Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Baked Pears in Marsala Wine

Somehow or other, when I decide to cut back on desserts, fruit gets a free pass. OK, forget that scoop of ice cream nestled beside the pear on the plate above, and the sugar and butter in the recipe, below.
 It's still fruit as the main event, not cake or pastry. And fruit is your friend, right?
Pears poached in red wine has been one of my standard winter desserts for years, but after receiving a copy of Rachel Roddy's new book, "My Kitchen In Rome," I knew that I had to try her recipe for baked pears in Marsala wine and cinnamon.
Many of the recipes in this new book by a young English woman transplanted to Rome had me pining for the Eternal City, and will be familiar to anyone who's a fan of Roman cuisine. You'll find old favorites like spaghetti alla carbonara and carciofi alla romana, but also some unusual and tempting recipes like a sausage and cabbage cake that looks like an oak tree's trunk and branches when flipped out of its pan.
And if you love octopus, she's got a recipe for cooking it that ensures a perfectly tender and flavorful result every time.
What I also love about this book is the writing.
Rachel's got a real way with words and telling stories, so it's not surprising that she also writes a column for the British newspaper, The Guardian.
But back to those pears. The recipe calls for comice pears, and I don't know if what I bought were comice pears. They were on the smallish side, so they could have been, but I'm not sure. It doesn't matter though, because I think you could easily make these with any type of pear.
First you smear the pears with butter. Then sprinkle with sugar and pour the Marsala and other ingredients over the pears.
Bake in the oven for about a half hour, covered, then another half hour uncovered, until the pears are tender and slightly shriveled.
Serve with a scoop of ice cream, or a spoonful of mascarpone, as Rachel suggests.

Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Baked Pears with Marsala and cinnamon
printable recipe here
from "My Kitchen in Rome" by Rachel Roddy

6 Comice pears (or other types)
3 Tablespoons soft unsalted butter
1 cup dry Marsala wine (I used sweet Marsala)
1 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
mascarpone (or ice cream), to serve

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees. Slice the bottom off each pear so that they sit flat. Using a sharp knife, cut out the central core as best you can. Rub some butter over the skin of each pear and sit them, stalk upward, in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the Marsala, sprinkle on the sugar, and break the cinnamon sticks roughly over the pears. Cover the dish loosely with foil.
Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Continue baking for another 25 minutes, or until the pears are very tender and slightly shriveled. Serve warm or at room temperature, with some of the sticky juices and a scoop or ice cream or mascarpone cheese.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Flounder and Fennel with Lemon and Oranges

The older I get, the harder it becomes to shed those extra pounds. It seems like the resolve I had to lose weight at the beginning of the year is always thwarted by another dinner party, another restaurant meal, another gift of chocolates or some other temptation that I've been given.
I confess I'm not very good at resisting all these treats, but in an attempt to ameliorate the extra calories that pile on, I cook a meal like this and it helps assuage any guilt. 
But I don't make this meal just because of the lower caloric load. It's also because it just tastes so delicious. The fish was caught locally off New Jersey shores and that helps. The short cooking time and technique also ensures you'll have a flaky and moist piece of fish to serve. It's quick and easy enough to prepare for a weeknight meal, but good enough for company too.
Start by buttering an ovenproof dish and slicing fennel into "matchsticks." Salt and pepper the fennel,  then cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake for about 10 minutes at 475 degrees F.
Remove from the oven then place the fish on top of the fennel.
Scatter a little butter on top (I used less than 1 T. for two servings), season the fish, and place slices of lemon and orange on top. Squeeze more juice and some white wine over all and bake for 10 minutes.
Sprinkle a little parsley on top, serve with a side of veggies and enjoy a no-guilt meal.

Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Flounder and Fennel with Lemon and Oranges
printable recipe here

For Two Servings:

Two pieces of flounder or fluke (about 6 oz. each)
1/2 fennel bulb
1 T. butter
1 clementine or small orange
1 lemon
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt, pepper
minced parsley

Lightly grease an ovenproof pan with a little of the 1 T. butter. You'll use the rest of the butter on the fish later.
Slice the fennel into "matchstick" size pieces. Scatter them in the pan, season with salt and pepper and cover with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake in a 475 degree oven for 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven, and place the fish over the fennel. Season with salt and pepper and squeeze the juice of half a clementine or small orange, and half a lemon over the top. Pour 1/4 cup dry white wine over the fish and dab with the rest of the 1 T. butter.
Cover with the aluminum foil and place back in the oven for 10 minutes, or until fish is cooked through and flaky. It may take less than 10 minutes if your fish pieces are thin, so check after five or six minutes)

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Gluten Free Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

I'm not personally concerned about eating gluten free -- it's never been a problem. But I have a close friend who is gluten intolerant and she was coming for tea. The day before I had made a lemon poppyseed cake (with gluten) to use up some of the lemons I'd grown on my indoor Meyer lemon plant. I offered the cake to a painter who was working at my house, but later found out he was gluten intolerant too (although he ate a small sliver).
 After finding out that the best chocolate chip cookie I'd ever eaten was made with "Cup for Cup," a gluten-free flour alternative, I rushed to Williams Sonoma to buy a package two months ago. I'm still trying to get my hands on the recipe for those chocolate chip cookies I ate months ago at Untitled, the cafe at New York City's Whitney Museum. 
Meanwhile, it was time to use that flour before it went stale or worse yet, little moths found their way inside.
I searched the internet for a lemon poppyseed cake recipe and found just what I was looking for on the "Cup for Cup" website. If you've got someone who can't tolerate gluten, check out the website for a host of different recipes.

The painter was back the next day and loved the cake. So did my friend. They each took some home.
And I have to admit the cake was so delicious with such a good flavor and tender crumb, that I'll be baking it again -- even if no one who's gluten intolerant is coming to visit!
By the way, if you've been used to buying your poppy seeds in bulk in the past, you may not be able to do so any longer. Here's the sign I found at the Savory Spice store here in Princeton, NJ. Who knew?

Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Gluten Free Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
(From Cup For Cup website)
printable recipe here

For the Cake:
1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
Zest of 2 large lemons
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons (10 g) vanilla extract
2 cups (280 g) Cup4Cup flour
2 ½ tablespoons (20 g) poppy seeds
2 teaspoons (7 g) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 g) kosher salt
1/4 cup (66g) buttermilk or milk

For the Lemon Glaze:
1 cup (115 g) powdered sugar
1 -2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
To Garnish:
Fresh lemon zest, grated
Poppy seeds


1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a 9”x5” loaf pan.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter until soft, about 1 minute.
3. In a small bowl mix together the sugar and lemon zest. Add the sugar to the butter and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Beat in the eggs, one at a time and beat for 1 minute between each addition.  Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally.  Beat in the vanilla extract.  The batter may look curdled.
5. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Beat on low speed until almost incorporated.  Add the buttermilk and beat on low until everything is combined.
6. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
7. For the lemon glaze, mix together the powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a small bowl. Add more lemon juice to thin the consistency, if desired.
8. Pour the glaze over the cooled loaf. Top with grated lemon zest and poppy seeds. Let the glaze set up before slicing.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Braised Rabbit

Before I start, I know that some of you reading are turning up your nose at the idea of eating rabbit, even if you've never even tried it. You may be vegetarian, and if so, you get a pass.
 But for those of you who think nothing of scarfing down a prosciutto sandwich or a porterhouse steak, eating rabbit is no different from eating other animals that are killed for your dining pleasure. In fact, it's much more eco-friendly since it requires less energy to raise, and produces less waste.
Aside from the ecological benefits, rabbit contains the least amount of fat and calories than other meats, is almost cholesterol free and tastes great. Contrary to what a lot of people think, there's quite a lot of meat on a rabbit in relationship to bone, and it does not have a "gamey" flavor. Much of it is like eating white meat chicken, only tastier.
So step outside your comfort zone and try cooking rabbit, using this recipe loosely adapted from the book "Blue Plate Special" by Kate Christensen. It was my book group's selection for January, and we always accompany our discussions with a dinner using food that's mentioned in the book. 
Depending on where you live, it may be hard to find fresh rabbit. I live not far from an Amish market that stocks it regularly. But so does my supermarket. Last week I called ahead to order two of them since I was planning to make it for the book group dinner and didn't want to risk their not having any in the meat case the day I needed it.
Here's what it looks like before it's cut into pieces. You can ask the butcher to do that for you -- a task I recommend since it's hard cutting through the bones. See that bit of liver hanging out? Don't throw it away. I'll come back to it at the end.
I ordered two rabbits and used two pans to cook them. One rabbit will feed about four people, assuming you have side dishes and a starch. 
This is one of the pots I used and it holds one rabbit beautifully. The pot is probably at least 65 years old and belonged to my mother. It's perfect for braises, stews and even for baking upside down cakes. Browning the rabbit at high heat means your pan will look pretty messy, but this, and my other pot below, clean up spic and span.
Simultaneously, I cooked another rabbit in this enamel coated cast iron pan - very heavy but it cooks very evenly. 
With all the other food that was prepared by other book group members to accompany the rabbit, there were plenty of leftovers for me to take home, and reheat for dinner another night with freshly made polenta and herbs. This recipe would also be delicious served with buttered noodles of some sort, as suggested by the book.
Lentils and rabbit are also a match made in heaven and I made this dish of roasted rabbit, lentils and chestnuts a couple of months ago, trying to duplicate a delicious meal I ate last fall at a restaurant tucked away in the hills of Liguria, Italy. If you're interested in this rabbit recipe, send me an email and I'll be happy to send it to you. The lentils recipe is from Joe Cicala, chef at Le Virtù and Brigantessa in Philadelphia, and I posted it a few years ago (along with his rabbit recipe) here.
And remember that rabbit liver I told you to save at the top of this post?
Joe also gave me a great idea of what to do with it. 
Chop it up with some shallots and sauté it in some butter, he said, then season with some fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Serve it on toasted bread and drizzle it with a balsamic glaze and you've got perfect crostini to drink with your pre-dinner glass of wine.
Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Braised Rabbit
Adapted from the book "Blue Plate Special" by Kate Christensen
printable recipe here

1 rabbit (about 2.5 to 3 lbs.)
4 slices of thickly sliced pancetta (about 1/8" thick), cut into bits
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup wine
1/2 cup water
minced parsley
thyme, rosemary, bay leaf
salt, pepper
fresh parsley, minced

Chop the rabbit into pieces. Fry the pancetta in 1 T. of the olive oil until crisp and remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Set aside and resist the temptation to munch on them (ok, have a few bits).
Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until translucent. Remove from the pan. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, sauté the rabbit in the oil on high heat, until the pieces turn golden brown. Sprinkle with the flour and sauté for a few more minutes, turning. The pan will look a mess, but don't worry. All that brown stuff on the bottom with help flavor the sauce and loosens once you add the liquid. Remove the rabbit from the pan and set aside. Add the beef broth and the wine in the pan, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom. Put the onions and rabbit back into the pan, add the herbs and some of the water. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour, adding more water if the sauce gets too thick. Just before serving, sprinkle with the reserved pancetta bits and minced parsley.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Halibut In Tomato Sauce with Beans

One of my favorite fish is halibut. It's got a delicate, sweet taste, firm white flesh, and marries well with all kinds of flavors. Even people who claim to hate fish may be won over once they try this largest of all the flat fish. 
Did you know that halibut can grow to more than 8 feet long and weigh as much as 700 pounds? Take a look at the largest Alaskan halibut ever caught by sport fishermen, weighing in at 459 pounds. Imagine cleaning that whopper
Most of the halibut we eat here in North America comes from the Gulf of Alaska. While on a trip there several years ago, I ate a lot of halibut, but here in New Jersey, the price keeps me from enjoying it as much as I'd like. If I see it on a restaurant menu, it's likely what I'll order, or if it's on sale at the market, I can't resist.

This recipe is a one-dish meal that's simple to make, tastes great and is low-cal too. If you can't find fresh halibut, or want something less expensive, codfish can easily be substituted. The recipe is for two portions, although the accompanying photo shows just one portion served in a small casserole.

Halibut with Cannellini Beans

for two people:
halibut - between 3/4 and 1 lb., skin removed
6 scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. olive oil
1 can cannellini beans (about 15 ounce can), drained and rinsed
1 can chopped tomatoes (about 15 ounce can)
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt, pepper to taste
fresh basil

Saute the scallions and onions in the olive oil until softened. Add the tomatoes and liquid from the can and cook for a few minutes, smashing the tomatoes a bit with a fork. Add the white wine, the cannellini beans, salt, pepper and shredded fresh basil. Simmer for about five minutes, then add the fish. Put a lid on the skillet, then let everything cook together for about five more minutes. That will be long enough to cook the fish. Garnish with more fresh basil and serve.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Year Noodles and Other Good Luck Food

Many cultures have New Year's traditions that center on eating certain foods for good luck, longevity or prosperity, including people from the Philippines, who serve this noodle dish - pancic canton - on birthdays and special occasions to symbolize long life.
Italians wouldn't think of letting Jan. 1 slip by without a bowl of lentils, whose round shape evokes coins, a symbol of wealth.
The Spanish have the grape tradition. Starting at midnight on New Year's eve, they eat one grape for each time the clock strikes twelve, then toast with champagne. Good luck chewing that many in quick succession. You'll need the champagne if you haven't already choked on that mouthful of grapes. 

In the American South, eating black-eyed peas is thought to bring good luck for the new year ahead.
Several of these symbolic offerings were served in a New Year's day buffet at the home of friends Mary Ellen and Jim, along with other delicious foods and bubbly (and killer bloody Marys!)
The pancit canton dish was prepared by someone who's actually Philippine - Merlyn - and we were all glad she thought to make her country's delicious celebratory dish for us. She shared her recipe with me, so you can try it as well. I hope all these foods bring you good luck, good health and prosperity in the year ahead.

 Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Pancit Canton

1 package of Pancit Canton noodles (wheat flour noodles, sometimes called flour sticks, available at Asian food stores)
2 pounds of shrimp, peeled
12 ounces white meat chicken, thinly sliced
3 whole medium size green, red or yellow bell peppers, sliced
1 Tablespoon freshly minced garlic
1 pound green beans, thinly sliced
3/4 cup carrots, julienned
1 small head of Napa cabbage, sliced
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce (optional)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped green scallions
3 T. cooking oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place two cups of ice and three cups of water in a large bowl. Set aside.
Boil six cups of water in a large pot.
Once the water starts to boil, blanch the beans, carrots and cabbage for 35 to 50 seconds. Quickly remove the vegetables and immerse in the ice water. Drain the water after two minutes and set aside.
Heat a large wok or pot and put in the oil.
Sauté the garlic and sliced bell pepper for two to three minutes and set aside.
Add the chicken and cook for two minutes.
Stir in the soy sauce and oyster sauce.
Pour in the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil.
Add the shrimp and cook for a couple of minutes, adding more water if needed.
Add the flour noodles, and gently toss until they absorb the liquid.
Add the blanched vegetables and the sautéed bell peppers, tossing and cooking for a couple of minutes. Add more salt and/or pepper as desired, to taste.

Black Eyed Pea Salad
Adapted from Patrick and Gina Neely's recipe on The Food Network


1 large tomato, diced
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped (or a dash of tabasco sauce)
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained
1/2 bag (or about 1 cup) frozen green peas, thawed.

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the rice wine vinegar, canola oil, sugar, and salt and pepper.

Toss all together and let marinate for at up to 8 hours in the refrigerator before serving.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Zuppa Inglese Alla Napoletana

I know, I know. Most of you are in detox mode after the decadent excess of holiday eating. But if you're like me, there's still a panettone or pandoro lurking in your pantry somewhere. I tucked the extra panettone in the freezer and will pull it out later this winter for this warm, boozy bread pudding that's always appreciated on a cold day in February. But the pandoro was put to good use last weekend in this zuppa inglese. (Side note - My darn computer's spell check keeps changing zuppa inglese to "cuppa ingress," whatever that is!)
Anyhoo, you don't even need a pandoro for this dessert. You just need a sponge cake - something you could make or pick up at the bakery.
Traditional zuppa inglese has layers of liqueur-soaked sponge cake, interspersed with pastry cream, and topped with whipped cream. I didn't leave out the whipped cream on top, but this version uses ricotta cream instead of pastry cream, something you'd find in a lot of Neapolitan desserts, hence the "all Napoletana" in the name. 
I don't normally trim the outer "crust" of a pandoro, but in this case I did. Just because I thought it would look nicer through the glass bowl. But first slice the cake in horizontal layers, then trim the crusts.
 I made about five layers, each about 1 inch thick.
 Place the first layer in a bowl, filling in the circumference with smaller pieces you cut from the larger ones. Drizzle the simple syrup and liqueur mixture over the top once it's in the bowl.
 Mix the ricotta, sugar and chocolate bits together.
 Spread the ricotta mixture in between each layer of cake, drizzling each cake layer with more simple syrup and liqueur.
 Top the whole thing with whipped cream and decorate with chocolate curls.
It tastes pretty good right away, but if you leave it in the refrigerator overnight, it's even better, since the liqueur and simple syrup have more time to permeate the cake. 
And if you've still got some bits of cake and leftover ricotta that won't fit into that big bowl, make a mini zuppa inglese just for you and someone special.
 Dig In!
Are you a social media devotee? Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Zuppa Inglese Alla Napoletana

1 large Pandoro, or slices of sponge cake
3 pounds ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup rum

3 oz. dark chocolate, chopped into bits

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Slice the Pandoro into four or five horizontal slices, then trim the "crusts." Place one layer in a glass bowl, and cut pieces to fit the circumference of the bowl. 

With a wooden spoon, mix the ricotta cheese with the sugar and chocolate.

Make a simple syrup by boiling the water with the sugar. Remove from heat once the sugar is dissolved. Let cool, then add the rum.

Drizzle the syrup liberally over the cake layer, then spread some of the ricotta filling over the cake.

Continue layering the cake, drizzling the syrup and spreading the ricotta until you get almost to the top of the bowl. I used three layers of cake and two layers of ricotta.

Whip the cream with the confectioners' sugar, then spread the whipped cream over the last ricotta layer. Shave some chocolate over the top to decorate.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Baked Brie with Dried Fruits and Nuts

Last year, a baked brie similar to the one in the photo above made an appearance at some point during the holidays - purchased at The Scone Pony in Spring Lake, NJ, a shop selling outstanding scones and other treats. 
But the store's limited opening hours didn't correspond with my availability to stop in this year, so I decided to make my own for Christmas eve. I've got a few vegetarians in the family and the octopus salad, baccala mantecato and shrimp platter just doesn't cut it with them. I couldn't leave them out while we were sitting around embibing on prosecco and appetizers.
The baked brie was a snap to make and was just as good as Scone Pony's - no, better, since it was freshly made. 
Maybe you're having guests at some point in the week, or making merry for New Year's Eve. This would be a perfect accompaniment to those glasses of bubbly you're likely to pour.
I start by slicing off the rind from a wheel of brie, an optional step, but it makes it a lot easier to dig into the cheese without the rind.
 Then smear the top with a fig spread, fig preserves or other type of jam, jelly or preserves that you like. I know I'd also love this with either quince jelly, apricot or orange preserves too.
 Then take some of the same flavor of preserves or jelly and mix it with your choice of chopped nuts and dried fruits. I used dried figs, cranberries and cherries, with pecans and pistachios.
Pile the dried fruit and nut mixture on top, then when guests arrive, bake in the oven briefly or place in the microwave for a minute or two.
 Add some crackers and serve.
 And watch it disappear.
 Buon Anno and a big thank you to all my readers for following me this year, for leaving comments on the blog, for making my recipes and for emailing me with questions, or just to send greetings. I wish you all the very best in 2016. 
 Are you a social media devotee? Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Baked Brie with Dried Fruits and Nuts

All amounts are all approximate. Use as much or as little as you like of nuts and dried fruits.
 If you have too much, it keeps well in the refrigerator.

1 wheel of brie cheese
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
1/4 cup chopped dried figs
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup fig preserves, plus more for smearing on top of cheese.

Carefully slice the top rind of the brie cheese, trying not to take much of the cheese. A little bit of rind on top is ok. Spread some fig preserves over the cheese. Chop the nuts and fruits, mix in the preserves and pile on top. Refrigerate until ready to use, then bake in a 350 degree oven for five minutes, or place in the microwave for one minute. You don't want to melt the cheese, just soften it. Serve with crackers.

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