Every fall, I am overwhelmed with the desire to spruce up our little apartment. I think it's partly because the light shifts and highlights all of the dust bunnies I ignored all summer...I tackle organizational and house projects I have been putting off like re-sanding and oiling our butcher block counter, dusting behind the TV, organizing cupboards, and I try to make some sense out of my little "pantry" shelf in the kitchen. I like to do those deep-cleaning kind of projects so theoretically the apartment can be guest ready in just a few minutes because I love to entertain in the fall and winter. Cozy cocktail hours, dinner parties, and potluck brunches are all great ways to gather with friends as the weather in NYC turns from cool and pleasant to straight-up cold and unforgiving. This year we are even contemplating hosting a little Friendsgiving, and I'm dreaming of the Ottolenghi inspired menu I am going to cook.
I like to keep parties as stress-free as possible so I channel Ina Garten and utilize one of my favorite entertaining tips that I learned straight from the Barefoot Contessa herself: Cook one thing in the oven, one thing on the stove, and have easy to assemble things like a cheese course or salad on hand. It's simple advice, but seriously stress-saving, and who doesn't love a cheese course? Also a tip from me: hand your guests a festive drink as they walk in the door to get the party started. A glass of sparkly prosecco is always nice.
When choosing the perfect cheese course I go for one blue cheese, one hard cheese, one soft creamy cheese, and a wildcard, like super simple herbed baked ricotta. I also try to go for an even mixture of sheep's milk, cow's milk, and goat's milk cheeses if possible. Then I garnish them (and the table) with beautiful, seasonal fruits: fall is the best time for a cheese plate because we get to use gorgeous concord grapes and figs that give me serious heart-eyes. In the winter try sliced apples and pears or even sugared cranberries. It's nice to round things out with a little dish of buttery olives and a cured meat or two, but not totally necessary . To scoop everything up, give your guests the fanciest crackers possible. I am a longtime fan of Raincoast Crisps, which are packed with herbs, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. They come in tasty flavors like Fig and Olive and Salty Date and Almond which pair so wonderfully with all sorts of cheeses. The Rosemary Raisin Pecan ones are particularly good with the herbed baked ricotta below.
This post was created in partnership with Lesley Stowe Raincoast Crisps. Lesley Stowe will be attending the New York City Wine & Food Festival this weekend, October 15-18. If you are in NYC go check out her booth and eat lots of Raincoast Crisps, they are so tasty!
Herbed Baked Ricotta
makes about 2 cups
2 cups whole milk ricotta (use the good stuff)
3/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped herbs, rosemary and thyme are perfect here
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
salt and pepper to taste
Raincoast Crisps, to serve
chopped herbs and olive oil, to serve
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Whisk the ricotta, 1/2 cup parmesan, olive oil, herbs, lemon zest, and salt and pepper together until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a baking dish, and bake until the ricotta is warmed through and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Garnish the warm ricotta with the remaining parmesan, herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm.