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The topping on Cranberry Brie Bites looks like red rubies on a soft and melted pillow of earthy Brie cheese. Photo by Sue Doeden

Stop over for a bite ... of dazzling holiday appetizers

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Right around this time every year, I realize I've spent enough time baking holiday cookies. I'm ready to put my feet up and just nibble on all the sweet treats I've concocted as I read the Christmas letters piling up on the counter.

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I'm tired of spending time and patience on creating fancy appetizers. I'm satisfied pulling those I've already made from the freezer, popping them into the oven and relishing each hot bite as I sit by the fire, enjoying some quiet time.

But the season of celebrating isn't quite over. And, lucky for me, while I sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor, I have a creative friend who never tires of developing delicious treats for adventurous palates. Even better, the treats can be put together and ready to serve in just minutes. And, not only does she let me sample her finished products, she shares her recipes with me.

When I was in Minneapolis last week I had the opportunity to visit my friend, Pat Sinclair. Pat is the author of "Baking Basics and Beyond" and she's busy working on a second cookbook. She shared warm Cranberry Brie Bites with me as we visited in her kitchen on a chilly afternoon.

The tiny temptations combine homemade spiced cranberry sauce with Brie cheese held in a crunchy cup of fillo (or phyllo) dough. The cranberry topping looks like red rubies on a soft and melted pillow of earthy Brie cheese.

If you went crazy over cranberries when they first arrived in the stores before Thanksgiving, stock-piling them in a cranberry panic just in case they disappeared, Cranberry Brie Bites will be a fantastic way to use up some of the bright red orbs. A full bag of cranberries is cooked with sugar to sweeten them up. White wine adds some bright zing to the sauce. Orange marmalade adds a touch of citrus and cinnamon and cloves add holiday cheer.

The sauce can be prepared days in advance and stored tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Pat claims the sauce can even be stored in the freezer.

Once the cranberry sauce has been prepared, just keep a couple of boxes of mini fillo shells on hand along with some Brie cheese. With those three ingredients in your kitchen, you'll be ready at a moment's notice for another holiday gathering.

I've discovered the sauce from Cranberry Brie Bites is lovely spooned over a round of Brie cheese and served at room temperature to spread on crackers. But don't stop there. How about spreading some cream cheese on bread along with some of that sweet and savory sauce to make a turkey or ham sandwich? Serve it alongside roast pork or ham. Spread the sauce on a warm bran muffin for breakfast.

Pat Sinclair's recipe for Cranberry Brie Bites is just the kind I love. Make it once and serve it many different ways. And Pat Sinclair is just the kind of friend I appreciate. She shares - even her recipes.

Click the play button below to watch a video of Sue preparing the Brie for this dish, then scroll down for recipe.

Cranberry Brie Bites

1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup orange marmalade

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

3 cloves

8 ounces Brie, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 (15-count) packages mini fillo shells

30 shelled pistachios, if desired

Combine cranberries, sugar, wine, marmalade, cinnamon stick and cloves in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes or until berries pop and mixture thickens.

Cool cooked cranberry mixture to room temperature. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place fillo cups in mini-muffin tins or on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Place a cube of Brie in each cup. Spoon about 1 teaspoon cranberry sauce into each cup, covering the Brie.

Bake Cranberry Brie Bites for 5 to 7 minutes or until heated through and Brie gets soft. Remove from oven and garnish each Bite with a pistachio before serving. Makes 30 Bites.

Used with permission by Pat Sinclair.

Tips from the cook

--Mini fillo shells are often found in the freezer case at the grocery store. They may also be found on the shelf in the bakery section of the store.

--The spiced cranberry sauce topping can be kept in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for a couple of weeks, at least. The sauce also freezes well.

--If you prefer to cook without alcohol, substitute apple juice or cranberry juice for the white wine. Add a dash of vinegar, too.

--If you want a more subtle flavor from the Brie cheese, remove the rind before cutting into cubes. Discard the rind.

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