For me, keeping party stress to a minimum means prepping as much food as possible in advance. That way when people are arriving, all I need to do is heat, plate and eat. This also lets you focus more energy on how the food is presented, which -- especially for a party -- can be nearly as important as taste.
One of my favorite party tricks is to use cedar planks for both cooking and serving. I love the look of the rough-hewn wood plank piled with food. And if the edges are a little charred, so much the better!
One of my tried and true party appetizers that works with this technique is a grilled glazed brie with fresh fruit.
This recipe is a streamlined version of the baked brie I used to make. Back in the day, I would cut open the wheel of cheese, stuff it with fruit and nuts, then close it back up and bake it.
But I like this glazed version better. It's simpler to prepare and looks more appetizing with the delicious hot "filling" toppling over the side. I serve it with assorted fruit and water crackers, but slices of baguette or your favorite crackers would be just as good.
I make the fruit and nut mixture in advance and keep it in a jar in my refrigerator so I can throw it together when friends drop by unexpectedly, or just when I am feeling like a treat.
It works best on a small 8-ounce wheel of brie because the rind will contain the oozing cheese as it heats up.
You can use a slice of brie instead, but make sure that you don't heat it too long or all of the cheese in the center will melt and puddle out. You want the cheese and toppings to be just warmed.
You shouldn't have any trouble finding food-grade cedar planks. Most grocers sell them near the seafood and meats. If you buy them from a hardware store, be certain that they are untreated.
Cedar-planked pecan, bourbon and brown sugar glazed brie
- Cedar grilling plank (about 6 by 8 inches)
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans
- 2 tablespoons dried cherries and/or chopped dried apricots
- 1 tablespoon bourbon
- 1 8-ounce round brie
- 1 tablespoon no-sugar raspberry jam
- 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 pear, cored and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Small bunch of grapes
- Water crackers, to serve
Meanwhile, in a small bowl stir together the brown sugar, pecans, dried cherries and bourbon. This step can be done up to a week ahead. If so, cover and refrigerate until needed.
Heat the grill to indirect medium heat. The cheese also can be prepared in the oven. For the latter, heat it to 400 F.
Place the Brie on the wet cedar plank. Spread the jam over the top of the cheese. Spoon the fruit and nut mixture over the jam. You may not need all of the nut mixture.
Place the plank with the brie either on the grill grates or on a cookie sheet in the oven. Either way, cook for 10 minutes, or until the brie is slightly softened and the sugar melts.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss the apple and pear slices with the lemon juice. Arrange the slices and grapes around the side of the brie. Serve on the plank with a cheese knife.
Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 300 calories; 130 calories from fat (43 percent of total calories); 14 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 40 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 31 g sugar; 9 g protein; 240 mg sodium.
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