2017-12-27 / Taste

Delightful bites

Make merry with prep-ahead party pleasers
Sarah Kurysz

Brie and fig cupsSarah KuryszBrie and fig cupsSarah KuryszThis time of year, when the gatherings get bigger and fancier, I find myself thinking small: as in bite-sized. Holiday party planning sees me brainstorming about ways to pack a lot of exciting flavor into tiny parcels that can be reached for and enjoyed mid-conversation.

Party appetizers might be one of my favorite things to cook, maybe because they’re a feat of engineering. Everything is perfectly portioned and designed for convenient grazing. I have two go-to options that are always a smashing success: bacon-wrapped dates and stuffed phyllo cups. The great thing about both is that they can be prepped the day before and popped in the oven in batches for easy snacking throughout the party. Bacon-wrapped dates are a surefire crowd pleaser. So simple to execute, yet delicious to eat, they’re alluring in part because they only appear on special occasions. My secret? I stuff them with manchego cheese. The sweetness of the roasted date, the divine crispy bacon and the melty manchego center make for the perfect bite every time.

These bacon-wrapped dates are stuffed with manchego. 
SARAH KURYSZ These bacon-wrapped dates are stuffed with manchego. SARAH KURYSZ Bacon-wrapped dates

Makes 40 dates

40 pitted dates

2 pounds thin-sliced raw bacon, rashers cut in half

½ pound manchego cheese

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

40 toothpicks

Place your toothpicks in a cup of water (this will prevent them from burning in the oven).

Cut your manchego cheese into 40 small pieces. Each piece should be about the size of an almond.

Using a paring knife, make a slit down one side of the date, and stuff the cheese inside. There is a chance you could find a pit in there (it’s happened to me many times); make sure you remove it.

Wrap each date in a half rasher of bacon and secure with a soaked toothpick. These can be stored in your fridge, in a sealed container, for up to 2 days.

When you are ready to bake them, preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Place the wrapped dates on a baking sheet with a rim. Bake for 18 minutes, until bacon is brown and crispy. Remember you don’t have to bake them all at once if you don’t want to. Remove from oven and place dates on a paper towel to soak up any excess grease. Arrange on a serving tray and drizzle with maple syrup. Watch them be gone in a flash!

Stuffed phyllo cups are an easy and versatile party app. These mini-muffin-sized flaky pastry cups are available in most grocery freezers. If you want to make your own, it’s incredibly simple.

Phyllo cups

Makes 24 cups

4-5 phyllo dough sheets (Sold in the
freezer section. Each box of phyllo
dough will contain 20 sheets of dough.

You can repeat the process
to make lots of cups at once,
or just use 4-5 at a time and
store the remainder in the
freezer, wrapped in plastic

½ stick melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease 1 mini muffin tin using butter or cooking spray.

Allow the phyllo dough to completely thaw. Lay out a piece of parchment paper. Lay out one single sheet of phyllo dough and lightly brush with melted butter using a basting brush. Lay another single sheet on top and repeat the layering and basting process until you have 4-5 sheets in the stack. (Keep unused dough covered in plastic wrap to avoid it drying out while you are working.) Cut stacked sheets into 24 squares and press 1 square stack into each mini muffin cup. Bake for 11-13 minutes, until edges are just slightly golden brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool. Use in any recipe that calls for phyllo cups.

Brie and fig cups

Makes 24 cups

1 wheel of brie,

½ cup fig jam

¼ cup chopped pecans

24 phyllo cups

Cut your brie into 24 hunks, about the size of a cherry tomato. Even cold it will be a bit messy to cut, but don’t worry, the rind is edible and it will be all melted together at the end. Place one piece in each cup. Add a small dollop of jam, about the size of a blueberry, and top with a sprinkle of chopped pecans. The cups can be draped in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge up to 1 day. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees, place cups on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. Enjoy warm!

Mushroom and Gruyere cups

Makes 24 cups

2 large packages button mushrooms, wiped clean with paper towel and chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 Tablespoons butter

1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

½ pound grated Gruyere cheese

24 phyllo cups

Place all ingredients except Gruyere and cups in a medium pot. Sautee until mushrooms are soft. Store mixture in fridge for up to 3 days. When you are ready to bake preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a spoon, portion out mixture evenly into your cups and top with grated cheese. Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown and bubbly on top. Enjoy warm!

Crab and cream cheese cups

Makes 24 cups

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 green onions, chopped

1 can crab meat, drained

1 Tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

½ teaspoon salt

24 phyllo Cups

Combine all ingredients except cups in a medium mixing bowl and mix well. Store mixture in fridge for up to 1 day. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a spoon, portion out mixture evenly into cups. Bake 12-15 minutes. Enjoy warm!

Happy entertaining! 

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