Fireworks Party Cheese Plate


Plate of cheeses with fresh figs and cherries

Here’s a cheese plate I made for a fireworks party on Saturday night. We watched China compete in the Festival of Light on a rooftop garden and had barbecue sausages and beers to celebrate. Because I worked this Saturday I was late getting home so I assembled half of it the night before in order to save time. Luckily, it seems that everyone always has room for cheese so my board was eaten with relish long after dinner had actually been finished. This crowd pleasing cheese plate features (clockwise from top) triple cream Belle Creme, Five Counties cheddar, le Cendrillon, Allegretto, l’Edel de Cleron, fresh Brillat-Savarin, Pikauba, and a sharp smoked cheddar in the centre. I love when fresh figs are in season and experience actual joy when carrying a tray of these intensely pink filled green jewels home from the grocery store. It’s amazing how much fresh and dried fruit draws all of the elements together, it will always add life and lush appeal when added to an otherwise monochromatic cheese plate.

Peach and Blueberry Salad with Fresh Chèvre

Yes, I know, another recipe with blueberries featured prominently in the ingredient list. I can hardly describe this as some sort of culinary crime though, blueberries are so refreshingly versatile in their ability to transform from the achingly sweet to the deepest savoury warmth (try them nestled into the pan with roasted duck or some other game bird that is happy to be paired with berries and other fruit.) I have been faced with a self-inflicted over-abundance of these small cobalt jewels for the past few weeks and have been gleefully forced to incorporate them into many of my culinary efforts. This salad, to me, is an eternal synaesthesia  snapshot of the best parts of August; eat it outside with the lightest of white wines – nothing too sweet, allow the fruit to be the star here, the dryness with cut nicely with the creamy  chèvre.

peach and blueberry salad with fresh chèvre:

(for one personal sized salad)

About 2 cups of green lettuce or baby spinach

1/3 cup of fresh blueberries, rinsed and allowed to dry on a clean tea towel

1 small peach, sliced into half moons

6 grape tomatoes, cut in half

1.5 oz. fresh chèvre (something really light tasting and creamy, you don’t want anything super goaty for this salad; I like to use locally made Happy Days  chèvre)

A small handful of toasted pumpkin seeds

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. neutral tasting olive oil

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. honey

Kosher salt to taste

Lots of freshly cracked pepper to taste

A large fistful of fresh basil, torn

1. Combine the lettuce or spinach, blueberries, peach slices, tomatoes and chèvre in a pretty salad bowl. Whisk together the salad dressing ingredients until fully emulsified, tasting as you’re whisking until you’re happy with the amount of salt and pepper in the dressing (I love this salad really peppery, I sometimes use my mortar and pestle instead of a pepper grinder for ultimate fiery pepper flavour.)

2. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss using either your hands or a pair of spoons. Arrange the basil leaves and toasted sunflower seeds on top, add a final crack of pepper and devour in the sunshine (or, due to decreasing August sunlight, watching a marbled purple and magenta sunset.)

I have so many seemingly random playlists on iTunes and a common denominator amongst most of them is Chapterhouse, primarily because they’re like shoegaze chameleons – ranging from The Swirlies to Slowdive in influence; this song is loudly pretty and reminds me of a combination of both of these bands.

Chapterhouse – Breather

Free Form Three Onion and Chèvre Tart

This is an incredible dinner not only as the sum of its parts but also when broken down into its pure culinary elements: the onions become a sticky sweet jam after an unhurried slow-heat turn in a skillet, the cornmeal and mascarpone pastry could be eaten for dessert (in fact I might attempt a plum tart using this recipe as a guideline), and the chèvre/fresh rosemary combination really serve as a slightly tangy yet still neutral base for the other flavours. Please don’t be hesitant because you think pastry making is frightening, I used to hate it too but have realized that cold butter and water + a leisurely pace = delicious flaky pastry every time. Besides, the addition of mascarpone cheese (I feel like that should be illegal it’s so decadent) makes the dough a lot more malleable and once it has sat in the fridge for a half an hour rolling out the pastry is a very easy.  I had a lovely dinner party with a friend this Saturday where I served this tart alongside a navel orange and red onion salad. We also drank quite a few red wine and lemonades, although I feel as though that particular choice is unique to our own palates and wouldn’t necessarily be a formal choice for an accompanying beverage (although they were really, really delicious.)

Free form three onion and chèvre tart:

for the pastry:

1/2 cup of unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (I like to cut them up and then put them back in the fridge for an additional 15 minutes)

About a cup of all-purpose flour, you might need a little bit more or a little bit less

1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

3 oz. mascarpone

2-3 Tbsp. of ice water

1. Take a deep breath before you start your pastry, let it out, and realize that this won’t be nearly as difficult as you think it will be as long as you give yourself plenty of time.

2. Put the flour, cornmeal, butter, salt, and mascarpone in a large mixing bowl. Using two forks, your fingers, or a pastry cutter slowly (but surely) combine all of the ingredients until they have become small granules of pastry. I like to read my email and do this as it can take more than a few minutes to get the texture just perfect. Alternately, throw everything in a food processor and pulse until the desired effect is achieved. Add 2 teaspoons of water and use your hands to compress the contents of the bowl into a buttery dough. You might need more water than this but it is always best to start with less.

3. Pat the dough into a small disk and then wrap tightly with Cling Film. Put the dough in the fridge for half an hour (it can stay in the fridge overnight, but you’ll have to let it warm up slightly before you attempt to roll it out.)

4. Cook your onions.

for the onions:

5 medium-sized yellow cooking onions, cut in half and sliced into thin half-moons

1 red onion, cut in half and sliced into thin half-moons

1 bunch of scallions, roughly chopped

2 Tbsp. salted butter

2 Tbsp. light olive oil or canola oil

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1. Remembering that the tears you have shed for this tart are extremely worth it, heat a large skillet over medium heat with the oil and the butter. Once the the butter is melted add the onions and salt (the salt prevents the onions from getting crispy.) Turn the heat down to medium low and let the onions cook for about 40 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so (not vigorously, just make sure nothing is sticking.) The onions are going to go from pungent to a state of caramelized sticky sweetness, I could probably eat all of them just like this.

putting it all together:

You will also need:

4 oz of mild chèvre

1 tsp. finely minced fresh rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out to about a 1/4 inch thickness directly on top of a baking sheet.

3. Arrange the onions on the rolled-out pastry, making sure you leave a 1 inch border around the edge free of onions. Using your fingers crumble the chèvre over the onions and sprinkle over the rosemary.

4. Working in one direction begin folding the pastry over itself to contain the onion filling. This doesn’t have to be done particularly neatly as the name of the recipe is connotative of a certain charmingly rustic presentation (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.)

5. Bake the tart for 30 minutes, adding on an extra 5 minutes if it doesn’t seem quite done. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then slice and serve with a fresh salad.

I like putting on The Cinematic Orchestra when I have people over, which is not to say I consider them background music, but they are fascinating to listen to and I would love to see them perform live someday. Man With the Movie Camera is a commissioned album that was meant to accompany the 1929 silent Russian film of the same name. The band played the soundtrack along with the film as it ran behind them on a large movie screen. To me that sounds like an absolutely and mind-blowingly incredible artistic experience (you know, like the tart.)

The Cinematic Orchestra – Man With the Movie Camera