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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Pizza Sandwiches

Checking the toastiness level. We're almost there.

Attention: everyone who has a George Foreman grill (or a knock off of said famous appliance) languishing in a cupboard somewhere, go dust it off. I have news. You actually own a very useful pressed sandwich (or panini) maker. Just as I was contemplating sending Kevin’s gigantic and useless grill, which I’m sure got a lot of use in his university days, to the good will bin, he reminded me of this appliance’s one virtue: it makes pizza sandwiches. I have since allowed it to continue to hog 1/3 of the space in one of my cupboards, because these sandwiches are amazing.

It’s not rocket science, you just need a crusty Italian roll of some sort, tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy salami and a sprinkle of pizza seasoning (Italian seasoning will also do). Spread the tomato sauce generously on both sides of the bun, add a layer of salami, a layer of sliced mozzarella, a sprinkle of seasoning, another layer of salami and you’re ready to grill. About 10 minutes on a pre-heated grill is good, but keep an eye on things and when the bread is toasty and the cheese is melted, you’re done. You could try different filling combos, but I really love the simplicity of these. Kevin gets all the credit for coming up with these beauties many years ago. I imagine him inhaling these with his university roommate, also named Kevin, and probably watching some Star Wars.

These make a great weekend treat. This time we paired them with chips in order to make sure we ingested the least amount of fiber and most amount of fat possible, obviously. That’s what weekend lunches are for, right?

You realise this blog is about la gourmandise, and not healthy eating, of course.

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.

The Ultimate Mac & Cheese

I love mac & cheese.  Along with many other things, obviously.  Last year, my mom and I were watching Rachel Ray make a pan of it and decided we could do it better.  I never tasted Rachel Ray’s, but in my opinion our recipe kicks her recipe’s butt.  We used dry white wine and some extra old cheddar, and it gives the recipe a zip that contends with the rich cheesiness.

Zippy Mac & Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 box of macaroni (I prefer Catelli Smart, adds some fibre without changing the texture)
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (I like sauvignon blanc)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I use aged)
  • 1/2 a tub of McClaren’s imperial aged cheddar
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs.

Directions

  1. In a large pan, saute onions in oil until softened. Start cooking the macaroni in a separate pot.
  2. Add flour to the onions and cook a minute to make a roux. Add the wine and cook to a thickened sauce.
  3. Add milk and bring sauce to a boil. Melt 1/2 of the shredded cheddar into the sauce as well as the McClaren’s cheese.
  4. Once sauce is uniformly thick, strain the cooked macaroni and add to the sauce pan.  Stir the sauce and macaroni well to combine.
  5. Pour this mixture into a 9×12 baking dish. Cover the top with the remaining shredded cheddar and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
  6. Bake at 375F for 30 minutes, or until cheese on top is bubbly and breadcrumbs are browned.

And then eat your mac & cheese accompanied by the remaining Sauvignon Blanc!!!  I recommend Kim Crawford’s from Marlborough, New Zealand (LCBO VINTAGES #35386, $19.95).