10 minutes in boiling, salted water.
While orzo is cooking, chop the red onion as fine as you can. Chop the tomatoes into slightly larger pieces and chop the feta cheese into similarly sized chunks.

When the pasta has finished cooking, drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
Dump the pasta in a big plop from your colander into a large mixing bowl.

Add the tomatoes, onions and feta.
(I chop the basil with scissors into ribbons onto the top of the bowl to minimize basil-bruising.)

Don’t stir yet, although you will be tempted.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the bowl. Drizzle the olive oil over the bowl as well.
Now, now you may toss, gently.

Incorporate all the loveliness and await your pasta salad praise.

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Fruit Salad Stick

Fruit salad on a stick.


You get the drill.

Clean it.
Peel it.

Cut it into pieces.
Put it on a skewer.

I like to drizzle it with a little Agave syrup.
You like to share it with your friends.

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Avocado, Grapefruit and Endive Salad

Ingredients for the Vinagrette
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice from 1/2 a grapefruit
1/2 cup olive oil
3 T honey
1 T grapefruit zest
A generous shake of salt and pepper

Ingredients for the salad
3 ripe avocados
3 pink grapefruits
4 heads Belgain endive
1/2 cup whole fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

Directions for the vinagrette
Put the mint and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring up to a boil.
Remove from the heat and let them hang out for about 10 minutes. Strain the mint out and lemon juic in to a medium bowl. Add the grapefruit juice, olive oil, honey and zest and whisk together. Add the salt and pepper and taste it to make sure it’s all well balanced.

Directions for salad assembly
Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit an scoop from the shell. Cut it into long, thin slices. Peel the grapeftuits, remove all the white pith and cut between the membranes to free the segments from their grapefruited body. Trim the ends from the endive and separate the leaves. Thinly slice the endive lengthwise.

Toss the endive and mint leaves in a big salad bowl. Dress with half of the vinaigrette. Place on a serving platter or plate on 6 individual plates.

Alternate grapefruit segments and avocado slices on top the greens. Drizzle with remaing vinaigrette and top with the chopped mint.

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