An occasional series in which staff members share a recipe that we turn to time and again:
I love hosting dinner parties, but serving meat? Not so much. As a vegetarian for more than 14 years, and one who loves to cook, whipping up a multicourse meatless meal seems normal.
My grandmother, among others, assures me it is not.
A few years ago, she predicted that I was sabotaging any hope of getting married and living happily ever after if I refused to cook meat. It amazes me that even today some folks assume vegetarians serve only bland bird food.
But after my grandmother's out-of-nowhere harangue, I found myself wondering if, when heading to my house for the first time, guests were secretly dreading a meal sans flesh.
I was planning a dinner of creamy risotto with carrots and sugar snap peas; mixed greens, almonds and dried cranberries tossed with a wicked vinaigrette; bread toasted with oregano, parsley and garlic; and a side of roasted beets with fresh lemon and pepper. After a meal like that, could I really be sending someone home hungry? Still, doubt -- never a good thing in a kitchen -- set in; I decided to win them through the art of distraction. And for that, I looked to baked brie.
Recipes for baked brie (also called brie en croute) are everywhere. Some call for an egg wash to be brushed over the pastry before baking, others add parsley and almonds. I've fiddled with fig preserves or dried cranberries or the like, but when I've served both the honey-and-garlic and the preserves version at the same time, it's the simple original that wins the raves.
The beauty of this particular dish is the work-to-reward ratio. The recipe, passed along by a carnivorous uncle who got it from a Web site, which credited it to a 1997 Bon Appetit magazine, calls for a mere five ingredients, all readily available at the grocery store.
It gets the same sort of "oh, my" response as a souffle without the worry of anything collapsing, and it works equally as an appetizer, a side dish or dessert. Plus, all measurements are approximate; you really can't hurt it by adding more or less of anything, a factor that comes in handy when you're in the midst of dinner-party frenzy and just can't remember how many formerly whole garlic cloves are now in pieces on the chopping board.
A few weeks ago, a group of us spent a weekend in a rambling old house in the Shenandoah River valley. The pastry sheets defrosted while we hiked, the oven went on when we returned and with less than five minutes of actual kitchen duty, we had sophistication in a serving dish, devoured by candlelight alongside the river. The fact that it's a calorie-laden hunk of gooey cheese wrapped in pastry and smothered in honey might mar the vegetarian-as-health-nut rep: That I'm willing to live with.
6 to 8 servings
Salty, sweet and savory, all at once. I always serve this with crusty French bread, but if it's kicking off the meal, baby carrots often go with it as well, and as a dessert, a plate of plump grapes is the perfect companion. Recipe adapted from Jane Echol's Web site, www.braceface.com/tobejane.
2 frozen pastry sheets, such as Pepperidge Farm
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 small (16 ounces) brie wheel (may substitute equivalent big wedge of brie)
3 to 4 tablespoons honey
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a lightly greased baking dish that is about two inches wider than the wheel of brie.
Defrost the pastry sheets until they are pliable, unfold and set aside.
In a small pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute; the garlic will be fragrant but not browned. Set aside.
Drape one pastry sheet in the prepared baking dish, letting the edges hang over the sides and fitting the pastry to the bottom of the dish. Place the brie on the pastry and spoon the garlic and butter on top. Fold up the corners of the pastry so that they rest on top of the brie. Cover the brie with the second pastry sheet, tucking its corners around the wheel. (The pastry will expand to fill the dish when it's baked.) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and slightly puffy.
The brie can be served straight from the oven, with the honey drizzled on top, or transferred to a platter before the honey is added. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Per serving (based on 8): 539 calories, 16 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 39 g fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 16 g saturated fat, 495 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber
Recipe tested by Anne McDonough; e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Anne McDonough
Anne McDonough is the editorial aide for the Travel section.