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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**

october daze

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Recipe: barbecue rib baked beans

October has been a weird month, mostly because I’ve been playing catch up on all of those neglected items on the to do list that keep getting carried over from week to week, month to month. Do any of you do that? I cross off the tasks that were completed and everything that wasn’t completed shows up on the following (longer) list. I am also catching up on things that weren’t on my to do list, but certainly weren’t getting done. Mid-autumn is when I try to return to being a normal person.


a red aspen leaf and delicate ice on a trail run

catching up with friends at lunch in boulder



Mid-autumn is also our last chance to address things like sealing the driveway, sweeping out the garages (they accumulate mud all winter and summer), spreading the compost to make room in the compost bin for a winter’s worth of additions, putting away summer furniture, etc. But then Jeremy noticed that our first floor heating in Crested Butte wasn’t able to maintain the set temperature, so we drove out for less than 24 hours this weekend to troubleshoot the problem and find a workaround until the new part could be installed.

jeremy seals the driveway as neva looks on

a nice hot bowl of pork belly ramen after figuring out what was wrong with the heating

fresh snow in crested butte



That last minute drive to Crested Butte meant cancelling a grouse hunt with Erin and Jay. But we were able to return home in time for me to join Erin Sunday morning. The winds were pretty bad at home which meant they would be terrible up high closer to the Continental Divide. They were in fact, horrible, with 60 mph gusts shoving us this way and that. But we plodded ahead through the dark, in howling winds and cold, and wound our way through willows and aspens and conifers. Fresh snow didn’t seem to give up any signs of grouse, and we figured they thought the same thing we were thinking about the winds. Those fucking winds. It’s the one thing I would change about life on the Front Range. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Erin and I chuckled as we hiked out under the morning sun – shouting over the roaring and crashing of gusts to hear one another, “THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!”

well, we certainly have nice sunrises

erin scanning the next meadow for the elusive dusky grouse



The winds are still raging against the house, but they are supposed to ease up a bit this week. The back and forth of sunny and warm with snowy and cold days is signature autumn around the mountains here. And while I loathe the windstorms, I like having four distinct seasons. Having lived in Southern California for ten years, I don’t miss what I call “hot” and “hotter”. Don’t get me wrong, there were many things I loved about So Cal like the beans at Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas BBQ in Van Nuys. My friend, Melinda, dubbed Hogly Wogly’s “a shrine to the slaughterhouse” and whenever we went we would order “beans and beans” for our two side dishes (two orders of baked beans). Since we moved to Colorado, I’ve made half hearted attempts at recreating the beans, which were mostly met with disappointment. But a couple of weeks ago, I think I got a step closer to those Hogly Wogly beans I love so much.

mustard (not dijon as pictured, you want spicy brown), ketchup, worcestershire sauce, barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar, baked beans, tamari (or soy sauce), a half rack of barbecue pork ribs, onion, bell pepper, brown sugar, bacon



You can make your own ribs or purchase barbecue ribs for this recipe. I found a half rack of St. Louis cut pork ribs will yield about a half pound of rib meat. I made my own ribs using the sous vide method and finished the racks on the grill. Choose a barbecue sauce you love – something sweet, spicy, and tangy for me. Here, I’ve used a jar of Banjo BBQ sauce that my friend, Jay, makes. To get started on the beans, fry the bacon until soft. Don’t fry them until crispy or else they will burn when you bake the beans. Chop the bacon and save a few tablespoons of the bacon grease.

fry the bacon until soft, not crispy



**Jump for more butter**

i’m just getting started

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Recipe: porcini elk sausage tortellini in beef porcini brodo

After the eclipse, Jeremy and I gathered Neva and her snacks and drove out to Crested Butte once more before the semester gets underway this week. It’s nice to travel lonely mountain roads again. Most of the summer vacationers are done exploring Colorado’s mountainous western half, leaving it to locals and retirees and full-time nomads. The town of Crested Butte has quieted down, too, such that there is parking along Elk Avenue (the main drag) and nary a hiker on the trails. But there is plenty going on with or without visitors. Lower elevation wildflowers are looking tired and haggard now – the result of showing off for so many weeks, but the high country still holds stunning pockets of wildflowers in late August thanks to regular summer rains. And our summer storms continue to flirt with the sun and create dramatic skies and stunning rainbows. Crested Butte is Rainbowtown.


jeremy and neva above copper lake

the array of wildflowers at 11,700 feet

full double rainbow next to crested butte mountain

a rainbow and sunset lit virga from our deck (where we were grilling dinner)



Handfuls of yellow and red aspen leaves litter the starts of our hikes as if some carefree party goer dropped their celebratory confetti on their tipsy walk home. I’m not posting any photos just yet (although I did shoot some) because I don’t want you summer lovers to start freaking out… But winter is totally coming! Despite the warm sunny days, our mountain evenings have grown nice and cool with morning frost on the neighbors’ rooftops and cars. I sleep with the window open at night and wake in the morning, pulling the covers up around my face and wrapping an arm around Neva as she snuggles cozily between me and Jeremy instead of petitioning for breakfast. I feel as if the ragged pace of summer is coming to an end.

And yet the mushrooms keep happening and I can’t help but look for them. I think Colorado is experiencing an epic king (porcini) season – a very long, widespread, and good flush. Other varieties are doing well, too. I mistakenly expected the chanterelles to go big this month, but I think my previous two seasons were anomalies (the first was very early and the second was really crappy except for one amazing location). They have been all around, but I’m starting to see them come up in earnest now.


hello, my pretties

still on the small side, but looking good

porcini going strong



Summer is my season to slack off from cooking, but all of these mushrooms make me want to get back into the kitchen to try some new recipes. Considering the quantity of porcini I’ve collected, I have loaded up on frozen sautéed slices and dried slices, and still had fresh ones to address. The worst thing you could do as a forager is pluck choice wild mushrooms and allow them to languish in the refrigerator. I fell asleep at night rolling recipe ideas over in my brain that infiltrated my dreams. That’s nothing new, I always dream about food. I had fresh porcini, dried porcini, and elk Italian sausage (a gift from two of my favorite neighbors in Crested Butte, one of whom hunts!) – that screamed pasta to me. Tortellini. Porcini elk Italian sausage tortellini in beef porcini brodo (broth) to be precise. I mean, if you’re going to incorporate some hard-to-come-by ingredients, why not make a pasta you’ve never made before? I’ll tell you now, so you don’t have to wonder, it was a complete hit and I served it to my mom for her home-cooked birthday dinner.

When you cook food from scratch, there is an enormous amount of flexibility in the ingredients and flavors you can incorporate. You also have the option of taking shortcuts if you simply don’t have the time or ability to make every component yourself. I say it is all good. The first step is to make the beef stock. It takes a little effort to prep and roast the ingredients, and a lot of time to cook the stock – about 6 hours at barely a simmer. If you cook your own beef stock, start the day before. I was tempted to speed up the process by chucking everything into my pressure cooker, but I wanted to try and make a clear stock this time for aesthetics. Boiling, which is what the pressure cooker does at higher pressure, turns it cloudy. Maybe in the future I’ll go the pressure cooker way, and it is also completely okay to simply purchase beef stock, just get a good quality one.


olive oil, beef chuck, beef marrow bones, carrot, celery tops, onion, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf

prepped

toss the carrots, onions, and beef with olive oil

roast the bones, meat, carrots, and onions



**Jump for more butter**