Cheese Board 101

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(Originally published on Delish.com)

When it comes to party appetizers, nothing is more traditional than a cheese board, but sometimes the classics can feel a little uninspired.

I’ve learned from watching Ina that there is a big difference between a plate of cheese and crackers and a show-stopping cheese board. The difference is not in the amount of time or effort required. It’s all in knowing what to put on the board and a few little tricks that make for a beautiful presentation.

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As the holidays approached, Ina shared some of her tips with me, and I was surprised at how a few subtle changes can really elevate an every day array of cheese to one that will be the hit of the party.

First, no matter the size of your gathering, you only need three different kinds of cheese. (Just buy bigger pieces of each if you are serving more people.) Ina recommends going for one creamy Brie-like cheese, one blue or semi-soft, and one hard cheese.

She arranges the cheeses on a simple wooden board, facing outward so the different kinds are easy to see and cut. Then, she fills in the empty spaces with big piles of grapes, dried fruits, and of course, lots of crackers.  She arranges the different additions in little groups spilling out among the cheese, which creates little pops of color across the board and a bountiful appearance. I love sweet and savory elements on a cheese board, so I like to include a jam, such as fig jam or caramelized onion.

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A cheese board is SO easy to put together for a party because there’s absolutely no cooking involved, and if you choose a nice variety of cheeses, there will be something for everyone.  You don’t need a fancy board, either. I have a wooden cutting board that I use for everything from rolling pie dough to chopping veggies, and it’s my go-to for a cheese board, too. Use whatever you have, just make sure you aren’t using a board or platter so huge you can’t create achieve that generous and bountiful look. And don’t forget the cheese knives!

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I tested this Ina-approved cheese board out on my friends this weekend, and if the naked rinds on the board at the night meant anything, I’d say it was a hit.  I tried to stick with cheeses that are widely available- a creamy St. Agur blue cheese, a big wedge of Brie, and a truffle Pecorino (a bit of a splurge, but seriously delicious), but this is time to choose your favorites! If you don’t like blue cheese, go for a soft goat cheese or semi-soft cheese like Gouda. If you like milder or more pungent cheeses, lean more in one of those directions, but remember that people tend to have different tastes and you want there to be a nice variety of flavors on the board. IMG_3142

Moroccan Chicken Chili with Butternut Squash

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(Originally published on Delish.com)

I once did a hard-hitting news story for my high school paper about the beloved meat chili in the school cafeteria. (In retrospect I’m not sure how many people loved it aside from my best friend and me, but that’s beside the point.) During our interview, the woman who made the chili shared her secret: “I make a batch on Monday and then let it sit around for about a week before serving it.”

Having eaten that chili probably a hundred times, I wished I’d never asked.  But years later, and many batches of homemade chili later, I understand what she meant. Chili is good the day it’s made, but it’s really good if it sits for a day or two and the flavors have time to develop.

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While I have fond memories of that cafeteria chili, I wanted to come up a version that was more… 2015. This recipe has all the essential chili elements—it’s hearty, full of vegetables, and spicy—but with Moroccan-inspired ingredients and spices, it’s also a updated twist on the classic.

Most turkey or chicken chili recipes call for ground meat, which is extremely lean, but because it has very little fat, it often ends up having very little flavor. Instead, I used shredded breast meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken, which is still lean but so much more flavorful and tender than ground meat. And because the chicken is shredded, as opposed to cubed, it really absorbs the spices. A win win.

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Butternut squash thickens the chili and adds a barely discernible sweetness—just enough to balance out the spice. And in keeping with the Moroccan theme, I used chickpeas instead of beans. I find they hold their shape better than cooked beans, especially if you’re planning on reheating the chili over several days, cafeteria style.

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The heat here comes from harissa, a spicy red pepper paste that’s a mainstay of many Moroccan and North African recipes.  Think of it as Sriracha’s much cooler and more potent sister. (If you’re the kind of person who likes to douse your eggs with Sriracha, try mixing in a little harissa next time for a distinctly different kick.) I call for a moderate amount of harissa for this chili, but feel free to add or subtract a ½ tsp. or so depending on your heat preference. And don’t forget to finish off the bowl with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of parsley to cool things down.

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Finally, despite the secret behind that cafeteria chili of yesteryear, I don’t think I’d make this recipe an entire week in advance. One or two days will do the trick, but by all means, if you’d rather eat the chili the minute it’s done, go for it.

Moroccan Chicken Chili with Butternut Squash

Ingredients


– 3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
– 1½ cups chopped yellow onion (one large onion)
– 2 tsp minced fresh garlic (2 cloves)
– 1 lb butternut squash, peeled and ¾ inch diced
– 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
– 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, such as College Inn
– 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
– 1 ½ tsp ground paprika
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 1/8 tsp ground allspice
– 1 1/2 tsp harissa
– 2 tbs dark brown sugar
– 1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I like Goya)
– 3 cups shredded cooked chicken breast, from a rotisserie chicken
– Plain whole milk yogurt, for serving
– Minced flat-leaf parsley, for serving
– kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the butternut squash and garlic and cook for one more minute, until the garlic is fragrant.
  2. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, cinnamon, paprika, cumin, allspice, harissa, brown sugar and 2 tsp salt and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 35-40 minutes, until the squash is tender and the broth has thickened considerably.
  3. Using a potato masher, bottom of a whisk or a wooden spoon, lightly mash about half of the butternut squash. (Don’t worry about being exact here- the idea is just to thicken the broth while still leaving some whole chunks of squash.)
  4. Add the chicken and chickpeas and simmer for ten more minutes. Taste and add another ½ tsp of harissa if desired.
  5. To serve: In a small bowl, combine 1 cup yogurt with ¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper. Ladle chili into bowls and top with a spoonful of yogurt and a sprinkle of parsley. Serve hot.