Every once in a while, I start to hate cooking. Or at least I start to hate cooking for myself. This feeling peaked during height of the pandemic and social distancing; while everyone else was finding comfort in meditative brunoise-ing and reflective baking, I was drained by the time supper rolled around. It still happens occasionally, usually when I feel burnt out at work or overwhelmed by external factors, neither of which are unique to me.
Even if your source of income is not dependent on thinking about or cooking food, making dinner requires energy, and there are a lot of energy-draining forces at work right now. During times such as these, it’s important not to have extremely strict rules around meals and to remember that “dinner” is a construct. We should all be eating snacks for supper, is what I’m saying.
“Snack dinner/supper” is definitely not a thing I invented, but it is a thing I do often. For some reason, it has now been re-branded by TikTok as “girl dinner,” which is weird, because cheese and meat know no gender. (It’s also smacks of self-infantilization, similar to “girl math,” but maybe that’s because this girl took three years of calculus.)
Charcuterie boards (or baking sheets), cheese plates, and big bowls of popcorn are not just for the girls, but they are (sometimes) all I can manage during the week. Thanks to years of practice, I have turned the snack dinner into an art form. Snacking is easy, but it’s also fun, and I bet you’d like to have some fun.
Snack dinner begins with cheese and meat
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The Anatomy of a Cheese Board
Boards are perhaps the most iconic snack dinner, and the most socially acceptable. Whether you’re working with cheese, meat or everything in-between, the key to creating a good board is balance: All five tastes should be activated one way or the other, and there should be a variety of textures for your teeth to enjoy.
Variety, however, does not necessitate a trip to your local cheese monger. In fact, you can craft a cheese board around a single cheese—most of which are available at a regular grocery store—with these simple combinations:
Dubliner (or a really sharp cheddar)+ Tart Apple Slices + Slices of Grilled Baguette: Dubliner is a hard, aged cow’s milk cheese that is sharp, sweet and nutty with the most delightful little crystals distributed throughout. Because it has such a complex, robust flavor, I like to keep the bread simple, and provide a crisp, bright piece of fruit to cleanse the palate. (I’ve found slices of green apple keep your mouth from getting over-saturated with dairy, meaning you can eat more cheese for a longer period of time.)
Cambozola (or any funky blue)+ Fruit-Studded Crisps + Honey: This combination of French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola is exactly what you would think it would be, with a milder blue flavor and a whole bunch of creamy character. I like eating with with these fig and olive crisps, but a cranberry crisp would be pretty good too. I also am a big fan of a drizzle of honey on any sort of blue cheese, and this is no exception.
Parmigiano-Reggiano + Really Good Balsamic: I got this idea from Bon Appetit—who also have some really great single-cheese plate ideas—and it is good. Get a real thick, aged vinegar for drizzling and dipping, and you can forget the carby delivery system altogether.
If you have a wedge of brie, waffle it. If you have a bunch of random cheese scraps, whir them all together in your food processor with some butter, garlic, and a splash of wine. Once you have your cheese in place, consider adding an animal protein or two. If you want a project, you can make a sous-vide terrine or chicken liver mousse; if you want something that tastes of effort but requires none, you can make this spicy prosciutto spread. If you don’t want to do a damn thing, it’s completely acceptable—encouraged even—to buy some quality cured meats and drape them on the board next to cheese, or microwave some prosciutto crisps (or cheese crisps) if you’re feeling spunky.
Then branch out to other snacks
There are, of course, many snacks that are not meat or cheese. This board—inspired by the German practicing of vesperning (snacking)—can be filled with any manner of finger foods, including but not limited to, or even focused on, meat and cheese. Some of my favorites include:
- Potato chips with creme fraiche and caviar
- Blistered shishito or padron peppers
- Endive with a dollop of blue cheese spread
- Pickled or deviled eggs
- Eggs ‘n Dip
- Green onions, tossed with bacon vinaigrette and broiled
- Whatever fruit is in season, plus grapes, because grapes are the ultimate snack fruit
- Dried fruit, particularly figs or dates, smeared with goat cheese and perhaps wrapped in prosciutto (and possibly air fried)
- All the pickled and marinated vegetables (Start with cornichons, olives and marinated mushrooms if you’re stumped.)
- Air fried olives and capers
- Tinned fish “nachos”
- Radishes with butter and Maldon salt
- Fresh vegetables dipped in ramen powder
- Hummus and really good pita
- Black eyed pea dip (either refried or hummus-style)
- Nduja, or this nduja-like spread
- Labneh, drizzled with olive oil and studded with Kalamata olives
- Pimento cheese, pub cheese, fromage fort, smoked salmon mousse or any sort of creamy spread
- Any of these dips
If you have olives and cheese, consider waffling them together to create a perfect salty bite. If you have a can of beans, make a dip.
Raid your fridge for extras
All good boards need a pickle, a fruity thing and a honey, so open up your fridge and see what’s hanging out in there. Snack dinner is a perfect vehicle for those last few olives, cornichons or dollops of jam. If you feel compelled to make a thing, you can turn mushy pears into a paste, pickle some vegetables in beer or aquavit or ferment some garlic in honey (though this one takes a few days). Punctuate your plate with a raw scallion, just to keep things fresh.
Or just say “fuck it” and make a big bowl of popcorn
A lot of people justify eating popcorn for supper by pointing out it’s a whole grain, but I don’t really feel the need to justify anything these days. Popcorn is easy to make and fun to eat, and that’s enough for me.
To make extra crunchy popped corn, make sure you are using enough oil—I’m talking 1/2 a cup of oil for 1/3 cup of unpopped kernels. That may seem like too much, but it’s just the right amount. (If you have a bunch of rosemary you don’t know what to do with, throw it into the oil while it’s heating to infuse it with flavor.) Then, figure out your seasonings and pulverize them so they actually stick to the fluffy kernels. Some of my favorites are:
Also, don’t sleep on compound butters: Soy sauce butter, fish sauce butter, anchovy butter, maple butter, Buffalo butter (which is really just buffalo sauce) are all really good, and whisking them into the melted stuff ensures even flavor distribution.
If you can’t choose between a board of snacks or a bowl of popcorn, make both. There are certainly no rules against such. And even if there were, now is the time for ignoring rules. (Oh, and if you need a dessert, try this lazy ganache, eat a bowl of fruit with heavy cream, or the drizzle some store-bought ice cream with the pervert’s magic shell.)