I’m so excited that my cousin, Holly is my featured post this month! Holly is a wife, mother of 3 and a fantastic cook! She’s always had the BEST dips and spreads. You know when she hosts a party you’re going to be fed well! There’s always something on the spread that’s a new find that my taste buds are lovin’! She’s got some fantastic tips in the post below!
Admittedly, I’d rather be anywhere but the kitchen in the summer months. I’m happier in my garden, mowing the yard, or even pulling weeds…but my family still insists they need to eat. When Ashlyn asked me to share this month’s recipe post, I immediately thought, “Doesn’t she know I don’t cook in the summer?” My next thought was, “All of my recipes are borrowed from friends, family and cookbooks.” I couldn’t come up with anything particularly original or unique. So, in an effort to be true to myself and honest with Ashlyn’s readers, I decided rather than share a specific recipe, I would share an approach I often employ to our evening meals in the summer: boards and platters.
Boards and platters have been abuzz for a few years now. I was not an early adopter; my board and platter obsession got its start early in the pandemic. After about six weeks of sitting around and staring at the same four people (my husband and our three daughters aptly nicknamed Hooligans 1, 2 and 3), we got bored of each other and began to widen our circle a bit. This resulted in lots of spontaneous happy hour/early evening gatherings with a group of 4-6 close friends. The excitement of sitting in close proximity to other humans again was immediately followed by panic at the thought of what I would feed them. I needed a relatively quick and flexible approach to entertaining a small group on the spur of the moment. Thus began the fun with boards and platters. I no longer reserve boards and platters for special gatherings, but instead use them regularly in the summer when it seems that we rarely all get around the dinner table at the same time. I’ve refined my approach after a few falters and below I’m sharing what works for me.
First of all, I try to keep a few things on hand at all times. The fruit and veggies are pretty easy, as they are on my weekly shopping list. Spreads and dipping sauce are easy too. Most have a really long shelf life and store easily at room temp. With artisanal cheeses and meats, I check the expiration dates and try not to buy too much at one time. I’ve made the mistake of buying seven or eight of my “favorite” cheeses in a single shopping trip (blame it on pandemic hoarding syndrome) and three or four weeks later throwing half away when we didn’t use them quickly enough. I try and be realistic about the amount of food I put on a board as well. I want the board empty at the end of the evening. Most things on a board can be saved, but some items (particularly soft cheeses like goat cheese and cream cheese) are hard to salvage after everyone has grazed upon them.
You can find good platter options at nearly every grocery store. Some of my favorite spots to hunt for board-friendly items are Aldi, HyVee, Costco and Trader Joe’s. My husband would tell you I have a Trader Joe’s obsession, despite living 90 minutes from their nearest location. I usually find myself in the vicinity of one every 4-6 weeks and I am sure to stock up on our favorites. In my experience, TJ’s is one of the best places to find outstanding, reasonably-priced cheeses and a great selection of dried fruits and nuts.
As I noted before, our gatherings tend to be pretty spontaneous I’ve found I can throw together a board pretty quickly by following these steps:
1. Pull each and every board-appropriate food item out of the cabinets and refrigerator and set them all out on the counter. Once everything is in front of you, sort it into groups. Cheeses in one, fruit in another, veggies, crackers/nuts, spreads, proteins, etc.
2. Once you’ve got everything sorted, you can decide what you need from each group to keep the board relatively balanced and appropriate for your guests/family. For example, with one group of our friends, I know I need to go heavy on the meat at cheese or I’ll hear about it. If it’s just me, my husband and the Hooligans, I keep it heavier on the fruit, veggies and salami/pepperoni (with a few M&Ms thrown in ).
3. When you’ve decided on what to include, set those items aside and immediately put everything else away. Eliminate the clutter.
4. Gather your platter/board and smaller serving plates/bowls. Ramekins work really well to keep small items corralled. You can pick up the smaller dishes just about anywhere and most are inexpensive. Get a feel for the space on your board and the items that you’ll want serve in smaller dishes.
5. Take a minute to visualize how you might arrange everything on the board, but don’t obsess. Just start putting it on and see how it goes. In the end, you might have an item or two that doesn’t fit, but that’s ok. Either put it in a smaller dish on the side or leave it off altogether. The beauty of a board is that there’s really not much that could be considered a total fail.
Obviously there are a ton of variations you can do along the board and platter theme. You can stick to a specific theme or type of food (i.e. Mexican, Mediterranean, S’mores, etc.). I like to pick up cute, inexpensive cocktail plates and napkins at places like Target and HomeGoods when I run across them. Inspiration is just about everywhere for boards and platters. Pinterest is a great resource and there are a number of great board and platter books on the market as well. Two of my favorites are pictured here.Have fun with it. Don’t stress. Grab your favorite beverage and graze away.
What are your favorite things to put on a board or platter!? Please share in the comments below!