Halloween is over, and the holiday season is near: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. Add maybe a birthday, an anniversary, a retirement, and you might feel compelled to change things up a bit, foodwise. Especially since most Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations include ham or turkey, or both. After three or four socials of this kind you probably crave something different. For celebrations at home, it’s best to have something that is created easily and offers just as much fun. Or even more. Something easy to prepare, easy to eat, and still fancy.
I grew up with so-called cold platters over in Germany. Platters that consisted of cold cuts of all sorts – and there are cold cuts galore in continental Europe. Germany alone boasts over 1,500 different kinds, including hams. Now, go figure how much variety you can bring to the table there! My mother regularly created smaller ones for our own Sunday night dinners (we usually had a big hot Sunday roast at noon). But when it came to hosting festivities, she ordered a platter or two of cold cuts from “our” butcher store in the neighboring suburb. That way, she had her hands free for creating other food items such as salads, cheese platters, and bread baskets.
This concept, of course, is not entirely new to you. You know it as charcuterie (pronounce approximately shar-kuh-tuh-‘ree) – the French version of the cold platter. The French term “chair” means meat, “cuit” means cooked or cured. If you visit France and order a charcuterie board, you’ll most likely receive a platter filled with slices of hams and sausages, maybe even pâté or a terrine, accompanied by bread, some condiments and, maybe, some salad items such as cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, olives, or pickles. Don’t expect the kind that you most often get over here with an abundance of nuts and dried or fresh fruit that outshines the meats. Rarely, French charcuterie also includes a small variety of cheeses.
You may remember from my last Friday column that my husband and I just attended a big wedding. Guess what – the buffet was a ginormous cheese platter, accompanied by lots of dried and fresh fruit, marinated grilled veggies, nuts, breads, and dips. There were also a few sausage and ham items for the meat craving lot. But oh, what a variety of marvelous hard and soft cheeses, even baked and served as large pastries!
Now, festive family dinners don’t have to be set. And they don’t have to be buffet-style on the kitchen counter, either. For a small circle, a platter or two of charcuterie and cheeses, a basket or two of sliced baguette, crackers, or pita chips, butter, some good mustard, a marinated green salad, maybe some bean salad, some deviled eggs, and a plate of grapes will be just as fun as a load of hot dishes that you somehow have to keep hot until the very last person at the table has gotten theirs. Add a bowl of hot soup or stew as an appetizer and some dessert – and you will have an absolute winner without having gone crazy over cooking times and getting everything to the table at the same time.
The holidays are coming. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Take it easy – and let the cook also off the hook a bit more often.