Thursday, 24 September 2015

A Cheese-y Party!

Throwing a cheese centric party can often be a confusing, stressful affair with numerous doubts over what cheeses to serves, what ingredients to pair with, how much and how many kinds. Thankfully there are a few easy to remember guidelines that if applied can transform a potentially stodgy cheese platter into a source of gastronomic delight and animated discussion.

A good way to start assembling a fantastic cheese platter is to ensure there is atleast a sampling from each cheese type. Imagine a spread featuring the hard, umami rich taste of a hard cheese like Parmesan or pecorinio alongside the funky softness of a Roquefort sharing space with toothsome mature Cheddar and a bloomy Brie or creamy mascarpone cheese. Having such representatives of cheese keeps the experience interesting and full of diverse flavours. Another good rule of thumb when planning a cheese flight is to consider cheeses of different types of milk. For instance a cow milk based Cheddar or a hunk of aged Gouda made from goat’s milk, or salty sheep milk’s feta from Greece all have their own unique characteristics which is really what a good cheese platter is about. However, be careful not to overdo it and limit the number to 3 or 5 at most based on the type of occasion it is meant for. Planning to serve in a cheese-wine party? Then more options with interesting accompaniments will provide the right amount of food needed for such an event. However, if you intend to present this platter as a light course to start of a multi-course meal then stick with 1-2 types of the best cheese you can procure.

Once the number and types of cheese to be presented are settled, the next element people get stumped over is the serving board. It is crucial that the cheese is laid out on a stable, solid surface to ensure easy cutting and serving. To this end, a thick wooden cutting board or stone slab is ideal to highlight and present the sort of earthy features of cheese. Accompanying the cheese platter should be little placards or notes on toothpicks referencing the type of cheese being displayed. Another cool idea is to spread brown paper on a sturdy table, place the cheese directly on it and with good handwriting inscribe the names of the cheese on offer. Be sure to leave space between cheeses to avoid mingling of flavours and to provide separate knives for each type of cheese. 

Every cheese connoisseur will agree that if all other rules are broken, this must be followed. Serve all cheese at room temperature. There are few things as disappointing as seeing a beautifully laid out platter with cardboard-like cold cheese.  Whether you serve a selection of two simple cheeses or an elaborate arrangement of 7-8 types, remove the cheese a good 3-4 hours before serving. This will allow the natural textures and flavours to emerge fully.

When pairing foods with cheese, the goal is provide tastes and flavours that accentuate the cheese while also providing something like a palate cleanse between each kind. This is a reason why bread of any kind is a permanent fixture on a cheese flight. Opt for thin crackers over baguette slices that leave crumbs or maybe tiny round buns or baked pita chips or squares of olive oil rich focaccia for an interesting twist.    Fruit provide a natural sweetness to the salty, rich cheese; so thin crescents of apple, jewel red globe grapes, soft fresh figs can all find a place on a cheese board. Another sweetener could be a small glass pot of organic honey with a tiny spoon to drizzle  slices of Cheddar
For some crunch, arrange nuts like roasted almonds, candied pistachios around the board, creating visual dividers between the cheeses. Other accoutrements to an elegant platter can be bowls of olives, roasted bell peppers, thinly shaved curls of meat held together with a toothpick, artisan whole grain mustard or tart fruit chutneys.  The key however is to not over do it.  But above all, don't underestimate the ability for cheese to stand alone.  

Now that you have these easy to execute ideas, head down to any of your nearest Nature’s Basket stores and talk to our experts at the cheese counter. Ask for and sample the cheeses on display, discussing the area of production, type of milk used and what it is usually paired with and let your own preferences guide you to assemble the perfect cheese platter.

Did you also know that our experts at the stores curate beautifully hand crafted cheese and/or meat platters, tailored to your imagination? If you’re still baffled on how to get the perfect platter for your cheese party or would like to gift your loved ones an exquisite cheese and/or meat platter, you know where to head!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Chocolate in Savoury Cooking

Our #LaFeteChocolat has been such a wonderful experience with customers walking around the store with smiles on their faces and chocolate bars stashed in their shopping baskets. The kids had a complete blast; their eyes lit up with the excitement of a choco-licious celebration. People learned of the laborious but amazing journey a cocoa bean undertakes to become the alluring, rich, mysterious treat we know it to be. They tried different types of chocolate in different flavour combinations; with fruits and nuts rounding out the chocolate to create a new, delightful sensation each time. We’re sure our #LaFeteChocolat (and especially the L’Exclusif baking bar) induced cravings for numerous cakes, brownies, cookies, ice creams, tarts and other such chocolate-y desserts.  

Image: Chocolate Tarts
But the simple chocolate bar can reach loftier heights of culinary inspiration when paired with savoury ingredients instead of just sweet flavours. For instance, if you taste a square of dark chocolate as it is, you will experience its cocoa buttery bitter- sweetness melt and envelop the palate. But if you had a tiny fleck of sea salt on that square of chocolate, another rather surprising level of flavour is added to the experience making for an interesting play between the sweet-salt, crunch-softness of the pairing. 

Image: Chocolate with sea salt
However, in savoury foods, chocolate performs an intriguing role. It adds a complex, sharp chocolate-y flavour and rounds out the final taste of a dish. So in a barbecue sauce, unsweetened cocoa powder infuses the typical brown sugar-tomato-vinegar concoction with a dark, mysterious edge which when brushed on grilled meats makes for a finger-licking meal.
For the above mentioned barbecue sauce, saute garlic in olive oil. Add and cook the tomato paste, then add soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chipotle powder, smoked paprika powder and brown sugar. Cook for 2-3 minutes then add melted dark chocolate and stir to combine. Simmer till it becomes thick and smooth. Brush this sauce over chicken wings before grilling or spread in a lamb burger. 

Image: Meat covered with rich dark BBQ Chocolate sauce served with rice and garnish
If you are chocolate fanatics like us then we’ve shared here some of our favourite savoury dishes that make use of chocolate as a key ingredient. An easy place to start adding chocolate into a weeknight dinner is pasta with a chocolate marinara sauce. It’s a simple sauce made of garlic, chili flakes, herbs and tomatoes cooked down together that gets a lift by the addition of some chopped dark chocolate. Serve this over cooked pasta garnished with fresh torn basil leaves.

Another delicious dish that features cocoa powder is this eggplant caponata. The classic, hearty Mediterranean appetizer gets yet another level of flavour with the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder. Simply saute onions, raisins, pine nuts, garlic and chili flakes for a few minutes. Then add tomato paste, cocoa powder, cubed eggplant and water and cook down till softened but not mushy. Season with salt and pepper and serve it hot over crispy bruschetta.

Image: Bruschetta of Chocolate Eggplant Caponata

There are many other ways to incorporate chocolate into savoury dishes as well. Like in the Mexican mole sauce served with meat, chocolate chips cooked into a hearty pot of chili con carne or maybe cocoa nibs with sliced sausage on a pizza.

Of course whatever kind of chocolate or meats you decide on for your savoury chocolate experiment, it’s all available at Godrej Nature’s Basket!

Image: La Fete Chocolat at Godrej Nature’s Basket