Easy Holiday Cheese Board

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So I was annoyingly stressed out these past two weeks thinking about all the holiday events coming up and all the things going on at work to get prepared for the holiday season that I didn't even want to do Friendsgiving. GASP! Friendsgiving is one of my favorite traditions of the past couple years. First headache was gone when my sweet friend Lexy said she would host. Second headache was gone when I decided to bring the easiest cheese board thanks to Hickory Farms

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Quick story time. Me and Hickory Farms go way back. Every year growing up, one of my dad's co-workers would gift his fellow employees with a Hickory Farms gift box. My sister's and I would anxiously await the evening when my dad would come home with the coveted Hickory Farms gift box. We would rip open the box, fight over who got to eat the little strawberry hard candies and then start sampling every meat, cheese and spicy mustard, completely ruining our dinner. 

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I'm often asked what my favorite food is, and struggle to muster up an answer. I could never answer that question with just one thing, but recently I've really been trying to nail down at least my top five favorite foods. So far chili has been put on my list, and after making this epic holiday meat and cheese board for Friendsgiving, it became apparent that cheese boards are also in my top five favorite foods. 

Not only do I love eating meat and cheese boards, I also love making them. But, I will admit going to the store and wandering the cheese aisle can be super daunting. With a million options, textures, colors, names etc. it's overwhelming deciding what cheese and meats to pair. With Hickory Farms Signature Party Planning Gift Box  the stress is gone. Cue the "easy" part of this holiday cheese board.

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Hickory Farms perfectly curates their boxes to make for a perfect holiday cheese board. The Signature Party Planning box consists of four cheeses, three meats and assorted mixed nuts. Exactly what I would purchase if going at it by myself at the store. These amounts will serve about 12 people. Or 10 hungry 20-something girls at Friendsgiving...oops!

My cheese board assembly tips:
-Cut each cheese a different way. Cubes, triangles, slices, crumbles...
-Bring in different textures such as mixed nuts, fruit, crackers, olives or pickles
-Be colorful. Use cheese and meats of different color to keep it visually pleasing.
-Get your greens in. Some kind of fresh herb to contrast all the orange and cream. I used bay leaves because they were on hand. 
-Include some kind of mustard, jam or spread

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Take a slight bit of the holiday stress off buy purchasing a Hickory Farms gift box for your next holiday gathering. Wow your friends and fam with this easy (and epic) cheese board when you show up for Thanksgiving. P.S. If you are last minute and don't have time to order something, and you are local to the OKC area, I know for a fact there is a Hickory Farms kiosk set up right now in Penn Square Mall. It is stocked with tons of meats, cheeses, mustards and pre-selected gift boxes. Cough Thanksgiving is in less than a week cough cough.

Happy holidays from my easy cheese board to yours!

Annie

Thank you to Hickory Farms for kindly sponsoring this post. All opinions are 100% honest & completely my own.

Fall Panzanella Salad with Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons

"That screams fall," said my roommate after taking one bite. It sure does and now I pretty much want to eat it every day in the coming season. 

If you aren't familiar, a panzanella salad is local to Italy, made of bread and tomatoes, sometimes onions and basil, and dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Panzanella now comes in many shapes and forms. For instance, this recipe uses cornbread as the bread component. I have a soft spot for cornbread. My family makes a basic cornbread that we put with just about every soup, stew, and chili we make. But pumpkin cornbread, I can't. I'm SOLD!

I love the layers of flavors and textures and temperatures in this salad. Warm roasted fall veggies, cold crisp apple and toasty pumpkin cornbread all with a maple vinaigrette. It's dense enough to have for dinner, but excellent for lunch too. 

A cornbread mix will totally suffice in this recipe since you are making them into croutons. If you can find a pumpkin cornbread mix-buy it, if you can't-make one, or just use regular cornbread. It will still be delish!

Fall Panzanella Salad with Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons adapted from Purely Elizabeth
serves 4 as a main dish, 6-8 as a side dish*

Ingredients:
2 cups butternut squash, diced into 1/2 in. size pieces
2 cups brussels sprouts, quartered
1 medium red onion, chopped into small wedges
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt and pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 honey crisp apple
2 cups pumpkin cornbread, diced into 1/2 in. size pieces **see note
10 oz bag tuscan kale

Dressing:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
salt to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Chop butternut squash, brussels sprouts, and onion. Place veggies in columns on a foil lined roasting sheet. Drizzle olive oil over veggies. Season everything with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cinnamon over only the butternut squash. Roast for 20-25 minutes until tender, stirring halfway though.

In the meantime, cut your cornbread into 1/2 pieces and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Once the veggies are done, reduce the heat to 400 degrees and toast the cornbread for 10-15 minutes until the edges are crispy.

In a small mason jar or bowl combine dressing ingredients. Chop the honey crisp apple into a medium dice. 

To assemble; put kale in a large salad bowl. Top with roasted veggies, apple, croutons and drizzle with dressing. Toss and serve. 

*Single girl serving: Have all the components ready to go, but only toss one serving with the dressing. Keep everything else in the fridge to pull out each night for dinner. Store the veggies in the fridge and reheat, only cut part of the apple you are going to use and store the croutons wrapped in foil sitting out on the counter.

**Note: I used this pumpkin cornbread mix which is sadly now discontinued, but this recipe minus the pecans or this recipe are great. Regular cornbread would work too. Save the time and use a mix. You shush 'em up when you toast them anyway!

I kid you not when I say I have genuinely gotten so excited for dinner knowing I have this waiting for me. It's got it all going on. 

Annie

Bacon Wrapped Dates

I couldn't let this perfect party appetizer pass without sharing the recipe! I made these bacon wrapped dates with almonds and goat cheese for my good friends wedding shower a couple of weeks ago. I ate about half the platter, but they were still a hit! The creamy cheese or salty almond stuffed in a sweet date then wrapped in bacon, it's just the most sinful little bite. Great for parties of all kinds; dinner party, wedding shower, birthday or football watch party!

The recipe comes from my new favorite book Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. The book is chalk full of cozy family recipes. I plan on cooking through the book and sharing more of Shauna's insight on daily life and daily bites, so stay tuned!

Bacon Wrapped Dates adapted from Bread & Wine

Ingredients:
8 oz package of dates, pitted if you can find them
4 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup almonds, roasted and salted (optional)
16 oz pkg. bacon

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a roasting sheet (with sides is best) with foil and set aside. 

If your dates are not already pitted, you will need to pit them. Make a slice lengthwise along the date. Open it up like a little book and remove the pit. Stuff half the dates with almonds and half with a little shmear of goat cheese. Shauna informs you to steer clear of any nut, she says it reminds her too much of the pit, which it does. But I love the crunch! Maybe next time I'll do a little combo of the cheese and almond stuffed inside!

Cut your bacon in half or thirds depending on how long your strips are. Wrap a piece of bacon around the filled date and place it seam side down on your foil lined baking sheet. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until brown. Drain on a paper towel and serve at room temp!

I urge you to go pick up a copy of Bread & Wine. It's the perfect read as fall is arriving! But in the meantime, you can just make batches of bacon wrapped dates to tide you over!

Annie

Happy Friendsgiving!

To be honest, I can't believe I haven't had a Friendsgiving before now. Friendsgiving has become pretty trendy in the past few years, but we all know I'm not afraid to jump on a trend bandwagon. Friendsgiving pretty much combines all of my favorite things. Friends, food and Thanksgiving. 

Our first Friendsgiving was a success. It was potluck style so everyone contributed something making it very easy on myself. All paper everything made clean up so easy. I had a little too much fun planning for this night, I'm already brainstorming next years...

My contribution was this Pumpkin Galette. This is a recipe I pulled from the archives of my Pinterest. I've had it pinned for so long waiting for an opportunity to make it!

Not that I thought the food wouldn't be good, but I was extremely impressed with what everyone made. I love how most people brought old family recipes to share . There was Kathleen's ham, Bailey's sweet potatoes, Alex's stuffing, Madeline's green beans, Katie's cheesy au gratin potatoes, Sarah's butternut squash salad, Sarah Beth's brussels sprouts, Katie's corn casserole, Coralee's caesar salad, Sister Schubert's rolls (the best) brought by Kenzie!

Lindsay's date cookies, my pumpkin galette, Kathleen's apple cider cheesecake, Maddie's cherry pie, Lauren's pumpkin cookies, Alexis's chocolate candies, Elaine's pecan pie, pumpkin pie from Lauren, and Katie's caramel marshmallow popcorn! Not pictured was all the cheese to start the night courtesy of Stacia, Betsy, Trinian and Taylor.

Morning of I was nervous there wouldn't be enough wine. There was wine for an army, and then some!

10 Friendsgiving tips:

  1. Make it pot-luck. Create a menu of what is needed and have everyone sign up to bring something. A well rounded menu of apps, meat, veggies, sides, rolls and dessert.
  2. Use paper everything for easy clean-up. I ordered these kraft colored eco plates and wooden disposable silverware from Amazon and then bought napkins from Target.
  3. DIY your decorations. Keep it minimal because the food will do most of the decorating. I kept everything neutral and stuck with a kraft and gold color scheme, and little pops of fall flowers. I made a banner from glitter scrapbook paper and little signs for the dessert, drink and food table. I rolled out kraft wrapping paper over a white table cloth for the food table and used chalk to decorate. Throw it away at the end and clean up is a snap.
  4. Have wine, lots of wine. The perfect thing for people to contribute if they aren't comfortable cooking a dish.
  5. Have oven space, for those dishes that need re-heating. 
  6. Make sure to have hot plates or dish towels to set the hot dishes on.
  7. Have serving spoons and knives for the food and dessert.
  8. Make a playlist. My Dinner Party playlist is my go-to for events like this. 
  9. Purchase to-go boxes so everyone gets to take home leftovers. I ordered these boxes, and everyone loved it.
  10. Once it's party time, don't stress just have fun. All the work is done!

I'm so thankful for these friends, Friendsgiving, and a new tradition!

Annie

Dinner For a Crowd

Sunday night was one of those perfect nights including good food and great company. I love to cook for my small family or myself, but cooking for a crowd makes me slightly anxious. I planned out a menu that ended up being ready on the table all at the same time without stress or hours slaved away in the kitchen. A gourmet fruit salad, veggie side dish and my favorite chicken recipe is my perfect 'Dinner for a Crowd" meal.

Watermelon Feta Salad:
serves 8-10

Ingredients:
1 medium watermelon
6 oz or about 1 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese
large handful of fresh basil, chopped
balsamic vinaigrette
salt and pepper

Directions:
Dice your watermelon into 1 inch cubes. Sprinkle in feta and basil. Dress with dressing, season with salt and pepper and toss together. 

Sautéed Yellow Squash:
serves 8-10

Ingredients:
4 yellow squash, sliced
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
salt, pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil

Directions:
Heat olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Slice your squash. Once the oil is heated begin to sauté your squash, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper then sprinkle with parmesan cheese and let it melt over the squash. Continue to sauté for about 3 minutes. 

Parmesan Baked Chicken with Arugula Salad
serves 8-10

Ingredients:
4-6 large chicken breast sliced in half length wise
1 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
2/3 cups parmesan cheese
juice of 2 lemons
2 Tbsps. olive oil
salt and pepper
olive oil spray

Arugula Salad:
4 cups or one large bag/container of arugula
1/2 cup olive oil
juice of two lemons
salt and pepper

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a large pan in the oven to get hot. Combine bread crumbs and cheese in one dish or bowl and the lemon juice, olive oil and pepper in another. Slice your chicken in half and pound out thin. Season the chicken with salt and pepper then dredge the chicken into the lemon/oil mixture, then the bread crumb/cheese mixture. 

Take your hot pan out of the oven and spray with cooking spray. Place your chicken on the pan then spray the chicken with cooking spray (this will help brown the bread crumbs). Bake the chicken, flipping once halfway through for 15-20 minutes or until browned and crispy. 

While your chicken is baking whisk or shake together all the ingredients for your lemon vinaigrette. Toss the arugula with the dressing. Remove chicken from the oven and top with arugula salad. 

**see tips below

**Minute by minute tips for a low stress meal

During the afternoon or at least an hour before your guests arrive:
-Cut your watermelon and leave in the fridge.
-Make the vinaigrette for the arugula salad.
-Slice your squash and leave in the fridge until it's time to sauté.
-Set the table.

30 minutes before:
-Preheat your oven and prep your chicken. 

15 Minutes before:
-Begin to sauté your squash.
-Add the feta, chopped basil and dressing to the watermelon.
-Toss the arugula with the dressing.
-Bake your chicken.

Once your guests arrive:
-Your squash should be tender, your chicken should be finishing up and the watermelon salad is ready to go!

Paper plates, plastic silverware and Styrofoam cups, just keepin' it real. 

"People who love to eat are always the best kind of people." - Julia Childs

Cheers to you people!

Annie