For many Midwesterners, holiday feasting kicks off with a relish tray. We dare not mess with an icon—at least, not too much.
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Make no mistake, a relish tray is not a cheese board or a charcuterie platter. But it plays in the same cracker box. That's why we entrusted Shelly Westerhausen Worcel, author of Platters and Boards, to give us her spin (even if her cookbook's title is conspicuously tray-free). Worcel, who lives in Bloomington, Indiana, has a knack for mixing homemade and purchased ingredients to compose beautiful, bountiful harmonies of crisp and creamy, sour and salty, light and rich.

charcuterie platter
Credit: Kelsey Hansen

And that kind of balance is the whole point of a relish tray—to whet the appetite without ruining it. You don't need eight kinds of cheese and cured meats before a big dinner. In fact, the absence of meat is a traditional relish tray's defining characteristic.

Instead, expect these components: raw vegetables, pickled things, crackers, and a single cheese spread. Within those parameters, though, we see room for invention. And so did Worcel, whose brilliant make-ahead recipes will look equally at home on a platter, on a board or parceled out in the divided sections of your favorite cut-crystal tray.

The Spread: Smoked Gouda Artichoke Spread

Place 8 ounces cream cheese in a medium bowl; let soften at room temperature. Add 2 tablespoons sour cream and beat with a mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Drain 4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) marinated artichoke hearts, but do not rinse; finely chop. Add to bowl, along with 8 ounces shredded smoked Gouda cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, a few grinds of black pepper and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with more chives to serve right away. (Or cover and chill up to 1 week. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)

The Pickle: Bread-and-Butter Carrots

Cut 1 pound carrots into 3-inch-long strips that are about 1/3 inch thick. Transfer to a 1-quart Mason jar. In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 11/2 teaspoons mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer 30 seconds, stirring to dissolve sugar. Pour mixture over carrots in jar. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes. Cover and chill at least 24 hours or up to 10 days.

The Drink: Brandy Cobbler with Blood Orange and Rosemary

Prepare Rosemary Simple Syrup: Place 1/2 cup each sugar and water in a small saucepan with 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (about 3 inches long). Heat and stir over medium to dissolve sugar. As soon as mixture starts to simmer, remove from heat, cover and let steep 30 minutes. Remove rosemary sprigs. Store syrup in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.

For each cocktail: In a rocks glass, stir together 11/2 ounces brandy, 1 ounce freshly squeezed blood orange juice and 1/2 ounce Rosemary Simple Syrup. Fill the glass almost full with ice (preferably crushed). Stir well to chill. Top with 2 ounces club soda. Garnish with a blood orange slice and rosemary sprig.