Simple Holiday Entertaining: Luxe Cheese Tray + Cyber Monday Deals!

How was your weekend? I’ve been sick since last Wednesday, so mine was super lazy. I did catch up on seemingly every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made though (total guilty pleasure). So, even though I missed Thanksgiving, I did manage to get into the holiday spirit!

My non-stop love affair with my couch also meant I was able to plot out my holiday gift list. I pretty much never buy anything full-price, so scouting out the sales is part of the fun! I’ve found some great Cyber Monday (or Cyber Week, in many cases) deals. Scroll to the end of this post to check them out.

Now that I’m feeling a little better, it’s time to get festive. I love entertaining during the holidays, but I like to keep it simple. When I want to impress my guests the easy way (always!), I serve a cheese tray. It looks super luxurious and decadent but couldn’t be easier to put together.

Simple Holiday Entertaining: Luxe Cheese Tray (Plus, Cyber Monday Deals!) | Hello Little HomeWhen I’m putting together a cheese tray, I start with three cheeses:

  • Soft Cheese: I like double- and triple-cream Bries for cheese plates since they are so readily available (it’s what I used here). Other soft cheeses that I love are St. Marcellin (sometimes hard to find, but so good) or Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam or Redhawk.
  • Hard Cheese: I’m partial to aged Gouda (the middle cheese above). It has a rich, caramel flavor, and the really good kinds have crunchy crystals, which are just delicious. I also like sharp aged cheddar or nutty Gruyere.
  • Blue Cheese: For this cheese tray, I used St. Agur, which is rich, smooth, and creamy. Gorgonzola Dolce and Rogue River Blue are also very good.

It helps to keep these three categories in mind when shopping, but don’t worry about finding the exact cheeses that I used. A well-stocked supermarket or specialty store should have everything you need. Both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have great options. Just remember, even if your selection is super slim, it’s cheese. You can’t really go wrong!

Other tips to keep in mind when choosing cheese:

  • Use a combination of soft, hard, and crumbly cheeses.
  • Vary the intensity of the cheese you choose. For example, don’t use three stinky cheeses, or your cheese tray will be overpowering.
  • Shop somewhere with knowledgeable staff. A good cheesemonger will help you navigate endless options. Plus, they’ll let you taste before buying, which is half the fun!
  • Keep a record of your favorite cheeses, so you can buy them again.
  • There’s no need to stop at just three cheeses! Add as many as you like to the cheese tray.

Luxe cheese tray with St. Agur blue cheese, aged Gouda, and double-cream Brie | Hello Little HomeSupplement the cheese with:

  • Crackers: Looks for crispy crackers with a plain flavor that won’t overpower the star of the show, the cheese. I used 34 Degrees Savory Crisps. Another classic option is Carr’s Table Water Crackers.
  • Thinly-sliced baguette: Buy the crustiest baguette you can find and slice it thinly on the diagonal.
  • Fruit (dried or fresh): Fruit balances out the rich flavors of the cheese. I used dried black mission figs, which are a favorite of mine and are perfect at this time of year. Fresh fruit, such as grapes, apples, or pears, is also delicious.
  • Nuts: Crunchy nuts are a great counterpoint to creamy, soft cheese. I love to use Marcona almonds, but any kind of nut works. Choose your favorite.
  • Dark Chocolate: I love chocolate on a cheese plate. Look for a super dark chocolate with lower sugar content.

Simple Holiday Entertaining: Luxe Cheese Tray (Plus, Cyber Monday Deals!) | Hello Little HomeHow to arrange your tray:

  • Place your cheeses first. I like to keep the cheeses separated, leaving room in between for the other tray components.
  • Add the crackers and bread. Put these at the back of the tray, since they take up a lot of space. You could also place the crackers and bread in a separate basket or bowl.
  • Fill in the gaps on your tray with fruit, nuts, and chocolate.
  • Add a fun flourish. This step is totally optional, and I often skip it. I used rosemary sprigs here, which added a fragrant, fresh element to the cheese tray.

Keep in mind that you don’t even need to use a tray. A wood cutting board is another option.

What goes hand in hand with cheese? Wine, of course! I like to serve white wine with cheese. Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite, but an unoaked Chardonay works, too. Sweeter wines, like Riesling, or even Champagne can also be good. You can also try serving red wine, but avoid strong reds with lots of tannins, because they’ll overpower your cheese. Pinot Noir or Sangiovese are¬† a great options.

Simple Holiday Entertaining: Luxe Cheese Tray (Plus, Cyber Monday Deals!) | Hello Little HomeOK, on the Cyber Monday Deals (many of which are good all week)! I think there is something for everyone your list here:

Beauty

  • e.l.f. Cosmetics: take 50% off sitewide with a minimum $30 purchase¬†with code CYBER50 (valid through 12/2). My pick: the 15-piece nail polish cube or the 83-piece essential makeup collection. Either would be adored by your favorite teen!
  • Julep: save up to 80% on amazing gifts and more in the Julep Secret Store (normally available exclusively to subscribers!) through 12/3. My pick: the Trophies set, which includes 4 full-size polishes perfect for the holidays (and only $14.99!).

Clothes/Accessories

Home

  • Lulu & Georgia: take 30% off with code THANKS30 (valid through 12/2). My pick: the Only Happy Thoughts Print or the Thomas Paul Jackie Sunglass Case. I love both too much to choose!
  • Art.com: for ONE DAY only, save 40% on all orders with coupon code CM2013 (valid 12/2 from 12:01am PST to 11:59pm PST). My pick: this Elephant giclee print would look beautiful as part of a gallery wall.
  • Home Decorators: today is the last day for Home Decorator’s “12 Days of Deals”! Get 10% off everything, plus free shipping – no exclusions or limits (valid 12/2). My pick: get something big and heavy that would cost a lot to ship otherwise, like the Custom Rockford Sofa.

Everything Else

  • Harry & David: take 10% off $49, 15% off $79, or 20% off $199 with code HOLIDAY (through 12/2). My pick: the Rogue Valley Gift Box, combines gourmet cheese from the Rogue Valley with fresh pears (you can even add wine and chocolate), very apropos for today’s post!
  • Best Buy: has Cyber Week sales in every department now through 12/7, plus special deals for Cyber Monday (12/2 only). My Pick: a $100 iTunes Gift Card for just $85!
  • Target: save during Cyber Week with new daily doorbuster deals now through 12/7. My pick: the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven for your favorite little baker!
  • Starbucks: save $25 on any $60+ purchase and receive Free Shipping on $35+ orders (valid 12/2 only). My pick: the Salted Caramel Hot Cocoa Mix, which would make a great stocking stuffer!
  • Amazon.com: shop Cyber Monday Deals all week and literally something for everyone. There’s too much here to pick a fave!
  • Kohl’s: get 20% off everything site wide with the code CYBERWEEK (valid through 12/4). My pick: Kohl’s has logo apparel for every sports team/fan, including my husband. I’d get him a Wisconsin Badgers Hoodie.
  • Three Dog Bakery: save 10% and get free shipping on $65+, exclusions apply (valid through 12/3). My pick: the Pup-kin Spice Latte. Don’t forget Fido!
  • Paper Source: is one of my all-time favorite stores, and they have lots of great sales going on right now. My pick: a custom address stamp for your friends who just moved.
  • Cost Plus World Market: save 20% and enjoy free shipping on $100+ with code CYBERSAVE (valid 12/1 – 12/2). My pick: a set of Vintage Brooch Stoppers (along with a bottle of wine, of course) would make a great present for a gal who likes a little bling with her wine!
  • Gaiam.com: save 20% on your order, plus get free shipping with code: SHOP20AFCY13 (valid through 12/4). My pick: add vibrant color to your couch with a hand-knit sweater pillow.
  • Hancock Fabrics: has lots of great sales running through 12/4. My pick: the Hancock Curvy Sewing Machine, which would make any crafter very happy!
  • Walgreens: has great sales on photo gifts. Print those Thanksgiving pics now!
  • Novica: get $10 Off $50 with code ARTISAN10; $15 Off $100 with code ARTISAN15; or $25 Off $150 with code ARTISAN25 (valid through 12/3). Plus, free shipping! My pick: any woman would be happy to receive a luxurious, artisan-crafted Alpaca Wool Patterned Shawl.
  • Walmart: has a Cyber Week sale with deals through 12/7. My pick: your favorite Instagrammer who’s ready to graduate from point-and-shoot will love the Canon EOS T3 12.2MP DSLR. It comes with two lenses, SD card, camera bag, and bonus coupon for 2 canvas prints – pretty much everything he/she will need to get started!

What is your favorite kind of cheese? Let me know what I should try next!

I’m linking up with Huckleberry Love’s Much Ado About Monday, So Much Better with Age’s Give Me the Goods, A Stroll Through Life’s Inspire Me Tuesday, Home Stories A to Z’s Tutorials & Tips, Inside BruCrew Life’s Time to Sparkle, Cedar Hill Farmhouse’s The Scoop, Coastal Charm’s Nifty Thrifty Tuesday, Cozy Little House’s Tweak It Tuesday, My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia’s Tuesday’s Treasures, Made in a Day’s Christmas & Holiday Link Party, City Farmhouse’s Inspiration Exchange, Creations by Kara’s Look What I Made Wednesday, Life with the Crust Cut Off’s Lovely Ladies Linky, Your Girlish Whims’ Your Whims Wednesday, SNAP’s Show & Tell, The Turquoise Home’s Work It Wednesday, Lemoine Family Kitchen’s The Wednesday Roundup, 52 Mantels’ Thursdays Are Your Days, Live Laugh Rowe, No Minimalist Here’s Open House Blog Party, Sweet Bella Roos’ Pin It Thursday, Embracing Change’s Creative Inspirations, Chic on a Shoestrings Flaunt It Friday, Craft Dictator’s Craft Frenzy Friday, Design Happy’s Holiday Link Party, Remodelaholic’s Anonymous, I Heart Hands-On’s Show Off Friday, Twigg Studios’ Sunday Show Off, and Alderberry Hill’s Make the Scene Monday.

IHeart Hands On
Continue Reading

Quick & Easy Hummus: 1 Recipe, 3 Ways

Hummus is one of those foods that I like to keep on hand. It makes the perfect snack, and I love to serve it when entertaining, too.

I’m not a fan of most store-bought hummus, however. It just doesn’t taste like the real thing. Plus, why buy from a store, when it’s so quick and easy to make?

Today I’m sharing my favorite hummus recipe, plus two easy variations. You are going to love it!

Quick & Easy Hummus

Quick & Easy Hummus: 1 Recipe, 3 WaysIngredients:

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, lightly drained
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • Salt to taste

Place the garlic clove in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped.

Mince garlic for hummusAdd remaining ingredients to the garlic and process until mixture is completely smooth and creamy. If needed, add a little water to thin the hummus out. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Quick & Easy HummusI like to serve the hummus drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a dash of smoked paprika. Pita bread or chips and fresh veggies are the perfect accompaniment.

Variation 1: Black Olive Hummus

Black Olive HummusAdditional Ingredient:

  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped olives (I like kalamata, but other types work, too.)

Add the olives to the completed hummus and process just until the olives are finely chopped. Avoid over-processing: you want to see some chunks.

Variation 2: Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Roasted Red Pepper HummusAdditional Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped roasted red peppers
  • Cayenne, optional

Add the peppers and optional cayenne to the completed hummus and process just until the peppers are finely chopped. Avoid over-processing: like the black olive hummus, you want to see some chunks.

That’s it. In five minutes, you have my favorite hummus! If you are looking for other recipes for easy entertaining, make sure to check out my Creamy Ricotta-Blue Cheese Spread.

OK, who wants to come over? I have a refrigerator full of hummus!

I’m linking up with Mommy Hates Cooking’s Make Bake Create party.

Mommy Hates Cooking Make Bake Create Link Party

Continue Reading

Creamy Ricotta-Blue Cheese Spread

I love to entertain, but I tend to get a little type-A about it. It’s fun to put out an impressive spread, serve tasty wine, and show off an impeccable apartment. Unfortunately, that usually means scrambling beforehand, because let’s get real: my apartment is never spotless, and it’s a lot of work to prepare a great meal.

Lately, I’ve been doing things a little differently. I like to start things off with a great dip or spread, served with fresh veggies and crackers. Then I follow things up with an easy dinner (like pizza made with premade crust) and finish with a dessert from the bakery. How simple is that?

Here’s a recipe for one of my favorite dips.

Creamy Ricotta-Blue Cheese Spread

Creamy Ricotta-Blue Cheese SpreadIngredients:

  • 1 15-oz. container ricotta
  • 4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • Salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Ricotta blue cheese mixture.Mix well, breaking up any large chunks of blue cheese.

Serve with crackers and veggies. The spread is also delicious spread on toast for a snack (my favorite way to eat it).

Creamy Ricotta Blue Cheese SpreadEasy EntertainingCome back next Monday. I’m sharing another recipe for easy entertaining: my favorite hummus!

What is your favorite easy recipe to serve guests?

I’m linking up with Sweet Bella Roos Pin It Thursday and Tater Tots and Jello’s Link Party Palooza.

Continue Reading