Tiny tartlets filled with cheese, miniature purses packed with spinach, thumb-sized cream puffs piped with dip -- each a miniature meal in a single bite.
Sure, a bowl of dip or cheese and crackers are fine offerings for the appetizer course. But for special occasions, it's more fun to serve an elegant array of one-bite morsels fresh from the oven.
The problem, of course, is that single-bite appetizers are incredibly time-intensive to make, especially this time of year. Fortunately, the freezer aisle is packed with a growing assortment of tempting appetizer options: bites on skewers, balls filled with cheese, dates wrapped with bacon, and shrimp prepared every which way. I sampled my way through the most fussy, labor-intensive appetizers of them all: the filled/stuffed pastry genre. Here's the scoop on the very best bites.
Trader Joe's Savory Profiteroles with Spinach Artichoke & Cheese Dip: I wasn't even sure I wanted to try these vegetarian bites. Spinach dip is so ubiquitous. But it turns out that these puffy, adorable bites are everything I want in an hors d'oeuvre. They're buttery and rich, with bright spinach flavor. Four bites have 10 grams fat and 140 calories. A box of 12 is $4.99. * * * *
Safeway Caramelized Onion & Gorgonzola Pastry Puffs: These flaky squares of puff pastry, pressed into mini-cups, offer a perfect juxtaposition of flavors. The sweet kick of caramelized onions tames the earthiness of the gorgonzola. Two bites have 10 grams fat and 130 calories. A box of 12 is $4.99 on sale. * * * *
Trader Joe's Cheddar Chipotle Potato Bites: For those who aren't fans of pastry, these are a great option. A spicy mix of chipotle and cheese is packed into tiny, hollowed-out potato halves. Five bites have 7 grams fat and 110 calories. A box of 15 is $3.99. * * * ½
Archer Farms Puff Pastry Collection: All three pastries in this bargain-priced collection bake up pretty and deliver impressive flavor combinations, including roasted pepper and feta, pesto and sun-dried tomato, and Asiago and spinach. If the bites had a bit more filling, they'd be perfect. Four bites have 19 grams fat and 260 to 340 calories. A box of 24 is $5.99 on sale at Target. * * * ½
Waterfront Farms Crab Rangoons: These are a great pick for crab lovers. The large, chewy wontons are filled with creamy, fresh-tasting crab. Two bites have 12 grams fat and 240 calories. A box of 15 is $8.99 at Safeway. * * *
Trader Joe's Pastry Bites with Feta & Caramelized Onion: These are identical in appearance to the Safeway gorgonzola puffs, but this slightly bland version is a bit too sweet and lacks punch. Two bites have 10 grams fat and 140 calories. A box of 12 is $4.99. * * ½
Nancy's Mini Cheese Souffle and Seafood Crab Cakes: These petite cheese souffles are buttery and crisp, but the crab cakes are way overspiced, and the mustard kick obliterates the crab. Three souffles have 16 grams fat and 190 calories. Three crab cakes have 5 grams fat and 90 calories. A box of 32 is $8.99 at Raley's. * *
Safeway Select Chicken Pesto Treasures: These little purses look great, but the filling is marred by too much raw garlic flavor. Five bites have 8 grams fat and 180 calories. A box of 12 is $3.99 on sale at Safeway. * ½
Nob Hill Crab Rangoons: These are not bad, but the herbs and cream cheese dominate, leaving little room for sweet crab flavor. Three bites have 7 grams fat and 150 calories. A box of 12 is $6.98 at Raley's. H
Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Pot Pie: I am so sad to report that these promising little bites are a miss. The crust is deliciously flaky and the hors d'oeuvres smell great, but the filling leaks out, resulting in a dry, chicken-flavored puck. Three bites have 13 grams fat and 210 calories. A box of 12 is $4.99. No stars.