I threw a dinner party last weekend, okay, I know, it sounds an extravagant thing to do when we're without work, but really it was our rather belated house-warming and way of thanking friends of ours for helping out when we moved up to the North.
We love cheese in our house, so when I visit the supermarket, the first place I head for is the reduced section to hunt out some cheap wedges of dairy goodness. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I've not yet sourced a decent cheesemonger here in Wigan, so we have to make do with some pretty standard stuff, but that's not too much of a problem when we have no money anyway. The last time I spent anything more than a couple of quid on a piece of cheese was two months ago, in the Netherlands, and that was a €15 hunk of vintage Gouda to bring home with us to the UK. We had money back then.
Still, since I'm on a budget, my bargain cheeseboard for the dinner consisted of whatever I could find in the bargain bin at the supermarket. In this case, it was a Stilton for 94 pence and about 1/4 of a whole wheel of Brie for £1.04. I added a chunk of our everyday vintage cheddar (I choose whatever's on special offer at the supermarket when I'm online shopping) and I don't think anyone noticed that the whole thing was done on a budget. This was probably helped by a few quartered figs (59 pence for a packet of four and the remainder being full of tasty goodness for the fruit bowl), a few randomly scattered groups of grapes (again picked up in the bargain basement), homemade chutney (from apples foraged by my lovely husband and daughter) and the pièce de résistance: a pan de dátil y nuez, a Spanish date and nut wheel that goes amazingly with cheese. If you have not ever tried this, or its cousin pan de higo (made with figs), then you are missing out on one of the simplest joys of life.
I didn't exactly choose to make the date wheel over the fig, it just happened that I had a massive bag of dates that I'd bought ages ago and needed using. Unfortunately I didn't have the nuts, so this was on my shopping list for Aldi, where I could buy just the amount I needed in the loose nut bins they have there.
So here's the remainder of the date and almond wheel. We probably only ate about half of it on Saturday, but I've been scoffing the rest since then with the aforementioned huge piece of Brie. The Brie was finally finished off after I took these photos.
This, like many of the things I make these days, is a simple recipe with few ingredients. This has just four: fruit, nuts, cinnamon and honey. Co-incidentally, did you know that honey NEVER goes off? Anyway, here's the quantities and instructions to make your own:
- 1 cup almonds, whole, no need to blanch. This weighed just off 170g. If using walnuts, 1 cup is likely to weight about 120g.
- 3 1/2 cups of dried dates or figs (I realised that we also had some figs in the cupboard, but these were partially rehydrated figs, so would have been too moist). I checked and this weighed 450g, but don't get too het up on exact measurements, this 'recipe' is pretty forgiving.
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
You will also need a food processor. I've not tried it without, but I expect it would be pretty difficult to get the right texture without. Please let me know though if you've successfully managed to create this without one!
- The first thing I did was to very lightly roast the almonds by tipping them straight onto a baking tray and putting them in a preheated oven at 180c for about 5 minutes. Then try not to eat them all, as they smell rather delicious. Okay, a few won't hurt.
- Pop these into the food processor and pulse it to roughly chop the almonds - not too small as you want to get some good chunks in the final 'cake'.
- Remove the almonds from the food processor and pop the dates (or figs) in, along with the honey and cinnamon. Pulse again until the mixture starts to get broken down (I chopped the dates a little before putting them into the processor to give them a helping hand). Again keep it chunkyish.
- Tip the date mixture in with the chopped almonds that you previously set aside and get your hands in there to mix it up really well.
- All you need to do now is to form it into a wheel and weight it. I think I used an 8" cake tin, which I lined with cling film as well as a circle of parchment. After putting the mixture in, I placed another parchment circle on top and wrapped the overlaying clingfilm on top to seal it. I used the bottom of a slightly smaller cake tin to cover the top, then put a food tin ontop of this so that I could put some books on to weigh it down overnight. The next day I put it into the fridge which helped to firm it up even more.
Serve alongside your cheeseboard with something figgy and plenty of soft cheese (although it goes great with hard cheese too!).