on not becoming a food wanker
Warm Caramel Brie with Cranberries, Apples, and Pecans
Sometimes I just want to sit in a pub with a glass of white house wine (yes, house wine, spare me all the wine jargon, puh-lease!) and a good old-fashioned BLT sandwich – that is – decent bacon, thinly sliced ripe tomato, and head lettuce (which must be an heirloom plant by now) – all slathered with old-fashioned, high-fat mayo and served on toasted rye. Preferably marbled rye – buttered. French fries on the side. Ketchup and vinegar. And yes, salt. Table salt will be fine.
It would be false modesty if I claimed to be anything other than a true aficionado of BLT sandwiches, which I believe, if made properly, remain one of the great joys of life. Sadly, they don’t always measure up. The humble bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich could be one of the litmus tests of all kitchens.
The truth is though, that in the face of what seems like a seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory of food creativity (some call this “food-wankerism,” but I don’t want to be offensive) it’s often easier and more socially acceptable to order a slow-cooked, triple-crème, shiitake enhanced, artisanal savoury bread pudding made with twenty-five-year-old cheddar, served with a side of kale-slaw made with organic local kale, Himalayan salt, aged balsamic vinegar and Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. This should obviously be accompanied by an off-dry Riesling and followed with a barista-brewed speciality coffee with a picture drawn into the foam.
Have we lost the plot when it comes to food?
Perhaps we have. Just a little. Food does not need to be so complicated or so pretentious. And while I’m all for quality, local, and organic food where possible and try to avoid additives and preservatives and mass-produced junk, I also think that some of the best food is just the most simple and straightforward. A really fresh salad. A very good sandwich. A simple omelette. Homemade soup. It’s hard to beat the basics.
So with that, here’s an incredibly simple recipe for caramel cranberry baked brie, perfect for an appetizer, brunch, afternoon tea, or even dessert. It’s kind of festive – ideal for the holidays. Serve it with a baguette and/or gluten-free crackers, just to be safe. It’s not as ostentatious as it sounds; essentially it’s a variation of bread and cheese. You can’t go wrong.
A very good friend (who is also my old university roommate) made this baked brie for me recently and then sent me home with the leftovers. I think we should all do this. Sending guests home with the leftovers is one of the sweetest gestures ever. My friend bought the topping in the US while she was cross-border shopping and then I made up a version of my own. It’s incredibly tasty, attractive, and takes about 3 minutes to make from start to finish. You can keep the supplies on hand and whip this up at the last second. If you don’t want to use commercially prepared caramel sauce – there’s a reliable recipe for caramel sauce below (adapted from my very old and falling apart Fannie Farmer cookbook).
Baked Brie with Caramel, Cranberries, Apple and Pecans
1 200 gram round of brie
½ cup of good quality caramel sauce
¼ cup each of dried cranberries, chopped pecans, and chopped dried apples
Pierce the top of the brie a couple of times with a fork.
Mix together the caramel sauce, dried cranberries, pecans, and chopped dried apples. Place on top of the brie and microwave for about 1 ½ minutes (will depend on your microwave) or until the brie is softened and slightly melted. I did this in a small covered Pyrex dish. If you’ve got a brie baker – good for you – you can use it here. If you prefer you can put this in the oven – takes about 20 minutes at around 350 deg F. Serve warm.
Easy Homemade Caramel Sauce
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup cream (10%, half & half or whipping cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla
a pinch of salt
Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and whisk to combine. Add cream. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and salt. Serve warm and refrigerate any leftovers. Will keep a week or so in the refrigerator.