Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Final Post for 2013: Christmas Concoction & Contest


Well, here we go folks. Many of the wintertime holidays have gone and past, and in many parts of the world, 2014 has already made its mark. Before New Year's eve comes to an end in Michigan, I wanted to share with you for this final post of 2013 an experimental recipe gone right. Coupled with this is another reminder of the Christmas Menu recipe challenge I'll be helping to judge in the coming weeks, the deadline of which is January 5th (more info at the end of the post). And since I can't win as a judge, the timing works out to share the following concoction I made to pair with brie en croûte, which is perhaps the recipe I have replicated most frequently since beginning this blog nearly three years ago.

At a very basic level, brie en croûte isn't at all that complicated; simply put, just wrap up a wheel of brie in a layer of puff pastry (1,2,3; or you can just use frozen puff pastry like I do). And on its own, it's seriously delicious-- buttery and flaky, gooey, melted goodness enrobbed in a filling richness. So what better than add layers of additional flavours and textures?

Working in multi-tasking form, I turned on the oven to 350°F and, because I unconventionally had a whole 16 oz wheel of brie to work with, set out two frozen sheets of puff pastry on a plate to defrost. As the oven heated up, I put some peeled garlic cloves onto an olive oil sprayed sheet of tin foil. (Usually I would leave the skins on, but as the cloves were so small I wanted to maximise what little garlic I did have.) After topping this with a kosher salt and ground black pepper, I bunched up the tin foil and got that in the oven.

While the oven was doing its thing, I turned my attention to the stove top. I sprayed some olive oil into a large skillet and heated up the pan until it just started to smoke. As that was heating, I started to peel and slice yellow onions into thin half moons, adding them to the pan one onion at a time. Make sure to watch out for the heat. If the oil gets to hot and starts to smoke, the onions will burn rather than brown. With each additional onion, I stirred the onions around and added a dash of kosher salt, the salt of which draws out the onions' natural moisture.

By the time all the onions were cut and added to the pan, about 15-20 minutes had elapsed. (You could certainly prep the ingredients in advance, but you still need to let them all soften, brown and eventually caramelise, the process of which usually takes at least 15-20 minutes.) At that point, I began to peel and dice two Bartlett pears into 1/4" chunks, and add them to the onions. I ended up going with Bartletts because they happened to be on sale. (I imagine Bosc pears would be just as great, if not better for this recipe, as could other fruits. After seeing this recipe, though, I was confident pears, a natural pairing for brie, would work out.)

Taking note they are rather soft (in fact, they're among the juiciest pears), I didn't want to cook them for too long or expose them directly to the pan, which is why I waited until the onions were nearly done caramelising before adding in the pears. After about 10 minutes, the pears had sweetened, softening up without losing their shape.

30-35 minutes in total had perhaps gone by since turning on the oven. The garlic had finished roasting and so I carefully took it out, opening up the tin foil and releasing one of the best culinary smells I have ever come across. After smashing this lot, I gently folded it into the onion and pear mixture. I left all of this in the pan on low heat to keep warm.

Meanwhile, the puff pastry had defrosted. I laid out one of the sheets and pinched the folds to create a seamless sheet. (This step is pretty important, or else the cheese will melt out... though there could be worse things in life.) I then took two of the three rectangles of the second sheet and likewise folded and seamed the sheet, laying this on top of the brie wheel. Wrapping it as close to the wheel as possible, I folded the bottom layer over the top one, encasing it as well as I could. As an aside, I should note I usually bake a smaller brie wheel, in which case just one sheet rolled out is sufficient, but the process is pretty much the same, with an entirely covered brie wheel being the ultimate goal. I then flipped this lot over (that bottom layer is now the more even one and will this puff up more evenly), and got to work on the final third which I had reserved from the second puff pastry sheet.

This bit's one of the easier steps, as this is the decoration sheet. My typical design is a braided ring, so I did the same thing, using water to help "glue" it into place. Try your hand out with leaves, flowers, cross hatches, letters, what have you. Décor all finished, I got this onto a lightly greased baking sheet and into the oven.

As the brie en croûte is baking, other dishes could certainly be in the works. That, or clean up, for which I opted. About 30 minutes later, the puff pastry puffed and was ready to come out; though it took just 5-10 minutes more for it to turn golden brown. To speed up that process, you could certainly give the puff pastry a light egg wash (usually one egg yolk plus a touch of water) before putting it in the oven, or lightly toasting it under the broiler after the initial bake.

Et voilà, I present one of the best (and simplest) food matches to ever exist.

Finished off with buttery crackers as seen here, toasted baguette or even left all alone, this is one dish that always completes the holiday picture for me and one which I am sure you will enjoy, as well... as long as you enjoy flaky pastry dough and melted cheese, as well as the sweetness and textures from caramelised onions and pears, the warmth from roasted garlic, and a slight, nuanced heat from the black pepper.

For these and additional photos from the Christmas meal to which the brie en croûte was added, click here.

With that, I sign off for 2013, noting here some stats for future comparison's sake. As of this post, this blog site has 32 "likes," 11 Google followers, nearly 38.5K all-time views (recorded, though who knows how accurate), and 269 posts officially posted, with more than a few handfuls backlogged as drafts. Learning through Food on Facebook has 196 "likes," and my Urbanspoon account (complete with 56 total posts, 40 of which are from Columbus) is ranked #8 among those in Columbus.

If you like this blog, I invite you to "like" and follow my accompanying pages via Facebook and/or Urbanspoon (and don't forget to share these with others). Here's to many more food and culture experiences throughout 2014 and beyond! And above all else, thank you for your continued support!!


As alluded to at the top of this post, the above brie en croûte recipe (an appetizer entry in this case) is but an example of what could be presented for Very Great Recipe's Christmas Menu recipe challenge, which began on December 5th and will end on January 5th. As noted in my Thanksgiving post, anyone and everyone is encouraged to share their original recipes and join in this fun, international collaboration, whereby food is at the heart of it all. The following rules have been summarised/restated below from the official challenge web page (here).

Official Rules:
  • There must be at least one picture in your recipe, and both the recipe and picture need to be your own. If your recipe is inspired by another, please mention it in your recipe.
  • You cannot use an already published recipe to participate in the challenge, you need to publish a new recipe (otherwise there's no challenge!)
  • We would love to have participations from all around the world, including from blogs in languages other than English. Please do include an English translation of your recipe in your post though. :-) If you need help with the translation (proofreading etc.), we will be glad to help if we can.
  • You can participate with up to one recipe for each category: Christmas appetizers, entrees (main dishes) and desserts.
Submitting Your Entry(-ies):
  • If you have a food blog registered on Very Good Recipes, you just need to publish your recipe on your blog with a link to the challenge page http://verygoodrecipes.com/christmas-menu-challenge in the text of your recipe. (Note how I linked this post to the Thanksgiving challenge.)
    Please also add a link to the recipe category so that we can find participating recipes easily: It will then be automatically listed on the Christmas Menu recipe challenge page. (If you don't see it after 30 minutes, e-mail Stéphane.)
  • If you have a food blog (or a blog with a recipe category or label) but are not yet registered on Very Good Recipes, you can register in 30 seconds.
  • If you do not have a blog, you can participate by sending Stéphane your recipe with one or more pictures. He will publish your recipe on Very Good Recipe's blog so that it can be displayed on the challenge page.
The judges, including yours truly, will select four winners. The grand winner will be selected from among those who submit three recipes, one from each category. In addition, there will be a winner for each of the three course categories. At stake are not only bragging rights, but cookbooks and laurels that'll be posted on VGR's website and which can also be posted on winners' respective blogs!

This Challenge's Judges:
- Anyonita: http://www.anyonita-nibbles.com/
- Clem: http://urbanfoodcrawl.wordpress.com/
- Jenny: http://bubbuleincucina.blogspot.it/
- Karon: http://www.larderlove.com/
- Leslie: http://cookingmemoirs.blogspot.com
- Marica: http://www.cookingwithmarica.net/
- Mark Anthony: http://www.learningthroughfood.blogspot.com/
- Stefania: http://bigshade.blogspot.com/
- Vera: http://vojvodjanskakuhinja.blogspot.fr/
- Yankee Chef: http://theyankeechef.blogspot.com/

Finally, please feel free to pass along this challenge to your friends and family! For more information, check out the Christmas Menu recipe challenge page. I look forward to seeing all this recipes for this challenge, especially those from Learning through Food readers. :)

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