on not becoming a food wanker

baked brie with caramel pecan, cranberry. and applesWarm 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.

20 thoughts on “on not becoming a food wanker

  1. I couldn’t agree more, simple food and drink is always best, the attempt to dazzle with complicated and exotic ingredients can sometimes ruin what could have been a perfectly good dish. I love a good BLT, good ingredients slathered with lots of mayo and really nice bread is heaven, at least for me It’s my favorite sandwich of all time. Your baked brie sounds pretty heavenly too, oozingly gooey cheese with nuts and fruit is delicious.

    • Oh Suzanne – you’re so sweet & I’m so glad you agree and that you love BLTs and the classics. I do like trying new things and I don’t mind nouveau food but I do think that simple, food, well cooked cannot be beat.

  2. Oh how I love reading your wonderful posts and agreeing with every word you say (I don’t think I have actually ever tasted a BLT)! I laughed at your description of the Shiitake-enhanced bread-pudding! I do enjoy a fancy, inventive dinner once in a while, but even fanciness and inventiveness need not be what you describe :)
    I recently had such a dinner with a friend of mine, and everything about it was perfect (no flowers sprinkled on top, no weird experimental cooking techniques, just simple, quality ingredients cooked and put together in a way I wouldn’t have thought of), except that our “neighbors” on both sides were more obsessed with taking hundreds of photos (literally) and Instagraming them than actually enjoying the meal. And by the time they did get to eating, I don’t think much was left to be enjoyed. Oh well… at least I did :) (OOps I think I digressed, sorry about that)

    • Darya – you’re a darling! Loved your digression – made me laugh too. Between texting and instagramming – it’s amazing anyone actually sits down and eats a proper dinner any more. I don’t even know how to instagram! I think I’ll keep it that way….

  3. Well said!! I love this…and couldn’t agree more. I like to think of myself as a foodie…but truthfully? I’m not so sure I am, I don’t have that ability to think out of the box and come up with some crazy concoction that sometimes tastes great, but other times is just that…a crazy concoction. If that’s what a foodie really is… maybe a foodie can be a simple girl, liking her simple foods with a twist. Or maybe a foodie can be a simple girl, liking her simple foods, period. Maybe I don’t need that title at all, and can still love my food. That’s what it’s all about, right?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love to read the recipes that are out of the box, and sometimes actually try them, but usually I’m drawn to recipes that I know that my family will eat.

    I’m a simple kind of girl, maybe throwing a little twist to a normal food, but most of the time, I’m like you…. give me that BLT slathered in mayo, with a simple White Zin while I sit back, relax in a little pub somewhere, while wearing my comfortable jeans and a sweater. But for dessert, I would like that barista coffee with a picture drawn in the foam. I’m weak when it comes to that… <3

    Now, getting to this brie…I LOVE it!! You say your friend was cross border shopping, and I have to say that this looks exactly like the topping that my beloved Wegmans sells. It makes me wonder if that's where she got it, if she's on the East Coast. But I'm sure that there are other stores that make it too. Regardless…. this is an awesome recipe, and one that I'm going to try on Saturday when my daughter comes to spend the day. <3 I'll let you know how it turns out, and how she likes it. I know you'll get rave reviews!

    Thanks for a wonderful post to wake up to on this chilly Friday morning… I'm truly enjoying your blog.

    • Yes – you’re so right! My friend brought the topping at Wegmans. We don’t have Wegmans here and I’ve never been in one but I did LOVE that topping. My friend gave me the container and we looked at the ingredients and just figured it could not be that hard to re-create. This isn’t quite as fabulously ooey-gooey – but then – you know exactly what’s in it too.
      As for you being the simple kind of girl – well – simple in the very best way I think! Simple as in straightforward and classic. That’s the best. :)

  4. I would not get up from the table until I had eaten all of it. Cheese is something I cannot resist and baked brie with caramel..there would be nothing to send me home with! So true about the food wankers – I think so many people feel the need to make every recipe their own by adding a long list of exotic ingredients.

    • Maria – I used a bad word. Shocking. Love that you used it too. Now I feel better. Yes, I wanted to eat it all too. When my friend sent it home with me – I ate it in the car on the way home – right out of the container. Shh…. don’t tell anyone. Our secret. xo

  5. You’ve started something here! Chuckled most of the way through your post. Hold on, though. Have you ever had unpasteurized Brie? And perfectly ripe and almost dripping out of its box? You wouldn’t bake it, that’s for sure. Of course, they can’t sell it like that in the UK anymore. Which is exactly why I have to grill it, usually with fresh thyme. Anyway, ham, egg and chips. Could eat it for breakfast. Would prefer organic. But, first thing and I don’t give a damn!

    • Well I might claim to want the simple things but the truth is – now I want the unpasteurized brie. Oh that description of it being perfectly ripe and almost dripping out of its box… Grilled with fresh thyme. I’m in love!

  6. So funny! I so agree with you on the obvious food trends. I won’t eat foam. Give me beautiful unpretentious food! I still don’t know what umami is and why I bought a tube of it in London. Haven’t even smelled it yet.
    I love baked Brie and this recipe looks fabulous!

    • Yes yes yes to beautiful unpretentious food. Well said Mimi! Did you know we get our first taste of umami in breast milk? It’s true. I wouldn’t know what to do umami either – but I bet you do something fantastic with it. And now I’ll be watching to see…

  7. Amen Sister! Good honest food beats all in my farm girl opinion. I’ve eaten many home grown BLT’s.AWESOME. What rather bugs me is the hyped up food shows…you know the ones….they feature weird ingredients and lather on the stress…there is one chef’s show I refuse to watch….but I do like the other shows that encourage the good honest fun of cooking with a little skill and information…

    • Oh I’m so glad you wrote – thank you – I love your farm girl opinion! I don’t have cable so I don’t see the food shows – but I watched Gordon Ramsay once and could not believe his horrible foul mouth. And then I go and write something with that word (w.a.n.k.e.r) in it. SHOCKING!

  8. This is a fantastic post!! Found you via Feed the Piglet on Facebook; I agree with absolutely every word. Food should be simple, nourishing and natural. Not to say that I don’t enjoy some organic fancy foods every now and then but I think that we should never forget the goodness of simple foods done well. Love the look of this gorgeous baked cheesy deliciousness! Here’s to not being wankers!

  9. I love your presentation of the question: Have we lost the plot? I really do think that some people have. I agree with you, whole-heartedly. Simple is usually the best. That’s always my philosophy. My mom makes this baked brie and I love it. She does the oven version and it’s just perfect. I’m all about house wine, btw :)

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