How to Create the Perfect Cheese Platter

If there is one thing that I always have at every gathering it’s a delicious, rich, cheese platter.  I am not talking about the mixed cheese cubes you buy at the grocery, heavens no! For a couple of bucks more I like to wow my guests with a variety of cheeses that are gone before we get to the appetizers.

What types of cheese do I serve?  Here is the low down on the types, costs and the reasons I think you should serve a cheese platter too.

Goat Cheese: This is a simple cheese that has a rich and tangy taste with a smooth crumbly texture.  It pairs well with crackers and preserves.  My favorite way to pair goat cheese is with raspberry preserves.  You’ll find it wrapped in a 4-8oz log and it is very affordable.  Look for a pristine white color when buying your goat cheese.

Cheddar Cheese: You won’t find soft mild cheddar meant for sandwiches on my platter.  Cheddar is everyone’s favorite cheese, so why not move on up to something fancier?  A nice aged cheddar will bring plenty of flavor to your platter.  I also like an English-style cheddar but if you don’t find it you can get the Vermont aged.  Cheddar goes great with apple slices.

Blue Cheese: Embrace the funk.  The “moldy” blues might scare some people but if it wasn’t good they wouldn’t make an entire dressing to celebrate it!  Oh how I love blue cheese.  My grandmother used to cook it with so many things!  I love blue cheese paired with cherry tomatoes.  If you want something milder and sweeter try Gorgonzola cheese.

Sheep Cheese: Haven’t heard of it? You are really missing out!  Being that I am from Spain I grew up with Manchego cheese on every sandwich, salad, cheese platter… Manchego everywhere!  Look for “curado” or “aged” for a stronger sharper cheese.  Aged Manchego is firm and salty while the young milder Manchego is softer and sweeter (great for grilled cheese sandwiches).

Triple Creme Cheese: Say hello to my favorite cheese! Brie! This cheese is ultra rich and its triple cream cousins will melt in your mouth they are so delicious!   Triple cream usually means around 75% butterfat but the Brie comes in at a leaner 45%.  Do yourself a favor and don’t get reduced fat versions; they are rubbery and not as decadent.

How to put together a good platter?  Grab a variety of each cheese and find something to pair it with.  Not every cheese should be eaten with crackers so it’s ok to serve alongside fruit (grapes), bread, or nuts.

Enjoy!

 

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Holiday Entertaining: Easy Mediterranean Appetizers

Want to get away from the classic bowl of hummus served with pita chips?  Try something fancier and just as easy this year.  I came across this picture on Whole Living this week and I had to try this combo and see if my favorite hummus recipe worked well!…and it does! I love the idea of slicing up cucumbers and pre-serving hummus on top.  Talk about easy finger food!  Once you try my recipe, you’ll make this a staple.  The garnishing options are endless! I love kalamata olives or a tad of pesto on top of my hummus… but you can do so many variations,  you’ll wow your guests!

Ingredients:

Hummus Recipe Courtesy of MOMablesLunch Menus

  • 15 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 TB Tahini
  • 1 Garlic Clove
  • 1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp salt

What you’ll need:

  • Thyme leaves for garnish
  • Coarse ground pepper
  • English cucumbers 2-3 or more if you double recipe
  • Roasted Red peppers, cut into small strips
  • Kalamata Olives

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, combine chickpeas, lemon juice, thyme, garlic, oil, and 1/4 cup water; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and process until combined.
  2. Dividing evenly, dollop chickpea puree onto cucumber slices, top with a roasted red pepper strip and thyme leaves. Serve immediately.

 

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Crock-pot White Bean Pumpkin Soup

It’s fall and nothing says it more so that some key ingredients that bring comfort into a meal.  The past few weeks I’ve been testing a lot of recipes with pumpkin as an ingredient… but most were desserts.  One night, I had 1 cup of pumpkin puree left over from a muffin recipe I had baked the day before.  On a whim, I decided to mix it into the white bean soup I was making.  The result, a delicious and comforting bowl of fall goodness.  This was so popular among my family that I packaged it the next day for lunch!

Ingredients: -makes 4-6 servings-

  • 1 Medium onion, chopped small
  • 1 TB Olive Oil
  • 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 15oz can white beans, drained and rinsed.
  • ¾ Cup diced carrots (4 medium carrots)
  • 4-6 Cups Vegetable stock (ok to sub. for chicken stock)
  • 1 tps oregano
  • ½ tps black pepper

Directions:

  1. Chop onions and garlic.
  2. Turn on crock-pot to a medium/low setting.
  3. Add all ingredients into crock-pot.  Stir to combine.
  4. Cook on medium/low 4hrs.
  5. You can leave it “chunky” as pictured, or puree to a smooth texture.

Enjoy!

Photo Courtesy of MOMables lunch menus.

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Lunch Indulgence: Grilled Pear & Brie Sandwich

There are a few indulgences that even a pregnant woman can’t resist.  Chocolate and Brie are my downfall.  Seriously, how can one resist the sweet deliciousness of French Brie?  I love it on toast, with crackers, in omelet, sandwiches… and the list goes on.

The other day, I was left to my own devices to prepare lunch when a business lunch meeting was cancelled (I usually pre-make my lunches ahead of time and have them ready).  It was a Friday and the fridge was empty of our lunch items and leftovers were scarce.  Good thing there was Brie!! The outcome as a sweet delicious grilled sandwich that will soon be placed in one of our MOMables menus (my kids loved this sandwich too).

Ingredients:

  • 2 Slices of bread
  • Sliced Brie
  • 1 pear, sliced thin
  • Butter/spray for grilling

Directions:

  1. Slice pear and Brie.
  2. Place sliced pear and brie on bread and close.
  3. Spread or spray butter on bread.
  4. Grill

Enjoy!

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Roasted Fall Vegetables

During my last visit to the farmer’s market I loaded my tote bag with in-season vegetables.  While I’ve never been a huge fan of fall vegetables, I recently discovered that it’s not the vegetable variety I wasn’t fond of; it was the way it was being cooked! I got nearly 10 pounds of squash and zucchini for $9.  What was I going to do with all that, besides making some zucchini bread, of course.

I decided that I would simply roast my vegetables with minimal ingredients.  The outcome… what can I say? Delicious.

Ingredients:

  • Variety of fall zucchini and squash
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Rosemary

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Wash and cut your vegetables.  The smaller you cut them the quicker they will cook, so try to cut them evenly.
  3. In a roasting dish add vegetables, salt, pepper, olive oil and rosemary (to taste).
  4. Mix well to evenly coat vegetables with seasoning
  5. Cook about 20-25 or until done.

Serve & Enjoy!

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Shrimp with Kiwi Lime Relish

It’s Fall and germs are lurking around us in abundance.  You’ve heard of vitamin C as an immunity booster, and many experts say the best way to get it is  directly from the source (our foods).  What better way to grab some extra C than with a kiwi? This recipe is not only super easy to make but also delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 2 jalapenos, finely chopped, seeds removed for less heat (1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)
  • 4 kiwi fruits, peeled and diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 20 large U.S.-farmed shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil
  • Directions:

  1. Stir jalapeno and lime juice together. Add kiwi, 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste), and cilantro. Stir to combine.
  2. Season shrimp with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Heat oil in a large skillet over high until shimmering. Add shrimp in a single layer and cook without turning until underside is pink, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until opaque throughout, 2 minutes more. Remove from pan and serve immediately with kiwi-lime relish.

Photo Credit

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Avocado and Shrimp Salad

I never get tired of eating avocados.  Their creamy texture helps this salad blend together without the saturated fats from cheese or dairy-based dressings.  They are rich in vitamins, protein and omega 3s… what is there not to like?  If you buy an avocado before it’s ready to eat, put it in a paper bag to speed up the ripening process.  Never throw them in the fridge unless you want to “pause” its ripening.

It’s fall, and apples are in full display at every supermarket and farmers market.  To add a little extra crunch, toss one in!

 

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tarragon stems; 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 1/2 lemon, quartered
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, pitted, quartered, and thinly sliced

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan, bring 3 cups water, tarragon stems, lemon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and peppercorns to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat, add shrimp and poach until opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a plate (discard everything else) and refrigerate to cool.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, chives, tarragon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add shrimp, apple, and cucumber, and toss to coat.
  4. Divide salad between four bowls. Add avocado to the mixing bowl and toss with remaining dressing. Top each salad with a quarter of the avocado. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

**Photo Credit

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A “Lighter” Blue Cheese Dressing

The facts: I love blue cheese dressing.  I don’t like preservatives or weird ingredients in my food.  I just realized how easy it is to make a lighter version of this heavenly dressing with the help of Greek yogurt! It was easy, delicious, and quick to make!

 

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • dash black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 2 tbsp. vinegar
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 c. Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 c. crumbled blue cheese

Directions:

  1. In a bowl, mix dry spices then add the Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Add the milk then let it sit for a few minutes, to dissolve the spices.
  3. Add the vinegar to the milk mixture. It will start to curdle; this is normal.
  4. Add the mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and whisk together well. When blended, fold-in the Blue cheese crumbles.

The longer you let this refrigerate, the better the flavor will be. A must have for hot wings and salads!

You’ll never buy bottled dressing again once you taste this!

Makes 3 cups.


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Fresh Lunch: Tuna Melt

If you think tuna melts are a calorie loaded sandwich… think again.  This re-vamped version is lighter on the mayo, has less bread but tastes a whole lot better!  Even when your fridge may be empty and you think you have nothing to make for lunch… a pantry staple to the rescue!  Bring out that high quality tuna and let’s freshen it up!  The sharp cheddar allows you to use considerably less cheese and the tomato slices give it the freshness it needs.

Open Tuna Melt

Serves 4. Prep 10min Total time about 15.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces canned chunk light tuna, drained (see Note)
  • 1 medium shallot, minced (2 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat broiler in your oven (or use small toaster oven).
  2. Combine tuna, shallot, mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley, salt, hot sauce and pepper in a medium bowl. Spread 1/4 cup of the tuna mixture on each slice of toast; top with tomato slices and 2 tablespoons cheese. Place sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Did you know… Chunk light tuna, which comes from the smaller skipjack or yellowfin, has less mercury than canned white albacore tuna. The FDA/EPA advises that women who are or might become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children consume no more than 6 ounces of albacore a week; up to 12 ounces of canned light tuna is considered safe. -So yes, I’m only having one of these a week right now :)

 

Photo Credit: Eating Well

 

 

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Goat Cheese & Kalamata Olive Panini

When I was pregnant with my daughter 6 years ago, my husband and I took a week long trip to Rome.  This was food heaven for a pregnant woman!  The word “panino” in Italian means roll or biscuit.  However, they too grill the sandwiches and call them panini.  Originally, panini were filled with tomato, basil and mozzarella,  a mouth watering combination on its own.  That Christmas, my mother-in-law gifted me a panini press to have at home and my love for anything grilled only intensified.  Don’t believe it? Check out this recipe!

 

Goat Cheese & Kalamata Olive Panini

Serves 4. Prep time: 7 minutes Total time: 12 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

  • 14 pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 12-oz whole-grain Italian loaf bread, halved lengthwise
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 2 1/2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 large tomato (6 oz), sliced into 8 rounds
  • Olive oil cooking spray

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine olives, onion, garlic, basil, pepper flakes and vinegar. Place bread halves on a cutting board, cut-side-up, and spoon olive mixture onto bottom half of bread. Top with spinach, cheese and tomato. Top with other half of bread and press down lightly to adhere. Using a serrated knife, cut bread into 4 equal pieces.
  2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat skillet with cooking spray, then add sandwiches. Add weight to sandwiches by covering them with a sheet of aluminum foil, then topping them with a dinner plate and a few bread plates. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until lightly golden on bottom. Remove plates and foil and flip sandwiches over. Again, place foil and plates on top of sandwiches and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 2 more minutes or until browned on bottom. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 2 minutes. (NOTE: This will allow sandwiches to continue heating throughout without drying out and over-browning.) Enjoy!

Nutrients per sandwich: Calories: 301, Total Fat: 6 g, Sat. Fat: 0.5 g, Carbs: 50 g, Fiber: 5 g, Sugars: 13 g, Protein: 9 g, Sodium: 537 mg, Cholesterol: 6.5 mg

**Original recipe from Clean Eating Magazine

 

 

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