When I was a kid I loved the foods at big family gatherings — little pickles, cubed cheeses, cut fruit and veg, cold cuts, chips, crackers — lots of imagination and a little something for everyone. Sometimes I would stick with the stand-by favs or there were times when I would venture out of my comfort zone to try something new. Thinking back on those spreads whatever else they were they were celebratory. Seeing it in my mind’s eye makes me smile. So with this new book Platters and Boards from Shelley Westerhausen (her book Vegetarian Heartland that came out late last spring is great — read my review here) and Wyatt Worcel I couldn’t wait to dive in and try some of their board themes. At the heart of the book they have really tuned into something here: this book is meant to take those special and celebratory moments of bonding over shared food into the realm of the everyday.(9)
For those of you who maybe would see this as a book just for occasions — it’s not. Well, it’s for both really. Platters and Boards provide templates for both special occasions and just a casual weeknight meal. What’s really great is (aside from the fact that each of the boards require very little cooking) that they’ve organized the book into five main sections: Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Anytime, and Essentials; and within those first 4 sections they provide creative themes upon which the platters/boards are built. In the introductory section there are lists under A Board for Every Occasion that have taken all of those themes and placed them into different event/holiday/party categories. So if you’re hosting let’s say a baby shower they list ten themes that would be compatible. Entertaining has never been so easy! They also explore in-depth how to create your board/platter by examining what you may need in the way of actual boards/platters (what materials best suit different foods or ingredients), ingredients, portioning (how to serve one to one hundred people), and then a few notes on serving and storing.
Although Westerhausen is vegetarian, Worcel is not so in each of the themes he provides a “Meaty Suggestion” but to be honest this book really suits any diet. You can substitute or omit any board component so that if you’re gluten-free or vegan you’re free to swap in some gorgeous gf bread or beautiful vegan cheese. I can’t stress enough how creative, versatile, and customizable this book really is! I had no difficulties sourcing any of the ingredients (except for the raspberry dust used for a board component for their Date Night theme which I easily made myself by oven-drying some fresh raspberries). In addition to their “Meaty Suggestions” they also offer “Drink Pairings” for each theme.
All of the themes I tried were ones that I scaled down to suit my family of three because in the beginning I realized that I could create some weeknight/weekend un-events (I’m thinking of that part in Alice in Wonderland where she arrives at the “un-birthday” party — why wait for special occasions?) . My four-year-old had no idea what breakfast in bed was but when I put together the Breakfast in Bed Board with the Miniature Tomato, Garlic, and Goat Cheese Frittatas she could totally see its appeal! Here I swapped out bagels for some delicious locally baked sourdough. Everything was scrumptious and transformed our Sunday morning into something most convivial.
What I think I’m appreciating most about this book is how each platter or board becomes a showcase for beautiful whole food ingredients and really provides an excuse to shop seasonally and locally. When I was building up the Happy Hour Platter I loved seeing the rainbow of ingredients and while I don’t normally buy potato chips I didn’t feel too bad adding them to the platter because they were the perfect foil to all the fresh, vibrant produce. Both the chips and veg tasted great with the Red Wine Caramelized Onion Dip!
Our Friday night became a real party when I brought out the Movie Night Board full of homemade (!!) Chicago-Style Caramel and (I used White) Cheddar Popcorn and Smoky Sweet Mixed Nuts (along with fresh fruit, cheese, candy, and Chex Mix). We turned on Netflix and unabashedly relished the treats along with a movie. You would have thought by my husband and daughter’s reactions that I spent a lot of time cooking and fussing! What I came to realize is that pulling together different components and arranging them in pretty bowls on the board really added such a “wow” factor.
One of the first themes I tried was the Parfait Board with the Granola Two Ways (Sweet Cinnamon Cherry and Ginger Apricot) not because I needed to feed a crowd of people on a weekend morning but I do make parfaits for my daughter and I thought it might be fun to set up their parfait station with all the fixin’s. Now that she’s 4 she’s all about doing things for herself so all of these board set-ups really helped her to feel independent. It’s here where all the parents with
picky discerning eaters should take note — this book is fantastic for creating mealtime harmony. This is a fun way to enjoy a meal but also it gives young eaters a chance to exert some of their personality on their plate so that it’s about what they will eat rather than what they won’t. Additionally if you’re a meal-planner this is also a really easy, low-fuss way to get supper on the table. Almost everything can be made or prepped ahead of time so that you’re not facing a week full of kitchen drudgery (and did I mention that this is a really fun way to eat?).
The tagline on the cover of Platters and Boards says it best — Beautiful, Casual Spreads for Every Occasion. Full of enticing food and creative ideas this is one book that will get a lot of use in my house. Even though I started trying themes for our everyday meals I’m looking at a lot of their ideas and starting to plan some occasions to entertain our friends and to try some of their other board themes! If you’re curious to see what we’ve been enjoying check out my custom Instagram hashtag #shipshapedigsplattersandboards or my dedicated Facebook post. As I continue to cook from Platters and Boards I’ll keep updating these.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chronicle Books and Raincoast Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.