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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



**Jump for more butter**

one huck of a season

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Recipe: cold seafood platter

I always thought that my foraging seasons ended because there wasn’t anything left to forage, but this year has been quite different. I stopped looking for porcini, matsutake, and now huckleberries, because I found so many, ran out of space in my refrigerator to store them, was sick of cleaning them, and felt pretty exhausted.


neva knows what i’m talking about



Last weekend, Erin, Erica, Banjo, and I went huckleberry picking at ML1 – Mother Lode 1. It was better than the last two years (which totally sucked), but not nearly as good as 2014 (which was crazy good). After two not-so-great huckleberry years, I was determined to expand our foraging territory based on satellite imagery, terrain, and familiarity with our mountains. On Monday morning, Jeremy and I went to scout out a potential huck patch and hit pay dirt. We named it ML2b and I renamed ML2 as ML2a. Then Wednesday morning I went solo cross country, took a wrong turn, chatted with a couple of really nice moose hunters, got back on track, then found a different huckleberry patch that was loaded with ripe berries. That’s ML2c. Thursday morning, Jeremy accompanied me to explore an unmarked local trail which led us to an enormous huckleberry patch in the most beautiful setting, which I have dubbed ML3. Oh, and the aspens were looking gorgeous in the high country.

orange top aspens

cool mornings under golden light

colorado painted blue and gold

some huckleberry plants are showing off the reds

jeremy at lovely ml3



The weather went from downright scorching hot on Monday to snow by Saturday morning. Fall is in flirt-mode now, so it’s best to pack layers and hats and gloves when you’re going to be in the high country all day. But I really love this time of year when the temperature is hovering right at freezing as you trudge up the mountain, your trail runners and pant legs knocking the light layer of snow off the brush with each step. The sun actually feels GOOD instead of oppressive when the weather cools down. Erin and I went to pick at two of the three new locations (ran out of time to hit the third one – too many berries to pick) and spent several hours gathering enormous, ripe huckleberries while discussing our solutions to the world’s problems and giving Banjo treats, ear rubs, and butt scratches between his naps in the shade (he’s fluffy, he was plenty warm).

rainbow from my deck saturday morning (our huck patches were at the other end of it!)

snow in the high country

snow melts off the huckleberry plants

erin and banjo surrounded by hucks



It was Jeremy’s birthday this past week, so between all of the huckleberry scouting and picking and shuffling about in the refrigerator, I managed to make him noodles on his actual birthday. It’s a Chinese tradition to eat noodles on your birthday for long life, but instead of Chinese noodles, we went with linguine and clams. It’s legit. I checked with grandma years ago and she said, “Yeah, any noodles will do as long as you don’t break them.” But when the weekend rolled around, I prepared the REAL birthday surprise – a cold seafood platter – because Jeremy loves loves loves sea critters.

ready to celebrate!



The inspiration for this cold seafood platter came from all of those beautiful cheeseboards I see on Instagram. Gaby Dalkin is totally to blame for her cheesy gorgeousness. Thing is, I am not a cheese person… but I DO like seafood. If you replace all the cheeses with shellfish and crustaceans and the crackers with sauces, it’s almost the same thing. Okay, not really. Actually, I think it’s better. What’s lovely about platters is that you put whatever you darn well please on them. I also included an array of dipping sauces. Because the seafood is served cold, I omitted melted butter and opted for lighter, more summery dippers like chimichurri, garlic lemon aioli, cocktail sauce, mignonette sauce (for the oysters), and ponzu for the scallop crudo. Since the chimichurri and mignonette need a few hours for the flavors to meld, you should make those first.

parsley, red wine vinegar, black pepper, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes, garlic, olive oil

chopped garlic and parsley

mix it all together

let stand at room temperature for a few hours

mignonette: shallots, sugar, salt, white pepper, unseasoned rice vinegar, white vinegar

mix together

let sit for 4 hours in the refrigerator



**Jump for more butter**

summer part 2

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Recipe: elote (mexican street corn) fritters with lime crema

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Hi guys, I finally caught up on answering comments from the past 6 weeks. My apologies for being a slacker, but you know… stuff and things. xo -jen

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Whenever the snows begin to melt in late spring and the sun rises higher in the sky like an overachiever, I start to panic internally about the onslaught of summer. I call it an onslaught because it feels like an assault – the intense sun burning the skin on my arms, seeking relief in our basement because the rest of the house is so hot, pine pollen dusting everything with a thick coat of yellow. But the oppression eventually (hopefully) gives way to the southwestern monsoon some time in July, which delivers relief in the form of daily afternoon cloud buildups, big temperature drops, and that oh-so-heavenly release of rain that washes over the land, the animals, the trees, the flowers, the rocks, everything. The monsoon was a little late getting here this year, but it has finally arrived. It is spectacular. For me, there are three parts to summer in the mountains: 1) the sucky part with the hot, dry, and pollen-filled air 2) the delicious part with the monsoon rains and 3) the cooldown which is really pseudo-autumn. We are now well into summer part 2, and it is glorious.


bluebells at 11,000 feet

blue columbines greet the day

at the top of my 2000 ft. climbing trail run to 11,500 ft.

paddling long lake in the indian peaks wilderness

snow and ice floating on blue lake (indian peaks wilderness)

cascades and parry’s primrose

happiness is a colorado mountain dog

thank you for the rain, clouds



You know what else I love about summer part 2? The arrival of local Colorado Olathe sweet corn. You all probably don’t know about our amazing Colorado Palisade peaches or the Olathe sweet corn – we eat it all up such that there isn’t any left to ship out of state, so it’s a secret *wink*. Ever since we moved to Colorado, I only buy corn in summer when it is at its sweetest and most delightful. We like to eat it straight up boiled or grilled, but every now and again I’ll splurge on the calories and make Mexican-style corn (elote). And then last week I tried a recipe that makes our summer trail runs very necessary – elote fritters.

white corn

brush a light coat of vegetable oil on the cobs

grill the ears until moderately charred

cut the kernels off the cobs



There are three ears of corn in this photo sequence, but in hindsight, I would have used four ears (which I indicate in the recipe below). I grilled my corn, because it’s easy for me to do and because I like that charred flavor and texture. If you are grill-less, then you can boil or steam your corn, cut the kernels off, and brown the kernels in a little vegetable oil in a skillet or sauté pan. Once the kernels are ready, they get added to butter-sautéed onion and jalapeño.

minced jalapeño, minced sweet onion, butter, salt, corn

fry the onion and jalapeño in butter until just soft (but still crunchy)

add the corn

let the corn cool



**Jump for more butter**