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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Nutritious Breakfast Oatmeal Muffins for Families On the Go!

With summer being in full swing, many of us have finally gotten into a routine -again.  Whether it’s summer camps, sitters, family members, activities or staying at home,  many of us feel overwhelmed with the long day ahead and skip breakfast.  During the school year, I always have things my kids can eat with their hands on the way to school (home made waffles & pancakes, home made pop tarts, etc.).  Sadly, we do not have an official breakfast time at our house and with the morning rush to get to school I have to be prepared!  Summertime, is no different.  I have two or three ready-made breakfast options my kids can enjoy each morning.

Meet my friend Mrs. Oats. I am an oatmeal lover.  It’s healthy, loaded with vitamins, fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates that will ensure my kids makes it through the morning with a positive attitude (no sugar peaks from processed breakfast foods).  After testing many recipes, these one bowl oatmeal muffins are a winner!

One-Bowl Oatmeal Muffins: Basic Recipe

Oatmeal is one of the constants in the recipe and provides, in my opinion, necessary texture.

Be sure to read the recipe all the way through before getting started. You will note that the oats soak in the milk 1 hour prior to assembling the rest of the ingredients, so take that into consideration before starting out.

Makes 12 medium muffins

  • 1 cup milk*
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not quick oats)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cups of added “toppings” total (chocolate chips, fruit and nuts, shredded carrots & raisins, coconut & PB chips)

Directions:

  1. Combine milk, vinegar and oats in a large bowl and let stand one hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a twelve-cup muffin tin and line with cupcake papers.
  3. Crack the egg into the oat and milk mixture; add brown sugar and mix to combine. Stir in melted butter.
  4. Sift remaining ingredients into the bowl: flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, & spices. Gently fold into batter, taking care not to over mix.
  5. Sprinkle add-in and flavorings of your choice and combine muffin batter gently.
  6. Use a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup to scoop batter into muffin tins. Bake until light brown and tops spring back when gently touched, about 10-12 minutes. Note: Muffins will take slightly longer to bake if you are adding fresh fruit such as blueberries or rhubarb.
  7. Remove from oven and cool in tins. To remove, run a sharp knife around the edges and pop muffins out. Enjoy!

 

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Photo Credit: Simple Bites

 

 

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Summertime Treat: Chocolate Pudding Pops

You can say that my kids are chocolate-aholics, especially my daughter.  One of their favorite store bought treats are fudge pops.  They are a nice cold treat that always hit the spot on our hot summer days.  My local groceries don’t sell any fudge pops that do not have high fructose corn syrup and Whole Foods is 50 min away!  Sure, you can buy frozen treats at your store, but these easy-to-make pops taste even better because they’re semi-homemade.

Ingredients:
  • 1 package of instant chocolate pudding
  • 2 cups milk
Instructions:
  1. With a wire whisk, blend together 1 package of instant chocolate pudding, 2 cups milk, 1/2 cup cream, and 1/2 cup sugar.
  2. Pour the mixture into popsicle molds. Or, pour it into small plastic cups, cover each with aluminum foil, and insert a craft stick through the foil.
  3. Freeze and eat.

 

*Photo Source: Family Fun Magazine

 

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Make Your Own: Instant Oatmeal Packets

Photo credit: Life as MOM

There is something very convenient about grabbing a flavored oatmeal packet in the morning and calling it “breakfast.”  My husband takes two or three to work each morning.  You should know, however, that traditional flavored instant oatmeal packets are loaded with sugar and artificial flavorings… a big no-no in my book.  Anyhow, with a husband that takes 2-3 every morning, this convenience can get costly.  Back in March, Life as MOM wrote up a post on her frugal Fridays about how to make your own at home and I decided to give them a try. I’m so glad I did! Since then, I’ve gotten MUCH more creative and made homemade, healthy versions of store-bought flavorings!

Her great tip on using fun snack sized bags has turned a “blah” pouch into a breakfast made for little boys and princesses!

Photo Credit: Life as MOM. TIP: You may want to make an assembly line style layout on your kitchen counter. This makes the process very quick and easy!

 

Brown Sugar Cinnamon Recipe:

(as written in Life as MOM)

What you’ll need for each bag

  • 1/4 cup instant oats
  • 1 tsp instant dry milk powder
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

To serve:

Empty contents of one packet and add 1/2cup of hot water.  Stir and let it sit for 5minutes and ENJOY!

 

You can say that I LOVE the convenience and the options this gives us! Here are some variations of the typical store bought flavors I’ve developed:

Peaches & Cream: oats, 3tsp milk powder, 1 TB dried peaches, 1/2 tsp brown sugar

Banana Nut Muffin: oats, 2tsp milk powder, 1TB dehydrated banana slices (crushed up), 1/8tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp brown sugar, 1tsp crushed walnuts

Strawberries & Cream: oats, 3tsp milk powder, 1TB dehydrated strawberries (crushed), 1/2tsp brown sugar

Apples & Cinnamon: oats, 1tsp milk powder, 2tsp brown sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 2TB dehydrated apples (cut in small pieces)

Cinnamon Raisin: oats, 1tsp milk powder, 2tsp raisins, 1/4tsp cinnamon, 2tsp brown sugar

Blueberry muffin: oats, 2tsp milk powder, 1TB blueberries, 1/2tsp brown sugar, pinch lemon zest

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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High Fiber, Low-Fat Chocolate Muffins

Doesn’t this chocolate muffin look delicious? What if I told you that it’s high in fiber, has under 1gram of fat, and it has a cake-like texture?  Is it too good to be true? Nope.  These puppies are my cure to my son’s need for more fiber due to his constant constipation.  What can I say, the kid was born with difficulties going to the bathroom…even when breast fed.  While there are some other high fiber bars and supplements out there,  they require lots of water for digestion.  While I am not a huge fan of things “out of the box”, I have to compromise on something. The truth is, that I have to sneak in fiber any way I can and this is the BEST way I’ve found!

What you’ll need:

  • 1 box of moist chocolate cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups of water (as stated in box)
  • 1 cup of prunes + 1 cup water to soften
  • **Note that I am not following exact ingredients from box**

Directions:

Step 1: Bring 1 cup prunes + 1 cup water to boil for 3 min to soften prunes.

Step 2: Pour contents of pan and blend until everything is well mixed to puree consistency

Step 3: Mix ingredients with a fork.

Step 4: Pour into cupcake sized pans. Bake 350F for 15-18min

Serve & Enjoy!

 

 

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Homemade Pizza Pockets:Quick & Easy

We’ve all seen them in the frozen aisle.  Convenient, quick, and calorie filled.  Yes, I am talking about frozen pizza pockets.  While there are some healthier alternatives, I haven’t found any that I can put in the toaster in the morning and not have them be soggy or chewy by lunch. Since my daughter has phosphate and nitrate allergies….while her friends are eating cafeteria pizza on Fridays, she needs to bring her own.

Last week I decided to experiment with homemade pizza pockets. WOW!  They were super easy to make and delicious!  The most important thing is that they held up really well!  I warm them in the toaster in the morning and at lunch they have the perfect texture at room temperature.  I even got my almost 5 year old and avoid-cooking-at-all-costs-husband to help!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans of biscuits
  • Tomato sauce
  • Grated cheese (we like Monterrey Jack)
  • Pepperoni (or turkey, ham, bacon)
  • Any other toppings you might want in your pizza like California black olives

Directions: Step-by-step pics:

Preheat oven to biscuit instructions 

  

 
 

#1: Stretch biscuit dough into a circle

#2: Fill with desired ingredients

#3: Fold over & pinch edges

#4: place on baking sheet and press edges with fork

#5 Bake according to biscuit directions -keep an eye on them, every oven is different

 

(Where the cheese is oozing out is because I didn’t pinch enough)

This is how Sofia got hers packed for lunch: with fruit, veggies, and a treat.

Enjoy!

 

 


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Homemade Vanilla Wafers: Easy & Delicious!

I am obsessed with feeding my kids wholesome, good food. I am a busy mom, and although I know my way around the kitchen very well, I work while my kids are in school.  I do most of my cooking, food prep, and baking at night or in a couple of hours on any given weekend.  I like to have homemade “snacks” and “treats” on hand so when the craving comes, we can have some.  My ultimate favorite recipes are those that can be made ahead of time, will last a week or more when stored, and that my picky kids will eat.

A favorite cookie around here is the vanilla wafer.  Who doesn’t like vanilla wafers?  They are perfectly sweet with a homemade taste that is very gratifying.  I’ve taken Alton Brown’s recipe and added a few nutritious twists.  Did I mention that I like my snacks and treats to be nutrition packed too? I’m sure you’ve figured that one out by now.  Below are the ingredients and recipe instructions.  If you have 3 minutes, watch the video and see how they are made from start to finish!

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces all-purpose flour (almost a cup)
  • 3/4 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground golden flax (my own addition)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 ounces vanilla sugar (regular will work too)
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk

Directions:

Position 1 oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Heat the oven to 350 F.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and vanilla sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl after 1 minute. Add the egg and incorporate on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl. Add the vanilla extract and milk and blend on low speed for 15 seconds. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just to incorporate. Chill the batter in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before scooping.

Scoop the batter in teaspoon-sized balls and arrange them on 2 parchment paper-lined half sheet pans, approximately 35 cookies per pan. Use the heel of your hand to slightly flatten each ball. Bake, 2 pans at a time, rotating the pans halfway through the baking, until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans to a cooling rack to cool completely before removing the cookies from the pan.

Watch Alton’s 3min video and become a pro! These vanilla wafers are super easy and delicious!

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Make Your Own: Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

One of my daughter’s favorite snacks are chewy chocolate chip granola bars.  I won’t name brands on this post, but I will tell you that they come individually packed, usually 10 to a box and retail for $2.89 at my local grocery store.  They advertise “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” as if to lure someone like me to buy them.  I can hear the box shouting “pick me! pick me! pick me!”  Fortunately, those tactics don’t work for me. Like other prepared foods, its long shelf life is achieved through additives or preservatives (many of which my daughter is allergic to).  Because of this, I’ve been buying an organic brand’s version since none of the ingredients are that bad.  This second option is also more expensive, $3.89 for 6 bars!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been testing out  dozens of recipes for a home made version of the store bought chewy chocolate chip granola bars.  Let’s just say that some have been major flops while others were not even close to resembling a bar. Just when I was getting ready to give up and move on to something else, I decided to test out one more. The winner comes from Nonuttin’s home made version of their popular bars.

Ingredients:
Nonstick cooking spray
1 3/4 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
1 1/4 cups crisp-rice cereal
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup lightly packed light-brown sugar
1/3 cup brown rice syrup (you could reduce to 1/4c & 1TB veg oil)
1/3 cup honey

Directions:

1.  Spray an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; line baking sheet with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on all sides. Set aside.
2.  Place oatmeal and rice cereal in a large bowl; stir to combine. Set aside.


3.  In a medium saucepan, mix together brown sugar, rice syrup, and honey. Place over medium-high heat; bring to a gentle boil. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

4.  Remove from heat and add to oatmeal mixture; stir until oatmeal mixture is fully coated and well combined.
5.  Evenly pour oatmeal mixture into prepared baking dish; sprinkle with chocolate chips. When mixture is cool enough to touch, press down into pan. Let cool to room temperature.

6.  Cut into 16 (1-by-4-inch) bars. Granola bars can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week, and frozen up to six months.

NoNuttin’s recipe can be made gluten free as directed on Martha’s site. There, you can watch the short segment and see how Martha Stewart makes these with Nonuttin’s owner Alaina Elliot. I made this recipe with traditional ingredients.

Laura’s tip: use small crisp rice cereal and quick oats. Otherwise, the ‘bars’ won’t stay together.

 

 

 

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Snack Time-savers for Kids (and adults!)

I don’t know about you, but when I pick up my kiddos from school, I have been away from them for a while and I miss them.     They remind me of these sweet little guys…eager for affection, eager to please, eager to cuddle.  I tend to picure them like this….

puppies

 

But sometimes, in reality, their blood sugar is low, they are tired, they are hungry and  they don’t want to do homework. So in reality, they look like this…..

Angry Cat

And I know I must do something; I must do something fast, before we head into total meltdown city, a place I don’t want to go….a place no mom wants to visit for any length of time. (Cue daunting music).

My quick  fix is a power packed snack. Not too many carbs, not too much sugar, not processed; my kids call it the “Ultimate Smoothie.” Now, this smoothie is so easy, but don’t tell them, lest I have to start paying the smoothie place  $5  a pop. Here’s what you need for two of their favorites!

Berry Smoothie

1 Cup frozen fruit (I buy bulk fresh from Costco and freeze small ziplocks)–this can be blueberries, strawberries, rasberries, etc.

1 Cup low-fat Vanilla yogurt

1 Cup of any Nectar or fruit juice (I buy Mango nectar in the Hispanic section of my grocery store)

A drizzle of honey or Agave Syrup, perhaps a bit of ice. Blend and serve!~

Mango/Banana smoothie

1 Cup frozen mango

1 banana

1 cup yogurt, any kind

1 cup ice

1 cup pineapple juice

Drizzle of honey or agave.  Blend and serve!

These are so tasty and so filling that they will have your kids folding laundry and reciting their spelling words in no time! Okay, maybe not quite, but at least you get a “yummy, mama! I love it!”

Easy Lunch Ideas for Kids

From the time our children are able to eat something besides milk, we routinely ask ourselves as mothers: what am I going to feed this child?  At the beginning, I would ask myself things like… When should I wean my child off breast milk? What kind of formula should I buy for emergencies? Rice or no rice cereal? Organic food or conventional? How many types of foods should I introduce my baby to at one time? Is it too soon to introduce this… and so on.babyfood

By the time my daughter turned one, I felt it was as much of an accomplishment for me as it was for her to reach that 1st year milestone.  I had not gone mad, crazy, or obsessed with what to feed my child. I just went along and made baby food at home that seemed age appropriate.

The child that ate everything soon became aware that she could have choices.  Welcome to the “picky-eaters” club, I thought.  The search for answers to why my child became so choosy with her food became a quest mission to find creative ways to get her to eat a good, healthy, wholesome diet.

My toughest fight is lunch at school. Other kids bring store-bought lunches, pre-packaged foods, sugary snacks or the school’s fast-food catered lunch.  She constantly asks me to order her lunch from school or she’ll point at a packaged lunch at the grocery and say: “those are the ones my friends have.” I’ve realized that the way to make a child really want something is to make it the forbidden fruit.  My daughter is surrounded by “fun” looking food; and in truth, no kid wants to feel left out.

I’ve since looked at the whole picture and have asked myself: what would make her belong?

Lunch lesson #1: Kids eat with their eyes.

In less than five minutes I create my version of a store bought lunch: real cheese, whole wheat crackers, nitrate free turkey, low sugar drink, fruit, and always a little treat.  An added bonus is a packaged hand wipe since the entire lunch will be eaten with her hands. Happy Lunch Making!

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