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Ring in new year with Brie

Whether you are entertaining a crowd or simply reflecting on 2012 with a few friends and family members, ring in the new year with tantalizing cuisine, festive cocktails and other superb flavors.

For those celebrating, many choose to indulge in more extravagant foods such as prime rib, lobster or crab. My indulgence lies within specialty cheeses — particularly brie cheese — and preparing simple, flavorful and elegant appetizers.

Brie is a soft, cow’s-milk cheese with a deliciously buttery and creamy taste and commonly covered with a protective white moldy rind. The rind is edible and usually eaten along with the softer interior. Brie can be purchased with or without the white rind, and many specialty cheese departments at the supermarket will sell a unique Brie knife that simplifies rind removal.

There are many varieties of Brie available, including plain and herbed, and spreads. When not using, store the cheese tightly wrapped in the refrigerator. Prior to eating, allow it to warm to room temperature. Slice into bite-sized pieces and spread on crusty breads, crackers or enjoy with fruit such as grapes or pear.

Brie is a perfect choice for your New Year’s celebration, as it makes an excellent appetizer and pairs well with champagne and many popular white wines such as pinot grigio, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. When preparing appetizers, one of my favorite items to use with brie is frozen miniature phyllo shells. These shells are pre-baked so they are ready to fill and serve for sophisticated snacks, appetizers and desserts, such as the cranberry-orange Brie cups recipe provided below. Other uses for Brie include combining sweet or savory flavors, such as a fruit preserve and chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds.

Alexandra Economy is a Winona dietitian.

Cranberry-Orange Brie Cups

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen cranberries

1 orange, zested and juiced

45 (1-inch each) miniature phyllo shells

1 (8-ounce) Brie, cut into 45 cubes

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Add cranberries; return to boil.

Simmer on low 5 to 10 minutes, until cranberries pop and mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in orange zest and orange juice. Set aside.

Place phyllo cups on a baking sheet. Place 1 piece of Brie in each phyllo cup. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until Brie is melted.

Remove from oven; top each with 1 to 11/2 teaspoons of cranberry mixture. Makes 45 servings.

Per serving: 45 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, no trans fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 45 milligrams sodium, 5 grams carbohydrate, no fiber, 2 grams sugar, 1 gram protein.

Cherry Brie Appetizer

1 (16-ounce) wheel Brie cheese

1/4 cup cherry jelly or preserves

1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel

Refrigerate Brie until chilled and firm (or freeze 30 minutes).

Cut Brie in half horizontally. Place bottom half of Brie on plate.

Place jelly in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high

25 to 30 seconds or until melted. Combine melted jelly, cherries, pecans and orange peel; mix well. Reserve 1/4 cup.

Spread remaining cherry mixture evenly on cut side of one piece of Brie. Top with the other piece of brie, cut-side down. Lightly press together. Microwave on high 40 to 50 seconds or until cheese is soft but not runny. Lightly press top section of cheese into cherry mixture.

Top Brie with reserved cherry mixture. Serve with crackers or bread. Makes 20 servings.

Baked Brie and Apricot Appetizer

1 (8-ounce) wheel Brie cheese

3 tablespoons apricot preserves

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry dough, thawed

1 egg white

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

Slice wheel of Brie in half horizontally. Place bottom half of Brie on plate. Spread apricot or peach preserves on cut side of piece of Brie. Top with the other piece of Brie, cut-side down. Wrap the entire wheel with one sheet of puffed pastry and flip the entire concoction onto the prepared cooking sheet so the seam is on bottom. Brush the puffed pastry with the egg white.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the pastry in golden brown. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

By ALEXANDRA ECONOMY | For the Love of Food and Health