When I was younger the food at all the big events and family gatherings centered around trays — trays of veggies with ranch dip, cut fruit with a sweet yogurt dip, and one for meat and cheese. Closing my eyes, I can picture them all — rolled sandwich meats, cubed cheese (cut from the econo-sized block kind), veggie trays that always contained: broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, celery, and carrots, and the fruit trays that always contained: cantaloupe, honey dew, strawberries, grapes, and pineapple. Let’s not forget the toothpicks! There is something very inviting about sharing food in this way, but I think it lacked a little imagination. It was easy to prepare and serve — crucial for keeping things organized for large get togethers. But is this how we entertain now? We want the ease of this method but with a bit more selection and much more imagination.
This is why I’m drawn to the idea of serving food on boards — such a beautiful way to showcase great food (especially fresh and/or locally produced). Over the past few years there has been a movement towards the appreciation and consumption of artisanal foods such as cured meats, pates, and cheeses, which are then showcased on a platter or board (think: chacuterie boards or delikatessen platters) and surrounded with crackers, crisps, fruits, vegetables, dips, pickles, or any other manner of ready-to-serve food or condiment. While serving food this way seems very simple, it can be challenging to make good use of your boards and to come up with what to put on that board once you’ve made your choice.
Having a cookbook dedicated to this type of easy entertaining is helpful! Moving into the holiday season — a time for entertaining and hosting friends and family — Lisa Dawn Bolton‘s new book, On Boards, offers inspiration for serving great food in enticing and appetizing ways. What I really like about Bolton’s book is that it offers great ideas that are easy to customize to both group size and audience. So, whether you’re offering snacks to the regular kiddie playdate crowd, catering to a large family gathering, or you’re enjoying a cozy date night in there are boards to suit any of these occasions (and more!). It’s also easy to scale the board themes to suit the size of your group — depending on how many people you’re serving you can add less or more of different board components.
On Boards is divided into three main parts: an overview (boards, serving tools, and ingredients), 50 board themes (Everyday Boards, Seasonal Boards, Holiday & Special Occasion Boards, and Around the World Boards), and a section of 52 recipes (Dips & Sauces, Relishes & Jams, Savory Additions, and Sweet Extras). After trying several board themes and recipes I’ve found this book easy to use. Recipes can be easily prepared ahead of time using a minimal number of ingredients. In many cases, you can find most of the board components in your fridge or pantry! In the short time I’ve been using this book I haven’t had any large crowds to serve (aside from a couple of kids during playdates), I’ve found that family weeknight or weekend meals can take shape in the form of a board.
I often talk about how busy the time between the end of the work day and dinner time can be so serving food on a board is an easy way to quickly offer a healthy selection of foods. My four-year-old loves it when the board comes to the table because she’s able to pick and choose what to eat — kids love to feel independent and, more importantly, like a “big kid.” Dips and spreads are foods I find to be very kid-friendly so if you have choosy eaters this may be a low confrontation way to approach meals. Additionally, since we are a family of vegetarians it can be a challenge serving non-vegetarians who come to visit. Boards are a great way of offering a meaty element without the hassle or stress of cooking meat. It’s win-win! Speaking of special diets and accommodations Bolton offers helpful advice about how to approach serving boards geared towards guests who have vegan and/or gluten free diets .
Grocery shopping and sourcing ingredients for the boards and recipes in Bolton’s book is simple. Most of the food will be found in the produce and deli sections of the store. The fresher the ingredients, the better and more appetizing the board will look. To be honest, I really like all the recipes I’ve tried. Many of which I’ve made a few times such as the Peanut Butter Fluff Dip and the Sweet Cream Dip. What I also appreciate is the fact that you don’t need anything past a basic knowledge of cooking to achieve great results here. While she offers ways to make components, you can also buy dips and spreads if you’re short on time (such as hummus — readily available in any deli section). That’s the beauty of On Boards — it’s meant to be an inspirational guide to getting food ready for gatherings, whether they’re big or small.
While I consider myself adept at food styling, I really appreciated having Bolton’s book as a guide. You certainly don’t need a book to create a meat, fruit, vegetable or cheese tray but with Bolton’s step-by-step instructions and gorgeously styled pictures it really eliminates the guess work. Perfect for anyone who’s wanting to add a little simple elegance to their table. Serving boards, regardless of the material they’re made from, become a blank canvas in which to express yourself and you can be inspired by the multitude of fresh, whole food components that Bolton suggests. I think that if you’re looking for a great holiday gift both this cookbook and any type of serving board are something to be considered. Curious to see a bit more of what I tried? Check out my Instagram hashtag #onboardsiseatworthy or my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House / Penguin Random House 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. Please note: there are no affiliated links in this post.