How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie

Ultimate Charcuterie

As you all know, I’ve been recipe testing and planning my dinner party menu for over a month. Partially because I’m an over-planner and partially because I was really looking forward to wowing my friends with my culinary abilities. I’ll admit, I kind of wowed myself with my main dish – Seafood Paella.  Dinner party planning takes a lot of thought, and I learned so many things from my mom and all her dinner parties. She sets timers on her phone the day of to keep her on a timeline for food prep. That’s dedication. I’m not quite at the mom-level of dinner party planning and execution, but I’m sure in time I’ll get there. I did inherit some of her organization skills.

Here’s what my dinner party timeline looked like:

  • 1 month-1 week before: Plan and set menu
  • 1-2 days before: Grocery shopping
  • Night before: Prepare any make-ahead desserts or marinades
  • Morning of: Set the table, get out serving dishes, serveware and centerpieces
  • Afternoon of: Cook! Clean up, repeat as needed until you’ve made everything. Save warm dishes for setting out once guests arrive.  
  • Right before guests arrive: Set out the cold items, Turn on the lights, Burn bokhoor بخور (incense)
  • Enjoy the dinner!

The two things I was most looking forward to was making seafood paella, and setting out a GORGEOUS charcuterie board. I have been drooling over charcuterie boards on Pinterest and Instagram for months. I’m not even kidding. There are so many ways to go about it. You can stick with just cheeses, or make it a meats board, you can tailor it by season (summer, winter, etc.), make it big, make it small, keep it simple, go all-out … it’s totally up to you.  

I decided I wanted an over-the-top display with a mix of meats, cheeses, breads, spreads, veggies and nuts. Other than those broad categories, I did not have a game plan. So when I went on my shopping trip Friday night, I ended up spending two hours at Wegmans. I love Wegmans, by the way, I bought all my dinner party ingredients from there.  Generally speaking, my grocery shopping trips are a get in-get what I need-get out kind of deal. While I had my grocery list in hand (on my iphone), I still managed to spend 75% of my time in the cheese and meat sections of the store. They have an impressive meat and cheese selection.

Ultimate Charcuterie

How to Build the Ultimate Charcuterie

The ultimate charcuterie includes a selection of cheese, meat, spreads/dips, nuts, dried fruit, veggies, bread/crackers, and some (optional) extras. 

 

Cheese

If you’re going to have cheese here are a couple pro tips:

– Mix up the texture. You want to offer a mix of soft  (semi soft), (firm) and hard cheese

– Add color. While white cheeses are more prevalent, don’t be afraid to add in some yellow cheese, like cheddar cubes

– Go for different sources. Cow cheese is great, but offer up sheep cheese and goat cheese too.

Cheeses I used: Manchego, Cheddar Cheese cubes, Blue Cheese, Brie, Bucheron.

Meat

So here’s the deal with my meat selection, I was constrained by non-pork options. Really, that didn’t stop me from offering up a fun assortment. Same idea with the meats as the cheese, you want to offer a variety of tastes and textures. I featured roasted turkey slices, bresaola, beef salami and turkey pepperoni. I added in the turkey slices for color, and because everything else was beef-based. You’ll want to mix up smoky, spicy and simple flavors.

Spreads and Dips

I only had two dips on my charcuterie. I featured a sweet fig jam and plain hummus. With dips, you don’t want to go too crazy. Stick with 1-2 (3 max) and vary up sweet and savory. Great additions include tapenade, pate, apricot preserves or honey.

Nuts and Dried Fruits

For added crunch, go with smoked almonds and raw cashews. The world is your oyster with nuts (pecans, walnuts, pistachio), just be sure to check for nut allergies ahead of time! Fruit should be a mix of fresh and dried. Add cranberries, dried apricots, dates, and mix in some fresh fruit like grapes, apples or figs.

Veggies

I think vegetables really round out the charcuterie. For presentation (see presentation section below), veggies give you some color. Celery, carrots and tomatoes make for a no-fuss addition. 

Bread and Crackers

Keep the bread simple. You want to offer useful options. Sliced baguette, fresh or toasted, is always a win because its conducive to easy spreading. I added breadsticks and crackers for a crunchy option with soft cheese and spreads.

Extras

For a Mediterranean vibe, I set out small pickles as well as green and black olives fresh from Wegmans’ olive bar. Get the almond-stuffed green olives, they’re generally a hit. Don’t be afraid to get varying pickles. Pickled turnips, onions, and peppers bring texture and flavor to your charcuterie.

Presentation

Presentation is everything. Let me repeat: Presentation is everything. They say, you eat with your eyes before your stomach. It’s the truth.

You want to offer up a visually appealing board. For me, that means mixing colors and textures, as well as filling in every inch of the board. If you have a small board, add some fun trays to hold the bread and crackers. Use small jars, or unusual looking containers for spreads. Spread out meats and cheeses, but don’t be afraid to place items extremely close to other things on the board.

Now, go forth and build your ultimate charcuterie.   

This Week on Instagram

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola made it onto the blog this week. I also shared photos from my dinner party featuring a massive pan of seafood paella. I’m just so proud! Topped off this last week with milkshakes and burgers, and some light baking.

 

 

Starting off the week on a slow note, I indulged in a delicious smoked salmon salad followed by a cup of turtle coffee. What is turtle coffee? Coffee, Hazelnut and caramel all in one.

 

 

Remember how it snowed last week? Well, it took me about a week to get my car to the car wash. Does anyone else feel an immense sense of anxiety when pulling forward to the car wash, trying to get your tires to align with the track? Maybe it’s just me …

 

 

Posted! My Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Afghan Bistro is a little gem. After countless work lunches here, I saw the restaurant was featured both in the Washington Post and Washingtonian Magazine. It’s pretty much impossible to get a table without a reservation. Not because they’re arrogant, but because the restaurant space is so small, they can’t accommodate more people.

 

 

I always burn muhallabiyeh on the first go-around. Don’t ask me how, or why, but I do. So I know that I need to have enough milk and sugar for at least double the servings. Maybe it’s because I get bored of stirring and I get distracted on my phone. This week was no different. I was trying to get ahead for my dinner party, and I ended up spending double the time standing in front of the stove stirring warm milk, cornstarch and sugar. It was well-worth it though, because everyone loved the muhallabiyeh.

 

 

After months and months — okay, one month — of planning, I finally hosted my dinner party! The main attraction was seafood (fully vegetarian) paella. I essentially fused together two (maybe more) recipes to come up with this beauty. If you want the recipe, shoot me an email (contact@measuringcupsoptional) and I’ll send it over to you. Thankfully it was a hit, because I may or may not have accidentally burned my roasted eggplant side dish to a crisp and had to come up with Lebanese green beans on the fly. Thank god for additional freezers.

 

With the opening of the revamped Springfield Town Center (mall for short), a whole slew of new restaurants opened up, one of which is Zin Burger. I won’t say no to a burger place. Try the Salted Caramel Milk Shake. Pro tip: The sakes only come in large. If you’re going with a friend, ask them to split one milkshake in two.

 

 

I’m not sure why I didn’t come up with this before! Lots of Turkish coffee, lots of cardamom and lots of chocolate coming to the blog soon.

 

Until next week …. follow along on Instagram

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

I’ve been obsessed with granola lately. No really, I have. I’ve been taking it to work with fruit, chia, flax and honey. I’ve been adding it to yogurt. I’ve even added it to my favorite raisin bran cereal, and aside from that, I’ve been eating it in handfuls — straight from the bag. If you saw my mini fruit and granola bowl tutorial on Instagram last week, then you know I was already running low on granola. I’ve managed to finish off the entire bag, and in my typical procrastinating way, haven’t gotten out to the store to get any more. So what’s a granola-obsessed girl to do?! Make my own, duh!

Making granola at home is super easy.

I actually found this great infographic by BodyMindSou that breaks down all the different ways you can make your own granola. It’s amenable to all the dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and good-for-you additions you love. This batch of granola was completely dictated by the contents of my pantry… pecans, coconut, cranberries, and the inclination not to add 3 kinds of chocolate chips to the mix. We’re being healthy, am I right? Right.

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

 

Speaking of healthy, please tell me I’m not the only person who doesn’t think about the amount of sugar in pre-packaged foods (yes, even granola), only to be completely shocked when I make it homemade and it’s half as sweet because I haven’t added 10 lbs of sugar. As a matter of fact, the same could be said for salt.

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

I’m not the only one in my family completely obsessed with granola. Both my parents are too. So much so, that I had to hide the granola in an undisclosed location until I got a chance to take photos. I will say, though, that they’re usually really good about knowing that food must be photographed before it can be consumed in our household. Thanks for your support mom and dad!

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

 

Pecan Coconut Cranberry Granola

Yield: 2 cups Granola

Ingredients

  • 2 cups old fashioned oatmeal, or instant oatmeal
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • ½ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ½ cup cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300F
  2. In a microwave safe bowl, heat the honey and coconut oil 15 seconds at a time until melted. Stir to combine
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: oatmeal, pecans, cranberries, coconut, salt and cinnamon
  4. Pour in the honey and coconut oil.
  5. Using a large wooden spoon or spatula, stir all the ingredients until combined and coated
  6. Pour the granola onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread evenly
  7. Bake for 15 minutes
  8. Remove from the oven, stir
  9. Return to the oven and cook for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
  10. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the granola to cool before storing.
  11. Note: the granola will still be soft coming out of the oven. Once it cools, it will harden.
  12. Store in an airtight container
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This Week on Instagram

 

It Snowed! And despite being wrapped up in training for my real job this week, I still found time to (key word) TRY to get organized, share my favorite breakfast recipe and recipe test (and fail) before week’s end.

 

The best snow, in my personal opinion, is the snow that looks magical on trees, open spaces, and sidewalks, but doesn’t stick to the pavement. I love snow. I love the way it looks, I love the way it makes the world seem quiet and pristine. However, I don’t enjoy driving in it. It was a perfect Monday morning, when I was treated to the most beautiful drive to work, and by the time I left for the day, all the snow had melted away.

 

I’m on a constant quest to get organized. Unfortunately, it feels like I’m always one step behind. I admit, I have my little piles of clutter … but it drives me nuts! Yes, I’m one of those people that actually makes my bed before getting into it – I can’t help it. It has to feel welcoming before I get in. I found this lipstick and brush organizer on Amazon. It holds 120 lipsticks! It spins too. When I started getting all my lipsticks in there, I realized I have at least 7 of the same color.

 

Is it Valentine’s Day yet? Don’t get me wrong. I love everything pink and heart-shaped, but it’s just so much pressure. Usually when faced with Valentine’s Day overkill, I end up buying myself a heart-shaped chocolate.

 

Adams Morgan  is home of the Jumbo Slice. What’s jumbo slice?! It’s exactly that– a slice of pizza that could feed a small village. Okay fine, 2-3 people. One person if they’re really hungry. No judgment, right?

 

I shared my favorite take-to-work breakfast on instagram this week, complete with video. It’s actually really simple. First, I sprinkle granola in the bottom of the bowl, then layer with my favorite fruits (strawberries and blueberries). Next, I add maple-flavored ground chia and flax mix, sprinkle some more granola on top and drizzle honey to top it all off.

 

I almost had a new blog post. Except for the part where my twice-baked potato dip hardened and became loaded mashed potatoes. I took my little experiment to a Super Bowl party and made everyone eat it anyway. Obviously, this one’s not making it to the blog just yet.

 

Until next week …. follow along on Instagram

Garlic Herb Lamb Skewers with Mint Yogurt Sauce

I love lamb. I’ve seldom met an Arab who doesn’t like lamb. [I said seldom, so if you’re one of the few that are Arab and don’t like lamb, you may want to skip to another one of my lamb-less recipes]. Have you ever seen that scene in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when Ian, the fiancé, tells Aunt Voula he’s vegetarian. To which Aunt Voula thinks for a minute and exclaims “that’s okay, I make a Lamb!” Yea, that basically sums up the Arab-Lamb relationship. You eat it and you enjoy it, or you eat it and you don’t enjoy it. The common denominator here is that you eat the lamb no matter what.  

 I’ll spare you the story about the first time I met a whole raw lamb on our kitchen table … but you’re more than welcome to read about it. It was an experience I won’t forget.

Garlic Herb Lamb Skewers

 

I’ve done a decent amount of cooking lamb from including my Lamb Kabob Patties, Yogurt Marinated Leg of Lamb, and Garlic Rosemary Lamb Chops, but I wanted to try something a little different. I’m still working on recipe testing for my upcoming dinner. My family is reaping the benefits, and mom is so happy I’m taking over the kitchen every so often. The thing about the skewers is that you can throw them on an outdoor grill if the weather permits, or you can use a grill pan (or panini grill flipped to the grill side) indoors. I love versatile.

Garlic Herb Lamb Skewers

 

Garlic Herb Lamb Skewers with Mint Yogurt Sauce

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Lamb loin, cubed
  • 2 Saffron Strings
  • 1 teaspoon Allspice
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 cup Parsley
  • Lemon juice from one Lemon
  • Salt, to taste
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • Mint Yogurt Sauce
  • 1 bunch Mint Leaves
  • 1 cup Greek Yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, parsley, red onion, allspice, cumin, salt, and saffron
  2. Pour into a food processor and pulse until chopped finely
  3. Add lemon juice and Vegetable Oil
  4. Puree until smooth, set aside the marinade
  5. Place the lamb cubes in a ziplock bag and add the marinade. Toss until combined
  6. Refrigerate overnight
  7. Preheat a grill pan (or light a grill). Drain the lamb, making sure to remove any access marinade.
  8. Place the lamb chunks on a skewer by puncturing the middle of the cube and sliding the meat down, leaving a little room between cubes
  9. Brush with vegetable oil and grill over high, turning every 10 minutes.
  10. Serve with mint yogurt sauce.
  11. For the Mint Yogurt Sauce
  12. In a food processor, pulse the mint until finely chopped
  13. Transfer to a small bowl, and stir in the yogurt and lemon juice, add salt to taste
  14. Serve in a small dipping bowl
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This Week on Instagram

This week I did no recipe testing. I did think about making a couple things, but I was just so lazy — and in my defense not feeling very well for most of the week. I did get out and eat (obviously) and did a bunch of shopping.

 

Hot Chocolate Bar

There’s this really adorable–we’ll call it–town hidden in Northern Virginia down really long hilly two-way roads with a train track and quaint little restaurants. Monday seemed as good a day as any to venture out there to a charming café. I was so excited when they offered up a hot chocolate bar, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

 

I came down with some form of aggressive flu this week and it totally sucked. Despite feeling pretty gross, my mom convinced me to help her shop for a housewarming gift at Crate and Barrel (swoon) and have dinner together at Café Deluxe. I will say, I picked out the prettiest eyelet, glass dome cake stand. I might have to go back and get one for myself.

 

You know when you want to go out, but you’re feeling antisocial because you feel under the weather, but you definitely want some sort of food you didn’t have to prepare yourself? That was me, Friday night. I had been fighting this cold/flu/aggressive sickness/whatever you want to call it. And all I wanted was some pizza. Your eyes aren’t fooling you, that’s pepperoni you see on my large takeout pizza. For those more familiar with me on a personal level, you’re likely aware that I don’t consume pork (pepperoni and bacon included). Lucky for me, I live in Northern Virginia, where that doesn’t pose a serious problem. There’s a chain of pizza places called Stone Hot Pizza  that legit make the best pizzas and it’s all Halal (not that I’m a super Halal eater or anything) But know this .. where there is Halal, there is Beef Pepperoni!

 

One of my favorite things is hosting. So when a friend called desperately asking for help shopping for a dinner party, I did not disappoint. She’ll argue that I’m a little judegy when it comes to what basic things you do or don’t own for dinner party hosting. But I just can’t help it! So Saturday afternoon we hopped around from TJMaxx to Home Goods to World Market to Khan El Kahlili. As the name suggests, it’s not a far cry from the real Khan El Kahlili in Egypt. It’s overwhelming, and bright, and may contain some gaudy household items. But we found what we were so desperately searching for — glass teacups.

 

I mentioned we went to World Market, right? Well, their food section is a place where dreams come true. All your favorite international snacks are just hanging out on shelves, organized by item type. It puts the International aisle at Wegmans to shame. Our snack of choice? Beignet mix. Boxed. And they were delicious.

 

Sundays for me are either really lazy or really productive. This week, Sunday erred on the lazy side. My one outing of the day was to see my Tayta and spend the afternoon sipping Turkish Coffee and nibbling on sweets.

 

Until next week …. follow along on Instagram

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