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cheeseboarding

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

Recipe: build your own cheeseboard

My parents did a lot of entertaining when I was growing up. It was something I was vaguely aware of as a little kid. Kris and I would belly flop onto my parents’ bed and watch television until we heard the adults move to the dining room for dinner. At that point, Kris would nudge me and say, “Come on, let’s go downstairs.” We’d sneak into the kitchen unseen by the guests (but always seen by Dad, who would flash us one of his goofy smiles as we tiptoed down the stairs) and nosh on whatever was left of the appetizers: smoked oysters, cheese, crackers, olives, caviar. Party food.

Mom and Dad still entertain to this day, so I found it amusing when Dad texted me last year asking what goes on a cheeseboard. He wanted ideas since I had plated a few during various dinner parties they had attended. I grabbed some photos from my archives as well as a handful off of Pinterest to give him some inspiration. When I threw Dad’s belated birthday party at our place last weekend, I made sure to kick it off with a nice cheeseboard because I know my Dad loves a cheeseboard packed with ALL of the goodies.

The holidays are upon us and that means party season is in full swing. Cheeseboards are a lovely way to get a dinner party started or to act as the workhorse for a cocktail party or to keep family and friends occupied as you rush to cook Thanksgiving dinner. If you are looking for ideas to spark your own cheeseboard artistry, I list and show some of my favorites here. There is enormous flexibility in cheeseboards, including not having any cheese!


neva wants to become an olympic cheeseboarder [note: grapes are toxic for dogs]



Let’s start with the actual board. The board can be a plate (porcelain, glass, etc.), slate, wood, whatever you like! Plates are the easiest to clean – especially if you serve things that are oily or messy directly on the board. And slate is great for writing the names of cheeses with chalk. I am partial to wood boards because of the beautiful natural colors and grain, which is why I have a lot of them. Some are gifts from my friend, Jamie, who is an incredibly talented woodworking artist. Occasionally, I use my largest Boos cutting blocks (24×18-inch walnut and 20×15-inch maple) because they give me the greatest surface area.

If you do have something oily like hot smoked salmon, and you don’t want the oils to soak into your nice wood boards (because let’s face it, once the board is out, it doesn’t get cleaned up until after the last guest leaves), you can slap a small plate underneath it to keep the fishy smells out of the wood. And remember, cheeseboards don’t have to be these gigantic cornucopias that can feed the whole neighborhood. Small cheeseboards for two are romantic. Medium cheeseboards for a cozy gathering of close friends work very well without being overwhelming. So don’t go crazy, but… you can go a little crazy.


you can serve on plates or slate

wood boards: an array of shapes, sizes, and designs



The fun part of cheeseboarding is picking out what to serve on your cheeseboard. It’s whatever you want it to be. I personally like the cheeseboards that don’t have much if any cheese because I don’t dig on eating cheese straight up. But I know the majority of my guests love cheese, so there is always at least one soft, one semi-soft, and one hard cheese. I also have friends who have Celiac disease, so I can either omit all gluten items (mostly crackers and breads) or plate those separately to avoid contamination of the gluten-free items.

Another nice thing about cheeseboards is that they can be as labor intensive as you like – or not! Just about everything can be purchased, but sometimes it’s nice to add your own personal touch. I always make my own crostini and I usually make those prohibitively expensive fruit, nut, and seed crisps unless I am slammed for time. Grissini happen to be quite easy to make at home, too.

I find fruit and fruity things pair well with various cheeses or act as a nice palate cleanser between nibbles. I don’t make my own fruit, but I do make my own fig and brandy jam every summer to serve with brie throughout the year. I have made membrillo, a delectable quince paste in the past to pair with manchego, but it requires a lot of work at my elevation, so I have resorted to purchasing it now that more stores carry it. In late summer, I love it when I can find good fresh figs. Lots of folks like figs with blue cheese and honey, but I tend eat them straight or with a little slice of prosciutto. Another crowd pleaser is baked brie with fresh cranberry sauce or fig jam or tomato jam. Goat cheese and jam is also a hit.


cheeses: aged cheddar, smoked gouda, brie, boursin, manchego

some gluten options: croccantini, brioche toasts, grissini, crostini, fruit and nut crisps, sliced baguette

fruity things: pomegranate, fig brandy jam, grapes, apple, membrillo



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turning

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Recipe: huckleberry kouign amann

The colorful tapestry of autumn has begun to spread over parts of Colorado’s mountain forests. It’s still early in some parts, peak in other parts, and past prime where the extra enthusiastic leaves turned too soon and were stripped away by winds. I’ve been shooting the fall colors each year since we moved to Colorado in 2005, and figured this fall I’d take a break. Instead of a dedicated fall shoot, I’d merely take some snaps if I happened upon a nice stand. And of course, there are always good aspen stands to be had.


neva waits patiently among the aspen leaves and kinnikinnick

jeremy and neva hiking through a hall of aspens

greens, yellows, and blue

sun and shadow race across a hillslope of aspens



Every autumn it feels right that the leaves should change and I should turn a year older. That’s what happens when your birthday falls on the autumnal equinox (more or less). I don’t fret about getting older, I simply like that I’m still here – something I very much appreciate. We drove to Crested Butte for the weekend to winterize our house and yard as well as spend some down time with Neva. And I’m fairly certain that we may have been the only people in the state enjoying huckleberry kouign amann for breakfast!

a little pastry, a little nip of tea



You know I would have to go there eventually, and so I did with the last bunch of fresh huckleberries from the summer. My favorite berry married to my favorite pastry yields The One Pastry to Rule Them All! You can use blueberries in place of the huckleberries, or a jammy fruity concoction – just make sure it isn’t wet or it could turn your pastry bottoms quite soggy. To start, you make regular kouign amann.

the pastry: sugar, butter, flour, water, salt, yeast

add the yeast and let sit for a few minutes

stir in the flour and salt

mix until shaggy

knead until smooth and cover with plastic to rise

the dough should double in size



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what’s hot

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Recipe: morel prosciutto asparagus pizza

No matter how hard I try to prepare myself for the onslaught of summer temperatures, it always takes my body by surprise. Our overnight lows dip less each night and the midday sun now feels as if my face and skin are ready to burn right off. It makes me wonder how I ever survived growing up in Virginia and living in Southern California for ten years. If there is one drawback to living in the mountains, it’s that I’ve become a wimp when the mercury rises above 65°F. Give me single digits and snow ANY day, thanks! Heat aside, watching the mountains spring to life in all their glory is something magical to behold. I could spend the rest of my days marveling at these brief but productive mountain summers and never get enough.


false hellebore

phlox blossoms and lupine leaves

neva enjoying the lupine flowers

gold banner and shooting stars (pink) and a happy bumblebee



For the past couple of months, we have been following the journey of two friends who live up the road from us in Nederland. They started at the U.S. border with Mexico and hiked north on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) through New Mexico, then made the first ski crossing this season of the formidable San Juan mountains in Southern Colorado and are continuing north through the state. A few days before they crossed Colorado State Highway 114, Elaine and I coordinated via very short messages to meet where the trail intersects that lonely stretch of road. It was an 80 minute drive from Crested Butte, but it was the easiest way to meet up logistically. Jeremy and I brought food and water, and we took their skis, boots, and skins because the snow pack has been withering under the warm and intensely sunny days. What’s cool is that they will be hiking the CDT into our local mountains on the Front Range and they will hike home for a few days before resuming their trek northward into Canada. Dan and Elaine are not only amazing endurance athletes, they are two genuinely thoughtful and wonderful individuals. If you’d like to follow their progress and cheer them on, they post when they can on Instagram as @elainevardamis and @nomadwolf360.

elaine and dan



We returned to the Front Range at the end of last week right about when Nature decided to turn the dial up to BROIL. En route from Crested Butte to Nederland, we made a pit stop at Copper Mountain. All of the mountain streams are flowing fast and high due to the runoff from the melting snow pack. Because it was so warm, we walked Neva down a little path to a small protected eddy on the edge of the nearby creek. She walked in and seemed to enjoy cooling her paws when she took one step out of the eddy into the heavy flow and got swept downstream in a split second. Luckily, Neva was on her halti (gentle leader) and leash and I was holding the other end, but the current was so strong that I worried the halti would slip off or break or that she would drown. I waded in and tried to carefully reel her back to me, calling her to swim to me. She tried, but the stream was clearly so much stronger than her legs could paddle. In less than a minute, I grabbed her and had her back on the bank – Jeremy was already slightly downstream in anticipation of having to catch Neva if the leash or leader broke. We toweled her off and kissed her wet head. She was back to her usual self after showing a little affection by rubbing herself against our legs. She’s used to her alpine lakes that are safe and calm, but we’ll see to it that she sticks to low-flow streams from here on out.

This past weekend was apparently our farewell to spring. Jeremy and I went for a quick backcountry ski to escape the heat, only to discover the heat had been hanging out in the high country for a while. Winter and spring ski travel through the trees is easier in part because you are navigating some twenty feet above ground where the conifer branches are smaller and there is more space between trees. A week before summer and you find yourself clambering over deadfall (fallen trees), bare muddy patches, rocks, and bushwhacking through dense branches that you had gleefully skied a month earlier and twelve feet higher before the snow began to melt. Then Erin and I made one more foraging trip and found a good number of morels considering we were expecting to go home empty-handed. To be honest, I am a little relieved to stop thinking, dreaming, researching, obsessing, and hunting morels. It will be nice to have a break before the other mushroom seasons kick into high gear. This year I come away with a jar of dried morels thanks to my friend, Jay (Erin’s husband), and a happy stash of butter-sautéed morels in my freezer. It was a great season.


one last backcountry ski for the season

wave cloud over the reservoir

erin still finding morels

such a beautiful and weird mushroom



It seems fitting to post one more morel recipe for those still finding them to our north and west, or buying them in markets, or those who have their own stash to draw upon. We love our pizza year round, but it is especially lovely come summertime because we grill them on a pizza stone on the deck while the house remains cool. For mushroom foragers, there are some standard recipes you can always count on for enjoying mushrooms: pasta, steak, sautéed in butter, quiche, pot pies or pastries, toast, batter-fried, and pizza.

morels, mozzarella, salt, butter, prosciutto, garlic, asparagus, more butter, eggs, black pepper, pizza dough



Though official summer is a few days away, morels are very much a spring mushroom. That’s why I really enjoy serving them with a spring vegetable like asparagus and creamy, mild flavors like eggs and mozzarella. I’m sure a red sauce would be great with any mushroom, but garlic butter complements morels without masking their deliciousness.

mash the garlic and salt into a paste

stir the garlic paste into softened butter

dry fry the morels in a hot pan

add a pat of butter and sauté

you can chop or slice the asparagus (i like ribbons here)



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