Comfort Food

Absolutely Delicious Spinach

August 9, 2016
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Spinach is a funny vegetable. Kids and adults can claim to love it or loathe it, but for me, almost anyone will love it if it’s prepared in a tasty way.

When my son’s girlfriend, Sabrina, a self-proclaimed disliker of the green stuff, ordered and then devoured yummy, warm and cheesy spinach appetizer at a local restaurant, I put my mind to creating a spinach dish that would be just as tasty, but healthier.

Not every mom is as lucky as I am when it comes to kids and vegetables, especially spinach.
William eats just about anything, but when he was little, I didn’t know if this would hold when it came to something like spinach. So I would prepare what we simply called “green noodles” as my way of adding this healthy vegetable to his diet.

The recipe below blends my “green noodles” idea with the comfort of the creamy, warm and cheesy restaurant dip.  So it’s not just for kids.
It’s super as a side dish but also filling enough to eat on its own.
The bonus is that it serves up the warm comfort feeling of something like Mac & Cheese, but definitely healthier!

Here is how I prepare spinach for even the most finicky guest or visiting child.

Oh! And if you like gooey, creamy, hot spinach dips, you and your guests will devour this comforting and tasty side dish.

PREPARATION

Finely mince, and I do mean mince,  two cups of lovely, tender baby spinach (or one cup per person) until the leaves are teeny tiny. Do not cook. Just set the pile aside on the chopping board.

  1. Boil the right amount of tiny pasta until done. I measure out about 1/2 a cup, dry, per person.
    For the pasta here, I used Orzo, but you can also use little stars, or other really small pastas. I do not recommend larger noodles and wouldn’t suggest any thing bigger than an elbow macaroni.
  2. Drain pasta and return to the hot pan it was boiled in.
  3. Immediately add 3 tablespoons of good butter so it will melt into the pasta.
  4. Toss in all the uncooked, minced spinach.
  5. Add 1/4 fresh, grated parmesan cheese.
  6. Add 1/4 sour cream or creme fraische.
  7. Salt & pepper to taste.
  8. Stir until the butter, parmesan and sour cream are well combined.
  9. Top with fresh, grated parmesan.

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TIP: If you eat gluten-free, simply substitute wheat pasta for a Quinoa or Rice pasta.

Main Dishes

Mexican-Inspired Poached Chicken Lasagna with Tortilla Surprise

August 3, 2016
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Long before I can remember ever seeing a commercial tortilla with any pizazz, I began jazzing up my own totillas with fresh herbs. My favorite herb to use is Rosemary, freshly cut and finely chopped.

When you add just a bit of fresh herbs and salt to your tortilla mix, the notes come through just enough to make the lovely, subtle difference you need to transform a bland tortilla base into an integral part of the dish.

Rosemary seems to go well with most dishes where I use tortillas, such as the Mexican inspired lasagna below, with eggs dishes, or even home made tortilla chips.

(Tarragon is an intereting herb to add to a tortilla mix and I encourage you to try it with a bit of lemon zest!)

How to make Elizabeth’s Mexican-Inspired Poached Chicken Lasagna.

Filling 1
Poaching the Chicken

  • Place two, plump, boneless chicken breasts into a pan with about 1-1/2 inches of water. You to not have to submerge the chicken.
  • Cover the pan.
  • Simmer (do not allow to boil)  for about 5 –  minutes.
  • Turn OFF the heat and allow chicken to rest for a full 20 minutes, cover still on.

Meanwhile, prepare your tortillas.

Making the Tortillas

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Most supermarkets carry Maseca, a corn flour mix which blends fast & easy with water. I use about equal parts of flour to water. I prefer the white Maseca which I found in Panama. Here in the USA I found only yellow so I went with that. No big deal.

Here is what I did…

First: I measured out a large, heaping spoonful of dry dough for each tortilla. For this recipe I wanted 12 tortillas. I think I probably used 16 spoonfulls for 12.

Next: I added about a 2 tablespoons of finely chopped Rosemary to the dry flour … and some salt.

Then:  I began adding water, stirring with a fork, a spoon, or my clean fingers until I achieved a moist mass of dough that easily molds into golf ball sized nuggets.

Note: This is hardly an exact science. Maseca is forgiving, so if your mix is too wet, sprinkle on more flour, or if it’s too dry, add a spritz of water.

Tortilla Press  I searched for months — online and in stores — for a simple tortilla press, coming up empty-handed. Then my little sister,  Chiclet found not one, but two heavy aluminum presses, both at the GoodWill —  both costing a whopping $5!

It’s easy breezy to press a tortilla!

  • Lay the right half of a long piece of plastic wrap over the press.
  • Place your ball of dough in the center.
  • Fold the upper half of the plastic wrap over the top, press and… Presto!
  • Peel the plastic wrap slowly and flop your tortilla into a hot skillet. No oil necessary!
  • The tortilla will likely bubble up and that’s when you flip it, just one time. If it doesn’t form a bubble, flip it after about a minute. Cook the tortilla another minute and set it aside on a plate. Repeat until you have 12 stacked up.  It does not matter if they are softer or crispier. They are going to bake in the oven anyway. As I said, this is not an exact process and it is forgiving.

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Filling 2
Layering it all together

  • Proper cooks shred their now cooked and cooled chicken breasts with a fork. I confess, I pull apart my chicken threads with clean fingers. I’m hyper and I have no patience.
  • Butter the bottom of your favorite baking or lasagna dish.
  • Lay down four tortillas and cover with half the shredded chicken.

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  • Over the chicken, layer on thinly sliced, sweet, white onion.
  • Now add fesh, chopped cilantro, about 1/4 cup.
  • Add fresh, sliced tomato OR canned, chopped tomato
  • Place evenly dots of guacamole (optional) and then cream or sour cream. I mixed up a combination of sour cream and Nestle canned cream, added salt, and dotted my dish with this.
  • Now add dots of Salsa Verde or Rotel salsa.
  • Over all this, lay on some Provolone cheese. I prefer provolone because it is less gooey, but you can feel free to use mozzerella or any melty cheese of your choice, such as Monterrey Jack, etc. It doesn’t matter.
  • Cover this with four more tortillas and repeat the above process.
  • Bake at 350 for 1/2 an hour. Cut and serve

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Comfort Food

Low-Carb Potato Alternative…

April 7, 2016
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Cauliflower is very popular these days as a healthy replacement for not only carb-loaded potatoes, but as a meat replacement in dishes such as Tacos!

If you’re eating Paleo, Vegetarian. Grain-Free, or just wanting a new way to get your veggies, this super simple preparation is for you!

No bacon needed!

CAULIFLOWER SMASH!

  1. Split or quarter  1/2 of a large head of Caulifower, leaves included, except for those really thick, tough leaves that don’t steam up well.
  2. Have 1/4 cup loosely chopped onion handy but don’t add yet.
  3. Cover your Cauliflower with salted water (2 tsp salt) and simmer until easily stabbed with a fork. About 3 minutes before it is really soft, toss in the onion!
  4. When fork-soft, drain and place in a large bowl.
  5. While still hot, chop or break the cauliflower it into smaller pieces with a scissors or a knife. This should be easy.
  6. Toss in 2 tbsp butter
  7. Toss in a 1/3 tsp of Oregano. (Any fresh herb could do, such as Tarragon, Sage, Thyme, but stick with one flavor.)
  8. Puree all the Cauliflower & Onion with a hand blender, or whatever blender/food processor you use. Leave a few lumps for a nice consistency.
  9. Once pureed,sprinkle in about 1/4 cup of Italian blend cheese or a very mild cheddar, or any mild cheese. Now stir in the cheese until combined and melty.

Spoon your puree out and garnish with fresh herbs.

TIPS:  To treat this more like traditional mashed potatoes, add a little Half & Half to the mix as you puree. You can also top with gravy or, on each serving, top with a dollop of  Sour Cream, Chives, and extra Cheddar. Cauliflower is influenced by the flavors that surround it.

Comfort Food

Everything’s Better with Bacon

March 29, 2016
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Let’s face it. Most things really are better with bacon.

The key to getting a lot of flavor into this soup is the bacon, and also using either a good, home  made stock, a high-quality store bought stock, or a combination of the two. No hard, dried little flavor cubes!

Here is how I make my truly mouth-watering, Lentil Soup.

FIRST

Boil 1 cup of dried, quick cooking lentils in about twic 2-1/2 times as much liquid.
Add 2 small cloves garlic, minced.
(If you need or want more liquid, go ahead. I just add more if I think I need it.)

For liquid/broth, I use a combination of good quality beef stock and my own, delicious, super healthy bone broth, if I have some.
My lentils take about 20-25 minutes to really soften up so you ca  get these bubbling away on the stove top while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

WHILE YOUR LENTILS COOK…

Peel and dice a medium potato (I used red but removed the peel). You can set these to boil about 15 minutes OR you can toss them in to boil with the lentils for the last 15 minutes of lentil cooking.  Peeled and diced potatoes will not require that much time to soften and you don’t want them too mushy.

NEXT…

In a frying pan, sauté 6 strips of bacon, cut up (I use scissors leaving all the fat right in the pan as the bacon sizzles away.

  • Slice 2 small or 1 medium carrot
  • Dice 1 stick celery
  • Chop 1/4 cup of onion

By now, your bacon is nearly done so toss the carrot, celery and onion into the bacon pan and cook for about 5 minutes.

FINISHING UP

When the lentils are soft and the potatoes are cooked (i.e., easily stabbed with a fork), add the bacon and vegetable mixture and every drop of bacon fat.  Salt and pepper to taste.

TIPS:  For a heartier meal, add chunks of  sauteed ham or bratwurst. You can also add some of the tender celery leaves, chopped, for additional flavor.

The better your broth, the more flavorful your soup will be. I recommend reading up on the health benefits of your grandma’s good, old fashioned bone broth. Real bone stock imakes a pivotal difference not only on how flavorful your soup will be, but how healthy!

Comfort Food

Creamy Soup: Veggies in Disguise

February 14, 2016
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I find Caulifower takes on any flavors you add, so it pays to be bold, not shy, when it comes to this gorgeous, healthy vegetable flower.

I just made this up, so add or change any items you wish.
And have fun with it!  I have added some suggestions for substitutions below. (See photo below.)

CAULIFLOWER SOUP — FIRST INGREDIENTS

  1. Break up a medium to large head of Cauliflower.
  2. Place all the pieces in 1 inch of water, in a large sauce or soup pan.  You do Not need to cover the vegetables! Just an inch for steaming or your soup will be too watery.
  3. Toss – right on top — 3 whole spring onion stems, cut in half, the green part and all.
  4. Add 2 tablespooons of chopped, sweet red peppers.
  5. Shake in about 1/8 tsp Hot Red Pepper Flakes. (This is optional, but if you like heat and don’t have flakes,  try cayenne.)
  6. Add 1 tooth of garlic (or used 1/2 tsp dried flakes or chopped, jarred.)

Shake in some of your favorite salt to taste.Not too much as you or your guests can add this later.

STEP TWO – BLENDING & ADDING

  1. Cover all the above and steam first on high, then medium, until all the ingredients are easily broken up with a fork… About 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat.
  3. Blend throughly with a hand mixer right in the pot. This will remove some of the heat. If you don’t have a hand blender, use A regular blender…but do this in small batches to avoid explosion as the heat expands in a closed environment.
  4. Once blended but still quite warm, add 1/2 cup of Half & Half.
  5. Now, add also about 3/4 cup of shredded Cheddar (or any preferred cheese) and stir or blend lightly. You can cream the cheese at this point, or leave visible bits.
  6. For color and taste, NOW add 1 tsp. ground Turmeric. If you have fresh, wonderful. (See below for suggested substitutions).
  • Blend all the above together.
  • Reheat before serving and garnish with more spring onion or parsley, and a little black pepper

SUGGESTIONS  & SUBSTITUTES

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  1. If you are Vegan, use Coconut milk and a cheese substitute.
  2. Don’t have or care for turmeric (which contains serious anti-inflamation properties), try curry powder, or a little fresh or powdered ginger instead.
  3. Try roasted peppers or jarred pimento instead of the fresh, sweet red pepper.
  4. Try steaming your vegetables in chicken stock.
  5. Use another vegetable, such as broccoli.
  6. Don’t tell the kids about the cauliflower! Just say it’s a creamy, cheddar soup!

 

Comfort Food

Paleo Veg Surprise

January 23, 2016
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Everything is better with bacon. And teensy cabbages are no exception. Oh, you think you don’t care for brusel sprouts…but ah, you haven’t tried this dish. I dare you to serve this up to even the most reluctant eater, and I encourage you to cheat; Don’t even tell them what it is. You’ll see.

To Prepare

  • With your favorite scissors, dice up 4 slices of bacon and stir fry until crispy.
  • Set aside and drain, leaving about 3 tablespoons of the bacon greese in the ot pan.
  • Cut about 8 fresh brussel sprouts in half. Then quarter them.
  • Toss these into the pan along with the hot bacon grease and stir fry until the edges feel crispy and begin to brown.
  • Toss brussel sprouts and bacon bits together, adding salt & pepper to taste.(If you can find Truffle Salt, try some!)

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Comfort Food

No More “Gringo Rice!”

November 1, 2015
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I’ll never forget when a an honored dinner guest, an educated hydroponics engineer type whom I was trying to impress — and who is given to social blurting — blurted out his obvious disappointment upon seeing the savory rice dish I was about to serve, exclaiming (a la “Oy Vey”) “Oh… Gringo rice.”

That was it. I had spent seven months in the Philippines and two years in Mexico and I still cooked rice like a Greenwich girl… all sticky and gooey and clumpy.

I had been taught that it was key to use exactly  twice the water to rice and also to never, ever, lift the lid of the pot while it steamed.  I followed this to a T every time, and for years, and still I got goopy “Gringo rice” every time.

Back in the 1970s,  my dad, who had is own ad agency, rejected the marketing of a brand called “Success Rice,” claiming that the concept was a ploy: that people all over the world found making fluffy rice easy breezy and would only  laugh at the little, holey, pre-measured, steam bags made for us WASPY white-bread types who bought into the idea that rice making was a mystery, that rice-making required a special touch.

The morning after my dinner party rice disaster, I marched over to my Panamanian neighbor Leticia’s house, refusing to leave until she showed me exactly how Latinas make their rice all light and fluffy. Since that day, never ever has as my rice been met with disapproval.

It is not a science so you don’t need measuring cups, and it is easy. I was recently back in the United States and a friend, another girl brought up on bread and pasta, cooked up a pot of white rice. It came out as I expected see photo below).   I took the very same rice, the same kind of pot she’d used, but instead I simply made two simple changes and whipped up my Latino style arroz blanco (white rice.)

The photos speak: you can see that the first batch, made by my friend, is sticky, clumped and gooey, while the same rice product, made by me, came out fluffy.

FLUFFY LATINO RICE — There are only two simple tricks!

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Gooey “Gringo Rice”

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Fluffy Rice, Latino Style

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Measure out a cup of uncooked, white rice and place in a bowl.
  2. Rinse this rice until the water runs clear. (Some save the first rinse-water for soups. See tip below).
  3. Drain/strain out the water in a colander.
  4. In your favorite pot for rice cooking, heat two tablespoons of oil or butter.
  5. Dump your rinsed and drained rice into the hot oil and start sauteeing.  
  6. Stir until the rice seems dry but does not brown, about a minute.
  7. Now pour water or chicken stock over your rice until the rice is covered and the water level measures about as high as your first knuckle above the rice…about 1/2 an inch.  I use my index/pointer finger knuckle and I do this by eye. It is not an exact science and this does not matter. 
  8. Bring the liquid to a low boil. Then cover and reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes.
  9. Lift the lid and check by picking out a fork full and tasting.   Is it dry? Add 1/4 cup of water, cover and cook on low another 8 minutes or so.  When you feel your rice is done, just turn off the stove and let the rice sit in the pot.

TIPS:

  •  If your rice develops a hard, crusty and golden layer at the bottom, no worries! This is called the “dorado” and many people think it is a treat to get some of the crust.
  • A Filipina friend of mine sets aside her first, cloudiest rinse-water from her rice wash  — the starchiest batch –adding this to broth to an give her soups that, milky-cloudy, Asian look.
  • I have developed a liking for eating rice with breakfast eggs, especially fried or sunny-side up. When using your rice for making Fried Rice dish, or Arroz con Pollo, wait until your rice is cold, cooled or one day old to use for this type of dish.  Freshly cooked, hot rice will not give you the desired result.
  • For extra flavor, when you add your liquid, toss in a whole, peeled clove or two of garlic if you like. You can pick them out when your rice is cooked.
My Daily Kitchen

Decadent Pesto Pâté

September 13, 2015
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I could eat Pesto sauce all day long, but I tire of having it on wheaty, fattening pasta. So I am always trying to come up with other ways to give my food the delicious taste of pesto sauce, such as tossing it with vegetables (try cauliflower or zucchini) or using it as a sandwich spread on wraps or break. But as I said, this gets boring.

I am a hedonist; I do not do well with deprivation.  I wanted be able to eat something rich and smooth, something I could enjoy in the same way I used to savor a silky liver pâté, or dig a petite knife into a ripened, warm, gooey, pungent  Brie, but without the meat or dairy.  In other words, I want a low-carb Pesto decadence and I found a way to have it!

I came up with this delicious and satisfying Pesto Pâté, good enough to serve to company.

Here is how I prepare it.

Dedadent Pesto Pâté

In a food processor (mine is only a tine $10 food chopper) add:

  • 2 Cups fresh basil, tightly packed (or 3 cups loose leaves)
  • 1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality
  • 3 Garlic teeth/cloves (or 3, 1/2 tsp crushed garlic from the jar)
  • 1  Tsp freshly squeezed lemon or citrus
  • 1/4 Tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/8 Tsp salt

Process the above by pulsing until reduced … but not puréed!
Fancy food processors might mince too finely, so go bit by bit.  You do not want this to be soupy, but rather you want it chunky while still spreadable. Think about cutting hair; once cut, you can’t put it back,  but you can always cut more. So take your time and before you think your are there…
… This is when you want to add:

1 Cup whole, salted cashew nuts (if using unsalted, you’ll need to add more sale to the mix)
1 Cup grated Parmesan cheese (Vegan? Use a cheese substitute).

  • Process until the mixture is chunky but still spreadable. 
  • Taste it. If you want a tad more lemon, or cheese, or salt, just adjust until your taste buds are dancing.
  • Now, pack your mixture into any container and either freeze this…  or chill.

SERVING:
If frozen, just set the container on the counter for a few hours counter until you can tip it, intact, onto your platter.

If refrigerated, tip & scoop onto your serving platter. Don’t worry if the shape comes out goofy because this mix is malleable and easily sculpted after it is on the plate.
Keep refrigerated on the platter until you are ready to serve. Then place your crackers at the last minute.

TIPS:

  • If you are Vegan, omit the Parmesan and replace with a vegan option.
  • Gluten Free? Just find a good rice cracker in place of wheat.
  • Slice large pieces of tomato or zucchini and use these in place of crackers for spreading.

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Breakfast

Sneaky Pinks… A Healthy Treat!

August 29, 2015
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A dangerous thing has happened to me. And it’s personal.

Directly across from my bedroom & kitchen windows, making a visual & olfactory bee line for my eyes and nose,  is a Donut Factory.

Their kitchen is soin such close to mine that we busy cooks can wave to each other, the warm smells from our respective work spaces wafting out to blend & mix in the middle airspace between my apartment and  the Donut Factory.

What’s a grain-free, gluten-free, low-sugar gal to do?

Here’s what. Try the recipe below. It provides a sneaky way to give yourself & your family a donut-like treat that is full of nutrition, very low on sugar, and zero of gluten & bad fats!

SNEAKY PINKS

Into a mixing bowl, add

  • 2 Free-roaming eggs
  • 2 Tsp Fresh lemon juice
  • 5 Drops liquid Stevia (or 4 packets if you don’t have liquid)
  • 1/3 Cup good quality sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups Pureed Cooked (fresh or from a can) Beets
  • 1-1/2 cups Gluten-Free Pancake mix (See my photo)
  • 1/2 Tsp. Baking power
  • Pinch of salt

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Blend on high with a hand mixer or hand blender until completely incorporated.

Coat your favorite frying pan with Cocout Oil or Butter or Good Earth Butter sub.

(I used a tiny pan, the kind one would use to make an individual egg for a McMuffin type sandwich. But… you can use a larger pan and just made small rounds, dropping in each PINK  ROUNDwith a spoon.)

When your pan is nice and hot, drop in your pink batter, any size you like.

Immediately lower the head to medium-low. Allow to cook on one side until you see the top batter bubbling and the cake is firm enough to flip without spilling.  Then cook another minute  and remove from pan.

Arrange on a plate any way you like, and dust with powdered sugar. They are surprisingly moist and sweetly satisfying.

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My Daily Kitchen

So Easy… Dill Goat Cheese!

August 29, 2015
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I purchased a quart of fresh goat’s milk at the market and decided to make my own flavored  cheese. It was astonishingly simple to do…a nearly effortless process, and the result was delicious, subtle flavored with dill and pepper. Plus, the process gave me control over the amount of salt I wanted to use.

DO NOT BE DAUNTED by the list below. I have outlined each step I took. It is easy, easy, easy. The entire process took me maybe 15 minutes.

Goat’s milk is generally considered to be beneficial in ways that cow’s milk is not. For a list of benefits CLICK.

Now you can make your own flavored cheese. I chose Dill because I had some, and it’s light and versatile.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN GOAT CHEESE

  • Pour  1 quart or liter of fresh Goat Milk into a saucepan. Add to this:
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of finely chopped, fresh Dill
  • 1 Teaspoon of good quality salt (or less, just to your taste).
  • Shake in about 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • Stirring, bring the mixture to near boiling. The surface will develop small, foamy bubbles and the pan will emit sweet smelling steam. Avoid a rolling boil.
  • Turn off the fire.
  • Now for the magic!  Right into your hot milk & herb mixture, add 1 Tablespoon of White Vinegar, or fresh citrus.
  • Stir a few times and walk away for a few minutes. (Your milk will curdle and the whey will separate.)
  • Find a nice bowl over which you can securely set a strainer.
  • Line your strainer with a large coffee filter
  • Spoon or pour all your mixture, liquid and all, over the filter.
  • Let sit & drain until all the liquid is gone and only the firm white cheese remains.
  • Scoop this dryer into a new, clean coffee filter & gently squeeze into a small ball.
  • Set the wrapped ball on a little dish, like the one below. Now set another dish on top, for weight.
  • Leave this in the refrigerator overnight or until chilled & firm
  • Voila! You have an easy, nice, tasty and firm cheese.

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TIPS:  Eat it sliced on crackers, or sprinkle it atop an omelette. Add it to sandwishes or garnish soups with it. Sprinkle it or arrange nice slices on your next healthy salad.

This is a super fun project to do with kids!