Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How to Create an Epic Cheese Board

Happy new year friends! I hope everyone had as wonderful of a holiday with family and friends as I did. I'm in charge of Christmas Eve every year.

I spent about a month yabbering about how excited I was for this day. How epic it is. The copious amounts of cheese to be consumed. It is my favorite.

This was the most epic of cheese boards ever. A cheese board the size of my kitchen table to feed 9 hungry beasts! There were no sad bellies on this day. Not a single one. Happy Santa bellies for all!

I'm surprised it took me this long to dedicate a whole post to cheese, being Cheese Club president and all. Not to mention I could eat this for dinner every day all day. Who doesn't love a cheese, meat and crackers for dinner? Crazy people. Today is the day people!

I break pretty much every "rule" there is to making a cheese board because I get too excited. I want ALL of the cheese. Plus, there aren't really any hard and fast rules for a cheeseboard - except to have fun!

If you are not as big of a nut about cheese or it is your first time, here are some general guidelines. You'll want a firm cheese, like a firm aged cheddar (always a crowd pleaser) or gouda; a hard cheese like a parmesan or asiago, that is a little salty and flaky when you cut into it; a soft goats cheese (my favorite!); a mild, creamy, not too salty blue cheese; finally, a triple cream brie or camabert, warmed slightly.

I usually go overboard an have a few cheeses from each of these categories, which is good and bad. Choices, variety, and options are never bad. On the other hand, with too many choices you get a bit lost in the land of cheese, everything blending together with no clear favorite.

This year I even included two cheese balls! A cheddar one and a goat cheese one. No recipe to share unfortunately, but excellent contribution to any cheese board. I will be experimenting with them in the near future.

The perfect cheese board doesn't end with cheese. Accoutrements are a must, such as your favorite local jams and jellies. I always include fig jam.

Honey is a must too and if you can find a honey comb, buy it. It is amazing. It is sweet, semi-soft, crystalized, crunchy magic in your mouth. Honey goes great with things like goat cheese or blue cheese.

Pickled, briny things are a must too. Lots of olives if you are me. Love me some olives! I usually go to Whole Foods or the Co-op and pick from the olive bar: garlic-stuffed, Herbes de Provence, kalamata etc.

This year I found some pickled ramps and fermented brussel sprouts from Underground Butcher to change things up a little.

I always include a few types of meat as well. The men in my life love themselves some meat. Prosciutto is a must. A lot of prosciutto, which I get from Fraboni's. Then I usually go to Underground Butcher and pick out a two cured meats to thinly slice along side the prosciutto.

If you have never been to Underground Butcher, check it out. They have a lot of fun and creative sausages, in addition to a lovely meat case.

There also needs to be a variety of crackers and bread like vessels for your cheese, honey and jam. Finally, some grapes are always a delicious and beautiful addition to round out the cheese board. A variety of nuts are also a welcome addition, for those snackers out there who need a break from the cheese.

Below I've included all the information I just discussed, with fewer words and random thoughts, along with specific cheeses I love. Remember to have fun with it, these are just guidelines, make it your own.

Before we get to that might I suggest if you have not made plans for NYE, to invite all your friends over, with the small task of bringing their favorite meat or cheese over and ring in the new year with a belly full of cheese! You provide the accoutrements and maybe a bottle or two of bubbly and no regrets.


Cheese Board Guidelines:

Aged cheese: aged cheddar or gouda; two of my favorites are Hook's 10 year cheddar or Marieke's aged gouda
Firm cheese: Asiago, Parmesan or Satori Bellavitano Merlot, Raspberry or Cognac or any other wine washed Parmesan
Blue cheese: Any creamy, mild blue cheese or Gorgonzola, or my favorite Hook's Little Boy Blue
Chevre or goat cheese: Cypress Grove Humbolt Fog or a truffled soft goat.
Semi-soft cheese: brie, camabert or St. Andre

Breads: baguette, crostini, water crackers, hard breadsticks, whole wheat crackers, fruit and nut crackers, and little toasts

Charcuterie: thinly sliced prosciutto, hard salami, cured meats, pepperoni

Jams and jellies: bacon jam, fig jam, fruit jams/jellies/perseveres (Quince and Apple, my favorite from WI), honeycomb or honey

Fruit and nuts: marcona almonds, black pepper almonds, corn nuts, dried apricots, fresh or dried figs, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, fresh or dried pears

Salty and briny snacks: olive medley, pickled vegetables, cornichons, mustard

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kelsey's Sunday Brunch

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas and was able to enjoy some time off of work with family and those they love.  Hopefully there was lots of scrumptious food involved too!  Nate and I go to three different family get-togethers and our various contributions this year included buffalo chicken dip, strawberry spinach salad and mint brownies.  Simple recipes that were mostly make ahead are key so you can optimize time with good company!

Santa was good to me this year and seemed to know exactly what was on my list.  He stocked me up with some new yoga gear, a couple of cookbooks and some new kitchen tools!  I'm really excited to start using my new pair of Lodge cast iron skillets especially because I know Brittany and April both use theirs a lot and love them.  I also found some Penzeys Spices in my stocking that will be fun to do some experimenting with.

Up until a few months ago I had never eaten falafel.  It now might be beating out hummus for my favorite way to eat chickpeas.  Some of my favorite places I've tried it so far in Madison include the Mediterranean Cafe, The Great Dane and Banzo.  I can see the Banzo food cart out the window of my office which is both parts amazing and dangerous if you know what I'm sayin'.

I'm loving this trick for making a DIY cake platter out of cardboard.  There's been many times in the past couple of years when this would've come in very handy.

Just a little friendly reminder (or teaching moment) on how to open wine like a pro!  An important life skill if I do say so myself.

2015 is going to be a big year with lots of changes for me and I'm excited to see what it brings.  I'm looking forward to another short work week and I'll be ringing in the new year with a quick trip down to Houston.  What are you looking forward to in 2015?!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Small Batch Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I'll admit, there have been weak points in my life where all I've really wanted to do is indulge in a little bit of cookie dough.  The solution tends to be that I will whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, but since the cookies aren't the actual goal, for simplicity's sake the dough just get pressed into a 9x13 pan and voila, cookie bars.

The problem then becomes that you have a large pan of cookie bars sitting around the house that you will be constantly tempted to devour.  When there's only a couple of people in the house, it becomes a real test of your self-control.

To help solve this problem I came up with the very ingenious solution to simply make a smaller batch!  I can still get my cookie dough fix but with much less temptation after the fact.  The cookie bars are now made in a smaller 9x9 pan instead.

The bars don't lose any of their chocolatey cookie goodness with the smaller serving.  My only complaint is that as a middle piece lover, those perfectly soft pieces on all four edges become a hot commodity.  Any other middle piece lovers out there?  Or are you like my mom and sister who fight over the corners?  Not to worry, all pieces middle and edge alike can do the trick, especially when enjoyed with a tall glass of milk.


Recipe adapted from Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup dry oats
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9x9 pan with parchment paper and non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together butter, vegetable shortening, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat in egg.
  4. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips and oatmeal.
  6. Press cookie dough into prepared pan.
  7. Cook for 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vanilla Bean Caramels

Yum, I love caramels. They're sweet and chewy and addictive! Last year around the holidays was the first time I tried making caramels. It can take awhile getting use to your candy thermometer and trusting it. My first ever batch was a bit runny like caramel sauce because I didn't let the mixture get hot enough. Lesson learned.

Luckily, I perfected my technique just in time for Christmas. They were a hit! So, I think it will become a tradition that I bring the caramels each Christmas from now on. This year, I tried a new recipe with less ingredients but I still think it has a great flavor.

What are some of your holiday must-have recipes? A few of ours include peanut butter blossoms, cake balls, and spritz cookies. The best part about these goodies, along with these caramels, is that we really only get them once a year. I think that makes them taste twice as good!

Happy Holidays!

2 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1/2 lb. butter
1 c. light corn syrup
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk

1. melt butter on medium heat in a sauce pan.
2. Mix in brown sugar and stir until it begins to melt
3. Add corn syrup and stir for 2-3 minutes.
4. Mix in the sweetened condensed milk.
5. Cook to exactly 245 degrees. This may take awhile and you may need to up the stovetop to high heat. The mixture will bubble vigorously for awhile. This is normal.
6. Off the heat, stir in vanilla.
7. Pour into a greased 9X13 pan.
8. Allow to cool, cut, and enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Kelsey's Sunday Brunch

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and has been able to enjoy the start of the holiday season!  I saw this picture on Instagram the other day and wanted to share it because I think we all can use a little reminder every once in a while of what the holidays are really about.  It's so easy to get swept up in it all.
Image via Instagram
Holidays can sometimes be a little tricky when you're in a relationship and all of a sudden have twice the family gatherings to get to.  Lucky for Nate and me, both of our family's have somewhat different schedules so although they're in different cities, besides leaving slightly early or arriving a little late, we're able to spend time with everyone which is really great!

I've been in charge of desserts for both families the past couple of years and this year I ended up going with Smitten Kitchen's Pumpkin Pie (made my first pie crust from scratch!), this Low-carb Pumpkin Cheesecake (because even if you have dietary restrictions you should still be able to enjoy dessert) and this Double Layer Pumpkin Oreo Cheesecake from Carlsbad Cravings.  Everything was a hit!

Last weekend we went to the final home Badger football game of the season against the Minnesota Gophers.  I was really excited to go not just because the Gophers are our biggest rivals and the winner takes home the coveted trophy that is Paul Bunyan's Axe, but there was also a great epilepsy awareness campaign that an organization I used to intern with, Lily's Fund, had put together.  In case you were wondering, we got to keep the axe and had a beautiful purple sunset to boot!

I've been chugging away with the wedding planning lately.  We sent out our save-the-dates a couple of weeks ago, have our ceremony site officially reserved and have our flowers in the works with a non-traditional florist.  Last weekend we took advantage of some Black Friday sales to get some odds and ends from The Knot Shop and bridesmaid dresses ordered from Weddington Way.  Only seven months to go!

I'd like you all to meet our newest roommate, Ruger!  He's my oldest sister's dog and will be temporarily living with us for the next few months.  I'm thinking I might have to whip up some homemade treats for him, like the apple cheddar pupcakes that Brittany has made for Bear.

One of my favorite new cookbooks is The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka.  Gina's blog Skinnytaste has been one of my favorites pretty much since I discovered food blogs a few years ago.  She makes lightened up versions of a wide variety of foods from different cultures and for every occasion.  I've never come across a recipe on it that disappoints so I knew that her first cookbook would be a must-have.

One of my favorite things about the cookbook is that every recipe has the nutritional information printed right on the page so it's nice and easy to find and there's no guessing as to whether the recipe is in fact healthy or not.  If you're a reader of her blog, one thing you will definitely notice is that she does not provide Weight Watchers points for the recipes in the book.  Since that is one of the features that I think really helped her blog grow it would have been nice to have it in the cookbook as well but I can only assume there were legal issues associated with that.

Throughout the book almost every recipe has a tip or "skinny scoop" that accompanies it as well as many food facts that really help you to learn about what you're putting in your body.  There is also a set of icons used throughout the book on both the recipe page and the recipe index at the beginning of the chapter which is one of my favorite features because it makes it really easy to identify some of my favorite types of recipes quickly.  The "slow cooker" and "quick" labels appeal to me the most, but there's also "vegetarian", "gluten-free" and "freezer-friendly".

Just like the Skinnytaste blog, I haven't come across a recipe yet that we haven't enjoyed.  Recently we've enjoyed the Greek Chickpea Salad and the Slow-Cooker Santa Fe Chicken.  Some recipes are cross-overs from the blog, but they are some of the most popular so you can't really blame her for including them in the book.  This cookbook would make a great gift this holiday season and the pictures are sure to leave the recipient's mouth watering.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  All opinions are my own, honest truth!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hard Cider Bourbon Cocktail

You need a cocktail right now, it has been a long busy week and things aren't going to let up anytime soon. You disagree? Well maybe you need a quick cocktail for a party in the coming month because there will plenty of parties in your future. This is it.

This cocktail reminds me of a loaded corona, but for fall and with a boat load more class, mostly because we drink it from a glass and not a bottle. You don't know what a loaded corona is? Well let me enlighten you. Open yourself a corona, take a swig, now that there is a little room in the bottle, fill 'er back up with a shot of tequila and drink responsibly.

This is just like that, but a loaded cider, with bourbon. It is more classy though because we are making in a glass. Trust me, it is classy and tasty most of all.

A lot of ciders are, Crispin in particular, suggested to be served over ice. I'm not a fan of this suggestion though. Not at all.

No body likes a watered down cocktail. To make this super simple cocktail feel special and keep it cool and fall like, I made some apple cider ice cubes. It "apples" the cocktail down instead of watering it down. It just makes sense!

I've tried making this with a lighter cider like Crispin and a darker richer cider like the one pictured from Door County's Island Orchard Cider. Which to use is a personal preference. I think the bourbon boozy flavor comes out more with a lighter cider and the darker, richer cider blends with the bourbon because they are both bold and full flavored, duh. Just kidding.

Garnish the whole thing with some sliced apples. You could even use apple cubes as a garnish. Because who doesn't love a little booze soaked fruit at the bottom of their cocktail to wash the whole thing down.

This is a really easy simple cocktail to bring along to a party last minute. All you need is a bottle or six pack of your favorite cider and a bottle of bourbon and it is cocktail time. You can pick it all up en route to your party. It is perfect. My boyfriend who usually only drinks white russians loved it.

It is just the right amount of sweet, rich, apple and fall in a glass. I realize it doesn't feel like fall anymore, but I think this cocktail is a nice addition to all the eggnog, hot toddy and cocoa that will be consumed in the coming month.

Just remember to always keep it classy and mix your cocktail in a glass, not the bottle. Nothing good ever comes from a beer cocktail made in a beer bottle. Trust me. Plus, it is the holiday season and it should be filled with joy, class, laughter and kindness! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know I did!

Makes 1 cocktail
1 shot/jigger or 1.5 ounces bourbon
12 ounces hard cider (such as Crispin or Island Orchard Cider)
Apple cider ice cubes
1 apple, cored and sliced or cubed

to make the ice cubes: Pour your favorite apple cider into and ice cube tray and freeze overnight.
to make the cocktail: Combine the bourbon, hard cider and cider ice cubes in a glass. Garnish with sliced or cubed apples. Enjoy and be merry.


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