Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ginger Rose Presents: Kitchen Crashers

I started Ginger Rose almost three years ago with a clear goal in mind, to inspire my friends and family to conquer their kitchen fears and find the joy in cooking a delicious home cooked meal. At the time I felt like a bit of an anomaly, with pretty much all of my friends claiming to not know how to cook, or claiming to be the best cook and never moving past Kraft Dinner and muffin and pancake mixes. Food was one of my biggest passions and it felt so wrong to not have anyone to share that passion with. I wanted to share ideas, swap tips and tricks, learn about new techniques and restaurants, create something spectacular using multiple palettes, but other than my immediate family there was no one. As my blog grew, so did the response. I found myself completely overwhelmed by the positive response I was receiving from friends, family, acquaintances, friends of friends, and even strangers! Those that shared my same passion started to come forward and make their presence known, as well as those that had never really given cooking a shot but were now encouraged to try. I watched as former fearful cooks broke through their limits to create dishes that they could be proud to serve and call their own. Those that had barely even touched a stove were now sharing recipes that they had found success in, making 5-course dinners to impress their loved ones, and in some cases even starting their own customized cake business'. Now, nearing Ginger Rose's three year anniversary, I can confidently and proudly say that I have achieved my goal! So where do we go from here?

Although I have achieved my goal of getting my own friends and family excited about food and cooking, there is a whole other generation of young men and women who are in that same place that my friends and family were three years ago. I'm talking about those young adults who are leaving the nest for the first time, unfamiliar with the kitchen, or perhaps just unfamiliar with the pressures and time constraints of becoming an adult. I want to help ease that pressure and inspire people to take control of their lives and their diet, but this time I can't do it alone. After talking with so many fearful cooks about their apprehensions and fears in the kitchen, I have learned that one of the most encouraging things to say to them is "I'm just like you". I have never had any formal training, I have certainly had my share of kitchen disasters, I have learned from those disasters to divert them in the future, and I still have my own kitchen fears yet to conquer. With my food blog as much apart of my identity as my flaming red hair, it's trickier to get people to buy the "I'm just like you" line, and this is where my network of friends, family, and acquaintances come into play. With the help of my incredible network of friends, I would like to introduce Ginger Rose's new series, Kitchen Crashers.

What is Kitchen Crashers you ask? Well, it's exactly as it sounds. I want to crash my friends kitchens! I want to be that fly on the wall, learning how others approach cooking, how they select ingredients and plate dishes to create a final product that they can be proud to call their own. In each post Kitchen Crashers will feature one inspiring individual, revealing their history in the kitchen through a Q&A, and featuring that persons "signature dish", along with a recipe for it. Through the Q&A you will be able to see the incredible diversity in terms of how people approach cooking, as well as the diversity of the different people represented in each post. Of course ones cultural background has a great deal of influence on their outlook on food and cooking, but what someone does for a living and their hobbies also greatly affects their approach to food. As the series grows, I want to represent people from all different cultural, economic, social, and creative backgrounds, representing the fantastic mosaic that is Toronto. I'm hoping that through Kitchen Crashers my readers will be able to identify with someone who truly is "just like them", and be able to walk away feeling inspired to take a chance in the kitchen themselves! The first post is in the works, featuring a young jewelry designer who has just recently discovered her passion for cooking. I can't wait to share it with you and see what you think! Cheers to the next step!

Listening To:
Sam Cooke - Bring It On Home To Me

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thai Kitchen's® Easy Chicken Pad Thai

Thai Kitchen® - From Thailand to your table
After being totally blown away by the simplicity, speed, and yummy flavours in Simply Asia's® Soy Ginger Shrimp and Noodles using their Soy Ginger Noodles and Sauce pack, I was super eager to get the wok back out again yet another night this week and try out Thai Kitchen's® recipe for Easy Chicken Pad Thai using their brand of Stir-Fry Rice Noodles and Original Pad Thai Sauce. Although Pad Thai isn't a Chinese dish, it still features many of the prominent flavours found in many Chinese foods...and with a pad thai recipe as simple as Thai Kitchen's®, I couldn't help but want to try it out right away! With my tummy growling like a bear after writing out my entry for the Soy Ginger Shrimp and Noodles, I was a little concerned about how long the pad thai would take to make. The recipe stated that the dish would take approximately 25 minutes to make, but the skeptic in me rounded up to more like eternity to my already angry stomach. Despite my reservations about timing, I quickly began cutting up the chicken breasts and chopping up the peanuts.

Surprise surprise, I was wowed yet again! Just about 25 minutes later (seriously, maybe even less!) the rice noodles were tossed into the wok to be combined with the savory pad thai sauce, moist chicken strips, crisp bean sprouts, and zesty green onions, ready to be garnished with crunchy peanuts. I felt so impressed with myself and especially Thai Kitchen® seeing that my pad thai looked exactly like my favourite takeout pad thai! Ravished with hunger, I dove in making sure to get every tasty ingredient in every bite! One bite told me that this dish was a keeper...but it did need a few very minor adjustments to the recipe. The flavours were all there, they just needed to be heightened. For the amount of rice noodles in the package I felt the need to amp up the citrus and onion flavour, and because I like my heat, I also wanted to add a bit more spice. An extra squeeze of lemon (I used lemon as opposed to the suggested lime because that's what is found in my takeout pad thai, and I wanted to replicate that as much as possible), a quick cut of some green onions, and a fast chop of some fresh chili peppers was all I needed to make this pad thai the perfect takeout Thai made at home! With authentic thai flavours, a beautiful colour palette, and enough to save as leftovers for lunch the next day, I found myself texting my family members again telling them to add Thai Kitchen's® Stir-Fry Rice Noodles and Original Pad Thai Sauce to their grocery list! Now that I've given you the recipe for this awesome takeout at home, I want you to do something for me! I want you to lie to your friends and family. You heard me! I want you to LIE! Invite some friends over for dinner and say you're getting takeout. Prepare Thai Kitchen's® Easy Chicken Pad Thai and clean and hide all the evidence of making it. Play along as though you picked up the dish from your local thai restaurant and see if anyone can tell the difference. I'm willing to bet you that they won't! Try it out and leave your findings in the comment section!

Tip: Heighten the flavours even more by using Asian Cooking Oil (I used Spectrum's Organic Asian Cooking Oil) and grating in extra ginger!

4 ounces Thai Kitchen® Stir-Fry Noodles
2 tablespoons oil, divided (see tip!)
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
6 tbsp Thai Kitchen® Original Pad Thai Sauce
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped unsalted peanuts
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (taste to adjust accordingly)
fresh chili pepper, chopped very fine (use your discretion on how much based on how spicy you like your pad thai)
fresh cilantro sprigs (optional) and lemon wedges for serving

1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add rice noodles; cook 3 to 5 minutes or until noodles are tender but firm. Rinse under cold water; drain well. Set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or wok on medium-high heat. Add egg; scramble until set. Remove from skillet and set aside.

3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and add the chicken; stir fry until cooked though. Add the rice noodles, pad thai sauce, green onions, bean sprouts, cooked egg, lemon juice, and chopped chili pepper; stir fry 3 to 4 minutes or until noodles are tender. Transfer onto a serving dish and garnish with cilantro sprigs (optional) and lemon wedges. Serve immediately.

Listening To:
Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra)

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Simply Asia's® Soy Ginger Shrimp & Noodles

Simply Asia® - Real Asian. Real Fast.
The Chinese New Year is upon us and rather than heading out to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate like I have in previous years, this year I'm taking the wok into my own hands and cooking up some delicious authentic Asian recipes right at home thanks to Thai Kitchen® and Simply Asia®! I always used to look forward to braving the cold with my family and friends to trek down to Spadina to stuff our faces at our favourite Chinese restaurant (Kom Jug Yuen anyone? A total dive, but it's tasty and super cheap!), but over the years I have come to realize just how awful the meal makes me feel after consumption. Time and time again I would always end up curled up on the couch, arms clutching my stomach, regretting every piece of barbecued pork I just downed. So this year when I received an email from Thai Kitchen® and Simply Asia® offering to send me some of their products to check out for the new year, I decided to nix the greasy restaurants and create my own Asian meals at home all week long.

Although I absolutely love exotic foods and flavours, in the past I have always been intimidated about preparing foreign dishes because I was simply unfamiliar with a lot of flavours and techniques found in different cuisines such as Asian, not to mention the array of different dishes within each country in the continent. Thai Kitchen® and Simply Asia® offers a fantastic introduction to Asian cuisine as all of their products feature authentic Asian flavours using premium ingredients (no artificial flavours/colours/preservatives). I began my foray into Asian cooking with Simply Asia's® recipe for Soy Ginger Shrimp and Noodles using their Soy Ginger Noodles and Sauce pack. This was the perfect starting point for me as the product is basically a meal in a box (and I ain't talkin' about no Kraft Dinner!), with each box including a carb (noodles or jasmine rice), a sauce, and a topping, with vegetable and protein suggestions listed on the back. Simply Asia's® dinner packs are awesome because they allow you to get a sense of the different flavours and ingredients that go into each Asian dish, while still giving you the freedom of adding your own veggies and protein, and best of all they are wildly easy and quick to prepare! My mom and I both loved and devoured the tasty and flavourful dish, going back for not seconds, but thirds! I can't tell you how many times my mom proclaimed "this is so GREAT!" between bites, even jotting the name down on her grocery list to pick up more to give to my sister! Despite how much of the meal I ate that evening, my stomach felt totally fine all night, which came as no surprise to me because I was able to actually control what was going into my meal. Now that I've given one of Simply Asia's® 10-minute dinner packs a try, I feel ready to take the next step and try out Thai Kitchen's® recipe for Easy Chicken Pad Thai using their brand of Stir-Fry Noodles and Original Pad Thai Sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about it, so it's time to sign off and get cooking! Review to come!

Why I Love Simply Asia's® Soy Ginger Noodles & Sauce:
It allows you to gain the confidence to create your own asian meals from scratch, and gives you a wonderful and delicious time-saving option for busy mid-week evenings!

Tip: Heighten the flavours even more by using Asian Cooking Oil (I used Spectrum's Organic Asian Cooking Oil) and grating in extra ginger!

1 package Simply Asia® Soy Ginger Noodles & Sauce
1 tbsp oil (see tip!)
2 cups assorted vegetables, such as snow peas and red bell pepper strips
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
pinch ground white pepper (I didn't have white pepper so I used black)
1 tsp sugar

1. Cook noodles as directed on package, omitting salt. Drain and rinse with cold water.

2. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet or wok on high heat. Add vegetables; stir-fry 2 minutes. Add shrimp and white pepper; stir fry 1 minute.

3. Stir in sauce and sugar. Reduce heat to medium. Add noodles; toss to coat well and cook until heated through. Sprinkle with topping and serve immediately.

Listening To:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hanukkah: Basic Kasha Recipe

It's both amazing and frightening how many people seem to be diagnosed with being Celiac these days. The list of people I know who are now restricted to following the gluten-free diet has grown immensely over the past two years. Years ago, before I even knew what the word "gluten" meant, my grandfather was diagnosed with Celiac disease. At the time there was very little public information about the disease, which left my family worried, confused, and frustrated about how my grandfather would be able to follow the restrictive diet, as well as how we would conduct our holiday dinners. We fretted about what we would serve at the many Jewish high holidays that we celebrate, concerned about my grandfather feeling left out of enjoying the dishes containing wheat, and concerned about the labour of preparing two separate meals. It was certainly a struggle at first, but as more information on Celiac disease became public and as more products were brought on the market, we finally got the hang of it.

Now after many years of my grandfather following the diet, I can actually appreciate how it has positively impacted not only my grandfathers health, but our entire family! Take a look at our Hanukkah dinner this year. Abundant and delicious, at first view our Hanukkah dinner looks just like any other holiday feast, but upon further inspection you can see the difference. Roast chicken, quinoa, spinach salad, fresh veggies, gluten free agave nectar honey cake, and a favourite of my sister's, Kasha. Kasha was our saviour in those early days of struggling with Celiac as it was a familiar dish that we had already been serving up and enjoying for years, and being gluten free, quickly became a staple at all of our family gatherings. Kasha is a type of whole roasted buckwheat with a natural nutty flavour, that when cooked with flavourful broth, onions, veggies, and herbs becomes a hearty and comforting side dish for everyone in the family! Even as children, my parents were thrilled that my sister and I enjoyed the simple side dish, happy that we were so enthusiastic about eating something so healthy. We grew to love kasha so much that it even started to make an appearance at our Christmas dinners as well! If you're familiar with Kasha you may be rolling your eyes that I'm even featuring a recipe for it, because it is truly so unbelievably easy to prepare. In fact, I don't do or add anything special to my kasha, I simply follow the box. That's all it takes. I simply wanted to feature Kasha on my blog so that those who are unfamiliar with the grain can begin cooking with it and have another gluten free alternative rather than everyones favourite go-to at the moment quinoa (which don't get me wrong, I love!). I hope that introducing kasha into your diet will help to ease the pressure of eating healthy and following a restrictive diet. Let me know if you come up with any other interesting ways of preparing Kasha!

Tip: Experiment! Play around with what veggies, herbs, and other ingredients you have around your kitchen to see what type of kasha you can come up with! And please share your findings in the comments section!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small-medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
2 cups chicken-or-vegetable-or-beef broth
2 tbsp butter
1 cup kasha
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

1. In a medium sauce pan heat the olive oil at medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they begin to get soft. Add the mushrooms and carrots and continue to cook for another 4-5 minutes.

2. Add the broth and butter to the sauce pan and increase heat to bring to a boil. Add the kasha, salt, and pepper and stir.

3. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until most of the water is absorbed.

4. Lightly fluff the kasha with a fork and stir in the fresh parsley. Serve warm.

Listening To:
Etta James - I'd Rather Go Blind

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cookin' Greens Sautéed Kale with Lemon & Chickpeas

I know I'm not alone when I say that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with New Years Resolutions. I love the idea of starting fresh and becoming aware of and making a conscious effort to achieve your goals, but at the same time, it's easy to bring yourself down when you inevitably give up on those resolutions within a month or so. When sitting down to write out my resolutions this year (I'm convinced writing them down makes them more likely to happen) I made sure to set goals that, yes, pushed my boundaries and challenged me a little bit, but were still reasonable to incorporate into my life and daily routine. I got a little carried away this year, and ended up with quite a long list of goals, but one of the ones that I have remained the most aware of is to try and follow the alkaline diet. The alkaline diet is different from many of the popular diets you hear about because it is not very strict and is very forgiving. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have an extremely acidic body, which has resulted in me dealing with lots of skin and stomach problems, so taking care to reduce the amount of acid I consume and increase the amount of alkaline-rich foods on a daily basis could potentially eliminate any health problems I have encountered in my life to date. With so many delicious natural foods rich in alkaline, there's really no excuse to not be able to follow the alkaline diet, even if your just upping your alkaline intake and keeping your acid as is. The real trick to following any diet is to educate yourself and be open to trying new flavours.

Not long ago I received an email from Cookin' Greens, a company setting out to make extremely healthy dark leafy greens more convenient to cook with for the average North American. Their line of frozen greens featuring spinach, kale, rapini, and more stands out among other frozen vegetable products on the market due to their commitment to health. Cookin' Greens takes great care in retaining as much vitamins and minerals from their vegetables as possible by taking it straight from the farm (from the moment it gets picked) to the freezer in less than 6 hours! Cookin' Greens had immediately caught my attention! Although I was looking forward to trying all of their greens, the one that stood out for me was their frozen kale. I had heard a lot about kale, and knew it as one of those fantastic super foods that everyone should eat, but had never actually tasted the green myself, nor did I even know what the flavour was like. To be honest with you, I just assumed that I wouldn't like kale, so I never gave it the shot it truly deserved. Now was my chance! I took advantage of the sample they offered me and went to my local grocery store (I had no trouble locating Cookin' Greens at all!) and picked up a bag.

For my first ever kale recipe, I wanted to keep it simple so I could get an idea of the flavour and texture of kale for future recipes. Because I had never eaten kale before, I decided to begin with a recipe and taste and adjust the ingredients to my own taste from there. After just attending the Best Recipes Ever Set, which features all Canadian Living recipes, I was inspired to give one of their kale recipes a try, Lemon Kale with Chickpeas. This recipe was super easy to execute, especially with the help of Cookin' Greens frozen kale, which allowed me to save a huge amount of time and prep work. In next to no time my side was ready...but not quite complete just yet. After tasting the final dish, I felt that it was missing something, I wanted to add another bit of texture to the dish and perhaps a little spice. For texture and fantastic nutty flavour, I lightly toasted some pine nuts to stir in, along with some paprika to give the dish that little kick I was looking for, and alas my dish was complete! I couldn't have been more happy with how the dish turned out. Tangy, comforting, and delicious, who would have thought I would enjoy something so incredibly healthy! It's one thing to like the first bite of a healthy dish, but I have a tendency to get sick of most super healthy foods part way through eating my portion, I was extra nervous of this when I saw how much I had accidentally made, a ton! Thankfully I adored this dish all through the week as I snacked on it and brought it into work each and every day until it was done...which surprisingly didn't take long! I now feel confident that I can make kale part of my weekly routine all year long thanks to the incredible convenience and health benefits to Cookin' Greens! Go me!

Click here to see a chart on restoring the pH balance in your body and following the alkaline diet!

3 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup water
2 cups Cookin' Greens Frozen Kale
zest of half a lemon
1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 tsp paprika
3 tbsp lemon juice

1. In a pot, heat 2 tbsp of the oil over medium heat. Cook the onion, garlic, salt and pepper for about 4 minutes or until softened.

2. Add 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat back down to medium and add kale and lemon zest and cook for 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the chickpeas, pine nuts, paprika and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes or until no liquid remains. Drizzle with remaining oil and serve.

Listening To:
Dents De Lait, Dents De Loup - Serge Gainsbourg et France Gal

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mixed Greens with Pomegranate Seeds, Brie & Balsamic Candied Pecans

As I mentioned in my previous post, for the past few holidays, my family has been making a conscious effort to shake up our usual holiday menu, which we had come to expect to be the exact same at every single major holiday. With Christmas hosted at my house every year, my mom has a lot on her plate, setting everything up and doing double make that at least triple duty, making several dishes to contribute to the massive pot luck holiday feast. Because she already has so much to worry about on Christmas, she kept some of her dishes the same (mmm no problem there, we would all miss her scalloped potatoes if they got switched up!) and had me help out a little with her switched up dish. My mom loves brainstorming new recipes, playing around with different flavours and textures in her mind to come up with the perfect balance. She always begins her brainstorming with one or two ingredients as her inspiration, and then lets her imagination and taste buds take over from there. Weeks and weeks ago, as my mom and I sat on the couch popping pomegranate seeds into our mouth like they were going out of style, inspiration struck as she pointed out the stunning ruby red colour of the seeds. Immediately she knew she wanted to create the perfect Christmas salad starring the beautiful pomegranate seed. She started listing the other ingredients as it came into her head; brie, candied pecans, balsamic, etc. and a star...I mean a salad was born!

To save time come Christmas eve, the day before I removed all of the pomegranate seeds and stored them in a tupperware container in the fridge so my mom could just sprinkle them into the salad when it came time for serving. The day before I also took care of candying the pecans using an awesome and easy recipe that my mom showed me from Bon Appétit on Epicurious. She was drawn to this recipe as it mimicked one of the major flavours she had planned on putting in the dressing, balsamic vinegar. The pecans are coated and lightly toasted in a sticky and sweet balsamic vinegar mixture that leaves your pecans so tasty, you may have to lock them up until serving time to make sure you don't eat them all on their own! I was happy I didn't eat them all (of course I had to sneak a few!) when I finally tasted the completed salad, as the pecans were one of my favourite parts of the salad, adding texture and a great rich flavour to each bite. The pecans were contrasted by the smooth and creamy double cream brie, zesty red onions, and the juicy pomegranate seeds bursting as your teeth break the surface, adding a tangy sweetness to the balsamic dressing. Christmas dinner was amazing, and there were so many fantastic dishes, but I've gotta say, my hands-down favourites for the evening were my Wild Mushroom Baked Brie and my moms Mixed Greens with Pomegranate Seeds, Brie and Balsamic Candied Pecans! After going up for seconds, and maybe even thirds of the salad on Christmas, I was still so excited to see that there were leftovers the next day. Can you believe, even hours later, after the dressing had slightly wilted the mixed greens, the salad was still so freaking delicious my mom and I devoured it in a matter of moments, only stopping to comment on how delicious it was and...ummm...remind me to write about it on my blog...haha no need for a reminder mummy, I still can't get your amazing salad out of my mind! You did good!

about 10 ounces mixed greens, washed and dried
about 100 g double cream brie, cut into medium-sized chunks
1/4 small red onion, sliced
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
Balsamic Candied Pecans (see recipe below)
Your favourite balsamic vinaigrette, to dress

1. In a large salad bowl, toss the mixed greens with the brie, red onion, pomegranate seeds, and Balsamic Candied Pecans. Drizzle in just enough balsamic vinaigrette to coat greens. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Candied Pecans
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp
balsamic vinegar
1 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped

1. Spray sheet of foil with nonstick spray. Stir sugar, olive oil and 1 tablespoon vinegar in heavy medium skillet over medium heat until sugar melts and syrup bubbles, about 3 minutes. Mix in Pecans. Stir until nuts are toasted and syrup coats nuts evenly, about 7 minutes. Turn nuts out onto prepared foil. Using fork, separate nuts and cool completely. Sprinkle into salad.

Listening To:
Fiona Apple - Criminal

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Wild Mushroom Baked Brie

The holidays: a time for love, giving, family...and...repetition. I'm not quite sure how many years it's been going on for, but for as long as I can remember my family has been serving up the exact same meal at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For years I loved that tradition, knowing that I only had a few months to wait before I could enjoy that same delicious meal again, but as more and more years have passed, and at a much more alarming pace, both myself and some other family members have grown a little tired with our staple holiday meal. The first time my sister and I suggested switching up our holiday meal, we were returned with either a grimace or a confused deer-in-headlights expression. No one was the slightest bit interested in shaking up the familiar meal. I understood where everyone was coming from, seeing as the meal...actually, make that feast is so damn delicious, but at the same time, I felt it would be more special if we had it less frequently. Another year of the same meal passed and we began to see family members taking our side one at a time. Slowly people began switching up their signature dish (our meal is always a pot luck so that everyone is contributing), either making a variation on their old standby, or sticking to their same theme of either vegetable, starch, protein, salad, dessert etc. but turn it into a completely new dish. By slowly introducing new flavours and menu items, both the family members that were itching for something new and the ones who loved the old meal would walk away with a full belly and a smiling face.

For about three years now, I have been on appetizer duty for our Christmas dinner, a role that I absolutely love to take on! Despite the incredible wide range of delicious appetizer options there are, especially for the holidays, I always crave a good baked brie come Christmas time. Baked brie can be as easy as wrapping a wheel of brie in tin foil and popping it in the oven, but I enjoy playing with different flavours, both savory and sweet, when it comes to my homemade baked brie. In the past I've made everything from caramelized onion brie, cranberry brie, pecan brie, the list goes on, so that no matter if I am making baked brie again, I can still surprise people by turning it into something new and interesting. This year I wanted to use an ingredient I have never cooked with before, dried mushrooms. When it comes to wild mushrooms, many people choose dried as opposed to fresh for the wonderful convenience and concentrated mushroom flavour, so I was curious to finally give them a try myself and see how the flavour measured up. Using a bag of mixed wild mushrooms including shiitake, oyster, and porcini, as well as some caramelized onions, fresh thyme, and balsamic vinegar, I made an insanely quick and easy brie topper and had my yummy appetizer ready to go into the oven before I knew it. Because there is so much cooking and baking being done last minute on Christmas, I made my brie and wild mushroom topper ahead of time so that 20 minutes before our guests arrived all I had to do was simply pop my little brie baker in the oven! Bubbling, oozing, and perfectly melted through, the creamy brie arrived at the table hugging the mushroom mixture layered on top, a dangerously tempting sight! There's no question that I have a tendency to toot my own horn when I'm really happy with how a dish turned out, but there was simply no need to when I served my Wild Mushroom Baked Brie, because the brie baker, which was empty within a matter of minutes, spoke for itself. Easy, convenient, attractive, and incredibly delicious, my Wild Mushroom Brie may have to make another appearance at our next Christmas dinner...or is Easter too soon?

Tip: Make your wild mushroom mixture brie topper ahead of time to save time before your guests arrive. Simply top your brie and bake 20 minutes before guests arrive.

1/2 medium-large onion, sliced
2 tbsp butter
1 small package dried mixed wild mushrooms (equalling about 1/2 cup dried)
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper
1 wheel of brie, about 5 inches in diameter

1. Rehydrate the dried mushrooms following the package instructions, or place dried mushrooms in a bowl and add just enough boiling water to cover the mushrooms, let soak for about 20 minutes or until mushrooms have softened.

2. In the meantime, heat butter in a medium skillet at medium heat. When butter is hot, add the onions and stir. Place a lid over the onions in the skillet to allow them to steam, stir occasionally. Continue to cook onions in the lid, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and beginning to colour.

3. Strain out the soaked dried mushrooms (you may reserve the soaking liquid for a soup, stew, or sauce!), and squeeze them to remove any remaining water. Roughly chop the mushrooms and stir them into the softened onions on the stove. Cook for about 3 minutes.

4. Turn up heat to medium-high and add the balsamic vinegar, stirring to combine. Continue cooking until mushrooms are almost dry. Turn off the heat and stir in thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Using a serrated knife, cut off the top rind of the brie wheel and place inside a brie baker (or on a large piece of tin foil). Mound the wild mushroom mixture on top of the brie and close the lid of the baker (if using tin foil, wrap the foil around the brie and mushrooms securely). Bake in a 350º oven for about 20 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh baguette and crackers.

Listening To:
TV on the Radio - Ambulance

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