Platters for Flatters

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As long-term followers of my blog (and/or close friends & family) know, I worked in the cafe at De La Terre Winery over the summer of 2014/15. Already that seems like a lifetime ago, but despite the often fast-paced and sometimes high-stress demands of kitchen work, it remains one of the best and most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. Not least of all because the establishment and its surroundings are utterly beautiful, and I regularly got to sample the wines. During the days when we were open for customers, my main responsibilities were in preparing and plating the platters we served as lunchtime food. The platters we served there were proper gourmet, with a building emphasis on the homemade aspect of everything we served from the salads to the sauces and dressings to the fresh-baked bread rolls (I even learnt to make crackers from scratch during my time there!). A lot of time, effort and care went into creating these culinary delights. The food service industry, at least at the higher end of things, truly is an art.

Well, the other night I was struck by a strange sense of nostalgia for my days at De La Terre. I couldn’t say why it came about when it did, but I felt a sudden compulsion to put together a platter of food for my flatmates, in a way that was reminiscent of what I used to do for a job. So off I went for an evening trip to the supermarket to purchase the necessary ingredients for a platter that could keep us going as we settled in for an evening of study. I wanted it to be more than just a fast study snack: I wanted it to be cheerful and well-presented, so that for a moment we could almost pretend we were living the fancy life, even though I did it all on a budget.

This is what I did. It’s certainly not De La Terre standards, but it was quick and easy and cheap, and if I may say so myself it looked and tasted damn good. I’m actually very proud of how it came out. So, without further ado, I present to you –

Beth’s guide to everything you’ll need for making a lovely snack platter on a budget.

Cheese. What decent platter doesn’t include a decent offering of cheese? As every student painfully knows, cheese is fucking expensive and fancy cheese is even fucking expensiver. But! My local supermarket, New World Metro, reliably has specials on wheels of cheese. Often they have wheels of camembert or brie for under four dollars (I got a wheel of camembert for this platter at $3.49). In addition to being cheap, these cheeses are safe bets when it comes to making a platter. Especially when you’re not sure of your audience’s palette. Not everyone loves a blue or a cheddar, and feta cheese can be notoriously difficult to plate and serve. It’s messy, it crumbles, it’s not a good aesthetic. Camembert and brie are both mild, agreeable, and easy to cut into manageable slices. You can’t go wrong.

Meat. Cold deli meats always make a nice addition to a platter. Unless there’s vegetarians present, in which case they’ll probably disagree with that philosophy. But for the carnivores among us, cold sliced meats are a treat. Even better, they’re usually very much on the affordable side. Sure, you probably won’t be buying up a few hundred grams of prosciutto. But have a wee look in the delicatessen at your local supermarket: salami, ham and even pastrami are not off the table. I got fifty grams of smoked beef for around $1.50, and I then cut the slices in half at home to make them go further and to make them easier to arrange.

Fruit. Fruit always looks lovely on a platter: it breaks up the beige, and adds a welcome balance of sweet to the savoury. It also balances out the protein, carbs and dairy with a little bit of fibre. And it’s vegan! I got lucky when I was at the supermarket: grapes were on special at $4.99/kg, so I got a decent punnet for just $2.37. Unfortunately you (and I) won’t always be this lucky. But fair not, for when it seems you’re in dearth, there are always other options! Dried fruit can supplement fresh fruit – dried apricots, prunes and raisins are all affordable and look beautiful on a platter. Not everyone’s a fan, but on a budget you can’t expect to be serving up Panamanian papayas or whatever other voguish thing. If you don’t want to go down the dried route, you can always get some apples, slice them up and arrange them artistically. Cheese and apple is a famously good combination.

Crackers. An obvious essential, you can’t really expect to put together a platter without crackers, or at least some type of flattish carbs on which to put your other platter foods. This is also the easiest food to get on a budget, and also to arrange nicely. Crackers are always on special (and a lot of the ones that aren’t are also really cheap) – you’ll likely find yourself spoilt for choice! If you don’t want crackers, you could splash out on some fancy bread to slice and lightly toast before you plate it. Fucking yum.

Relishes/dips/sauces/whatever. You’ll notice the lack of any sauces or chutneys on this platter. While I had some beetroot chutney in the fridge, for some reason I wasn’t feeling it that night. But don’t let that stop you! Supermarkets generally offer a wonderful selection of savoury jams, chutneys and dressings so all you have to do is pick one that takes your fancy (onion jam is one thing we used to make and serve at De La Terre, and I still have a soft spot for it even when it comes out of a jar and not a steaming fresh pot). The best thing about relishes is that they’ll do multiple platters. If you have a little ramekin-type dish around you can spoon some relish in, and place it at the centre of your platter with the rest of the things arranged around it. Add a knife or a spoon for serving and you’re good.

Plating. As far as I know, there are no rules here. When it comes to arranging your platter, you are the master of your own destiny. Just do whatever feels right. Generally tidiness and some kind of symmetry are good things to aim for, but hey. Don’t let me tell you how to do your thing. Art imitates life imitates art.

Lastly I want to say that this isn’t meant as a hard-and-fast rulebook on shoestring platter creation. It’s more a guideline, in the hopes that maybe someone reading this will be inspired to create their own platter to share with their friends. Also a little bit of a nostalgia trip for my old beloved job. Basically what I’m trying to say is, feel free to take this and run with it. Let your imagination (and your bank balance) be your only limitation.

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