Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Hors d'oeuvre Focus: Phyllo Cups

Phyllo cups are handy to keep around during the holidays. You can buy them pre-made or save a little money by making your own using flat sheets of phyllo pastry. I demonstrate how easy it is to make the cups yourself on the video.

You can make the phyllo cups in advance and store them up to one week in an airtight container so they are ready to use when you need them -- whether friends drop by unexpectedly or you're making appetizers for a holiday party.

They can be filled with any number of savory and sweet concoctions like blue cheese mouse with crispy bacon, chicken salad with sliced grapes, bay shrimp with cocktail sauce, not to mention chocolate mousse with powdered sugar or even your favorite pie filling with a smidge of whipped cream. Just use your imagination!

Phyllo Cups with Goat Cheese and Red Pepper

One of my favorites is a simple one - Goat cheese with roasted red peppers. Here's the recipe.

Phyllo Cups with Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers
Makes 20

4 sheets of phyllo dough pastry
4 tbsp melted butter
8 oz herbed or plain goat cheese crumbles or Boursin Cheese (optional)
1/4 c roasted red peppers, minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Thaw frozen phyllo dough. Bring to room temperature before using. When you are working with the phyllo do, be sure to keep it covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap so that it doesn't dry out.

Layout a large sheet of waxed or parchment paper. Peel off 4 sheets of pastry and arrange them in a single stack on top of the waxed paper.

Fold the stack in half lengthwise so it resembles a book. Be careful not to crease the sheets.

Working quickly, unfold the top half sheet of pastry and brush with melted butter. Fold back the next sheet and brush with butter. Continue until one side of the book is completely coated except for the top sheet. Repeat the process on the other half of the pastry. When all the sheet are coated, THEN brush the top sheet with melted butter.

Cut the layered phyllo into 3" squares. Using a wine cork or your fingers, gently press the pastry squares into mini muffin cups. The edges will be fluted.

At this point you have two options: bake the unfilled cups or fill each cup with 1 tbsp of goat cheese or Boursin Cheese and bake.

Bake unfilled cups for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool completely, and then gently remove from the muffin cups. Fill with your favorite salad or mousee or store in an airtight container at room temperature up to one week.

Bake cheese stuffed cups for 12 to 15 minutes. Garnish with some roasted red pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

What is your favorite filling for phyllo cups?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Topping It All Off - Mashed Potato Martini Bar

Article also available on


The holidays are usually a mix of family and friends. If you find yourself needing a crowd-pleasing party food, I've got just the ticket. A Mashed Potato "Martini" Bar! (Don't worry, I am not referring to potato vodka. This idea is kid-friendly.) I am talking about build-it-yourself party food.

Mashed Potato Martini Bars are a big trend right now. They're an inexpensive option but one you can make look elegant. And everybody loves mashed potatoes.

So what is a Mashed Potato Martini Bar? It's mashed potatoes served in martini glasses with a salad-bar-style collection of toppings. It's also super fun and interactive for guests.

Here's what you need:

Martini Glasses - make it fun and festive. It's not just a mashed potato bar, it's a mashed potato martini bar. If you don't own a set, pick up some mismatched ones at a thrift store.

Mashed Potatoes - your favorite recipe. You'll need about 1/2 to 1 cup per person, depending on what else you are serving. You can keep the potatoes warm in a chafing dish or slow cooker.

Now you just need to put out a bunch of your favorite potato toppings. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
  • Freshly Grated Cheeses (Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Parmesan - Whatever You Like)
  • Sour Cream or Your Favorite Potato Chip Dip
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Whipped Butter or Flavored-Butter
  • Chives or Green Onions
  • Pesto Sauce
  • Gravy
  • Cheese Sauce
  • Cloves of Roasted Garlic
  • Chili
  • Beef Stew
  • Caviar
  • Minced Ham
  • Crumbled Bacon
  • Garlicky Sautéed Shrimp
  • Corned Beef Hash
  • Sun-Dried Tomatoes
  • Sour Kraut
  • Sliced Kielbasa or Polish Sausage
  • Steamed Broccoli
  • Roasted Red Pepper Strips
  • Sautéed Mushrooms
  • French Fried Onions 

Topping ideas are limitless. Try to offer at least 5 or 6 different choices so you're guest can get creative. I've seen people top their mashed potatoes with cheese, and that's it -- and others go through like it's a sundae bar, putting everything on it.

When your guests arrive, give them a brief overview of how to make their mashtini or better yet, be the first to go through the line. It'll show your guests what to do, plus nobody likes to be the first to do something at a party.

Plan for people to have seconds. You may even want to enforce a "two drink minimum!"

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bubbling Over with Holiday Cheer - A guide to buying and serving sparking wine

You say "Champagne" but you might be buying "Sparkling Wine." So, what's the difference? Chef Erin gives a quick overview of sparkling wine, how to open and serve it, and a recipe for a champagne cocktail.


You've heard the old saying, "location, location, location" when it comes to real estate or business matters but how about wine? Well, it's the same for a number of wines including champagne. The French state that you can't call your sparkling wine champagne unless it comes from the champagne region of France. Although we use the term interchangeably, true champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. Other countries produce champagne-style wines but in deference to France call them by different names: Spain makes Cava, Italy makes Spumante or Prosecco, Germany has Sekt and America makes sparkling wine/but I've also seen some labels that call themselves "California champagne."


The cheaper the champagne the larger the bubbles. There are a number of different methods to get the bubbles into sparking wine. With cheaper sparklers, carbonation is shot into the bottle with a pump. Quality sparking wines are made in the traditional French method called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle-- a time-consuming process that allows the bubbles to form through natural fermentation.


Like any other wine, champagne varies in body from light to full. It also varies in sweetness from dry to sweet. The driest champagnes are called extra brut, followed by brut, extra dry, sec, demi-sec and doux. Each of these terms refers to the residual sugar in the wine. Extra Brut wines have 0 to 0.6% sugar while a Doux style will have more than 5% sugar. Everything else falls in between.


Champagne should be served chilled between 40 and 50 degrees F. Cold subdues the flavors in the wine so cheap sparklers should be quite chilled while better vintages can be served at 50 degrees F. A good champagne should be refrigerated for about 2 hours prior to serving. That should ensure just the right temperature.


Although it's fun to "pop" a bottle of champagne the proper method of opening sparkling wine is to twist the bottle gently to release the cork. There is a demonstration in the video.


To open a bottle of sparkling wine:
  • Pull the zipper (the serrated foil around the neck of the bottle) and remove the foil.
  • Twist the tab and remove the metal cage from the cork.
  • Hold the cork and twist the bottle (not vice versa). You'll hear a quiet hissing sound as the cork release. Frenchman say that opening a bottle of champagne should sound like the contented sigh of a woman. Those Frenchman...gotta love 'em.
  • To pour, hold the bottom of the bottle. Your thumb should rest in the punt (the dent in the bottom of the bottle.
  • Pour each glass half way full. Once the bubbles have settled, fill the glass the rest of the way.
Some notes serving:
  • Using flutes (tall, slender wine glasses) keeps the bubbles from dissipating too quickly. Old-fashioned wide-mouthed champagne glasses let the bubbles get away twice as fast.
  • Be sure that your glasses are free from dust and soap scum. Both destroy the bubbles in the wine.
  • You might want to invest in a metal champagne stopper. It will keep the bubbles in place for another day.
I can't always afford an expensive sparkling wine, so I like to make a champagne cocktail.

All you need is a bottle of sparkling wine. I usually use brut or extra dry, myself - a few sugar cubes and a bottle of Angostura Bitters. Drop a sugar cube into a champagne flute, add two dashes of bitters and top with sparkling wine. Delicious!