Instant Pot Tomato Soup – A Perfect Starter Recipe

Instant Pot tomato soup is the perfect first recipe to make. It’s very forgiving, and you don’t have to worry about meat drying out. As a bonus, it can be made whether you use the Duo or the Lux. Enjoy this recipe and please use my affiliate links where you pay the same you would otherwise but I earn a small percentage for referring you.

Instant pot balsamic tomato soup recipe

Soup is something I live on in the winter. It’s cold, and I want something warm and comforting, but not always super heavy. This Instant Pot tomato soup fits the bill perfectly. I can get it started then head off with the kids to their activities and finish it off in just a couple quick minutes. Less takeout? Yes, please!

I’ve made a similar soup on the stove in the past, but I love that I don’t have to babysit this. I don’t worry that it’s boiling over, and I have no open flame that needs watching. These are the things I love about my Instant Pot tomtao soup.

The fact that the flavor is pretty awesome? Bonus. The balsamic vinegar was an accidental addition one day, but there’s no such thing as an accident. The depth of flavor this adds is exactly what this Instant Pot tomato soup needs. And always saute your tomato paste with your onion. This is a trick I picked up years ago, and again, the difference in richness of flavor is truly noticeable compared to recipes that tell you to add it with other liquid ingredients. Nope, pop it in at the start!

This Instant Pot tomato soup is naturally dairy free and gluten free, and if you swap out vegetable stock for the chicken stock, you have a vegan meal, too. This is kid-approved, making it appealing for a gathering with all kind of dietary restrictions.

Serve it up in a bread bowl or with some biscuits, and you’re set. I use an immersion blender to puree the soup, but feel free to use a traditional blender instead. If you do, make sure you don’t fill the blender more than a third full at a time and hold on the top with a kitchen towel to prevent pressure buildup that can spatter hot soup everywhere (another reason I love my immersion blender).

Perfect first time instant pot recipe for tomato soup in winter

How to Make Instant Pot Tomato Soup

Could you toss everything in and just go? Sure. That said, take a few extra minutes to saute the onion and tomato paste, which will build a much stronger depth of flavor. Trust me on this one.

Turn your Instant Pot to saute. Let it heat while you dice your onion. Add oil then the onion and tomato paste. Stir and let cook about three minutes until onion softens and turns translucent but before it browns. Turn off the Instant Pot and add your tomatoes (including the juices) and stock immediately. Stir to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom.

Add salt, pepper, basil, and parsley. Turn the Intant Pot to soup, and set it for 10 minutes. Be sure the valve is set to closed. Walk away and do…whatever you choose.

When the timer goes off, let it sit for another ten minutes. You don’t want the pressure release to spray any soup because the pressure is too high. Recipes that are primarily liquid need to sit and release pressure naturally for a bit before you release it the rest of the way. After 10 minutes, release the pressure and open the pot.

Stir in balsamic vinegar and sugar. Use your immersion blender to puree, and place in a blender (again, not more than a third of the way full and using a kitchen towel to manually hold on the top). Test for seasoning and add additional salt or vinegar as needed.

Delicious bowl of Instant pot tomato soup recipe

Serve immediately with a sprinkle of cheese, or let cool and store in a sealed container in your fridge up to four days.

Have you ever tried Instant Pot tomato soup? What’s your favorite recipe?

Instant Pot Tomato Soup – A Perfect Starter Recipe

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Instant Pot Tomato Soup – A Perfect Starter Recipe

Did you hop on the Instant Pot bandwagon? This is a great first recipe to try, and it tastes great even if you're a pressure cooker expert. This Instant Pot tomato soup has a couple secret ingredients and techniques to make the flavor really pop!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes
  • 3 c chicken stock
  • 2 t dried parsley
  • 1 T dried basil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c sugar

Instructions

  1. Turn your Instant Pot to saute. Let it heat while you dice your onion. Add oil then the onion and tomato paste. Stir and let cook about three minutes until onion softens and turns translucent but before it browns. Turn off the Instant Pot and add your tomatoes (including the juices) and stock. Stir to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom.
  2. Add salt, pepper, basil, and parsley. Turn the Instant Pot to soup, and set it for 10 minutes. Be sure the valve is set to closed.
  3. When the timer goes off, let it sit. After 10 minutes, release the pressure and open pot.
  4. Stir in balsamic vinegar and sugar. Use your immersion blender to puree, and place in a blender (again do this in batches, not more than a third of the way full and using a kitchen towel to manually hold on the top). Test for seasoning and add additional salt or vinegar as needed.
  5. Serve immediately, or let cool and store in a sealed container in your fridge up to four days.
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This is the perfect first recipe for your Instant Pot. This tomato soup is ready in no time and has a ton of great flavor between the sauteed tomato paste and the splash of balsamic vinegar.


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Brown Sugar Cookie Dough Truffles Recipe

This shop featuring brown sugar cookie dough truffles has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #ShareTheHoliday #CollectiveBias

Delicious brown sugar cookie dough truffles recipe

My son came home from school yesterday and asked if he could bring in a special treat for his Spanish teacher. Initially, he asked if I would make a jar of my espresso hot fudge sauce to gift her, but since I’m planning on making jars of that and caramel sauce for holiday teacher gifts, I wanted to use something else – after inquiring further.

Why did he want to give her something? Social emotional learning is a focus in my kids’ school, and yesterday a counselor spoke to one of his classes about gratitude and appreciation. Each student wrote a note to a staff member who went above and beyond. My son chose his Spanish teacher who has helped him all year. She hasn’t just taught Spanish, but she’s helped him do a better job of responding appropriately when frustrated in class (no more ripping up papers when things are wrong or wadding up tests and throwing them when he doesn’t do as well as anticipated) and helping him stay on target and focused. She’s done all this in a way that hasn’t called attention to him, and he appreciates it.

Honestly? I do, too. When he asked me to create a gift he could share with the note, I had to come up with something. I remembered a few years ago when my brownie batter truffles were a huge hit, but this time, I wanted to create brown sugar cookie dough truffles. They’re easy to make and definitely have a wow factor.

Give the gift of brown sugar cookie dough truffles

I had most of the ingredients I needed already, but I knew we had almost no storage containers left. Fortunately, I had time to scoot to Walmart to pick up more chocolate to coat the truffles while the kids did tae kwon do and saw the perfect holiday themed Rubbermaid TakeAlongs  in limited edition colors of Red, Green, and Holiday Prints. Find them in stores only until December 24. I scooped up some rectangles in a six pack for the brown sugar cookie dough truffles (and the peppermint bark bonus!) and deep rectangles for the cookie swap I host this weekend.

Rubbermaid TakeAlongs at Walmart

They worked perfectly last year to hold cookies for my friends. The Quik Clik Seal™ keeps food secure and helps prevent spills. No one wants to lose Christmas cookies! Fortunately, the large tab means it’s easy to open with one hand to sneak a cookie even with the tight seal from the soft lid. I love these for my cookie swap, and I can’t wait for this year. After all, I have to top those s’mores cookies, right?

share-your-brown-sugar-cookie-dough-truffle-and-peppermint-bark

Once I got home, I whipped up the dough for the brown sugar cookie dough truffles using some of my favorite tricks to make it go faster. How can you get your own made quickly?

  • Add boiling water to a glass jar and let it sit a few minutes. Pour out the water, then place it upsidedown over your stick of butter to soften it without melting the butter.
  • Use a cookie dough scoop to quickly get even size balls for the brown sugar cookie dough truffles
  • Place your bag of dough balls in the freezer to make rolling faster and easier while you melt your chocolate
  • Melt your chocolate in a cast iron saucepan that will retain the heat once melted so you don’t have to keep heating it up
  • Melt more chocolate than needed so you can quickly and easily coat each truffle without having to scrape the sides as you get near the end

Soften butter with a warm jar trick

I love making truffles in winter since they harden so quickly. By the time I’ve dipped my fourth truffle, the first one is completely hardened. This means I can crank them out in well under an hour, start to finish. No one has time to waste over the holidays, right?

Making brown sugar cookie dough truffles for teach gifts

As soon as I finish them, they’re pretty much ready to pop in a little wrapper to fancy them up even more. Then they hop into my Rubbermaid TakeAlongs, and they’re ready for gifting. My son cannot wait to share these brown sugar cookie dough truffles with his Spanish teacher!

Store truffles and peppermint bark in Rubbermaid containers

How to Make Brown Sugar Cookie Dough Truffles

Add softened butter and brown sugar to a bowl, and beat until fluffy. Add salt, vanilla, and baking powder, and mix again. Yes, baking powder even though you aren’t baking these. I feel like they’re missing flavor without it, but you can leave it out. Add milk and mix until combined, then add flour and stir until incorporated.

Use a cookie dough scoop to create 24 somewhat equal size balls. They don’t have to be perfectly shaped; you’ll roll them later. Place in a zip top bag and pop in the freezer.

Use a cookie dough scoop to make balls

In a heavy saucepan, add chopped dark chocolate and turn heat medium low. Stirring periodically, melt chocolate. When all is melted but a few lumps, remove from heat and stir. You don’t want to heat the chocolate too much and lose its tempering.

While chocolate is melting, pull out a silpat or parchment paper and place on your work surface. Gently roll brown sugar cookie dough truffles into smooth balls. The freezer helps them roll nicely and not stick to your hands. If they’re still too warm, freeze another ten minutes.

Roll dough into smooth balls

Drop cookie dough balls into chocolate one by one.

Dip dough into chocolate one by one

Quickly scoop chocolate over the ball with a spatula, being careful to not change its shape. Using a large fork pick it up, cradling it from the bottom. Shake off excess chocolate.

Shake off excess chocolate

Place on your silpat or parchment paper and gently wiggle the fork at an angle so the brown sugar cookie dough truffle slides off the fork without losing any chocolate coating.

Tilt fork on silpat to release truffle

Repeat for each truffle. If you work quickly, you can do all truffles without having to reheat your chocolate. If your chocolate isn’t as easy to work with, gently heat to get it smooth and silky again.

What To Do With Leftover Chocolate?

Once all truffles are dipped, get a regular fork and dip in the chocolate. Shake it over your truffles to give them a striped top. This makes them look even fancier and helps hide any imperfections. Total win. That requires just a bit of your extra chocolate.

Use a fork to shake melted chocolate over hardened truffle shells

I melt extra chocolate to make dipping the brown sugar cookie dough truffles easier. I also have an ulterior motive. The extra chocolate makes perfect chocolate bark with minimal effort. I just created two desserts for the effort of one.

In winter, I love to make peppermint chocolate bark. I grab an extra silpat (or parchment paper sheet) and make magic. First step – grab a candy cane from your Christmas tree. I promise, the kids will never know. Use the bottom of a jar to gently crush it into pieces. I got a little overenthusiastic, but it’s been that kind of week. Small pieces still taste great. Empty the candy cane into a bowl and set aside.

Add peppermint extract to your still warm chocolate. Remember, you want it to say peppermint, not scream it. I used a quarter teaspoon, but start with less. Stir it in, then taste to check for flavor. Pour chocolate onto the silpat or parchment paper and smooth into a smooth sheet with a spatula.

Immediately sprinkle peppermint pieces over the chocolate and gently press into place before the chocolate hardens. Let harden then break into pieces.

Peppermint bark on a silpat

Once the chocolate hardens, place brown sugar cookie dough truffles and peppermint bark in separate Rubbermaid TakeAlongs. Store brown sugar cookie dough truffles in the fridge for up to a week or gift your friends. These will also freeze but freeze better before you add chocolate. Fortunately Rubbermaid TakeAlongs are freezer safe, as well as microwavable and safe for the top rack in your dishwasher. Keep peppermint bark on your counter in your Rubbermaid TakeAlongs for up to two weeks.

Perfect storage for brown sugar cookie dough truffles

Check out more inspiration here!

Have you ever had brown sugar  cookie dough truffles? What’s your favorite holiday treat?

Brown Sugar Cookie Dough Truffles

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 24 truffles

Brown Sugar Cookie Dough Truffles

These little treats are perfect for the holiday season. The brown sugar cookie dough truffles make wonderful gifts as well as a gorgeous dessert for the any entertainment.

Ingredients

  • 8 T butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t baking powder (optional)
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 2 c flour
  • 8 oz dark chocolate, chopped

Instructions

  1. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add salt, baking powder, and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Add milk and mix to incorporate. Add flour and stir to combine.
  2. Use cookie scoop to make 24 balls and place in zip top bag. Place bag in freezer while you prep chocolate.
  3. In a heavy saucepan, add chopped dark chocolate and turn stove to medium low. Stir periodically until chocolate is almost fully melted. Remove from heat and stir to melt the last small bits.
  4. While chocolate is melting, roll dough into smooth balls and place on silpat or parchment paper. If dough sticks to your hands, return to freezer for another 5-10 minutes.
  5. Once balls are rolled, drop one by one into the melted chocolate to coat, shaking off excess. Place on silpat to harden.
  6. Store in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for up to a week.

Notes

The melted chocolate will have "extra" left over. Use the melted chocolate to make chocolate bark by pouring onto a silpat and smoothing, then immediately adding toppings. Let harden, then break into pieces for an added bonus.

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Make these easy egg free brown sugar cookie dough truffles to give to friends and family or for a perfect elegant dessert. This recipe is ready in under an hour and requires no special tools.


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Strawberry Cereal Topped Donuts Recipe

This shop sharing my cereal topped donuts recipe has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SingWithPost #CerealAnytime #CollectiveBias

Plate of strawberry cereal topped donuts

With my kids, I tend to hear the same refrain over and over. It’s usually one of two things. “Mom, what’s for (insert next meal here)?” and “Mom, can we see a movie tonight?” Note that they ask me and not their father. They know I’m the one with the answers. Weekends provide the most fun since they want more unique meals and we have more time for movies.

We have seen several great movies in the theaters lately, and we always check out previews to determine what else we want to see. The next one on our list? Sing. The wee ones are counting down the days until we can go see it, and I am, too! This past weekend, I decided to combine their desire to see this movie with their love of unique meals, and that’s where these cereal topped donuts were born.

Enjoy homemade cereal topped baked donuts

I hit upon the idea for cereal topped donuts when I was at Walmart picking up some cereal for the “regular” weekday breakfasts for them. Ever since we had the Honey Bunches of Oats breakfast at Universal Studios, that’s been their favorite cereal, and honestly, I can’t blame them. I had planned to just pick up one box, but when I saw the Sing movie promotion on the boxes, I ended up picking up all three of their favorites – Honey Bunches of Oats StrawberryHoney Bunches of Oats Honey Roasted, and Honey Bunches of Oats Almond.

Honey Bunches of Oats at Walmart

Why? There’s a sweet (pun intended) offer on select Post products, and I found these special boxes with new packaging that incorporates the new SING movie. Through information on the cereal boxes, I (ok, you, too) can enter the SING National Sweepstakes for a chance to win $100,000 or free movie tickets. I’m all over that, and all I have to do is enter codes that are printed inside the specially-marked boxes into the sweepstakes website. Ergo, three boxes of cereal because three chances of winning are better than one!

Post honey bunches of oats sing movie sweepstakes

Once I got home, I started thinking about how I could take their favorite cereal and do something fun with it over the weekend. Little Miss adores donuts. In fact, I bought her full size donut pans for her birthday this year because she was so sad that I always made mini donuts. (Me? I think they’re cuter and more fun – really, these sprinkle donuts? How do you go wrong? Baked lemon donuts? YUM!)

I adapted my cake donut recipe slightly so that I could make these cereal topped donuts even more tender like bakery style donuts, and the cornstarch? That was the winner. Ok, using the inspiration from the Honey Bunches of Oats Strawberry and including extra freeze dried strawberries in the donut and its glaze? That pretty much solidified these cereal topped donuts as their new “must have” weekend breakfast.

Enjoy a homemade cereal topped donut

Check out other fun cereal inspired recipes here or the Pinterest board if you’re a pin-lover like me!.

How to Make Cereal Topped Donuts

Perfect homemade strawberry cereal topped donuts

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease donut pans. This makes 12 large and 6-9 mini donuts, or you can stick with 15 full size donuts.

In your bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and 1/2 cup of chopped freeze dried strawberries.

In a separate bowl, add buttermilk, eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and eggs. Whisk until thoroughly incorporated, then add to dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated. You want some lumps; don’t overmix these!

Pro tip: Place a gallon zip top bag over a small bowl and fold over the outside of the bowl. This makes it easier to add the batter to the bag for piping into your donut pans. No mess anywhere! Then just close up the zip top bag without much extra air, and snip off a quarter inch from the corner.

Use a bowl to hold zip top bag to fill before piping

Pipe the batter into your donut pans, but don’t overfill them.

Pipe batter into donut pan

Bake in your 425 degree oven for 9-11 minutes, until they spring back when you touch them. Let cool in the donut pans for a few minutes, then move to cooling racks to finish cooling.

Baked strawberry cake donuts

While donuts are baking, mix up your glaze. Completely pulverize to a powder another 1/4 cup of freeze dried strawberries, then place in a small bowl with powdered sugar and stir to mix. Add the last 1 teaspoon vanilla and the milk. Stir until mixed, adding a touch more milk to thin the glaze if needed.

In a separate bowl, add the Honey Bunches of Oats Strawberry cereal. Find the full size strawberry pieces, and break them into 3 or 4 pieces each to make it easier to eat the donut.

Prep cereal for topping

Once donuts are cool, dip in the strawberry glaze and twist as you remove them.

Dip donuts and twist from glaze to remove

Pop them in the cereal for a last topping, and let them dry.

Dip glazed donut into cereal

 

Pro tip: Serve the same day, or the cereal will absorb moisture from the strawberry glaze. Optionally, you can make the donuts ahead of time and freeze or store for a day on the counter in a sealed container, then glaze and dip later. Voila, strawberry cereal topped donuts!

Perfect dozen cereal topped baked donuts

Have you ever had cereal topped donuts? What’s your favorite donut?

Strawberry Cereal Topped Donuts

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 15 donuts

Strawberry Cereal Topped Donuts

These delicious cereal topped donuts are easy to make and a crowd pleaser. The strawberry in the donut, glaze, and topping make them delicious and fun to eat.

Ingredients

    For the donuts:
  • 1 3/4 c flour
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/2 c freeze dried strawberries, chopped
  • 1 1/2 T cornstarch
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/8 t nutmeg
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T butter, melted
  • 1 t vanilla
  • For the topping:
  • 1 3/4 c powdered sugar
  • 1/4 c freeze dried strawberries, pulverized
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 2 T milk
  • 2 c Honey Bunches of Oats Strawberry

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease donut pans.
  2. In a bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and 1/2 cup of chopped freeze dried strawberries.
  3. In a separate bowl, add buttermilk, eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and eggs. Whisk until thoroughly incorporated, then add to dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated.
  4. Add batter to piping bag and snip the corner. Pipe the batter into your donut pans, being sure to not overfill them.
  5. Bake in 425 degree oven for 9-11 minutes, until they spring back whentouched. Let cool in the donut pans for a few minutes, then move to cooling racks to finish cooling.
  6. While donuts are baking, mix up the glaze. Pulverize to a powder 1/4 cup of freeze dried strawberries. Place in a small bowl with powdered sugar and stir to mix. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and milk. Stir until mixed.
  7. In a separate bowl, add the Honey Bunches of Oats Strawberry cereal. Find the full size strawberry pieces and break them into 3 or 4 pieces each. Once donuts are cool, dip in the strawberry glaze and twist as you remove them.
  8. Pop them in the cereal for a last topping, and let dry. Serve the same day so the cereal will stays crisp.

Notes

Store on the counter in a tightly sealed container. If you won't eat all donuts the same day, freeze extra donuts before glazing and adding the cereal topping. Store extra glaze tightly sealed in the fridge and let donuts thaw overnight, then glaze and top just prior to eating so the cereal don't absorb moisture from the glaze.

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These homemade strawberry cereal topped donuts are easy to make and healthier than fried. From scratch baked donuts recipes are easy to follow and are a perfect weekend breakfast treat. Get creative with your toppings and enjoy cereal anytime!


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9 Tips To Save Energy This Winter

This post sharing tips to save energy this winter is sponsored by Sears Home Services.

Indoor outdoor thermometer

Winter has officially arrived in Chicago, and I know we aren’t alone here. I held off turning on the furnace as long as possible, but when even my little guy on my indoor/outdoor thermometer has put on his coat and hat, there’s no pretending anymore. And ok, there hasn’t been for awhile.

That said, when my energy company sent me a “how are you doing” letter recently detailing my monthly energy usage in relation to neighbors and environmental friendliness, we did a pretty good job. Those are the things that make me happy. As much as I hate having to pay so much for gas and electricity, at least I know I’m helping to minimize my bills, but there’s always more I can do to save energy this winter.

There are tons of ways to be more efficient, and you don’t have to implement all of them to see a difference either. Some are truly no cost, while others require an upfront investment that pays off as you make changes to save energy this winter.

Tips to Save Energy This Winter

How to save energy this winter

Open and close your window treatments.

Right now, it’s really sunny. When I touch my blinds, I can feel the warmth of the sunshine behind them. This is an easy one. When it’s sunny and warm, open your shades to let that warmth into your house. When the sun leaves that part of your house, close them again to hold the heat in. I have them open on the south and east of my house in the morning, then switch them over as the day goes on to open the ones on the west side of my house later in the day, closing the blinds that no longer get sun. When it’s rainy or cloudy? They stay closed on cold days and help me save energy this winter.

Open blinds to let in the sun

There are even motorized shades now for all sorts of window treatments from wood blinds to blackout shades and more. You don’t even have to get up to switch them around anymore. Touch a button to have them go up or down. Or? Set a timer for them to do so automatically once you figure out your schedule. We have blinds in our house that the previous owner’s cat chewed so the cords don’t work well, and these are so on my list of wanted upgrades!

Add energy efficient window treatments.

Some window treatments are pretty. Some are designed to help retain heat (or cold in the summer). You can even find window treatments that include form and function. I’m a big fan of blackout honeycomb window treatments in bedrooms just to keep light out. The benefit is that many of these also provide a layer of insulation. Investigate different options in whatever window treatments you choose.

Even curtains can be lined to provide more warmth in the winter. The Roman shades that came with our house have no lining, and I can actually see through them. Adding a panel behind can make a huge difference in warmth throughout the year. We aren’t quite ready to replace all our window treatments, but this is another factor to consider.

Concerned that the most energy efficient window treatments won’t have the look you want? You’d be surprised at how attractive many are. Curtains or panels edging your window treatments can really jazz it up, too.

Add film to your windows.

Obviously, you can’t insulate your windows the same way you can insulate your home. Well, you can’t if you want to see out the window anyway. The window films are great and don’t cost much. Adding that extra barrier between your house and the outdoors can make an impact. My husband and I make a day of it every year to seal the windows with the film, and my kids are old enough now that they have fun following with a hair dryer to complete the process.

Replace old, drafty windows.

Technology has changed not just in our phones, but in windows, too. The R factor (level of insulation) has grown dramatically. We replaced all the windows in our old home, and it was amazing the difference in our energy bills. We had 32 windows in that house, so it wasn’t cheap to do, but over the years, it pays for itself. Replacing windows also allows you to ensure they have sufficient insulation around them and are sealed properly to avoid leaks that your old windows may have.

If you have older windows, any window replacement can make a big difference. Depending on your budget, you can find good windows or fantastic windows, but any new window helps. And of course, you know Sears has all the option you might need to replace your windows, including free estimates. In fact, you can save $325 on window purchases of $1,500 or more now through 1/31/2017.

Seal around windows and doors.

Anywhere there’s a leak means you’re letting cool air in…and paying to heat that air from the outside. We light a small candle and carefully walk around the house with it a couple times a year. Anytime we place it near a door or window and the flame wavers, we know there’s an air leak. Out comes the caulk to seal it.

Windows are doors aren’t the only culprits. Anywhere there’s a change in surface, you have the potential for leaks. Check your recessed lighting. Look around your chimney. Investigate behind your cabinets (this is a big one for us in our house). Get creative. You can even hire an expert to come to your house to find and seal all those leaks to help you save energy this winter.

Adjust your thermostat.

Obviously, the less heat you use in your house, the less expensive it is. Even if you have a “old-fashioned” thermostat, you can manually adjust it. In the morning before you leave for work, tweak it down. Before you go to bed, tweak it down. You can turn it up again once you get home, but those degrees make a difference. And if you go on vacation? We have ours set to 58 whenever we are out of town.

You can also get used to cooler temperatures in your house. While it’s nice to have a toasty 72 or 73 degrees in your house, turn it down to 68 or 69 instead. I’d much rather wear wooly socks or wear a thicker sweater and save money. We’re fairly extreme in that it’s currently 62 degrees in my house, but I’m used to it, and I’m comfortable. When we have guests, we turn the heat up, but when it’s just us? We’re all good with it!

Upgrade your thermostat.

We purchased a wireless thermostat, and it’s great. It senses when we aren’t home, and it automatically turns down the thermostat when it knows we’re away. That saves a ton of money because I’ll be honest that before we had the new thermostat, I didn’t always (often!) remember to manually adjust the temperature the way I meant to.

Nest thermostat saves energy

This also lets us set programs to change the temperature by time of day and day of week. During the week, I enjoy cooler temps, while on the weekends when my family is home, they like it a couple degrees warmer. It also runs programs to figure out how to set the temperatures more intelligently to save energy this winter (and money). We’ve had this for just over two years, but it’s already paid for itself.

Don’t forget to change out your filter.

You HVAC system pulls through all the dust and dirt that accumulate in your house, and filters get dirty. Be honest. When was the last time you changed your filter? We change out our filter at least quarterly, but I set a reminder on my calendar to check the filter every month to ensure that it hasn’t gotten more dirty than usual.

Why change it? The dirt means your furnace and air conditioner have to work harder to push the air through, and that can also lead to a shortened life for your HVAC unit. Having to spend the money to replace your whole unit when a new filter regularly can extend its life? That’s just not smart.

Regularly service your furnace.

It isn’t enough to just change your filter. Just like getting your oil changed and other car maintenance, an expert needs to service your furnace annually to clean and inspect it. They can ensure it’s running optimally, which can reduce your heating and cooling bills. Right now, Sears has $40 off HVAC paid repair or maintenance work through January 29, 2017. Additionally, Sears offers a program for less than $13/month ($149.99 annual fee) where a technician will come out twice a year to check your HVAC system – once before it gets cold and once again before it’s hot. Even better? If you do need a repair, they diagnose the problem for free and give you a 15% discount on any repairs. Total score.

Sometimes though, you just need to replace the whole unit to save energy this winter. Wait, didn’t I just recommend changing the filters regularly to extend the life? Well, if your HVAC system is over 10 years old, it may be time to replace it. May be. Our unit is from 2005, but when we had the Sears tech out to service our a/c earlier this year, he confirmed that it’s still in good working order. If you think it might be time for you, Sears offers a free in-home consultation (and they may tell you that your unit is just fine!) and right now you can get $325 off new HVAC systems $1,500 or more through 1/31/17.

Are you ready for the cold? What are your tips to save energy this winter?

9 tips to save energy this winter. You'll save money, too, and many of these cost little or no money.


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How To Create A Cheese Platter For Entertaining

This shop sharing my tutorial on how to create a cheese platter has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #InspireWithCheese #CollectiveBias

Cutting into a cheese platter

With the holidays approaching, I know I’m not the only one entertaining. My favorite event is my annual cookie swap. For this, I do a variety of appetizers to go with the desserts my friends and I share. It’s a ton of fun, and I like putting together something unique. Figuring out how to create a cheese platter is my crowning achievement for this year’s cookie swap.

How to create a cheese platter

How to create a cheese platter that works can be a challenge. Honestly, when I started, all I wanted to do was to go out and buy all the cheeses. I started out with about fifteen of them in my cart at Mariano’s before I could stop myself, but that isn’t how to create a cheese platter. Yes, you want cheese, but you don’t want too much cheese. And you don’t want only cheese.

I sadly put back almost all the cheese I had in my cart and thought carefully about what I wanted. Slowly, I added back a variety of cheeses that wouldn’t be overwhelming and added other elements that in the end, I think, turned out just perfectly.

It’s easy to grab all your favorites, but a cheese platter should include a variety of cheeses – and other complementary items. In the end, I chose four cheeses, which is plenty for my gathering. I also picked up a couple meats, some fruit, and a compote, in addition to crackers. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

How to Create a Cheese Platter

Choose a variety of cheeses – but not too many.

On your cheese platter, you want different tastes and textures. You want different looks for visual appeal, as well. Don’t choose all chunks of cheese, which is the easy way out. Instead, pick up some cheese logs, make a cheese ball, include chunks of cheese. Include soft and hard cheeses, as well as something that spreads easily. If they’re all the same, it isn’t as interesting for the palate. The variety helps keep your friends coming back for more.

For mine, I picked up a Kaukauna® Cheese Ball, a goat Gouda chunk, a wedge of Asiago, and a Kaukauna® Spreadable Cheese Cup. The Kaukauna® products are made with 100% real cheddar and come in a variety of forms. While I chose these two flavors, they come in many others, depending on your personal preference and what other cheeses you add to your platter. Port Wine or Sharp Cheddar? Yes, please! They also have logs, which would be another great addition to your cheese plate. I chose the Kaukauna® Asiago Cheese Ball rolled in almonds and the Kaukauna® Garden Vegetable Spreadable Cheese Cup. That gave me a great range in tastes and textures. I almost picked up the Kaukauna® Sharp Cheddar Cheese Ball. Or the Sriracha. Or Smoky Bacon. So many options – and yes, there’s a Kaukauna® Port Wine Cheese Ball, too.

Kaukauna cheeses

Find good complements for your cheeses.

I love cured meat with my cheeses. The flavors complement each other perfectly. When you look at how to create a cheese platter, again you don’t want to have too many different options, but two different cured meats works nicely with the four cheeses. I used a hard salami, knowing most people are salami fans. I also picked up some prosciutto, knowing this would go especially well with the Asiago and goat Gouda.

Pro tip: I always get my prosciutto from the deli. I know it’s fresh and soft, which makes it easier to eat. When you order, always make sure the deli counter adds a second layer of plastic atop the sliced prosciutto before placing it in your bag. Prosciutto – because it’s so thinly sliced – wants to stick, and if you don’t have this protection, it’s easy for them to rip as you try to set up your cheese platter.

Add extra plastic to protect prosciutto at the deli counter

Add some fruit.

Personally, I like a mix of dried and fresh fruit. This time, I chose green grapes and dried cherries. Again, they have a mix of flavors and textures that will keep my friends coming back to my cheese platter. Sliced fresh figs work great, as do other dried fruits like apricots or even mango. It’s all about what you choose and find. Don’t use more than two or three, and keep your cheeses in mind as you select them.

If you have fruits that are hard to eat, make it easy on your guests. Instead of putting out a huge bunch of grapes, I use scissors to snip the bunch into smaller bunches of 3-5 grapes. No one has to wrestle grapes off the cheese platter, potentially making a mess or spilling the whole plate – or worse, not taking grapes at all because it’s too much of a challenge. Slice larger fruits like apples or figs just before guests arrive so they’re as fresh as possible.

Use scissors to cut small grape bunches

Another fun complement is a compote. Choose your favorite fruit and add it to your cheese platter. You can easily make your own or pick up a jar. The sweetness and sugar of the compote creates a great profile to pair with your cheeses beyond the actual fruit you include on the platter.

Don’t forget about the “utensils”

The fun of appetizers is that they tend to be finger foods. And the beauty is fewer dishes to wash at the end of the night for you. That said, you need a vehicle to get the items from your beautiful cheese platter from plate to mouth. Crackers are great for this, as bread tends to be too soft and just…not a great fit. Pick up a variety of crackers, again looking at shape and texture and even taste. Bread sticks are fun to include, too, though I find them harder to use to eat so don’t always have them on my cheese plate.

How to Prep Your Cheese Platter

Don’t wait until the last minute

Yes, we store cheese in the fridge, but it’s a fermented food and can sit out for awhile. Get your cheeses out of the fridge at least an hour before guests arrive so that they have a chance to get to warm up and allow their true flavors to develop more. This means removing them from their plastic packaging, too!

Remove cheese from fridge before serving

Let your guests mix the flavors

If you put your cheeses and meats and fruits and crackers too close together, you end up with a mishmash. Trying to cut cheeses or remove some of the fruit becomes a challenge for guests. The cheeses mix together, which means guests don’t experience each individual flavor. They all taste like each other.

When you look at how to create a cheese platter, it may not be a single platter. You may choose to have multiple platters. I always place my crackers on a separate board or bowl to make it easier for guests. Sometimes I’ll add some cheeses to one platter and other cheeses on another, with the complementary items dispersed around them. Other times, I’ll add my cheeses all to one platter – spread out – and the fruits and meats on a platter near them but not on them. Space is key.

Perfect cheese platter may mean more than one platter

It’s tempting to make your cheeses even prettier by pouring the compote over your cheese (especially a soft one), but resist the temptation. Instead, serve it in a small dish near your cheeses so guests can choose if and how much of the compote to add to the cheese themselves.

Decide if you need to cut cheeses in advance

When you serve a cheese ball like my Kaukauna® Asiago Cheese Ball, it’s pretty and designed to be served whole. A spread like the Kaukauna® Garden Vegetable Spreadable Cheese Cup easily sits in a small bowl (I love the one built into this cheese board) rather than the container. Chunks of cheese, however, work best when you cut some slices for your guests. Don’t do this too early, as the cheese will dry out, but this helps guests know which direction to cut the cheese and makes those first tentative plates easier to manage.

If you serve cheese that needs to be cut, either logs or cheese balls or even choosing to leave your chunks whole, make sure each cheese has its own knife. There’s nothing worse than getting a piece of a sharp cheddar cheese ball and having it covered in residue from the Brie the last person cut.

Do you see the cheese wedges I have, too? Those go in cheese chunks (not balls or logs) so fingers have something to hold onto while cutting. As much as I love my friends, I don’t want their fingers in my food.

How to make the perfect cheese tray for parties

Enjoy Your Party!

Once you have your cheese platter set up, just enjoy. There’s no right or wrong way to eat from the cheese platter, as long as everyone enjoys it. Make sure you have at least 1-2 ounces of each cheese per person attending, and if you have leftovers, all the better for you. That means you have lunch the next day while you’re cleaning up after your party. The Kaukauna® cheeses are delicious by themselves if the meats and fruits have all been eaten, but they’re great with something to enjoy, too.

Perfect holiday appetizer plate

Check out other ideas for the Kaukauna® Cheese here. Also, while I picked mine up at Mariano’s, you can find your Kaukauna® Cheese at any Kroger or Kroger banner store in the cheese case.

Kaukauna cheese at Marianos

And do you want to win a $500 VISA gift card? Kaukauna® Cheese is giving one away. Enter below!
#InspireWithCheese Sweepstakes

Do you know how to create a cheese platter? What are your best tips?

The perfect cheese tray can be daunting. This tutorial shows how to quickly and easily put together a great appetizer cheese board for holiday entertaining - or just for yourself to enjoy a cheese plate.


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