5-Minute Fancy Cheese Plate on a Budget

Being able to throw together a solid cheese plate in a short amount of time is one of the keys to adulting.  It’s also key to making a night at home feel like a special occasion, even when you’re short on energy and the budget is tight.  Sure, you could eat the cheese on crackers pulled straight from the box while standing in the kitchen mindlessly trolling Facebook, but why not take five minutes to make the whole cheese and carbs thing a little more special?

In my experience, the secret to making a great cheese plate is variety:  contrasting flavors and textures make all the difference!  So, let’s talk cheese.  I like to think that there are four main categories of cheese:  soft, hard, stinky, and the wildcard.  Other folks may use stuffier categories, but this is what works for me!  When picking cheese, I try to select only one from each category.  For example, I might pick a brie (a classic, soft cheese that deserves a place on any cheese board), Manchego (hard), Gorgonzola (stinky), and smoked Gouda (wildcard).

Good news.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a good cheese plate–with just one nice cheese and some inexpensive accouterments, you can create an impressive spread for less than ten buckaroos.

one-cheese-plate-close-up

For this simple cheese plate, I picked a rich and creamy goat milk brie ($2.79 at Trader Joe’s), gluten free rice crackers ($2.50 per box), a handle of almonds I had on hand ($FREE), and several goodnessknows snack squares (half a box = $2.50). That’s a fancy, filling cheese plate for less than $8! As an added bonus, this combination is totally gluten free.

Sure they call it a “cheese plate” but I think it’s really all the OTHER stuff that makes a cheese plate shine.  Rather than spending tons of money at the grocery store, take a look in your pantry and your fridge, and pull out anything and everything that looks good for nibbling.  Pickles of any variety, dried fruit, chocolate, honey, fruit preserves, mustard, nuts, cured meats, fresh bread, crostini, croutons…  I realize this sounds like a big hodgepodge, but, assuming you only keep things on hand that you actually enjoy eating, I don’t think you can go wrong!  One of my favorite stumbled-upon combinations, for example, is goat cheese Gouda + dill pickles + stadium mustard.  THE BEST.  The odds-and-ends plate is where it’s at.

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Cherry Tomato & Ricotta Frittata {recipe}

Remember when I promised to post my cherry tomato and ricotta frittata recipe “very soon”?  Like 2 months ago, soon?  Well, here she is, just in time for the first frost and an impending seven solid months of the tomato-less hell that is winter.

I know, I know.  Excuses, excuses.  But seriously, grad school is tough y’all.  Over the past couple of months, I’ve cried in front of several fellow PhD students, cried my self to sleep after my first accounting seminar, cried in my professor’s office, cried when my boyfriend “jokingly” locked me in the bathroom, and left my first microeconomic theory midterm choking for breath because the tears were gushing so fast and so hard that all my facial orifices had clogged.

I am a character from a cheesy 80’s sitcom.

But I took a break from all that excitement, just to get this frittata recipe up here on the blog.  Now hurry outside and pick the last of the cherry tomatoes before the first frost comes!

cherry tomato and ricotta frittata

Check out the bite-size video below to see just how darn easy this frittata is to throw together.  It tastes great when reheated and makes for a pretty mean breakfast sandwich, should you be so inclined.

Snag the whole recipe here!

 

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Behind the scenes of a recipe video shoot

A few years ago, in a creative writing workshop, my group was asked to write a paragraph about how to make guacamole.  We had five minutes or so, the first four of which I spent wondering why my brain had suddenly turned into a lumpy pile of pudding, and the fifth of which I utilized to quickly scrawl my go-to guacamole recipe (link here, if you’re curious).  The instructor then asked our neighbors to read our guacamole stories aloud.  ALOUD.  THE HORROR.  The guacamole stories began to flow.  Tales of quirky childhood loathing of all things green, grass included.  Words of wisdom, lessons learned, ideas on what the heck NOT to do.  A gal who sat close to me weaved together a perfect description of a grandmother hand-mashing avocado with her beautiful, wrinkled hands.  I could taste the guacamole.  I could see the grandma.  Heck, I felt like I KNEW the grandma.

Capture

And then it was time for my story.  My neighbor (who happened to be the wickedly talented Keia Mastrianni) read my story to the group.  It went a little something like this:  slice an avocado, mash it, add 1/3 cup diced red onion. . .  I was mortified.

It took me longer than I’d like to admit to recognize that I don’t perform well creatively when put on the spot.  I need time and a lot of it.  As much as I’d hoped both sides of my brain would mature equally, the Type A traits run this show.  Brainstorming sometimes leaves me creatively numb, a reaction that is amplified when I let any sort of self-doubt creep into the conversation.  You can’t write.  No one is going to read this.  Did you really just type that sentence?  Is “delicious” the only adjective you know?  Mary, even YOU are bored right now.  What are you doing?  YOU’RE AN ACCOUNTANT FOR GODS SAKE.

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Lentil Dal with Spinach and Carrots {healthy recipe}

When I was kid, my parents didn’t sneak vegetables into my meals, per se.  (Though, my step mom did occasionally “hide” Brussels sprouts under a blanket of Velveeta cheese.)  Rather, it seemed like they picked the vegetables they knew the kids would eat.  BROCCOLI.  POTATOES.  POTATOES.  POTATOES.  This worked out well for me, because as a kid I hated most cooked vegetables, including green peppers, tomatoes, and CARROTS.  Oh, how I loathed the mushy cooked carrot.

dal 2

This dal recipe has three cups of minced carrots and ten ounces (two regular-sized bags) of spinach (or more, if you like).  While the spinach is discernible, the carrots blend right in with the lentils and you forget they’re even there.  Hallelujah.  This lentil dal is a very healthy dish, yet hearty and satisfying.  I’ve made if many times over the last several months, and finally made the effort to write down the ingredients on the last batch.  This recipe is forgiving — add as little or as much of the seasonings as you like.  Extra veggies always welcome.

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Broccoli, Leek, & Potato Soup {vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, whole30 recipe}

I wrote this Broccoli, Leek, & Potato Soup post as part of a series for Tasteful Selections Potatoes, which is sponsoring Katie’s Krops, an awesome hunger-focused nonprofit fueled by kid-run gardens, through January 2016 (details below).  

This January, I’ve committed to refocusing on healthy living.  Just like the rest of humanity.  Sure it’s cliché, but in my mind New Year’s Day is like hitting the “reset” button on the Nintendo.  While I’m normally pretty health-focused, things got a little crazy last year (as they do every year), and I’m thankful for this month to refresh.  At this time last year, I was timidly beginning my first Whole30–a nutritional reset program focused on super clean eating for thirty days–and I’m doing the same this year.  When I mention the Whole30 in conversation, I often get concerned looks and questions of “wait… what the heck do you eat?”  In a nutshell, the Whole30 rules out grains, sugar, beans, soy, dairy, unnatural ingredients, and booze.  Which leaves us with protein, fats, and veggies.  Lots and lots of veggies.

Broccoli, Leek, & Potato Soup Recipe {vegan, gluten free, whole30}

(bowls by JMNPottery)

The secret to a successful Whole30 (or any clean-eating program, for that matter) is planning, and my plan includes batch cooking tons of vegetables each week.  This week, for example, I sautéed an entire head cabbage, roasted three pounds of brussels sprouts, sautéed three bell peppers and two onions, bought a giant container of baby spinach to toss in EVERYTHING, and made this hearty Broccoli, Leek, and Potato Soup.  More vegetables than a vegetarian, as they say.

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Easy as Potato Pie {vegetarian & gluten free recipe}

I wrote this Potato Pie post as part of a series for Tasteful Selections Potatoes, which is sponsoring Katie’s Krops, an awesome hunger-focused nonprofit fueled by kid-run gardens, through January 2016 (details below). 

There’s something simultaneously romantic and nostalgic about gathering for a meal while you’re still in your PJ’s.  And with all the eggs, potatoes, cheese, and bread, breakfast is the clearcut best meal of the day.  The problem with breakfast, though, is that most of us are too tired or too hungry to throw together a hearty meal first thing in the morning.  Oftentimes, I circumvent this issue by having a pre-breakfast snack.  Which, since I’m already starving, ends up being the equivalent of a normal-sized breakfast, and ultimately results in me eating two meals worth of food.  And then I have to go for a run when I really just want to curl up on the couch and drink my coffee dangit.

Kale & Onion Potato Pie

Easy breakfasts are key.  I call this easy recipe “Potato Pie” because it has lots of potatoes and it’s shaped like… a pie.  The concept here is simple:  thinly sliced potatoes, eggs, and whatever vegetables or leftovers you have on hand.  Use of a food processor makes quick work of the potato slicing, and using thin-skinned baby potatoes means no peeling is required.  I prepared this version of potato pie with kale, but there are lots of options.  Broccoli, squash, or mushrooms?  Perfect.  Cheese is always welcome.  To keep things light, I used a mix of whole eggs and egg whites, but if you aren’t on the egg white train, just use a dozen eggs.

The key to making a good potato pie is making sure the fillings taste great on their own.  Season them until they’re good enough to eat solo. Then be sure to season the eggs before you combine them with the potato mixture.

potato pie {gluten free vegetarian breakfast recipe via FerventFoodie.com}

Few things beat sharing breakfast with your loved ones, buy you can add a little more love to your meal by purchasing Tasteful Selections potatoes.  Through January 2016, Tasteful Selections is sponsoring Katie’s Krops, a non-profit organization that donates crops from youth-run gardens to help feed people in need by donating a portion of the profits from specially marked bags of Tasteful Selections’ Ruby Sensation and Honey Gold Potatoes.  So pick up a sack of their potatoes and give this Kale and Onion Potato Pie recipe a try!  If you’re interested in learning more about Katie’s Krops, check out this video.

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German Potato Salad {vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free recipe}

I wrote this post as part of a series for Tasteful Selections Potatoes, which is sponsoring Katie’s Krops through January 2016 (details below). Thanks, Tasteful Selections, for sponsoring this post and for growing the adorable baby potatoes I used in this German Potato Salad recipe.

In my family, potato salad is a big freaking deal.  My Grandma June has been making her family-famous potato salad since before I was born–it’s been at every family dinner or cookout I can remember, just a bowling-ball-sized mountain of potatoes, green pepper, celery seed, and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.  Last Thanksgiving, I asked Grandma June where she originally found the recipe, but she couldn’t remember—she said she made it once back in the seventies, and it tasted good, so she just kept on making it.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how legends are born.  One time, my stepmom made Grandma’s recipe using Miracle Whip instead of Hellman’s, and the family was absolutely horrified.  NO ONE ate it, and she never attempted Grandma’s potato salad again.  Then, a few years ago, Grandma June passed the torch and transitioned potato salad making duty to my sister, Jenny.  Lucky girl.

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3 Bangin Brat Relish Recipes {as seen on WBTV}

It’s cookout season–and any excuse to celebrate gets my vote!  Brats are the perfect backyard barbecue food; they’re easy to cook and super simple to customize, just by switching up your relish and toppings.

BRATS 3

I spent the morning hanging out with WBTV talking Bratsgiving!  Check out the video below!

Without further ado, here are three brat relish recipes inspired by some of my favorite foods:  banh mi, bruschetta, and guacamole!

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2 Easy Grilled Vegetarian Sides {recipe}

If you caught my last recipe post, you already know I’ve been tricking myself to eat fish by throwing it in a taco and adding excessive toppings, like a parent hiding veggies in their kid’s mac and cheese.  It’s sad but true.  Of course, grilling fish makes it a little more palatable, plus nothing beats grilling in the summer (even if it is fish…).  Fresh.  Fast.  Flavorful.  And so darn pretty.

grilled corn

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Blackened Fish Tacos with Carolina Peach Salsa

I’ve been trying to learn to like fish ever since my dad brought home walleye cheeks that first time, fresh from Lake Erie, and my sisters oohed and aahed over how delicious they were.  I wanted in.  I desperately wanted to like fish.  Every bite though… just left something lacking.  It’s the texture that gets me, I think.  And the fishy taste.  So basically, I dislike every aspect of fish.  Except, of course, for the fact that it’s good for you.  So, in an effort to trick myself into liking fish, I’ve been making fish tacos all the time.  They’re super simple to throw together, and if you add enough toppings, you can’t even taste the fish.  I’ll consider that a WIN.

Blackened Fish Tacos with Peach Salsa

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