Win friends and friend your enemies

Pssssst.  Want to know the secret of the perfect casual hors d’oeuvre?  You know the one I’m talking about.  Elegant, enticing and easy?

Perfect for a crowd or an intimate gathering.

With an endless combination of flavor possibilities?

Including bacon?

And cheese?

And all wrapped up like a little pre-meal present?

Well, allow me to introduce you to my little friend: the brie en croute.

Do not give into the temptation of a frozen pre-made brie en croute.  Spend 10 extra minutes, make it from scratch, and I guarantee far, FAR superior results.

As you can see.

I’ve served it a time or two. Or ten.

Brie en Croute

I’ve listed the basic recipe first.  Then, at the bottom I’ve listed an array (though by no means exhaustive) list of add-ins.

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry for each round of brie
  • 1 round of brie (small, large, medium, up to you)
  • 1 egg+1 TBS water
  • Fancy fancies (see below)
  • Assorted goodies to scoop-up the brie.  Bread, crackers, fruit, blanched vegetables or a spoon all work.

Directions

  1. Remove pastry from freezer and allow to defrost for 35 minutes.  Resist the urge to unfold it until it it defrosted.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Once defrosted, gently roll-out puff pastry sheet along the edges so that the margins are large enough to fit over the wheel of brie with overlap.  This will depend on the size of your wheel of brie.
  4. Place whatever fancy fancies you would like to add-in in the middle of the pastry, distributing to the size of the wheel of brie.
  5. Place brie on top of fancy fancies.
  6. Beat egg with water to create an egg wash.  Using a brush or your fingers,  wash the last two inches of the outer edges of the pastry.
  7. Starting with one corner, bring the corner across the bottom of the pastry so that it reaches across. Working around the wheel, gently pull the pastry ends across the cheese until you have a secure bundle.  Brush with egg wash.
  8. Keeping a finger or two on the seams of the overlap, flip the bundle and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Brush entire top with egg-wash.  Adorn as desired.
  9. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the crust is puffed and top is golden brown.
  10. Plate as desired and let rest for about an hour.  This part is very important.  Right out of the oven, the cheese is liquid.  It needs time to rest and slow to a warm lava-like consistency.

Fancy Fancies

  • Any kind of jam, jelly or chutney.
  • Raspberry jam with toasted walnuts.
  • Orange marmelade and dried cranberries.
  • Bacon and gorgonzola (cheese on top of cheese)
  • Honey and almonds
  • Sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and Herbs de  Provence
  • Pistachios and dried sour cherries
  • Roasted garlic and caramelized onion
  • Pecan and maple syrup
  • Prosciutto and fresh chopped parsley
  • Chicken and waffles (sorry, that was TD’s suggestion)
  • Chorizo, cilantro and roasted pepitas

 

 

 

Panzanella(ish)

Early in our relationship, TD and I established the sanctity of Sunday Supper.  I don’t recall us ever doing this with intention.  I suspect it was the product of a cross-town relationship (code for we rarely saw each other during the week) and really good Sunday night television (Sex and the City, The Sopranos etc.). Twelves years later and Monday dinner may be a scrounged peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but Sunday supper is always special.  It’s never elaborate and cooking with fire is usually involved.

One of our favorite Sunday Supper dishes has kind of evolved into being over the years.  The ingredients change depending on the season and what happens to look good a the market.  Sometimes it leans toward the Italian pursuasion.  Others more Greek.  And still others it just does its own thing. It’s an easygoing dish with little in the way of rule following.  We call it panzanella-ish.

Every culture seems to have its way of economizing resources and utilizing leftover starch products in interesting ways.  Panzanella is Tuscany’s.

Let’s start with the tomatoes.  In the heat of summer when it seems like the markets are giving away tomatoes, I like to use beautifully colored heirlooms.  During the off-season, I stick to smaller varieties like grape, cupid or cherry because they pack a little more punch in the way of flavor than the larger, anemic, hothouse varieties.  For panzanella, you want some juice (I don’t seed), but not a ton.  To get to the optimum tomato juice ratio, I cut the tomatoes into bit-sized chunks, set them in a strainer and salt them. Then, I let them sit for about 20 minutes, gently tossing the strainer every five minutes or so to release the juices.  While they are resting, I usually melt in a clove or so of garlic like with my pico recipe.

Oh wait, if you are patient, there is a step before the tomatoes.  My bad.

If you remember to, pour between 1/4 and 1/2 cup  of extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl.  To it, add on large, smashed clove of garlic and desired seasoning (fresh herbs etc).  Let steep for a couple of hours.  This the oil you’ll use to toast your bread cubes.

Back on track.  While the tomatoes are sweating it out, I cut up my sort-of stale bread.  I usually don’t go whole-hog-Thanksgiving-stuffing-stale for panzanellaish.  It’s a personal preference, but we like a little give in the bread.

Also a personal preference, I like to toast the bread on the stove-top.  We aren’t making croutons here and for whatever reason, I tend to forget the bread when I attempt to toast it in the oven.  So, in goes the garlic oil, then the cubes.  Toss to coat and let toast on a couple of sides.

See what I mean?

No matter the persuasion, we always use cucumbers.  Sometimes persian (as I’ve done here), sometimes English, sometimes normal.  Seed them if you want.  We don’t.

This salad needs a little bite to it.  Diced shallot or red onion will do the trick.  Just a little kick.

Herbs are also important.  Remember the Strawberry Shortcake dolls that smelled like their namesakes?  Well, if it was the 80s and I was a strawberry shortcake doll, I’d be Basil Bottechelli.  Mint is lovely too or whatever your favorite combo might be.  When fresh herbs aren’t in season, we toss in some Herbs de Provence (our household’s version of Windex.  Have an issue?  Throw on some Herbs de Provence).

Okay, it’s time to man-up and buy a good hunk of parmesan reggiano.  I’m talking aged at least 18 months (though 24 is better).  It’ll be tough to throw-down upwards of $25 a pound the first time.  But, it will last much longer than you’d expect (even if you are prone to breaking-off hunks with your fork and eating it straight-out as TD and I have become)  And bonus?  The rind is an excellent addition to a soup or tomato sauce recipe.  It’ll change your life.  I swear.  Feta, goat or buffalo mozzarella (think caprese inspired) are genuis in this salad as well.

We microplane.  You could shave with a veggie peeler or grate.  Up to you.

Finish off the salad with some acid, really nice cold-pressed olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  My favorite acid for this is fresh lemon juice.

Toss everything together and then give it about 15 minutes for the bread to soften just a tad.  Pair it with a protein and beautiful wine and, no matter where you happen to be for reals, you’ll swear you’re in Tuscany.

Soundtrack

TMH’s Endless Summer playlist.  Beach boys, 2 Wicky, Norah Jones, Karmin, Frank Sinatra, Grouplove, Foster the People, The Black Keys…to name a few.

Misanthropic Hostess Panzanellaish

In lieu of an actual recipe, I submit this diagram for consideration.  Mix and match as desired, adjust ingredient volume to number of people you are feeding (and then, double to be safe, there will never, ever be leftovers).

You should be able to click on the image for full-page display.