Tag Archives: appetizer

Cheese plate


A Cheese plate is one of my favorite things to serve at at party or before dinner.  Why? A few reasons: 1) I can assemble it before everyone arrives and they can munch away and chat while I finish cooking, 2) the only work on my part is to buy things from the grocery store and arrange them, and 3) almost everyone loves cheese, not everyone loves things like chicken liver pate (until they try it).  I’m pretty sure that having everything (or at least almost everything) planned out and in place before your guests arrive makes them think that you are some kind of domestic deity (or that you are a hyperanal freak show of a host).  

I am lucky enough to have several specialty stores with tons of cheese to choose from at my disposal.  If you don’t have a cheesemonger around, try your grocery store, several smaller regional grocery chains I’ve been in have nice selections of high quality cheeses.  Target even has a few nice cheeses in its grocery section.  If all else fails check out some online retailers.

Here are a few of my rules for putting together a cheese plate

1) No more than three kinds of cheese (for a small group anyway).  Three varieties of cheese is enough to have an interesting mixture of cheeses; I find that more can be overwhelming.

2) Try to have some kind of theme or progression.  For example: pick three cheese from Spain such as Manchego (probably the most famous cheese from Spain), Cabrales (a blue cheese), and Garrotxa (a goat cheese).  A selection of different goat cheeses of varying texture could also be cool.  When in doubt, pick something soft, something hard (or semi-hard), and something blue.  The axiom is: something old, something new, something stinky, and something blue.

3) Make it really good cheese.  Please don’t serve your guests slices from a block of Kraft swiss cheese.  Not only will they hate you, they will talk about you behind your back once they leave (if they were raised right; if they weren’t they might tell you to your face)

4) Have some tasty accompaniments.  Good french bread is a must.  Don’t use any bread that is too highly flavored, it will compete with the cheese.  Olives, cured meats, nuts, and fresh fruit are all good choices.  If you are really good, whip up (or buy) some membrillo, a sweet paste made from quince.  

5) Make it pretty.  No one wants to eat ugly food.  Arrange the cheese on a slate cheese board or a pretty wood cutting board.  An attractive plate or tray would work too.  Make sure that all of the cheese are easy to access so your guests can cut off pieces without struggling.  Also make sure that there are enough utensils to cut the cheeses.

6) Throw away the wrapper your cheese came in.  As convenient as they lovely sheet of plastic wrap is for your grocer, your cheese doesn’t love it.  Rewrap your cheese in parchment paper and throw it in your crisper for storage.

7) Feel free to break all of these rules.  You’ll notice that in the photo I have brie, ricotta salata, and emmenthaler.  It may be a slightly odd combination, but I pulled it out of my fridge in about 5 minutes before some people came over.  Note the domestic deity/hyperanal freak comment above.


Next up on Chez Travie: Christmas candy (I think)







Filed under Appetizers, Basics

Holiday Party Part 1: Chicken Liver Pate

Since I am the only food blogger on the planet not to give any Thanksgiving suggestions I thought I would give you some really good stuff for Christmas.  The menu I’ve come up with would make an elegant Christmas dinner for family or a really special dinner party for friends.  I’ve also designed it so that the work can be spread out over several days if needed.  Even more importantly, none of the recipes force you to run around at the last minute, right before your guests arrive.  As an added bonus all of the recipes can be scaled up or down to accommodate groups of different sizes (except for the dessert; for big groups just make, or better yet buy, a second).  So here is the menu and game plan:

Appetizer – Chicken liver pate – make two days ahead

Main course:  Standing rib roast – make day of party

Sides: Gratin Dauphinoise (think fancy scalloped potatoes), roasted vegetables – make while meat is roasting

Dessert: Meyer lemon tart  – make one day ahead

So today I’ll show you how to make the chicken liver pate, tomorrow I’ll give the instructions for the lemon tart , tuesday I’ll post the instructions for the potato gratin, and the finale will be the roast on wednesday.  So let’s get started!

Chicken Liver Pate

Think of this like foie gras for the rest of us (or for those who don’t like the idea of force feeding to make a fat/liver emulsion inside a living goose).  If you want to be really pretentious (this isn’t ALWAYS a bad thing, just keep it in moderation) you can call this ‘pate de foie de volaille au cognac’.  To come up with this recipe I read a bunch of pate recipes both online and in the various cookbooks I own and took the best aspects of each one.  The biggest influences are here and here.


1 lb. chicken livers


8 T butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 cloves minced garlic

2 bay leaves

1 t thyme (or more, to taste)

1/2 t salt

1/2 t pepper

1/4 cup brandy or cognac


ingredients (it gets prettier, I promise)

ingredients (it gets prettier, I promise)




1.  Soak the chicken livers in enough milk to cover them for about 2 hours.  Drain thoroughly.

2.  Melt 1/2 of the butter (4 tablespoons) over medium-high heat, add the onions and saute until soft.  Add garlic and cook for a few seconds, just enough to get rid of the raw taste.

3. Add the livers, bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Saute until the livers are browned outside and just pink inside; 5 minutes or so. 

not pretty yet, but it smells good

4.  Add the brandy/cognac and cook until most of the liquid is evaporated and the livers are cooked.  Please don’t overcook the livers, I think we all have the childhood experience of eating a grey piece of liver with the consistency of shoe leather.

5.  Cool the mixture for a bit, remove the bay leaves, and transfer to a food processor.  Process until very smooth.  Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of cold butter and process until the incorporated.

6.  Pack the mixture into a container or containers; ramekins (like you would use for creme brulee) work well for this.  A small, flat bowl or loaf pan would work too.  Refrigerate until set.

6b. (optional)  To be very traditional, and also to protect the pate, you can pour a thin layer of melted butter over the pate once it is inside its storage container (the bowl or ramekin from the previous step).  The butter will harden and seal the pate.

7. Serve!

I am not a huge fan of liver, but I can eat this pate like candy.  The richness and ‘liveryness’ is tempered by all the butter, the taste of the cognac, and the herbal flavors from the bay and thyme.  If you’ve never had pate you really should try it.  Even if you don’t try it, make it – your friends will be impressed and think you slaved away for hours.  I like to serve pate with slices of baguette (toasted or not; crackers would work too), coarse mustard, and cornichons (little French pickles).  You could get really fancy and make this one part of a charcuterie platter, along with some other meat products.  Add some nice cheese and a few bottles of wine for a ready made cocktail party.  It can also make a nice lunch or light dinner when paired with a simple green salad.  

Next up: Meyer lemon tart


Filed under Appetizers