Baked Brie with Carmelized Pears

Fresh out of the oven and ready for some crackers.

I was grocery shopping this week, just before a snow storm was scheduled to start, and disaster happened. I needed some raspberries for my go-to baked brie recipe, and they were nowhere to be found. And my pre-snow shopping window was rapidly shrinking! Rather than stress out trying another store, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and googled baked brie. One of the first hits I came upon that didn’t require a crazy amount of ingredients was from Canadian Living. It called for pears, which are nice this time of year, and much easier to find than raspberries. The fate of my girl’s night menu was sealed.

Simple ingredient perfection.

The recipe is so easy- just saute a shallot and a pear in butter, then simmer the mixture in apple juice with a drop of maple syrup and a sprinkle of thyme and S & P. Let that cool at least 10 min, then pile it on top of a round of brie, bake it at 350F for 10-15 min and top with toasted almond slivers.

The sweet/savoury combo of the topping is really nice with the creamy richness of the brie. I love that the ingredients are easy to come by. I think this will be my new fancy cheese recipe for the winter, and I’ll switch back to the raspberry version in the summer.

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Marvelous Mediterranean Dips

From left: Baba Ganoush, Tzatziki and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus.

Last week, we hosted a fantastic wine party, some final festivities of the holiday season. We host 2 or 3 of these a year, and each time I knock myself out planning a feast of a spread, and overheat the guests and the kitchen by making fresh baked munchies. So this time around, with about 15 people RSVP’d, I thought I’d better come up with a no-bake solution. Less stress for me, better temperature for all!

I try to keep things home made, fresh, and somewhat healthy, so some dips that could go with veggies and pita sprang to mind. We had been eating store bought Baba Ganoush over the holidays, which is full of mayo and sour cream, and is nothing like the real thing. So I thought I would try making it myself- how hard could something with about 6 ingredients be, anyways? And, once you’ve got the Baba ingredients going, you might as well swap the eggplant for chickpeas and make Hummus, or swap those two out for some greek yogurt and cucumber and make Tzatziki!

These dips are a dream- easy, healthy, pretty cheap, and people will be wowed that you made them yourself. You just need a blender and a little patience. The guests devoured them, especially the Baba, that was the first to go. The pita disappeared pretty quickly, so make sure you’ve gots lots on hand. Next time I think I might toast some and make pita chips too. I think these will be a staple in my entertaining repertoire, because I actually got to relax and enjoy the party this time around. Nothing to keep an eye on, just put out your spread, uncork some wine, and let the party happen!

Baba Ganoush

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Roast the eggplant at 400F for 30 minutes. You can fire roast it first if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Make sure to poke some holes in your eggplant before you roast it. You can also roast your garlic at the same time, if you would like it be more mellow and sweet.
  2. Place the cooked eggplant in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily. Remove the stem, give the eggplant innards a rough chop and place in a blender.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.
  4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of paprika for garnish.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, water half drained
  • 1 red pepper, roasted
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Fire roast the red pepper if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Place the blackened pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily, remove the stem and seeds and give it a rough chop. You can also use store bought roasted red peppers.
  2. Start by blending the chickpeas a little at a time, the liquid from the can and the lemon juice will help. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth, scraping the sides down and stirring as needed to get everything blended.
  3. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of red pepper flakes for garnish.

Tzatziki

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh chopped mint
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of black pepper or mint.

The 3 dips joined a mountain of crackers, cheese, chocolate, fruit and other treats. Thanks to everyone who brought something to add to the deliciousness. We’ll have to outdo ourselves next time, which could be hard. But I’m willing to try if you are!

The full spread- wish I could eat like this all the time!

Appetizers for Dinner

Sometimes,  I come home from a long day and think “cooking feels like too much.” And so, 1 of 3 things usually happens: 1. Kevin gets stuck with the job, 2. we pay someone else to feed us, or 3. we rummage through the fridge and have appetizers for dinner. Option number 3 provides the chance to use our funky pottery appetizer dishes, which is a bonus. We got them at a little pottery workshop outside Winnipeg during our summer travels. The smaller plates fit perfectly in the palm of your hand- made for snacking.

The appetizers for dinner plan is obviously best when you have some good wine already on hand, and the fridge is well stocked with tasty treats. Lucky for us, we had a decent selection of meat and cheese, a small baguette, and some of our favourite Dunes chilled in the fridge. You’ll notice a sad absence of olives in this spread (Pasta Genova was closed), but some home made pickles tried their best to substitute. The only item above that probably needs some explaining is the lower right dish, that’s goat cheese with olive oil and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. It’s the world’s easiest bread dip, sprinkle some fresh basil on top and people will rave.

And so, we carried this feast upstairs and watched a movie in bed. Is there a more luxurious and gourmand way to spend an evening at home?

Pizza Pleasures

The masterpiece.

We are dedicated pizza lovers, with a penchant for last minute trips to Woodenheads. Inevitably, the place is packed and we end up sitting at the bar- which is more fun than a table anyways. Their cheerful bar staff makes great mojitos, and the informality makes the pizza even tastier.

Kevin’s pizza of choice (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him deviate in 2 years) is the Sicilia. It is a classic- just tomato sauce, spicy salami, mozzarella and some fresh basil. I tend to mix it up, but always end up stealing a bite or two of this work of art.

This weekend, we wanted to put the basil in our herb garden to work, and make some pizza of our own. And so, with the help of Pasta Genova, we created our own masterpiece. That lovely little Italian deli sells their own fresh pizza dough for a steal, and also has everything else you need- the salami, mozzarella and sauce.  I love one stop shopping and jostling with the other Pasta G lovers for a space at their tiny counter.

Our pizza ended up a bit oval shaped, with a lack of a real rolling pin and the dough’s elastic nature, fighting to make it match our baking sheet’s shape seemed futile. I understand why pizzas are round! The dough from Pasta G was perfect, very elastic, not sticky and fairly easy to flatten out.

Shaping the dough.

Slathering of pizza sauce.

Deli perfection a la Pasta Genova.

Mozzarella coverage.

Into a 350F oven.

Basil chiffonade in progress.

We baked the pizza for 30 minutes at 350F, as suggested by the Pasta G staff. The result was wonderful- crispy crust, piping hot toppings and melty cheese.

Kevin & I agree that this gave Woodenheads’ Sicilia a run for its money. I think this is one my proudest creations. So simple, quick and easy, with a seriously intense pay off in deliciousness.  Perhaps pizza is about to become my go-to dinner.

And so, while it probably won’t replace the fun of a visit to Woodenheads for a true Sicilia, I’m proud of what we recreated. Paired with a bottle of $10 Italian red, my wallet thanks me for creating a date night on the cheap.

Finished deliciousness waiting to be inhaled.

Pasta Genova

Fresh linguine and bolognese sauce from Pasta Genova

I’m going to state something incredibly controversial- Pasta Genova is amazing.  Gotcha. Of course we all know it is the best place ever. For friends who have not had the pleasure of eating some of their wonderful Italian fare, make sure I take you there on your next visit to Kingston!  I’ve banned myself from clothes shopping lately, and Pasta Genova seems to have taken over as my favourite place to shop…second only to the LCBO, naturally, which is conveniently located around the corner.

I can’t quite believe it now, but somehow I lived in Kingston for a year and a half without knowing of its existence. Fortunately a friend brought some of their foccacia bread to a potluck and I was hooked after one dip in the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Pasta Genova has become our Friday night destination for a take home feast. Their green olives marinated with garlic and cumin are not to be missed, as well as the Friday cheese sticks. I just can’t get over how reasonable the prices are for fresh pasta, sauce and pizza dough.  They’ve always got lots of fresh herbs, and their variety of pasta sauces and cold cut meats can’t be beat. I’ve never tried their made-to-order foccacia sandwiches, but have heard good reports.

So here’s to Pasta Genova, my Friday night friend, and great partner to a glass of red wine.