Pistachio Feta Dip

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Pistachios add a beautiful emerald-green to holiday foods like Christmas bark and festive biscotti, but what about the really green holiday – St. Patrick’s Day?!!

Maybe I’m just really into color – I’ve certainly been accused of that – but I saw this dip online and just knew I’d be making it for St. Patrick’s day, on March 17th, 2018. Way more fun than Irish stew, and you can still enjoy your green beer.

I’m basing my recipe on the one from The Lemon Apron, a gorgeous blog by young Jennifer, who believes in “rustic, indulgent, and healthy home cooking.”

She got the original recipe from the book Persiana, by Sabrina Ghayour.

What I especially loved about this dip is that there is no TAHINI or CHICK PEAS in it!!! Hummus is wonderful, but there are other dips out there.

Case in point – this one is a beautiful purée of pistachios, along with feta and yogurt. YUM!

Pistachio Feta Dip
Slightly Adapted
Printable recipe below

3 1/2 oz (100 g) shelled pistachios
1/4 cup olive oil
7 oz (approx 200 g) feta cheese
2 handfuls of parsley, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and crushed
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
6 ounces Greek yogurt
Zest of one lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Blitz the pistachios and olive oil in a food processor for 30 seconds.

Add the feta, parsley, garlic, chile pepper, yogurt and lemon.

Blitz until the mixture is well combined and has a rustic texture and place in a serving dish. I drizzled some olive oil over the top.

Serve with warmed focaccia or flat bread, pita crackers, crackers, or crostini.

I used Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips because they’re so delicious.

I realized after-the-fact that if I’d removed the brown, thin skins from the pistachios, the dip would have been greener. But oh well. You will still be addicted!

There isn’t one thing I don’t absolutely love about this dip. I’ll be making it again, even when it’s not St. Patrick’s Day.

Note: In the original recipe, dill and cilantro are both used. I made an executive decision to just use parsley, because I wanted this dip to be more generic in flavor, in order to match it with other hors d’oeuvres I was serving.

I noticed that Jen spread the dip on toast and topped it with an egg! Yeah!!! (her photo below)

 

 

Mes Escargots

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So, I love snails. Shoot me. At least I think I love them. You could probably smother bits of shoe soles in a garlicky butter and parsley sauce, bake them, and serve them with good, crusty bread, and they would be good, too.

I was raised on snails, so they never scared me. Now, honestly, I don’t want to think about them really being snails because, well, snails are icky.

Recently I realized that I’ve never prepared my own L’escargots. And, it was about time to rectify this.

Funny anecdote: Right before we got married, my fiancé and I visited my mother, a couple of weeks before our elopement would occur.

My mother, being who she is, French, wanted to make my future husband happy, so for the first celebratory meal she prepared for us, it began with snails. And, he ate them. He ate other things, too. I guess he really loved me.

Photos below show two times I had l’escargots in France, in Avignon and Tourettes.

Here is a snail dish I had in Aix en Provence – snails on a salad. I’d always enjoyed l’escargots the traditional way, but this salad was superb.

To make snails the traditional way, you need snail shells, and you need snails. Fortunately one doesn’t have to forage in garden for either.

Escargots à la Bourguignonne
based on recipe in Saveur
makes 24

16 tablespoons butter
1/4 minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon white wine
1 teaspoon cognac
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
24 extra-large snail shells
24 canned extra-large snails
Rock salt
Country bread

In a bowl, whisk together butter, parsley, wine, cognac, garlic, and shallots with a fork. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of butter mixture into each snail shell.

Push a snail into each shell; fill shells with remaining butter mixture.

Cover bottom of a baking dish with a layer of rock salt to stabilize the snail shells.

Arrange snail shells, butter side up, on the salt and bake until butter sizzles, about 10-12 minutes.

Serve hot with bread.

Alternatively, to prepare l’escargots, you don’t need snail shells, just ceramic dishes with round indentations.

Put a snail and the butter in each indentation, then bake the same way in a hot oven.

You’ll still need a little fork and good bread.


Snails are a wonderful excuse to eat bread soaked in a garlic parsley butter.

 

 

Avocado on Grilled Bread

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In 2012, my husband and I were visiting my daughter in London and we went out for breakfast. This is what my daughter ordered.

I took a photo of it because that’s always what I’ve done, even before blogging. It was just so pretty: mashed avocado spread on grilled bread, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and feta cheese. My introduction to avocado toast.

So although slow to embrace food trends, like zoodles and cauliflower rice, I decided to (FINALLY) make avocado toast. It’s not like I knew it wouldn’t be wonderful! Avocados are one of my favorite foods.

Too bad I’m not super artistic, or I could jump on another trend and create art from avocados…

Here’s how I made mine.

Avocado on Grilled Bread

4 tablespoons oil, I used walnut oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Few sprigs of thyme
6 slices good bread, like Ciabatta
2 ripe but not over-ripe avocados
Fresh tomato slices
Salt
Pepper
Goat cheese
Fresh thyme leaves, optional

Warm the olive oil in a butter warmer with the garlic and thyme. Do not let the garlic brown or burn.

Heat a large, flat skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly brush the slices of bread with the garlic oil, and grill the bread face-down until browned. Place them on a serving plate and set aside.

Peel and de-pit the avocados. Scoop out the flesh and place in a medium bowl. Mash with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Only prepare the avocado right before serving.

To prepare the “toasts,” spread some of the mashed avocado on the grilled breads and smooth the tops.

Add sliced tomatoes, followed by a generous amount of crumbled goat cheese.

Drizzle the remaining garlic and thyme oil over the avocado toasts and serve immediately.

These are not only for breakfast or a snack or lunch. I can see these served as an hors d’oeuvres with some champagne or rosé!

Alternatively, oven roast small tomatoes in a gratin pan.

Or, use sun-dried tomatoes. It’s all wonderful!

If more protein is desired, one can always add an egg, or some smoked salmon. But I like the simplicity of this preparation.

Do not use inferior bread for these toasts. Use a ciabatta, sourdough, or a hearty multigrain.

These avocado toasts were honestly outstanding. If you love avocado, tomatoes, and feta, then you’ll love these too. Of course, you’ve probably made them already because you’re not stubborn! But I have to say that the garlic and thyme-infused walnut oil was a fantastic addition.

Crostini al Tonno

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Thanks to a friend who visited Lorenza de Medici’s Badia a Coltibuono in Italy many years ago, and cooked with the Madame, I learned about the Italian cuisine expert and bought a few of her cookbooks.

Lorenza de Medici isn’t Lidia Bastianich. If she visited the U.S., she didn’t go on the Today Show, on the Tonight Show, or participate as a judge on Chopped. (I have nothing against Lidia.) So although a highly respected author and teacher, she’s just not as well known in the U.S.

To quote from the book cover of the cookbook I’m using for today’s recipe, Lorenza’s Antipasti, published in 1998, “Lorenza and her Husband, Piero Stucchi-Prinetti, spend most of their time at their home, Badia a Coltibuono, an 11th Century monastery, estate, and winery in Tuscany.”

If I was her, I wouldn’t leave either. I’d just hang out, teach some cooking classes, test the grapes and olives, drink my wine, and play with dogs. I’m assuming she has dogs.

Oh, and as of the publication of this cookbook, she’d already published 20 books, and that was 19 years ago!

So instead of common bruschetta, tapenade, baked ricotta, and other popular crostini toppings, some of which are on this blog (all of them, actually), I really wanted to make these toasts with tuna. Recipe by Lorenza de Medici. I just like saying her name! Not to be confused with Lorenzo de Medici.

Crostini al Tonno

12 slices Italian country-style bread, sliced 1/4 ” thick
8 ounces canned tuna in oil
Yolks of 3 hard-boiled eggs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 anchovy fillets in oil
12 paper thin slices lemon with peel on
12 capers in salt, rinsed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the slices of bread on 1 or 2 baking sheets and toast in the oven for about 3 minutes or until barely golden, turning them once; allow to cool to room temperature.

Put the tuna with its oil, the egg yolks, butter, lemon juice and anchovy fillets in a food processor and process until a smooth paste forms.

It can be placed in a small serving bowl and served alongside the toasts.


Alternately, spread the paste on the toasts and top with the lemon slices.

Arrange a caper in the center of each.

Arrange on a platter and serve.

These crostini are absolutely delicious. I served them with bubbly rosé and it was a perfect match for a warm summer evening.

Olive Cake

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In the fall of 2015, my husband and I spent a lovely vacation in the Provençal countryside with our friend Stéphane Gabart. If you’re not familiar with him, you should be. He writes the inspirational blog “My French Heaven,” and he’s also a professional culinary guide, chef and photographer.

Before this trip I’d already visited him twice – once with my daughter, and the other time with a girlfriend.

But this trip was different in that we traveled from Bordeaux through Provence, ending up at le Côte d’Azur at the end. So for two full weeks, we really saw Provence, thanks to the itinerary Stéphane customized for us. I wasn’t familiar with many of the villages, like Boulbon, Gordes, Grasse, and Tourrettes. All were awe-inspiring.

Near Aix en Provence, we visited a working olive farm, Bastide du Laval, had a tasting, and walked the trails amongst the olive groves.

This photo shows Niçoise olives ripening.

At every happy hour in Provence, along with our cocktails, we were served olives. Some were whole, some were made into a tapenade, and all were delicious.

At one hotel we were served olives with what I’m sure was olive cake – a savory quick bread.

The olive cake I’m making today is reminiscent of the lovely bread I enjoyed while sipping rosé underneath golden sycamores.

This is the recipe I’m using, although I can’t credit anyone or any publication; I couldn’t even find it online.


I pretty much made the recipe as is, except for increasing the cheese to 7 ounces, all grated, and omitting the ham.



The bread/cake turned out perfectly.

I served it still warm with cheese, olives, salami and oven-roasted tomatoes.

I think the cake would have been fine with just the olive oil and tapenade, but the chopped olives added a nice texture.

Next time I will make this olive cake the same way.

note: I omitted the ham in this specific recipe, but if you want something more fun, check out the raclette quick bread I made a few years ago for the blog, pictured below. It contains sun-dried tomatoes, pancetta, raclette, pine nuts, and herbs. In fact, it just shows how creative you can get with a basic savory quick bread recipe!

Gravlax

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In January, after I posted on a soup recipe from the cookbook Back to Square One, by Joyce Goldstein, I was told in a comment that the Gravlax recipe in the same cookbook was the best.

Sandra, an Aussie known to many of us bloggers as “lady red specs,” is the one who left the comment. Her blog, Please Pass the Recipe, is one I’ve followed for years, and I trusted her recommendation.

Sandra claims that the recipe for gravlax has the perfect ratio of salt, sugar, and booze, which is why she continues to use the recipe. Having never made gravlax, I decided this was a perfect recipe to use for my first experience.

The whole salmon thing is a bit complicated, with basic grilling or baking, but also smoking, curing, and brining.

There’s hot-smoked/cooked salmon, which I make in my stove-top smoker, there’s brined and cold-smoked salmon, or lox, that retains a sashimi-like texture, and gravlax or gravdlax, which is the Scandinavian name for brined and cured salmon. All are considered cooked, although via different cooking methods.

The gravlax recipe in the book calls for Scotch, which Ms. Goldstein chose to use with her Scottish salmon. Makes sense, but I’m not fond of any of the brown liquors. Fortunately, Sandra recommended vodka.

She also recommended that I use lemon zest and lemon thyme, instead of the traditional dill weed.

Fortunately I’d just planted lemon thyme.

So here’s what I did.

Home-Made Gravlax
based on a recipe in Back to Square One

1 salmon filet, about 1 1/2 pounds
4-5 tablespoons vodka
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons salt
Lemon Zest
Leaves of lemon thyme

Clean and dry the salmon if necessary, and remove any pin bones. Place the filets in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle the vodka over the flesh.

Mix the sugar, salt, zest and thyme leaves together, then rub the mixture into the salmon.


Cover the salmon with plastic wrap and weigh it down.

Refrigerate the salmon for no more than 3 days. To serve, gently wipe the salmon filets with a paper towel, but don’t rinse the mixture off. Thinly slice the salmon across the grain.

You can serve bagels, crackers, crisps, bread, or blini.

One can also serve the traditional lox goodies like cream cheese, chopped hard-boiled egg, chopped purple onions, and capers.

Treat the salmon just as you would lox, although the texture is firmer.

I probably could have sliced the salmon even thinner if I’d been more patient, but as it was it was translucent.

verdict: I am not a gravlax expert, but I can’t imagine another tasting any better than this one. The flavor is surprisingly mild, even with all of the lemon, salt, and sugar. And full disclosure, my salmon cured for four full days because I had to leave town. The texture was firm, but the flavor exquisite. I know I’ll be using this recipe again!

Pâté

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Pâté is one of my favorite delicacies. Of course, it helps that I like liver – a lot. This pâté has a subtle liver flavor because it’s made with mild chicken livers. It’s silky smooth and spreadable.

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Pâté is not to be confused with foie gras, which are actual lobes of fattened liver, usually goose, typically served in slices with a fruit compote of some sort.


There are also terrines, sometimes called Terrines de Campagne, which are dense loaves made from coarsely ground meats, that typically don’t include liver. Terrine slices are fabulous as part of an aprés-ski spread, especially for non-liver lovers.

Quite often in the fall or winter, I’ll make this simple and inexpensive pâté, even though I’m usually the only one who enjoys it. I like it served the traditional way – on toast points or bread, as part of an hors d’oeuvres platter.

This recipe is my mother’s. I’ve seen similar recipes, but I just stick to this one because it always comes out perfectly. Here it is:

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Pâté

2 pounds chicken livers, at room temperature
1 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Few bay leaves
2 sticks butter
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of salt
A few grindings black pepper
4 tablespoons cognac

The first thing that needs to be done is clean the livers. There are membranes and sometimes little blobs of fat that need to be removed. You’ll feel the membranes – just do your best to pull on them while holding the livers in the other hand, until you can pull them out. Then discard. Continue with all the livers, rinsing them as you go, and placing them in a colander.

Place all of the livers on paper towels to dry; set aside.

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Meanwhile, have all of your aromatics ready to go. Then heat both sticks of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I like to brown the butter slightly.

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When the butter is bubbling, add the onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Sauté for 5 minutes.

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Add the livers to the skillet, plus the thyme, allspice, salt, and pepper.

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After about 5 minutes of cooking and occasional stirring, add the cognac. Stir the mixture and let it cook for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and let everything cool down.
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When it’s all cooled, cover the mixture and place in the refrigerator overnight. Before making the pâté, bring the liver mixture to room temperature or even warm gently.

Remove the bay leaves. Place about half of the livers in a blender, not including all of the liquid. Have a rubber spatula handy.

Blend on low; it will look like it won’t blend, but it really will. Be patient with the mixture. Move it around with the spatula, and blend again.

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Once it’s smooth, pour into a terrine, or loaf-shaped mold, then repeat with the remaining liver mixture. The terrine I used measures 4 1/2″ x 11 3/4″, and is 3 3/4″ deep, but you can use multiple dishes as well.

Chill the pâté, covered, for about 2 hours. Then, cover it with about 1/4″ of duck fat or slightly warm butter. Then cover again and keep in the refrigerator for two days before using.

Serve at room temperature, with bread or toasts alongside a jam, chutney, or my favorite – Dijon mustard.

note: Except for foie gras, the terms pâté and terrine can be used interchangeably. I took a picture of this curried chicken and raisin “pâté” when I was wandering through Le District in NYC recently, (France’s version of Eataly,) and I bet it’s more of a meat terrine, and mostly likely doesn’t contain liver. To me, a pâté is smooth, and a terrine coarse in texture, sometimes even containing sausages or eggs. But never make assumptions. Do keep in mind that if you dislike liver, you could still enjoy terrines.
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Pesto Ranch Dip

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I’ve written before about what a purist I am in the way that I make most everything from scratch. It doesn’t matter if it’s barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce, salad dressings, you name it. I just can’t do it any other way.

Sure, a lot of those products are real time savers. But they’re also horrible. Or, should I say, that home-made is always better. Plus you don’t have to include the uncessary salt, sugar, fake colors and preservatives.

During the summer months especially, I eat a salad every day. I typically use a good vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil on them – that’s it. Or, I use a vinaigrette that I’ve made ahead of time.

A few years ago, we were at a local restaurant with our daughter and son-in-law. I ordered a Cobb salad for my meal, and with it Ranch dressing. If you haven’t heard of Ranch dressing, then you’ve probably never lived in the U.S.
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My son-in-law kidded me about ordering such an “American” dressing. So I threatened him. Nicely. Something like, “If you tell anyone I ordered Ranch dressing I’ll have you killed.”

But to this day, at most restaurants, and for basic salads, I ask for Ranch dressing. I’ll tell you why. (And I still threaten folks if they tease me about it.)

1. Italian dressing, which is supposed to be oil and vinegar, is disgusting at restaurants. It’s not typically made in the restaurant kitchen. It’s a Kraft product, somewhat gloppy, overly sweet, with little unidentifiable bits in it.
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2. If you ask for oil and vinegar for your salad you will simply get stared at by nincompoop waiters.

3. If a “specialty” salad, say an Asian salad, is offered with a dressing, it is usually so disgustingly sweet that I can hardly eat the salad. I’ve learned that if the menu states “sweet chili lime dressing,” it basically means simple syrup. I wish I was kidding but I’m not.

So, that’s why I order Ranch dressing. At least I know what I’m getting. It’s not healthy, but it has its merits in the taste department.

Last week while grocery shopping, I happened to spot Ranch dressing. I quickly checked to see if I knew anyone near me, then I stuck the bottle of dressing under bags of produce. I actually purchased Ranch dressing for the first time in my life.

Flash forward to a recent impromptu evening with friends. I got out my usual hors d’oeuvres – cheeses, crackers and fruit.

Then I spotted a slab of bread cheese that I hadn’t needed for salad I’d made the week before and decided to grill the bread cheese at the last minute for a fun change.

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For a quick dip, I used freshly-made pesto, along with, yes, some Ranch dressing. The dip turned out so good I thought I’d share it with you. Here’s what I did.

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Pesto Ranch Dip

2 heaping tablespoons prepared basil pesto
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/3 cup Ranch dressing
Olive oil
Approximately 10 ounces Halloumi or bread cheese, cut into 16 or so pieces
Fresh pepper

Place the pesto and lime juice in a small blender and process until smooth. Then add the Ranch dressing; set aside.

Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the pieces of cheese and cook until browned on both sides. Place them on a serving platter and sprinkle them with pepper. Continue with the remaining pieces.

Pour the pesto ranch dip into a small bowl and serve with the warm cheese.

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Dip away!

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I realize that this isn’t much of a recipe, nor is it that creative, but this dip is so good with the bread cheese. See what you think!

And if you’re even more stubborn than I am, substitute sour cream, heavy cream, or creme fraiche for the Ranch dressing!

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Chorizo and Scallop Skewers

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My mother gave me the cookbook Charcuterie for my birthday. She knows me so well!
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The book is mostly recipes, but also contains a chapter on making charcuterie from scratch. I’m in awe of people who make prosciutto and pancetta, but I live in too humid of a region in the U.S. to hang hams in my basement.

The recipes are wonderful, mostly focusing on Spanish, French, and Italian cured meats. The first recipe that caught my attention was a simple skewer of scallops and chorizo. Simple yet total perfection!

If you can’t get your hands on Spanish chorizo, check out my favorite website, La Tienda, for chorizo and all other Spanish foods. If you scroll through chorizo, and you will discover so many different varieties – some for slicing, some for cooking, some for grilling.

The recipe in the book just referred to cubes of chorizo, but I got carried away and purchased Ibérico de Bellota Butifarra Sausage because it intrigued me.

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It is sausage made from Iberian pigs, which are supposedly fed acorns as babies. This raw sausage wasn’t quite firm enough to cube, and not red like authentic chorizo, but it was really good!

When we were in Spain many years, my husband and I would order both jamon Serrano and Ibérico (similar to Prosciutto) and we could not tell the difference. Maybe they just knew we were Americans and didn’t bother giving us the real stuff, I don’t know! But we gave up after a few tries, and stuck to the fabulous but much less expensive Serrano.

In any case, in spite of not having used real chorizo, these scallop and sausage skewers were wonderful. I will paraphrase the recipe from Charcuterie because it’s so simple.

Chorizo and Scallop Skewers

12 – 1″ cubes chorizo or firm spicy sausage
12 scallops, approximately the same size
Olive oil
Ground paprika
Coarsely ground pepper

Heat a small amount of oil in a cast-iron or other heavy skillet. Brown the cubes or slices of sausage on all sides, then lower the heat and cook thoroughly. Place them on paper towels to drain.

Using the same fat from the olive oil and sausage, sear the scallops in the hot oil, then lower the heat to cook through. Place the scallops on paper towels to drain.

Let the chorizo and scallops cool, then skewer them together, with the scallop first, followed by the chorizo.
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Sprinkle on a generous amount of paprika and ground pepper.


I used a mixed peppercorn combination.
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These hors d’oeuvres are best served warm. They could be prepared ahead of time if they were gently re-heated so as not to overcook the scallops and dry out the chorizo or sausage.
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I will definitely be making these again with real chorizo, but I can really see the scallop pairing with just about any kind of sausage!

note: For a handy comparison chart on Spanish vs. Mexican chorizo, check out this website.

Baked Brie with Roasted Cherries

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My friend has a fruit orchard. In spite of a late freeze, the cherry trees were prolific this year, and at the beginning of June I went over to relieve her of some cherries!

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Although there’s nothing much better than just popping a fresh cherry in your mouth, I decided to do something with these fresh cherries, but without baking the obvious pie.

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I thought about ice cream, but then I settled on an idea I’d spotted in a cookbook a while back – roasting the cherries.

My friend told me to refrigerate them, as they’re easier to pit when they’re cold, so that’s where they went for a few hours.

I sorted the cherries, throwing away any questionable ones, rinsed them and let them drip dry.

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My friend gave me another tip – how to pit the cherries without using the olive/cherry pitter. A paper clip!

You insert one rounded end of a paper clip into the dent where the stem was, and simply “scoop” out the pit. This works especially well when the cherries are ripe.

I love brie in general, but if you’ve never had a goat brie, you’re mising out! However, regular brie will substitute in this recipe.

So here’s what I did.

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Baked Goat Brie topped with Roasted Cherries

Fresh pitted cherries, approximately 8 ounces
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon cherry or pomegranate syrup
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 small goat Brie

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Add the cherries and sugar, stir gently and remove from the heat. Place the mixture in an oven-proof baking dish.

Roast the cherries, watching them carefully. It should only take about 15-20 minutes. You’re not drying them, just caramelizing them.
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Remove the baking dish from the oven. Because these cherries were so juicy, I gently removed to cherries using a small, slotted spoon, and poured the remaining liquid in a small saucepan.
I gently reduced the cherry juice until a syrup, then added the cherry syrup. I reduced a few minutes longer, then added the balsamic vinegar.


Meanwhile heat the goat Brie ever so gently in the oven or microwave. You don’t want to cook the cheese, just begin the melting process.

To serve, place the Brie on a serving plate and cover with the roasted cherries.

After the reduction has cooled slightly, carefully spoon it over the brie and cherries.

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I also added a few sprigs of thyme, and served the brie with toasts.

If the brie is nicely warmed, it should pour out of its casing when cut into.

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The cherry juice, reduction and molten cheese made a beautiful design that wasn’t anticipated!
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This hors d’oeuvre turned out to be one of the tastiest I’ve ever created, in my humble opinion. And, it’s beautiful.
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The ratio of ingredients will definitely depend on the sweetness and juiciness of the fresh cherries!