Sometimes when I'm planning for a big meal or party, I lose my head. I start thinking about all the projects I want to tackle and recipes I've bookmarked, and the list of what I plan on cooking seems to grow and grow. I'm a cook, so I should cook for people, right?
I think, while wondering if I have time to buy lemons to make from-scratch lemon curd for the layer cake I'm also making from scratch. Should I make cookies too?
At times like these, I stop, take a deep breath, and think about my friend Ian and his cheesecake platter.
For awhile, Ian was one of only a few bachelors in my group of mostly-married friends. Although he often had the guys over for nachos, beer and football, he never joined in the rotation of occasionally inviting everyone in the group over for drinks and appetizers, but no one held it against him. We had heard tales about his cluelessness in the kitchen, like the time he offered to host a breakfast football gathering with omelets and all the fixings. When the other guys arrived with the ingredients, they discovered Ian didn't own a skillet, and allegedly didn't even know what a skillet was. (One account described him holding up a saucepan and asking if it was a skillet. I can neither confirm nor deny its validity.)
But one evening Ian bravely opened up his home to everyone, including one friend who is a chef and caterer, and me, a food writer and chef at the time. It had to have been intimidating, especially for someone who had only recently learned it was possible to cook oatmeal from oats instead of a packet. (His mind was blown.) He arranged some store-bought snacks, placed one bottle of white wine in the fridge, and one bottle of red wine, solitary, in his wine rack. It was incredibly endearing, and then we all noticed the cheesecake platter he had arranged.
On a cheeseboard, instead of wedges of cheese, he had arranged slices of cheesecake, purchased from his favorite supermarket bakery. Berries were scattered around the board and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to cut off wedges of variously-flavored cheesecakes and put them on our plates, though none of us had ever eaten cheesecake that way before. Where did he learn to do this, we wondered. He just thought of it on his own, he said.
And since then, Ian's Exquisite Cheesecake Platter has become a staple at any group gatherings at his house. He devises a new arrangement every time, but it's always a selection of bakery cheesecakes, beautifully arranged on a board with berries. I don't think there is a homemade dessert in this world that we would ever get as excited about, or one that is prepared with as much heart as this one is.
So when I start berating myself for considering a store-bought dessert to make my life a little easier and wondering how much sleep I really need the night before the big party, I think about Ian and his cheesecake platter, and remember that a thoughtful dessert is a thoughtful dessert, no matter whose hands made it.
Related: Ice Cream: The Perfect, Elegant Dessert for Busy Hosts
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)