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Article posted: 10/16/2013 10:32 AM

Party foods challenge: almond butter, celery, phyllo sheets and Twizzlers courtesy of Marquardt of Barrington

Dan Rich

This was a rather demanding culinary challenge, limited not only by the mystery ingredients but by the ability to only use five additional ingredients. The Twizzlers were most interesting to work with. They are difficult to break down and really don't add a lot of flavor to a sauce or a dish. I expected that they would have a bit more sweetness. Given a few more ingredients, a little citrus or heat (sriracha) would have been a nice addition to the experience. Honey would have been nice. I really felt like a little garlic would have been a nice touch in several dishes.

The celery boats are a delicious crunchy treat which give a nice contrast to the party plate. The idea of peanut butter and celery sticks takes us all back to our childhood; combining the almond butter and bacon is a delicious party-time approach to the childhood favorite.

The crispy phyllo strips are also a crunchy contrast to the other dishes, and are a nice treat when dipped in the braised celery dipping sauce. The phyllo bombs are a playful twist on a traditional dumpling, with the Twizzlers-port sauce making a nice accompaniment. The savory baklava is an enticing mixture of sweet and savory, with the crushed walnuts pulling the mystery ingredients together in an unexpected twist on an all-time phyllo favorite. My personal go-to on the plate is the mini Beef Wellington, made with an almond butter and vegetable pate and a bit of port wine. The almond butter and sautéed veggies provide a rich, creamy pate-like experience that will have you going back to grab another.

Serve these party treats with a crisp Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay with a slightly fruitier (pear) finish, or your favorite seasonal brew (the apple brews are hot right now) and your guests will be blown away by the plates' simple elegance. Enjoy!

Judy Monaco

This challenge really put me in a mild panic. I have never used phyllo dough before and really didn't know what I was getting into. Thank goodness for the Internet instruction on the basics of how to work with phyllo. I even needed help finding it in the grocery store.

I found out that you couldn't melt Twizzlers in the microwave -- didn't work. Tried baking it on another ingredient, hoping for a melt -- that didn't work either. They are indestructible. Ended up using them as an ingredient in one dish and a topper in another.

Any kind on nut butter and chocolate is a winner in my book -- so that was the easiest creation to come up with, used a piece of Twizzlers on top. Nut butter also is a greater sweetener.

I had many experimental dishes using the phyllo dough with different fillings, toppings and number of layers of phyllo. My husband, is an angel, but we was getting kind of tired of phyllo. However, he is also my best critic and made some good suggestions on how to improve a few of the appetizers.

This challenge really made me search my brain for creative ways to use these items and to find the five ingredients that would enhance them. We won't even talk about how many boxes of phyllo I went through (now have my favorite brand) or how many quick trips to the store for new items. Finally finished just under the wire.

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