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Photo by Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS / A pancake charcuterie, as prepared by St. Louis Post-Dispatch food writer Daniel Neman at his home in St. Louis.

I may have this wrong, but as far as I can tell, "charcuterie" is French for "a big plate full of stuff."

Charcuteries are one of the biggest trends in the food world right now; you will find them on an ever-increasing number of restaurant menus, and small companies are popping up to bring them to you. Everyone likes them, and why not? They are big plates full of stuff.

Like so many other culinary notions, the idea of what a charcuterie is has evolved and expanded over the years, especially recently. But the original definition is still relevant: it is meat, often pork, prepared in a number of specific ways — smoked, cured, patés, terrines, sausages, confit and a couple of deboned methods.

A charcuterie board, which is what most people (and restaurants) mean when they say "charcuterie," is a platter offering several of these meats and preparations.

But that isn't nearly as fun as the current definition of the term. These days, the platter also includes a variety of well-chosen accompaniments. Cheeses, breads or crackers and a selection of complementary condiments such as preserves, pickled vegetables and more, are now considered necessary additions to any self-respecting charcuterie board.

And with the charcuterie concept now so open and free, there is no reason to stop at meats. These days, the only limit to a charcuterie board is your imagination.

Do you like different kinds of pancakes? Make a pancake charcuterie; your brunch guests will love you for it. Or you could just go full out and make it a brunch board, with waffles, bacon, berries, scrambled eggs (keep them in the skillet for that charcuterie look) and smoked salmon with capers and tomatoes and red onions.

I'm getting kind of hungry just thinking about it.

You could make a board of sweet, juicy fruits and cheeses. Crackers and nuts would add an appealing crunch and an always welcome bit of salt, and a caramel dip would be smooth and cool.

How about a chocolate charcuterie? Why not? Don't forget the whipped cream.

Bloody Mary charcuterie boards are big now among people who like Bloody Marys. Along with vodka and tomato juice, you'll need celery, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cheese cubes, sweet pickles and a special treat such as chilled shrimp.

Did I mention the chocolate charcuterie? It's worthy of mentioning twice.

I recently made three charcuteries: the traditional meat-and-cheese charcuterie, a pancake charcuterie and, because I don't like bloody Marys but do like martinis, a martini charcuterie.

 

MEAT AND CHEESE BOARD

For the meat and cheese platter, I wanted to emphasize contrast — flavors, textures and even colors. The prettier the plate, the more your guests will appreciate it.

For the meat part of the platter, I rolled up a selection of Italian cold cuts: Calabrese salame, capocollo, sopressata and pepperoni, plus some sliced chicken breast for people who don't like pork. I also wrapped prosciutto around chilled spears of asparagus, which is the best possible application for prosciutto.

I added cubes and wedges of fontina cheese and cubes of sharp cheddar; nothing too fancy to overwhelm the meat, which I think should be the star of the platter. Mini-breadsticks and crackers provided a backbone for the meats and cheese, with grainy mustard to add bite and cherry jam to soothe the tongue with its sweetness.

Roasted red peppers are a natural with any selection of sliced meat, and so are piquant gherkins, so onto my plate they went. Olives are good in pretty much any circumstance, and dried apricots are now traditional with meat and cheese charcuteries.

Nuts are essential. I used pistachios in their shell (because it is so much fun taking them out of their shells), almonds and sweet, glazed pecans. I had never bought glazed pecans before. Those things are amazing. I'm sure they would be easy to make yourself, but I took the easy route because I had two more charcuterie boards to prepare.

 

PANCAKE BOARD

The heart of any pancake charcuterie, of course, is the pancakes. I made a whole batch of them, which is enough to feed six people, or at least four.

I had thought to put blueberries in some of them, but decided instead to scatter the berries all around the platter so guests could enjoy that fresh pop of flavor whenever they wanted it. I added strawberries for much the same reason, and sliced bananas, which are tragically overlooked as an accompaniment for pancakes.

Obviously, I included a pitcher of maple syrup, and I kept things sweet with chocolate chips, homemade chocolate syrup (I used a ganache) and whipped cream.

I finished off the platter with crispy bacon, because it's bacon.

 

MARTINI BOARD

My martini charcuterie started off with an assortment of gins and dry vermouths; my guests could mix and match to determine their favorite combination of straightforward crisp and dry gin, botanical gin or citrus-forward gin with floral vermouth or earthy and slightly bitter vermouth.

For the snack part of the charcuterie, I made three dishes that go with martinis like vermouth goes with gin.

Shrimp cocktail is an absolute classic; if you ask me, every bottle of gin ought to come with a little package of shrimp and the ingredients for cocktail sauce. And just as good as shrimp cocktail are deviled eggs, which pair perfectly with martinis and pretty much everything else.

The third dish I made is less known: cheddar olives. They are simple to make, yet spectacular and spectacularly addictive. They also go almost incomprehensibly well with martinis — the salt in the cheese, a faint snarl of pepper and the brininess of the olives are just what gin and vermouth need.

Naturally, I laid out olives (for martinis) and pickled pearl onions (for Gibsons, which are similar to martinis but made with a pickled pearl onion instead of an olive). For an irresistible bit of crunchy sweetness, I brought out chocolate-covered almonds.

Pretzels are appropriate with any cocktail, and so is a bar mix of peanuts, sesame sticks and other goodies. And I finished off the platter with more of those sweet glazed pecans.

I just love those things.

 

Everyday Pancakes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar, optional

2 eggs

1 1/2 to 2 cups milk

2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter (optional), plus unmelted butter for cooking, or use neutral oil

Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat. In a bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, salt and optional sugar. Beat eggs into 1 1/2 cups milk, then stir in 2 tablespoons melted cooled butter, if using. Gently stir this mixture into dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten flour; don't worry about a few lumps. If batter seems thick, add a little more milk.

Place a teaspoon or 2 of butter or oil on griddle or skillet. When butter foam subsides or oil shimmers, ladle batter onto griddle or skillet, making pancakes any size you like. Adjust heat as necessary; usually, first batch will require higher heat than subsequent batches. Flip pancakes after bubbles rise to surface and bottoms brown, after 2 to 4 minutes.

Cook until second side is lightly browned. Serve, or hold on an ovenproof plate in a 200-degree oven for up to 15 minutes.

Per serving (based on 4): 377 calories; 11 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 116 milligrams cholesterol; 13 grams protein; 58 grams carbohydrate; 8 grams sugar; 2 grams fiber; 231 milligrams sodium; 353 milligrams calcium.

— Recipe by Mark Bittman in The New York Times

 

Chocolate Sauce for Pancakes

Yield: 8 servings

4 ounces chocolate chips, about cup

1/2 cup whole milk, half-and-half or heavy cream

Place chocolate chips in a small bowl. Heat milk or cream until very hot but not boiling (it's OK to boil the heavy cream). Pour milk or cream into bowl with chocolate, allow to stand 1 minute and stir until smooth and uniform in color. Set aside for 10 minutes or so before pouring over pancakes. If sauce becomes too thick to pour, stir in a little more hot cream.

Per serving (using half-and-half): 56 calories; 4 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 5 milligrams cholesterol; 1 gram protein; 9 grams carbohydrate; 8 grams sugar; 1 gram fiber; 6 milligrams sodium; 15 milligrams calcium.

 

Deviled Eggs

Yield: 8 servings

4 eggs

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Paprika, optional

Fill a medium bowl halfway with ice and water, and set aside. Bring 1 inch of water or more to a boil in a pot that can fit a steamer. When it boils, place the eggs in the steamer in the pot, cover and steam for 12 to 13 minutes. Remove the eggs and immediately plunge into the ice water. When they are cool, they can be peeled and used immediately or kept in the shell in the refrigerator for several days.

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise and scoop out the yolks into a small bowl. Add mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper; mix with a fork until smooth. Return mixture to egg whites. Serve with a sprinkle of paprika, for color, if desired.

Per serving: 74 calories; 6 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 95 milligrams cholesterol; 3 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 123 milligrams sodium; 17 milligrams calcium.

— Recipe by Daniel Neman

Cocktail Sauce

Yield: 6 servings

1/2 cup chili sauce

1/3 cup ketchup

1 or 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Juice from 1 wedge of lemon

Mix together all of the ingredients. Serve chilled with 1 pound cooked, chilled shrimp.

Per serving: 41 calories; no fat; no saturated fat; no cholesterol; 1 gram protein; 10 grams carbohydrate; 7 grams sugar; 1 gram fiber; 471 milligrams sodium; 6 milligrams calcium.

— Recipe by Daniel Neman

 

Cheddar Olives

Yield: 8 servings

1 (8-ounce to 10-ounce) jar of pitted green olives, pimento-stuffed or plain

1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons butter, softened

1/4 teaspoon cayenne, smoked paprika or black pepper

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Drain the olives, and dry completely.

Combine the cheese, flour, butter and spice in a medium bowl, and knead it within the bowl until a dough forms. If the dough won't hold together, add water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does.

Pinch off a small amount of dough, and press it as thin as you can between your fingers to flatten. Wrap and press the dough around a dry olive. Roll the olive in your hands until smooth. Continue with all the olives.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Uncooked cheddar olives can be frozen on a baking sheet until firm, then wrapped tightly and frozen for up to a week. Bake straight from the freezer for 20 to 25 minutes.

Per serving: 249 calories; 18 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 40 milligrams cholesterol; 7 grams protein; 15 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram sugar; 2 grams fiber; 423 milligrams sodium; 211 milligrams calcium.

— Recipe by thekitchn.com

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