As if being stuck in the kitchen over the Thanksgiving holiday isn't enough to make you pull your hair out by itself, how frustrating is it to have your friends and family invading your space while you work to finish up the holiday spread? Today I thought I would share my go-to way of keeping nosey husbands, pilfering Papaws, and snackey kids out of your holiday kitchen. There will be no more pestering you about when dinner will be ready, once you have this family favorite out on table, for all to see (and eat).
To address these distractions around our home, I utilize a holiday charcuterie board. Sounds fancy, right? Maybe even difficult? Well, it doesn't have to be. Charcuterie is the French word used for a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products: bacons, hams, pâté's, etc. These are usually some derivative of pork, but they don't have to be, and that is where your own fun and creativity get to shine. So, let's get started.
First things, first. Choose the board or tray off which you want your herd to graze. This vessel can be as stylish, or as homey, as you like. High-end dinner party for the boss and co-workers? Select your best silver platter. If farmhouse chic is more your style, grab that well-used wooden cutting board and get to work. Don't be afraid to mix things up for a more eclectic vibe. You'd be amazed out how well an antique China serving tray might pair with a more modern cheese board.
Next, grab your favorite Thanksgiving or fall decor. This will be the centerpiece around which your cornucopia will begin to take shape. Some good ideas may be gourds, pumpkins, turkeys, pilgrims, or really any trinket, bauble, or doodad that tickles your fall fancy.
Once your decor is arranged to your liking, begin to build your goodies around it. I like to start from the back and work my way forward. Taller items, like bowls of sliced fruits, bunches of grapes, etc., are what is needed here. They begin to form the backdrop of what will eventually become your culinary crescendo. Do not shy away from color. I like to make use of sliced red and green apples, multi-colored grapes, figs, blackberries, and strawberries. If you would like, add a small bowl of your favorite fruit dip. I like to arrange each individual fruit in its own area, but with loose berries, like strawberries or blackberries, feel free to place them whimsically around the board for pops of color amongst otherwise drab items, like crackers.
Speaking of crackers, I like to place two varieties on my boards. I like to fan out a layer of fun, fig and multigrain crackers, as well as a round wheat option. As a side note, it never hurts to have some gluten-free items on hand, in the case you have guests who might be gluten-sensitive. Oh, and what good is a tray full of crackers without some yummy cheeses to spread all over them? This is where you can go crazy with creativity. On this particular board, I did a honey chevre, with a raspberry preserve tapenade. My second option was a wonderful wedge of baked brie, that I drizzled with honey, and topped with roasted and salted pistachios. Cheeses allow for so many options. In keeping with the season, either of these two cheese selections would have paired nicely with a fig jam or a pumpkin spread.
And what would a charcuterie board be without....the meats? I like to have 2-3 choices of meat on hand. If the pieces are thinly sliced, I like to fold them into quarters, giving them a rosette appearance. This allows them to stack more neatly and is much more visually impressive than a bunch of flat pieces on a tray. If the meat comes in a tube shape, like a salami or summer sausage, simply slice and lay out neatly, each piece leaning against the previous.
Finally, fill in any negative, or open, space with a selection of nuts. Pistachios, almonds, cashews, etc. Because I had already used pistachios on the brie, I elected to use almonds. These, however, are not just any almonds. These are roasted almonds, dipped in dark chocolate, and covered in Turbinado sugar. They are a family favorite that we pick up every time we visit Trader Joe's.
Last, but not least, provide your guests with snack plates and napkins. If silverware is warranted, be sure to lay that out as well. Arrange your board in an easily accessible area and watch, as it quickly disappears. Your family will appreciate the pre-dinner snacks, and you will appreciate the peace of mind you get from never having to hear, "Mom, how long before we eat?", ever again.
Written by: Brandi Garvin