October 23, 2008

Cheese plates

When I was working in the restaurant, we didn't get much time to eat. So some days I would make a cheese platter with what was in the walk-in. That was my dept. I was their Garde Manger. I would make these huge cheese and fruit designs on marble for parties. Because of that, I would have all sorts of yummy cheeses on hand. Some I never had before and since it was my job, Id taste them as part of my lunch to know what to tell folks if they asked about it.

I also made all the sausages, pate's and terrines and pastas for the whole place. So because of that I often had some on hand. Sometimes we would even have it on the menu. There was always fruit around for these too. The bakery made all its own breads and at any given day there would be something different to choose since they tried to use up bits and pieces of things there. With all this around me it was ez to make one of my favorite snack/lunches.......a Fruit, Cheese, and Pate platter.

Sometimes we had nice sliced meats around too, like Bresaola a dried cured beef, or prosciutto. So before service, when I had a few min. I would create a platter for me to either snack on all day or have lunch later. It became one of my very favorite things to eat even when I wasn't at work. Too tired after work or when my ex was travelling and I was home alone.....it would be a great meal to make with some baguette, crackers and a glass of wine.

Its not the kind of meal to eat when your really hungry, its a slow grazing kind of meal you savor. Ive made it for my bf and I once in awhile on his days off. I like to have Brie and Cheddar around most of the time. Some feta, a nice blue cheese, even some Greek kasseri cheese. I keep many of these around for my general cooking so its pretty good odds that some of these will be on my plate. Sometimes when I know I will be making this, Ill scope out some new cheese that interests me and bring it home to try. Often Ill just have some salami or a bit of prosciutto on the plate too. I buy store bought pate slices now since I'm not going to make a whole recipe of it just for us. I buy one slice and freeze it. This way if its just for me I can whack a piece off for that meal and the rest keeps well. Pate doesn't last real long in the refrigerator.

As far as fruit, I love sliced oranges with this, sometimes if I have green apples here Ill slice a few too. I love the tartness of green apples the best. Often we will have grapes but my very favorite grape is the tiny little champagne grapes. I especially like those with kasseri cheese. Strawberries of course if in season but its really whatever is in season that I use the most of.

Then of course there is bread. Living in the SF bay area, I just adore sourdough. I have ever since I first came here on a trip many yrs ago. I fell so in love with this bread that when my ex would come here on business, I would make him buy me several loaves. I then sliced them when he brought them home and froze them. Toasted sourdough with lots of butter on it was pure heaven with a cup of good coffee for breakfast. Its part of the allure that made me want to move here. So for my own household uses I buy sourdough baguettes for this. But I also buy assorted crackers too and use whatever seems to interest me that day. We have a store here now that makes artisan breads and Ive become quite fond of their herbal foccacia too. Sometimes Ill even make foccacia to use with this. But any of their good crusty bread would be great with it too.

With this, a nice glass of wine and I'm all set. Ill turn on the tv and bring in a platter laid out with all the yummy things and relax while I nosh. The best part of this is...........I didn't have to cook.

Kasseri [kuh-SEHR-ee] This Greek cheese is made from sheep's or goat's milk. It has a sharp, salty flavor and hard cheddar like texture that's perfect for grating. An American version is made with cow's milk. The creamy gold-colored kasseri has a natural rind and is usually sold in blocks. It's delicious plain, grated over hot foods or used in cooking. Kasseri is the cheese used in the famous Greek dish saganaki, where it's sautéed in butter, sprinkled with lemon juice and sometimes flamed with brandy.
Bresaola is air-dried salted beef that has been aged about 2-3 months until it becomes hard and a dark red, almost purple colour. It is made from eye of round and is lean and tender with a sweet, musty smell. Sliced very thin it can be used like Prosciutto.

Champagne Grapes Although called by the more glamorous name of "champagne grapes," this is actually the Black Corinth variety. They're extremely tiny (about 1/4 inch in diameter), violet to purple in color, and exceedingly sweet and juicy. Champagne grapes are available in clusters in specialty produce markets. Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 1 week. These diminutive grapes are great with cheese and make a wonderful garnish for many dishes. The grapes are harvested Mid August to late September.

Focaccia foe-CAH-cha) is a flat oven-baked Italian bread, which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients. Focaccia is related to pizza, but not considered to be the same. Focaccia is quite popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil and herbs, topped with onion, cheese and meat, or flavored with a number of vegetables. Focaccia doughs are similar in style and texture to pizza doughs consisting of high-gluten flour, oil, water, salt and yeast. It is typically rolled out or pressed by hand into a thick layer of dough and then baked in a stone-bottom or hearth oven. Bakers often puncture the bread with a knife to relieve bubbling on the surface of the bread. Also common is the practice of dotting the bread. This creates multiple wells in the bread by using a finger or the handle of a utensil to poke the unbaked dough. As a way to preserve moisture in the bread, olive oil is then spread over the dough, by hand or with a brush prior to rising and baking.

Focaccia can be used as a side to many meals, as a base for pizza or as sandwich bread.


Jewel Atkins said...

Now I have a hankerin'! When I first moved to Lancaster, I encountered a lunch meat called Lebanon (named after the town of Lebanon, PA) Sweet Bologna. NOt to be confused with Lebanese. And it really is sweet. I can only describe it as smoky, tangy and sweet all at once. It is a burgundy colored, white speckled beefy bologna. Not at all like regular bologna, but you can see the grain of the meat in it. Pared with cream cheese and butter, and rolled up like cigars, they make a lovely addition to cheese plates. I haven't seen Lebanon Sweet Bologna outside of Pennsylvania, but it is my favorite smoked meat.

coriander said...

I have a ridiculous love of cheese. Once when I was pregnant I had an unfortunate carsickness episode and lost my lunch. Immediately I became ravenously hungry, the kind of hungry where old pretzels in the seat cushions seem like viable nutrition. Luckily I was almost to my destination and my host had laid a table with a huge wheel of gorganzola, salad, and bread. The *best* meal ever!