Gorgeous Holiday Platters

‘Tis the season for celebrating family, friends, and faith. Is there a better way to be together than noshing on a beautifully-composed platter? I think not. Everyone gets to look at the spread, then choose their own bites. Platters can serve as an appetizer; or put two or three together and make it a meal. They can lean towards healthy, indulgent, or a combination of both. My customers have been ordering and enjoying these already this season for all sorts of gatherings, so I’ve taken note of delicious ingredients and handy tips. Don’t be fooled, these presentations take some serious time and thought. But the possibilities are endless. Call them what you will: snack platter, grazing board, cheese board, charcuterie…as an artist, I thoroughly enjoy creating, curating, and presenting these masterpieces. If you make one this soon, please tag me at Josie Mai Personal Chef on Instagram or Facebook. Enjoy!

Tips for composing great platters

For most items, the goal is to slice or chop ingredients into bite-size pieces that you can eat with your hands. Items need to be tasty at room temperature, as they may be sitting out for a bit.

Choose ingredients with a variety of colors. Make tiny cards to label dips or unusual items. Try to balance flavors: sweet, salty, savory, sour. Try a theme: Mexican (black bean dip, fresh made salsa, colorful tortilla chips, sliced pepper jack cheese, limes, cilantro, etc.) or Mediterranean (hummus, pesto, toasted pita, sliced fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, lemons, parsley, etc.)

Pack them in fairly tightly on the platter, so there is no shifting if you need to transport it. Also, lay a dish towel to cover instead of plastic wrap. The weight of the towel will help hold things in place.

Use a few garnishes to finish. Make sure they are fresh, such as sprigs of rosemary or pine for greenery, and pops of red such as raw cranberries or pomegranate arils.

Tips for great ingredients

Nuts. Put a bit of butter in saute pan. Once melted sprinkle some spice of choice, ie. cayenne, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, or some combination. Can use chopped or whole nuts. Toast on medium low, stirring often, until you can smell the nuts. Just a few minutes. 
Cheese. Use at least two sliced cheeses. One that is familiar, such as sharp cheddar. And one that is more festive and uncommon, like manchego or smoked gouda. Slice the cheese yourself as opposed to cubes. Will taste fresher.
Crostini. Instead of the usual Ritz crackers. Slice a baguette into 1/4 inch pieces. Place close to each other but not overlapping on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and Kosher salt. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 300 or until desired crispiness.
Baked goods. Make sure they are homemade. Add pops of color with frosting and toppings. If you don’t have time for homemade, get German and Belgian chocolates and cookies at Aldi.
Dips. Shoot for two savory and one sweet. Homemade is best, but if you have to get store bought, add a squeeze of fresh lemon/lime and some fresh chopped herb.
Veggies and Fruits. Again, vary your colors. Try for a combo of raw and roasted vegetables. Grapes are a great fill-in on the platter to plug any holes.

Toffee Apple Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, softened (Philadelphia is best)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 12 ounce bag toffee bits (Heath Bits O' Brickle Toffee Bits)

Add cream cheese, sugars, cinnamon and vanilla to a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth and creamy. Fold in toffee bits. Chill for 30 minutes up to 24 hours. Let come to room temperature before servings. 
Best served with sliced tart apples. Tip: upon slicing, put in a bowl of water with dissolved honey. This mixture will keep slices from browning. Just pat dry when ready to serve.