December 16, 2008

Brie is Proof That God Loves Us and Wants Us To Be Happy

I love brie cheese so much that I normally can't make any recipes with it because I usually end up eating it prior to cooking with it. However, for a recent get together, I used all the willpower I had and didn't eat the brie right out of the fridge so that I could make a baked brie appetizer.
My baked brie looked a little ugly because I was impatient with the puff pastry, but the looks are more than made up for in the gooey, sweet, savory, perfect flavor!

Baked Brie

½ Package (i.e., 1 sheet) Frozen Puff Pastry
1 egg
¼ cup dried cherries or cranberries chopped into tiny pieces
¼ cup toasted pecan pieces
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary)
1 teaspoon hot water
1 small- to medium-sized round Brie cheese

Thaw the pastry sheet at room temperature until it's easy to handle (about 1 hour).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When defrosted, unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and roll the pastry sheet with a rolling pin to seal any cracks in the pastry that may have occurred if you were impatient and unfolded it before it was ready (like I did). Be sure to roll it well (not like I did) if you want it to look pretty.

Stir the diced cherries or cranberries, pecan pieces, honey, rosemary and hot water in a small bowl. Spread the cherry mixture into the center of the pastry square and then top with the cheese round.

Beat the egg in a small bowl with a fork and then brush the edges of the pastry with the egg.

Begin wrapping the pastry over the cheese, trimming the pastry as needed to avoid too much dough in one place. Press the edges together to seal the pastry. Place the wrapped cheese seam-side down on an ungreased baking sheet and then brush the pastry with the beaten egg. If desired, decorate the top with pastry scraps (don’t forget to brush the decorations with the egg.)
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is deep golden brown. Let stand for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with crackers or thin slices of French bread.

Cowboy Caviar: A Little Work, Alot of Flavor

I love having company over but I hate being stuck in the kitchen when I would rather be visiting with friends and family so I rely on some easy make-ahead appetizers to keep everyone happy and "unhungry" when they come over for an afternoon visit.

One favorite I rely on is my black bean dip, affectionately named, Cowboy Caviar. It's super easy and is always a big hit at home, at tailgates and at potlucks. Give it a try at your next gathering....

Cowboy Caviar*

1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 small can chopped olives, drained
1 small onion, diced
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1-2 teaspoons lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼teaspoon chili powder
¼teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup tomatoes, diced
½ cup Monterrey Jack or cheddar cheese, grated

Spread the cream cheese onto bottom of a serving plate (a 9 inch pie or quiche plate works nicely). Meanwhile, mix the beans, olives, onions, lime juice, oil and spices together and spread evenly over the cream cheese. Top with the diced tomatoes and Monterrey Jack cheese and garnish with chopped green onions, if desired. Serve with tortilla chips.

*Make at least 2 hours in advance of serving so flavors have time to meld.

December 08, 2008

Recession-Friendly Hostess Gift

It’s that time of year again—which means parties, parties and more parties. Yay!! But all those bottles of wine we've been bringing to the hostesses have really begun put a dent in our Christmas fund, so when an invitation arrived in the mail the other day, I vowed that instead of dropping more cash at the liquor store, I would take the time to make a nice homemade gift to bring the hostess. I chose to make caramel popcorn and put it in a pretty Christmas tin.

It was so easy and sooo budget friendly-I hope the host and hostess liked the treat halfway as much as the Husband and I liked celebrating the season with all our friends on Saturday night.

Caramel Popcorn

½ cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
10 cups popped popcorn (from 2/3 cup kernels)
Optional ingredients:
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts
1 to 2 1-Oz. semi-sweet chocolate baking squares
1 to 2 1-Oz. white chocolate baking squares

Pop popcorn in an air popper or in a large pot over the stove top and set aside in a large bowl. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 250. Next, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the caramel mixture is boiling, boil without stirring for 4 minutes. Remove the caramel sauce from the heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour the caramel in a thin stream over the popped popcorn (and peanuts, if using), stirring gently to coat.

Place the coated popcorn in a large (or two medium) shallow baking dish(s) and bake in preheated oven, gently stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. (For added sweetness, drizzle caramel popcorn with a tiny bit of dark or white chocolate or both!)

December 05, 2008

Don’t Let This Great Pumpkin Pass You By

It’s usually difficult for people to admit to their flaws, but I have no issues admitting one of mine: My pies suck. No matter how many times I try, no matter how closely I follow a recipe, they're simply inedible. You would think that with a mom who is known to “make the best pies in the world,” I’d be able to come up with something halfway decent but so far, I’ve had no such luck.

That’s why I was thrilled when I came across a recipe for a delicious pumpkin pudding. It’s basically a piece of pumpkin pie, without the baking, the hassle and for me, the disappointment. This pudding is also a relatively healthy way to end any fall or winter meal and the best part is that it can be ready in about 5 minutes.

Quick Pumpkin Pudding (inspired by Health Magazine)

2 cups pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)
¼ cup low-fat cream cheese
2 Tablespoons low-fat vanilla yogurt
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Cinnamon, nutmeg, mint leaves and whipped cream for garnishing.

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until combined. Add additional honey and spices to taste. Divide into 4 ramekins and garnish with cinnamon, nutmeg and mint leaf.