Organic Blue Cheese, Pear, Watercress, Walnut & Pomegranate Seed Salad with my Special Dressing. Baked Organic Irish Brie with Crudites, Fruit, sourdough baguette or my Low-Carb, Multi-Seed Crispy Crackers

Organic Blue Cheese, pear, walnut & pomegranate seed salad Baked Organic Irish Brie
Organic Blue Cheese, pear, walnut & pomegranate seed salad Baked Organic Irish Brie
 
I used a wide variety of seasonal salads and vegetables from my polytunnel for both the blue cheese salad and for dipping into the baked brie. 
 
 
For Recipe 1 - the Blue Cheese salad - my homegrown ingredients included watercress, spinach, Gem lettuce, radicchio and Scarlette Chinese cabbage. If you're buying your salads - then watercress is the best or a combination of that with baby leaf spinach and/or other leaf mixes - and they're widely available. I used some of our own late-keeping pears, but firm Conference pears are ideal for this salad and again are widely available at the moment. Walnuts are really the perfect nut to accompany the pears and are also by far the healthiest nut. They're extremely high in healthy fats and disease-fighting antioxidants - but if you don't like them, then hazelnuts or almonds work too. I used organic pomegranate seeds, which give a deliciously contrasting, fresh burst of flavour. I buy my organic pomegranates when they're in season from The Organic Supermarket - who have several shops in Dublin, also have an excellent online shop and a countrywide delivery service. I also get my organic oils, cider vinegar, mustard and other store-cupboard ingredients for dressings etc. from them. The only exception is the pomegranate molasses, which are not yet available organically grown, but for this I make a very rare exception to my 'organic only' rule for this because it is simply amazing in dressings. (My hopeful young pomegranate trees haven't fruited yet!)
 
 
The blue cheese which I've used is Organic Blue - a wonderfully full-flavoured cheese made by The Little Milk Company, in partnership with famous award-winning Irish Blue cheese-makers Cashel Blue. It's my favourite blue cheese - not just because it's organic but also because it's rich, smoothly sweet and delicious - with just the right amount of 'blueness' that gives the tangy depth of flavour you expect from a really good blue cheese. It's exceptional qualities come from the fact that it's made using organic milk from cows that are milked only once a day. Milking this way yields a particularly rich, sweet and creamy milk. It's available here in Ireland, but only if you buy a whole wheel - which in fact is very good value, as it freezes extremely well once fully ripe. *(My notes on how to freeze cheese are at the end of the article). It's also available from Abel and Cole in the UK. If you can't get it, any other blue cheese you like is fine - St Agur, Wicklow Blue or Roquefort are all suitable non-organic ones which are widely available - just use whichever is your particular favourite.
 
 
For Recipe 2 - the Baked Brie - I used the equally wonderful Organic Irish Brie also from The Little Milk Company. This is available from several shops in Ireland. It's also available directly from The Little Milk Company, either in large, or small mini-wheels ideal for baking in a small dish. Again this cheese freezes beautifully once it's perfectly ripe to your preference - I prefer mine very ripe and runny but however you like your Brie - it's perfect for baking at any stage. Both cheeses are made from pasteurised, not raw milk. Here is a link to their website:  https://www.thelittlemilkcompany.ie/   
 
 
Once again - any Brie or Camembert is absolutely fine for this recipe. But I find that cooking with cheeses is a bit like cooking with wine - or in fact any other ingredient - the better quality you use to start with - the better the end result will be!
 
 
My 'special dressing' (as I call it) - is made with extra-virgin, unfiltered avocado, walnut and olive oils, cider vinegar, honey and pomegranate molasses. The combination of oils gives a complex, slightly nutty flavour and also a much wider range of super-healthy fats and antioxidant phytonutrients than only using olive oil. You can if you wish just use extra virgin olive oil, which will still give you a lovely dressing - but which is not quite as luxurious tasting and not as high in nutrients.
 
 
The crisp vegetable crudites I used for dipping into the hot and gooey Baked Brie were: Romanesco broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots, peppers, ruby chard stems and radishes - but any other firm, crisp vegetables are also delicious. Crisp green apples and dried fruits such as dates or figs are also good for dipping. It's nice to have a variety and if there's any left over (unlikely!) then they're also great for other uses. Although I make my own bread, I often buy the fantastic artisan sourdough baguettes made by Thibault Peigne of the Tartine Bakery, which is available from The Organic Supermarket. They freeze well too and are also perfect for dipping or as crostini, crisped up in the oven and then sliced.
 
 
My irresistibly crunchy and more-ish, multi-seed crackers are a great alternative to bread or normal crackers and are incredibly easy to make - you just weigh the ingredients, stir, spread the mix out on baking sheets to cook and that's it! They're grain-free, gluten-free, low-carb and suitable for those on the LCHF diet. They stay crisp for ages in an airtight container and I find them really useful to keep handy. They go with literally anything, especially any cheeses, pates, pickles, spreads etc. Perfect for guilt-free nibbles - and also if I run out of bread!  They're a great alternative to many of the gluten-free products which are so expensive to buy in shops and often contain nasty additives. These work out at a fraction of the price and are totally healthy! They're cheap to make and once you have the dry ingredients on hand you can make them whenever you need them. They also make fantastic gifts anytime for 'foodie' friends because they keep so well. 
 
 
These are all easy recipes that you can prepare ahead. They're basically just 'assembly jobs' and can be throw together at the last minute - just what you want when you're busy at Christmas! The only actual cooking before eating is the Baked Brie - the crackers can even be made a week ahead if you want!
 
 
 
Equipment:
 
 
For Recipe 1 - the Blue Cheese salad - serves 2 greedy or 4 dainty people!
 
 
Ingredients:
 
200g of Blue Cheese crumbled or cubed (or more to taste - amount not critical)
 
4 firm conference or other pears
 
A handful of watercress and/or spinach for each plate (if you don't grow your own a bag each of watercress, spinach and/or rocket will be enough for 4 portions
 
A small handful of walnuts or pecans for each plate - to taste depending on how much you like nuts! About 30g or 8-10 walnut halvesper portion is plenty.
 
If using pomegranate seeds - try to pick a nice reddish -looking heavy one. These are usually very difficult to peel and de-seed - but I've discovered a brilliant way to do this! Or you can buy ready to use pomegranate seeds in some supermarkets. Th pomegranate seeds aren't absolutely necessary - but I love them in this and they look nice and Christmassy too with the red seeds!
 
Method:
 
Just wash & spin the salads as usual. Put a mixed handful on each plate. 
 
Wash and dry the pears - and then cut them into quarters or eighths and core them just before assembling the salad or they'll go brown. Arrange among the spinach & watercress leaves on each plate, crumble over pieces of the blue cheese, the walnuts and pomegranate seeds and either drizzle with the dressing or let everyone help themselves.
 
 
My 'Special Dressing':
 
 
Ingredients:
 
 
2 tablespoons of walnut oil, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 tablespoons of avocado oil (or if you prefer you can just use 6 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil instead of the walnut & avocado)
 
2 tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar (cider vinegar is essential for this as any other is too harsh. I use 'Aspall Raw Organic Cyder Vinegar')
 
1/4 teaspoon of good aged balsamic vinegar
 
1 tablespoon of good organic runny honey
 
1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (if you can't get this - then just sub with more honey)
 
1 teaspoon of wholegrain Dijon mustard
 
Pinch of sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper
 
 
Method:
 
 
Put all the ingredients into a jar and shake vigorously - or into a jug and stir very well - at least an hour beforehand to allow the salt to dissolve and the flavours to mingle, then adjust the seasoning to taste if wished. 
 
Shake or stir again well to combine before lightly dressing the salads. This dressing will convert even the most ardent salad hater into a salad lover! The amount of honey and pomegranate molasses may seem quite a lot of sugar when looking at the recipe - but they are both natural sugars which have many additional health benefits - and you're not drinking them! You can reduce them or even cut them out if you like - but for most tastes, I find the balance is perfect - especially in this recipe. If you're not eating a lot of other sugars - then you will still be well below the recommended daily limit with just very lightly dressing your salad - and the benefits of eating the salad by far outweigh any sugar concerns you may have! I keep a big jar of this dressing in my fridge all the time - it's so handy for my daily lunchtime salads or family suppers, goes well with everything and I'm always being asked for the recipe. It also makes a great 'foodie' gift (only to best friends!).
 
 
 
For Recipe 2 - the Baked Brie. Serves 2 greedy people for supper or 4 dainty ones as a starter!
 
 
Ingredients:
 
 
A small whole 250 g Camembert or Brie in a wooden box. OR - pieces of a larger cheese or cheeses cut to fit a roughly 12 cm oven-proof dish with just a little room left at the top for it to bubble up a bit (you don't want to waste any!)
 
1 tablespoon of white wine & a few thyme leaves if liked
 
 
Method: 
 
 
Prepare a variety of vegetable crudites such as broccoli, celery, carrot, cucumber, red or yellow peppers, radishes etc. Peel if necessary & cut into small batons.
 
If also using sourdough bread - quickly running a little cold water over it (don't soak it) and then bake in an oven at about 200 deg C (fan oven) for 10 mins. This will freshen it up and make it lovely and crispy - just as if it were freshly baked. This is a great way to freshen up any stale loaf bread, and especially sourdough which can sometimes be a bit tough & chewy when cold.
 
While the bread's cooking, unwrap the cheese, take off it's paper & replace it into it's wooden box with a piece of baking foil pulled up around the sides in case it leaks and sit that onto an oven tray. Alternatively, put it into a suitably-sized small oven-proof dish.
 
Spike the top several times with a cocktail stick and sprinkle over the tablespoon of white wine. Put a couple of sprigs of thyme on the top if you like. 
 
Bake at 200 deg C for 10-15 mins until bubbling and golden on top. Break the top crust and stir a little just before serving so that no one gets too much crust.
 
This looks nice served in the middle of a big round tray or platter with some salad as you can see above - and also with the crudites arranged around it, or you can serve the crudites separately in another dish, so that everyone can just dig in and help themselves. It's what I call a great 'ice-breaking' dish - it's hard to be terribly polite when dipping into runny cheese! Make sure you have napkins or serviettes alongside, to stop party dresses being ruined! 
 
 
 
Recipe 3 - my Low-Carb, Multi-Seed, Crispy Crackers
 
 
Equipment:  
 
You will need two x 30 x 40cm silicone baking sheets and 2 flat baking sheets or pans to sit them on.
 
Ingredients:
 
 
100g sesame seeds - I use a mixture of black and white seeds. The more nutritious black ones are harder to get except online, so the plain white ones generally available are fine.
 
100g Pumpkin seeds
 
100g sunflower seeds
 
60g golden linseed (flax seeds)
 
1 tablespooon of Chia seeds
 
3 tablespoons of ground Psyllium husk powder (you will get this in most health food shops but make sure it's organic. The Organic Supermarket always stock them)
 
1 heaped teaspoon of celery salt, or 1 level teaspoon of sea salt
 
400 ml of water
 
1 tablespoon of poppy seeds
 
 
Method:
 
 
1. Weigh all the ingredients except the poppy seeds into a bowl, add the 400ml of water & stir. Leave for 15 mins - stirring half way through.
 
2. Stir again after 15 minutes to even out the distribution of seeds, then divide the mixture roughly into two - with half on each sheet. 
 
3. Using a flexible spatula, spread the mixture out as thinly & evenly as possible, without holes, onto 2 silicone baking sheets. You don't want to see the silicone sheet underneath - but don't worry if you do happen to make a small hole - it's just like Play Dough - you can easily just squash it back together a bit in that spot & smooth it out again - a bit like icing a cake! If you're patient - you can persuade the mixture to cover 2 silicone baking sheets very thinly up to the coloured edges without any holes - and the thinner you manage to get them the crispier they are! Sprinkle the poppy seeds evenly over the top. (If you want to make these thicker for dipping - then just make them a bit thicker and bake for a bit longer - as otherwise, because they are so light and crispy, they may break up a bit on dipping - if you're cheese isn't runny enough!)
 
4. Bake at 130-140 deg C for about 1 hour 20 mins. Open the oven after 15 mins or so to let the steam out that has built up. 
 
Change trays front to back and top to bottom half way through cooking so they bake evenly. 
 
5. About 20 mins before the end of the cooking time take them out of the oven & score them into squares or rectangles using a sharp long carving knife, a pizza cutter or mezza luna blade. Do this lightly and carefully as you don't want to cut the silicone sheets. This will release them slightly, so if they are curling up slightly at the edges because they are shrinking don't worry - this will stop that. Put them back into the oven for the last 20 mins. Then take off the baking sheets carefully using a spatula or palette knife as they are very brittle and break up easily at this stage. 
 
6. Cool completely on a wire cooling tray before putting into an airtight container.
 
These will keep for literally weeks in an airtight container and don't go off - that's if they get the chance! They are to die for with any sort of cheese, pates, spreads or dips - and they also make fabulous gifts for 'foodie' friends in a pretty box or package tied up with some ribbon.
 
 
 2. Divide mixture in half onto 2 silicone baking sheets 3. Spread out as thinly as possible without holes & bake
 2. Divide mixture in half onto 2 silicone baking sheets 3. Spread out as thinly as possible without holes & bake
5. Score into squares or rectangles 20 mins before end of cooking 6. Cool completely on a wire tray
5. Score into squares or rectangles 20 mins before end of cooking 6. Cool completely on a wire tray
 
Notes on ingredients:
 
 
As usual all the ingredients I use are always organic wherever possible. Organic ingredients are scientifically proven to be more nutritious, higher in healthy omega-3 essential fatty acids, phytonutrients and of course contain fewer chemicals like pesticides, heavy metals or additivesThis is what we have eaten for over 40 years - but it's up to you - non-organic alternatives are easily available.
 
 
I always use freshly ground organic black pepper - you won't believe the difference in it's flavour!  It's rich in aromatic essential oils which give it the most wonderful aroma -,and also contains other phytonutrients which are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial and enhance immune function. Studies show that black pepper also increases the body's ability to absorb nutrients from other foods and is also good for digestion. As organic foods are higher in phytonutrients - you get 60-70% more of these valuable beneficial compounds. Once you've tried it - non-organic pepper seems totally tasteless! (Out of interest - in the Middle Ages and Tudor times, pepper was considered so valuable and was so expensive that it was used as currency - which is where the term 'Peppercorn Rent' came from!)
 
 
You can buy all of the seeds for the recipe easily in most health food shops now and online. Make sure you always buy them with the freshest date possible.and that you always keep them in the fridge so that they stay fresh. Nuts and seeds, or oils made from them, should always be kept in the dark - either in a very cool place or a fridge to prevent their fats from becoming 'rancid' or oxidising. If nuts are kept in a warm shop on a high shelf as I often see them - this rancidity can happen quite quickly. You'll get that horrible, unmistakable 'chip pan' smell from them when you open the packet, they will taste horrible and are extremely bad for you! If you are unlucky enough to buy some like that - take them back and complain! Fresh nuts should always have a pleasant, sweet smell. If you don't eat them too often then keep them in the freezer - but you should be eating them often because they're so good for you! If you don't like whole nuts - then grind them into smoothies and soups etc.
 
 
We don't do calorie counting here - because it's the quality of the calories that counts - not the number! We never worry about eating natural, whole, nutritious foods like oils or butter! It's the empty, positively unhealthy calories in industrially-made, highly-processed low-fat spreads, petrochemically extracted, bleached, deodorised, flavoured and coloured vegetable oils and sugar-filled processed foods that damage our health and clog our arteries. (Sound nice don't they?) We avoid them like the plague! 
 
 
A word on 'low carb, healthy fat' or LCHF recipes. Any of my LCHF recipes contain as little sugar, processed, highly-refined carbohydrates or starchy foods as possible. Processed carbohydrates turn rapidly to sugars in our bodies and we're all eating far too much of them - which is leading to an increasing epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes and it's related problems. This can be avoided and can even actually be reversed, by following the LCHF diet and cutting out all added and processed sugars from your diet. The latest scientific research shows that it's not natural oils, or even saturated fats like butter in our diets that are the problem - it's the highly processed, high sugar foods, artificially hardened vegetable fats like margarine and some vegetable oils. The great spin off from the LCHF diet is that you can also lose weight very easily without starving or obsessing about counting calories. It's a very easy diet to stick to because you're never hungry as it's high in protein, fibre and healthy fats and also in healthy nutrients. (On a personal note - 4 years ago, I lost 2 stone and my son lost 4 stone on this diet over the course of a year. We had both put on weight following separate serious accidents a few months apart which had left us both unable to exercise.) If you eat a lot of processed foods - you won't believe how much better you will feel and how much more energy you will have when you stop eating sugar and processed junk! Your body will feel as if you're running on sparkingly clear, super 5 star fuel, instead of a slurry of grey sludge!
 
 
*How to Freeze Cheese
 
Living in the country, a fair drive from any decent shops or delis, I find it incredibly useful to freeze cheese - especially since good organic cheese is very hard to find. I personally now always buy whole cheeses - or in the case of bog-standard, mature Cheddar for cooking, I mostly buy pre-wrapped cheese which I also freeze. As I grow much of my other fresh food - this cuts down on shopping trips quite a lot. 
 
 
If you want to freeze cheese - only freeze cheese once it's perfectly ripe and ready to eat, as the freezing process will stop some types of naturally occurring  bacteria in it from developing any further. Always double wrap it in grease-proof paper and then in a bag or box, to prevent it picking up 'freezer flavours' - which can happen with high fat items like butter or cheese and easily ruin them.  Just a warning however - for safety reasons - always thaw it in the fridge before use, just in case there is the remote possibility of contamination by any bad bacteria. Hand on heart, I can honestly say that I have never found this to be any problem whatsoever with any organic cheeses, but I have in the past seen evidence of that on some non-organic or cut cheeses which I have bought, which may possibly have become cross-contaminated either on cheese counters or by the knives used for cutting those portions. If in doubt - throw it out is my maxim there! That's why being able to freeze cheese is so useful - because it prevents any anonymous bits of cheese lurking at the back of the fridge, waiting for a use, for months after Christmas! (Perhaps you're tidier, more organised and less busy than me!)
 
Serve when the cheese has thawed and has been brought to room temperature for half an hour or so before eating (as cheese always should be) - then eat it as soon as possible. That's never a problem in this house! Do not re-freeze it.

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