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Charcuterie board can be built on budget

“Oooooh! Try this cheese with a bite of this and a sip of that!” It’s the hottest trend in easy home entertaining: a charcuterie board overflowing with wonderful nibbly noshy goodies to mix and match.

Like many Old World staples gaining new popularity, charcuterie (shahr-ku-tuh-ree) is the art of preparing cured meats. A charcuterie board is essentially a lavish meat and cheese board. While it’s easy to drop a bucket of cash going overboard with this entertaining trend, you can create an Instagram-worthy board and still have money for rent. Here are my rules for success.

Rule 1: There are no rules. Put whatever you like on your board.

Rule 2: Don’t go crazy. As tempting as it is, you don’t need 25 different items on your board. It’s better to have a generous quantity of affordable items than tiny portions of high-priced offerings.

Rule 3: Spend wisely. Be conservative with costly items like meats and cheese and liberal with low-cost items like bread and fruit. Nuts are expensive so choose only one kind or omit them completely.

Rule 4: You don’t need to buy as much as you think. Buy three cheeses and two meats to star in the show and cast fruits and breads as abundant supporting players. For a hearty appetizer board, plan on 2 ounces of meat and 3 ounces of cheese per person.

Rule 5: Choose at least one cured meat — this is a charcuterie board after all. Pepperoni and salami are inexpensive when purchased at the deli counter. Ask the server to slice it very thin. Next, choose from whatever is on sale that week. Ham, turkey and roast beef are great sliced thin and rolled for presentation.

Rule 6: Vary your cheese selection with hard cheeses like Parmesan and soft cheeses like brie. You don’t have to buy expensive, exotic cheeses. The reason cheeses like cheddar and Monterey Jack are cheap and plentiful is because people like them.

Rule 7: Shop your pantry first and use up all the little bits of dried fruits and nuts left from baking projects. Look for jars of pickles, peppers, mustards and jams in the back of the fridge.

Rule 8: Select produce in season and on sale. In autumn use apples, pears and grapes. Add sprigs of herbs for color.

Here are two secret weapons for frugal and fabulous entertaining.

Garlic Crisp Bread

This always disappears at parties. It’s best enjoyed fresh so make it on the day of the party.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Warm ½ cup oil with 2 tablespoons minced garlic for each baguette.

Slice baguette or other artisanal breads very thin (¼ of an inch or thinner) brushing both sides liberally with oil. Bake on a baking sheet for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown.

For savings haunt your “day old” bakery rack at the grocery store to pick up baguettes and other cool breads on the cheap.

Sweet Onion Jam

Here’s a ridiculously delicious sweet and savory spread that’s good with everything.

Slice 4 cups onions (preferably sweet but any onion works) very thin. In a large skillet on medium, heat 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil. Sauté the onions, stirring often, for 30 minutes or until soft and beginning to caramelize. Add ¼ cup each balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, stirring to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Store covered in the fridge for up to a week.

Like they say: “Sweet dreams are made of cheese, who am I to dissa-brie?” Enjoy!

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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