Recently, I found myself thinking about how hard it’s gotten to plan dinner or party menus. For every person who shuns meat, there’s another who’s convinced that fried food is the devil’s work. Still others believe that should a crumb of bread touch their lips, carb-ageddon will occur. Just when I was about to resign myself to restaurant rendezvouses for the rest of my life, it dawned on me that restoring menu planning sanity was easy. Just say cheese.
Did you know that we Americans each consume about 37 pounds of cheese every year (as for me, I assumed the amount was higher)? That makes cheese a “cheesy-pleasy” pick for nearly everyone. And for everything from appetizers to entrees. Especially when served up in trendy ways like these.
Hands-down, this is the best basic slate cheese board I’ve ever found. That’s why I own it and have bought it to give as a gift several times. Made of natural slate with lots of character, texture and rich color, each of these cheese boards are one-of-a-kind. In between parties, I use mine to display accessories. An absolute steal at $9.95.
Find more than a little spare change beneath your sofa cushions? Use it to take the party up a serious style notch with this gorgeous cheese board made of hand-hewn natural agate stone and brass electroplating. Pair it with Nina cheese markers that convey all most of us really want to know about the appetizers placed before us. Cheese board—$78. Set/6 cheese markers—$28.
In France, parchment paper leaves are the traditional way cheese (and other hors d’oeuvres) are displayed. They also serve a practical purpose for soft cheeses that can be messy when cut or when serving on porous surfaces like wood. What I like about these trompe l’oeil cheese papers (printed on coated, food-safe butcher paper) is their modern spin, created with photo-realistic tropical leaves and wood slices. Set/12—$16.95.
How many parties have you been to where there was only one messy knife to slice cheese with? Do better than that with this 3-piece cheese knife set, crafted with beautiful olive wood handles. $24.99.
Cheese is also awesome as an entree. A haute, yet down home, classic pick? Grilled cheese. But not the grilled cheese of our youth (processed cheese melted between two pieces of white bread). Today’s grilled cheese sandwiches are artisan-made with artistic flair. Like this one from “Great Grilled Cheese: Grown-Up Recipes for a Childhood Classic” by Eric Greenspan.
Johnny Apple Cheese
Great Grilled Cheese: Grown-Up Recipes for a Childhood Classic
The Johnny Apple Cheese was the best seller at Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese on Melrose. We started with the familiar flavors of a Jewish deli, and we added earthy Cheddar, the bite of chutney, and crisp green apple. The result is a balanced, meaty, flavorful masterpiece that attacks every taste node on your palate.
12 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into 8 equal slices or grated
8 slices extra-sour sourdough bread
APPLE MUSTARD CHUTNEY:
1 cup unsalted butter
½ cup yellow mustard seeds
5 Granny Smith apples, halved and thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
½ cup apple cider
½ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 pound pastrami, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, for finishing
To make the chutney, in a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over high heat until it foams. Add the mustard seeds and toast, stirring, for 1 minute. Set aside 12 apple slices, then add the remaining apple slices and the onion to the pan and cook, stirring often, for about 15 minutes, until the apples and onion are tender. Add the cider, vinegar, honey, and mustard, stir well, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30, until the liquid has evaporated. Let cool slightly, transfer to a blender, and process until nearly smooth. Let cool.
Line up half of the bread slices on a work surface. Top each slice with 2 cheese slices, one-fourth of the pastrami, a dollop of the chutney, and 3 apple slices. Close the sandwiches with the remaining bread slices.
Line a large platter with paper towels. In a skillet over high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Turn down the heat to low, add 1 sandwich, and cook, turning once, for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until browned and crisp on both sides and the cheese is melted. Transfer to the prepared platter to blot the excess grease. Repeat with the remaining butter and sandwiches.
Cut the sandwiches in half, plate, and serve.
Reprinted with permission from Great Grilled Cheese: Grown-Up Recipes for a Childhood Classic by Eric Greenspan, copyright © 2018. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.