December 12, 2012

The Maine Ingredient: Keep the plan simple for stress-free holiday hosting

By Anne Mahle

Entertaining equals stress in many home kitchens, but fear not. It needn't be this way! The trick is to choose wisely and plan ahead. Even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants and let the choices reveal themselves to you. Even if you aren't a planner. Now is the time to step out of your usual pattern and be kind to yourself by spending a little time thinking and organizing. Then let the rest go.

Clean ahead, set the table ahead, shop ahead, bake ahead. Choose simple but elegant menus. And then enjoy your guests, your clean house and your delicious food.

The appetizers offered here are ones in just this category. Because you'll be adding lots of flavor to the brie, choose brands that are on the lower end of the price spectrum – ones that you might not choose for a cheese platter, but that will be perfect for the addition of a funky or traditional topping.

Wishing you calm, serene moments with your family and friends.

CRUSHED PRETZEL AND GARLIC-CRUSTED BAKED BRIE

1 8-ounce wheel of brie

1/2 cup crushed pretzels; about 3 pretzel rods

1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese, about 1/3 cup lightly packed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic, about 1 clove garlic

Several grinds fresh black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the wheel of brie on an oven proof serving platter or a pie tin. To crush the pretzel rods, place them on a cutting board and roll over them with a rolling pin. The pieces want to be the size of peas, not pulverized into crumbs. In a small bowl, combine the pretzels, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic and pepper. Mix well and mound the mixture on top of the brie wheel. Some will fall off; this is fine. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is beginning to brown and get crispy and the brie has softened and is pliable but the surface is still unbroken.

Serves 8 to 12 as an appetizer.

 

VARIATIONS on the above recipe:

 

ALMOND, CRANBERRY AND BROWN SUGAR

1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine in a small bowl and mound over brie as in above recipe and bake.

 

WALNUTS AND LEMON MARMALADE

1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons lemon marmalade

Pinch of salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine in a small bowl and mound over brie as in above recipe and bake.

 

HERB AND SUN-DRIED TOMATO

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh Italian parsley

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil

1/4 cup walnuts

1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until completely combined. Top brie as in above recipe and bake.

BLACK OLIVE TAPENADE

You can make the tapenade up to two weeks in advance, as it gets better with time. This spread is great as an appetizer with goat cheese as well.

1 cup dried Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

2 tablespoons capers

2 anchovy fillets

1/2 cup packed fresh Italian parsley

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Because the capers are so salty, soak them in fresh water for a few minutes to release some of the salt. Drain them after soaking. Puree all the ingredients in a food processor. Refrigerate until ready to serve if making ahead or top brie as in above recipe.

Makes 1 cup.

 

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of "At Home, At Sea." She can be reached at: chefannie@mainewindjammer.com

 

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