Amy (my future stepsister) had, at some point in the weeks leading up to Christmas, made an offhand comment in an e-mail to my mom that “Sarah would probably have some ideas for appetizers.”
If you know me, you know I’ve always got “an app for that.” (I may not have a smart phone, but I have a Smart Kitchen, and I like to think of myself [because nobody else does] as the Appetizer Queen.)
In this case, “that” refers to Christmas, but since we’ve left that jolly holiday (for Mary*) behind, we’ll just say that “that” refers to any upcoming shindig where you might want to eat some delicious appetizers…for example, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, or, you know, dinner tomorrow night.
*An allusion initially intended for Mary Poppins and to spur a minor “Dick-Van-Dyke-in-barbershop-quartet-red-stripes-frolicking-with-animated-penguins’ sing-a-long in your brain, but then, upon further reflection, also an interesting connection to the Mary of Biblical reknown…although I’m not sure if the whole “giving birth to Jesus in a manger on a cold winter’s night (that was so deep)” is really what we want to call a “jolly holiday.”
As I had just read Southern Living‘s December issue…
…which, as side note, is always the best issue of this magazine each year, and perhaps the only magazine I keep in full, un-adulterated (meaning, recipes left in tact and not torn out) form for years at a time…I was fixated on this beautiful baked brie.
Not only is baked brie a gift from the gods of French ovens,* this recipe wasn’t really a “recipe” at all. Hence, I like it. When you just give me a basic idea of what to do and then let me play, well…that makes my day. This particular version of baked brie was called Cherry Pecan Brie, and involved whipping together cherry preserves and balsamic vinegar and pouring it over already warmed brie and topping it all with pecans. I knew I could do better.
*I don’t know what that means either.
Conveniently, my mom had this sour cherry marmalade she’d bought at TJ Maxx (yes, the joy of buying food items in rare and strange places is, in fact, genetic).
And, also bizarrely, she had a whole wheel of brie in the fridge, clearly purchased at Costco for the possibility of needing to whip up an hors d’oeurves at a moments notice. (Fear of being unprepared for a spontaneous cocktail party? Also genetic.)
As my mom is from Georgia, we pretty much always have pecans, so I was set.
Well, almost. Enter….VERMONT!
OK, fine. It’s just maple syrup in the shape of Vermont. But still. Their powers combined might not have produced Captain Planet (although if he lived anywhere, I’m pretty sure he’d live in the eco-friendly hippie-land we love called Vermont)….…but it did produced a delicious Cherry Maple Pecan Baked Brie that is not only delicious, but easy (cheesy) beautiful [see, I knew I'd fit that in somehow].
Served up with a loaf of crusty bread or some of your favorite crackers (or a spoon…I’m not above that), and you’ve got something sure to keep your crowd happy.
As I said upon arrival at the beach, “I’ve got not one, but two gooey cheese appetizers
to make, so we need to figure out which one we want which night.” [Not that we couldn't have them both at once, but you know...I was at least aiming for some semblance of balance here.]
The second one was just as easy as the first.
Inspired by my friend Ximena, I wanted to recreate her melted goat cheese and marinara sauce that she made on one or two occasions at parties over the summer. Luckily, again, my mom has not only stocked up on brie, but goat cheese as well…and I had the 16 oz.-Costco-sized log to work with.
For this app, affectionately known as Baked Goat Cheese & Marinara, because, well…that’s what it is…you’ll only need the 8 oz. log, as well as a jar of your favorite marinara sauce. (You could make your own…and I almost did…but then I imagined myself slapping myself–didn’t want to actually inflict pain, you know–and thought, “WHY?”)
[If you are like me, "favorite" means "whatever is on sale". ]
Take 8 oz. of goat cheese and plop it into an oven-proof dish.
(I would probably use a pie pan the next time, but a rectangular or square dish works as well. It really doesn’t matter at all.)
Mush the goat cheese down into whatever shape matches your dish, leaving room around the edges. [Please note this is all for presentation prettiness...you could literally leave it as it is and it will still be delicious.]
Take about 1/2 the jar of sauce (about 1-1/2 cups…although I am a “more sauce, less cheese” kind of girl, so I err on the side of sauce…most people like more cheese) and pour it around the edges of the cheese.
Then, add whatever dried or fresh herbs you might have on hand. This is a sprinkling of dried basil, dried oregano, fresh black pepper, and crushed red pepper.
Already good enough to eat,* but it is time to take it to the next level.
*If you are weird, like me, and think tomato sauce is delicious at all temperatures.
Put your cheesy goodness into a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or so…
…or however long it takes for the cheese to get melty and gooey and the sauce to be warm and bubbly.
A good idea is to go ahead and warm up a nice French baguette while you’ve got the oven on……I don’t think it matters what type of bread you use (or even if you use bread…I found that raw mushrooms taste delicious dipped in this), but we got this baguette still warm and freshly baked from the grocery store and it was fabulous.
Take your bread…
I recommend using your leftover goat cheese to make Bacon-Wrapped Dates stuffed with goat cheese.I’ve made bacon-wrapped dates before…that time stuffed with a pumpkin-ricotta mixture, but these were even easier and possibly even MORE delicious. I used the huge (and yes, more expensive) Medjool dates, pitted them, and put a little goat cheese inside.
I took bacon, and cut it in half lengthwise [bigger dates meant bigger pieces of bacon on each ]…
….and then wrapped up the dates. [Some of them didn't need the whole piece of bacon, so I "cut and pasted" so to speak.
I baked them at 350 until the bacon was cooked (about 20 minutes?), turning them once. Broiling works as well...5-7 minutes on each side.
It's really hard to say which of these three were the most popular cheesy app during the weekend. I was forbidden to take the lone leftover date home with me, the baked goat cheese and marinara was put on Amy's New Year's Eve app list, and on the way home, Tom (my future stepdad) groaned about leaving behind the brie.
I guess the solution is...you better just make all three!
Cherry Maple Pecan Baked Brie
1 19.6 oz. wheel brie
1/2 cup cherry marmalade (or other marmalade of your choice)
2-3 Tbsp. maple syrup, divided
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1. Place brie wheel in an oven-proof dish.
2. In a small bowl, mix together marmalade and 2 Tbsp. maple syrup. Pour/spread over the top of brie.
3. Drizzle remaining maple syrup across the top of the brie wheel.
4. Sprinkle marmalade with pecans.
5. Bake brie at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until you can cut into it and brie is oozy gooey in the middle.
6. Serve with bread or crackers!
Baked Goat Cheese & Marinara
8 oz. goat cheese
1-1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
Dried or fresh herbs of your choosing (basil, oregano, black pepper, crushed red pepper, etc.)
1. Press goat cheese into the center of an oven-proof dish, leaving an edge around the outside.
2. Pour marinara sauce around the goat cheese.
3. Sprinkle herbs and seasonings over everything.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until cheese is melty and tomato sauce is warm and perhaps bubbly.
5. Serve with warm, crusty bread!
Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Goat Cheese
24 Medjool dates
4 oz. of goat cheese
8 slices bacon
1. Pit the dates and spoon goat cheese into the center. Press the dates closed.
2. Cut bacon in half length-wise.
3. Wrap each date with bacon, pressing well to keep it together. [You may need to cut bacon if it is too long...or you just might have super-bacon-y dates...the choice is yours!]
4. Place dates on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until bacon is cooked through. [You may also broil them, turning once.]
5. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving…otherwise you might have some burned tongues to deal with!