This Easy, Elegant Appetizer Is an Entertaining Hero
When I entertain, I want to impress. I want the appetizer platter picked down to the crumbs; I want a main course so irresistible that guests come back for seconds (and thirds); I want a dessert people can't stop talking about, and for everyone to gladly take home leftovers, too. I love to cook, and sharing food with loved ones brings me so much joy. So when I plan out my menu, I typically reach for the newest (to me, at least), most exciting recipe I think I can manage. Complex? No problem! Unfamiliar technique? Sure, I can learn! It's a challenge, and the reward will be sweet.
Therein lies my fatal flaw. I can't tell you how many times I've been late to parties —or not ready for one of my own!—because I'm still tinkering with a recipe that took way longer than expected. Or had a complicated step I botched that needed to be fixed. Or flat-out didn't work. My hair's wet, my makeup's haphazard, and yes, these cookies are warm because I had to pull them right out of the oven, so watch the chocolate chips—they're still melty enough to stain.
As I've become a more experienced cook, I've since learned to rely more on tried and true recipes, or relatively foolproof ones when I'm entertaining. (Especially when I'm juggling several dishes at once.) I save the ambitious ventures for low-pressure days when I have time to work through things, in order to avoid a last-minute foodtastrophe—it's just not worth the stress, no matter how delicious the end results still may be. So when I'm in a pinch, I turn to recipes like these Cheese Croustades, which are flavorful, elegant, and come together in just minutes.
I tried this recipe, which comes from former Food & Wine Food Editor Josh Miller, last Thanksgiving because I didn't want to spend a good chunk of the holiday in the kitchen. Spoiler: I was still scrambling a bit, but not nearly as much as usual (and hey, that's got to count for something, right?). The premise for these bites is pretty simple: thaw and bake frozen mini phyllo pastry shells, and then fill them with cranberry relish (or red currant jelly) and a cheese-and-butter mixture. Seriously, that's it—after a quick garnish, they're ready to serve.
There's a lot to love about this appetizer, from the contrasting textures of the crispy phyllo and creamy filling to the flavors that hit you when you take a bite. You get tanginess from the goat cheese, bright lemon flavor from the zest, tart sweetness from the fruit spread, and yes, herby flavor from the herbes de Provence. But what I really love most is how minimal the prep work is; it can be done in advance. You let the goat cheese log and butter sit out so they soften as they come to room temperature while you thaw and bake the prepared pastry shells. (Make sure to give that butter enough time to fully soften, so it's soft enough to stir.) You can also grate the lemon zest and snip the chives in advance, so they're ready to go. Then, you can finish getting ready or switch gears to prepare another dish. That roast in your oven could probably use a temperature check.
At party time, all that's left is assembly. Stir together the goat cheese and butter with the remaining filling ingredients—ricotta cheese helps make it even more creamy—until you have a smooth mixture. Spoon a little bit of relish or jelly into each baked pastry shell, then pipe the cheese-and-butter filling on top. Finally, finish each cup with chive batons and lemon zest curls, and breathe a sigh of relief. You have a quick bite ready for your guests to nosh on while you put out all the other fires in your kitchen. (Speaking metaphorically, of course.)
All in all, these delicious croustades will ask for less than half an hour of your time, but between the elegant piping and the delicate, crispy pastry cups, they look like they've taken much longer. They can also easily be adapted to changing seasons; just swap in apricot jam or fig preserves, for summer and fall parties. So the next time you're hosting, make it easy on yourself and serve these as an appetizer —you might even have enough time to dry your hair.