Even those of us who don't cook regularly tend to dust off those old favorite recipes for the holidays. Others look for something new and different to wow family and friends.
Not to panic. Our exercise du jour is to simplify the wow factor. Our recipe suggestions allow you to use everyday ingredients that are easy to come by, reasonably priced and, of course, delicious. In this case, we add a little fillip, keeping in mind one of Madison Avenue's time-honored maxims: "It's all about the packaging."
In the kitchen, two of the most impressive packaging ingredients are phyllo dough and puff pastry. When creatively used, these two pastries add light, crisp flakiness to all manner of foodstuffs. And not just sweet ones like apple strudel and baklava.
If you've ever tried your hand at making either of these pastries, you know what a boon the ones in the grocer's freezer can be. In general, you can buy at the last minute, as long as you allow enough thawing time so you can work with them. It's so reassuring, however, to have some in the home freezer for when the "wowing" mood is upon you.
Generally, they're pretty easy to work with, if you follow the recipe directions. And since they lend themselves to rather free form shapes, you don't have to be an artist to make them look appetizing.
Just to get started, we'll try appetizer phyllo triangles. Great, albeit crumbly finger food. And something with which most of us are familiar. You can get basic spinach triangles — we use mustard greens here, though — from your grocer's freezer, but do try these. You'll be impressed at how simple they are, and your guests will be impressed with you (even the kids).
You can make these ahead, freeze them, then gently bake, until puffed and golden, at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes before serving. To freeze ahead, freeze uncovered in a single layer. When frozen, remove to sealed plastic bags.
1 1/2 pounds mustard greens, washed, drained, leaves torn from stems
About 1/4 cup water
2 small onions, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 pound firm feta cheese, crumbled fine
2 ounces grated romano cheese
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons, minced fresh mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
About 2 sticks unsalted butter
About 30 (18- x 14-inch sheets phyllo dough, thawed