Showing posts with label Appetizer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Appetizer. Show all posts

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Grilled Stone Fruit, Prosciutto, and Burrata Crostini

Happy first day of summer! The season of days of endless sunshine, backyard gatherings and barbecues, long lines at the ice cream shops, outdoor concerts, flourishing gardens, picnics, and farmer's market tables abundant with fresh fruits and vegetables has finally arrived. Other than days with high heat and humidity or the occasional days of rain, what is not to love about summer? Some say everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August.

Almost everything tastes better in the summer. Particularly fruits and vegetables. Knowing the season of blueberries, strawberries, cherries, plums, and peaches is short, it's not surprising fruits begin to creatively find their ways into appetizers, salads, as well as, desserts. Three years ago it was the Grilled Peach and Burrata Salad we couldn't get enough of here. Last year the Peach, Tomato, and Burrata Caprese Salad with Basil Drizzle made regular, sometimes, weekly appearances. Even I had to wonder if I knew how to make any other kind of salad. 

This year these Grilled Stone Fruit, Prosciutto, and Burrata Crostini will be another one of the ways I will showcase the deliciousness of the intoxicating taste of ripe peaches and nectarines. Not only do these crostini make great hearty appetizers, they are so versatile they would work well as a light meal. But here's the catch. They beg to be accompanied by a glass or two of wine or prosecco. So if you were looking for a reason to open and share a bottle of our favorite beverage, you now have one!

This is one of those 'not an exact science' recipes. In other words, the kind of recipe where you aren't weighing or measuring everything out. You could almost make them by just looking at a photo. So the recipe below is only meant to give you some guidance. There is no one right or best way to assemble these crostini as the presentation for these Grilled Stone Fruit, Prosciutto, and Burrata Crostini lends itself to lots of creativity and versatility. Your version might look entirely different than mine.

I couldn't resist buying both nectarines and peaches this week. Originally I intended to make these crostini using only the peaches. Then I thought why not use a combination of both peaches and nectarines. Next time I make them I might use only peaches or only nectarines or return to what I will call the 'original' peach-nectarine aka stone fruit combination. Any of these options will work. Fruit indecisiveness aside, I definitely wanted these crostini to be topped with grilled versus freshly cut fruit. (If you haven't yet tasted grilled stone fruit, you are in for an added treat!) And again, you could make these crostini using either grilled fruit (this gets my vote) or freshly sliced fruit. I would encourage you to make them with grilled fruit at least once as there is nothing quite like the taste and flavor of grilled stone fruit.

One of the best things about having a farmer's market in the town where I live is having access to some incredible freshly made breads. The baguettes are irresistible. But wherever you buy your baguettes, look for ones with a dense, sturdy crumb. The 'soft inside' baguettes don't work as well in the making of crostini. I prefer cutting my baguettes in half inch slices on the diagonal versus rounds. However, you can make these crostini using bread cut either way. 

After lightly brushing olive oil on both sides of the bread, put them on the grill to char and crisp. (See note below for an oven preparation.) The bread doesn't need to be warm when you serve these crostini, so you could make up the bread slices earlier in the day but store in an airtight container. If the weather is humid on the day you are planning to make Grilled Stone Fruit, Prosciutto, and Burrata Crostini you might want to first grill the bread, then grill the fruit.

Like summer fruits and vegetables, I can't seem to get enough burrata either. Once a somewhat hard to find cheese, it's now very accessible in many grocery stores. 

After spreading some of the burrata over the grilled bread, top first with a piece of very thinly sliced prosciutto, then with the grilled stone fruit of your choice. Note; Depending on the size of your prosciutto slices, you either cut them into halves or thirds.

A drizzle of balsamic glaze and julienned fresh basil are the crostini's finishing touches. For an added 'wow' presentation factor, serve these crostini on a large white platter. 

The Grilled Stone Fruit, Prosciutto, and Burrata Crostini may be the most impressive, simple, delicious appetizer you make all summer. Luscious grilled peaches and/or nectarines, freshly grilled bread, salty prosciutto, tart-sweet balsamic glaze, and creamy burrata make for the most amazing sweet-savory flavor eating experience. When served on a large white platter they make rustic look elegant. Destined to be one of those 'disappearing' appetizers, they are yet another reason to love summer.

Grilled Stone Fruit, Prosciutto, and Burrata Crostini
Makes 20-22 pieces

2-3 stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, and/or a combination of both), each cut into 8-10 wedges (depending on size)
1 french baguette, sliced on the diagonal in 1/2 inch slices
Olive oil, for brushing bread and fruit
8 ounces burrata, sliced
6-8 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced (cutting each slice into halves or thirds)
Balsamic Glaze, for drizzling
3-4 basil leaves, julienned 

1. Brush both sides of the bread slices with olive oil. Place on a heated grill pan or outdoor grill setting bread on the diagonal. Grill bread until golden on both sides (approximately 2 minutes per side). Set aside.
2. Brush peach and/or nectarine wedges with olive oil. Place wedges on a heated grill pan or outdoor grill. Grill until fruit has grill marks on both sides (approximately 1-2 minutes per side).
3. Spread some burrata cheese over the top of each bread slice.
4. Place a piece of the prosciutto on one side of the bread and two pieces of the grilled fruit on the other. Place crostini on serving platter.
5. Drizzle balsamic glaze over the finished crostini. Scatter the julienned basil over the crostini. 
6. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Notes: (1) Instead cutting the stone fruit into wedges, cut in half and remove pit. Brush each half with olive oil and place on heated grill. Grill fruit halves until slightly charred (3-4 minutes). (2) Use fresh fruit slices instead of grilled ones. (3) Instead of burrata could use goat cheese. Whip 8 ounces of goat cheese with 2 Tablespoon of whipping cream until creamy and spreadable. (4) If you can't find balsamic glaze, bring one cup of balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the vinegar has reduced to 1/4 cup and is thickened and glossy (approximately 15-20 minutes of cooking time). Remove from heat and let cool before using. (5) If you don't have a grill available, make the crostini a preheated 400 degree (F) oven. Bake slices for 12-15 minutes or until crisp.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Classic Guacamole

Scrolling through Instagram and flipping through the pages of my already too large, but still growing cookbooks collection can be dangerous. The simple act of browsing through the cookbooks and cooking magazines I can't resist buying not only makes me insanely ravenous, it encourages my avoidance of all of life's mundane chores awaiting my attention. Things like the stack of laundry piled really high on the dryer and the running clothes on the clothesline waiting to be folded or switching over my closets from winter to summer clothes or just cleaning the house. For me, the work that goes into baking or cooking seems so much easier, and definitely more satisfying, than doing daily chores or taking care of pressing responsibilities. And it seems I am not the only one guilty of this type of procrastination. A recently published New York Times article "Why Work When You Can Procrastibake" describes the growing phenomenon of procrastibaking as 'the practice of baking something completely unnecessary with the intention of avoiding "real" work. This newest and growing trend even has its' own hashtag (#procrastibaking) on social media. I never felt so comforted in learning there many who regularly employed this unconscious baking strategy as way of feeling "skilled, nurturing, and virtuous in the present" while distracting us from the future. To all of those fellow procrastibakers out there, I am happy to know I am not alone.

It was during one of these procrastination moments that I came across Mexican born chef Roberto Santibanez's recipe for his Classic Guacamole. This chunky textured guacamole uses a mortar and pestle to grind some of the flavoring ingredients to a paste like consistency. The heat from the jalapeño (or serrano) chile and acidity from the lime helps to create an insanely addictive guacamole. It is a simple, pure genius recipe.

For those of you with an aversion to cilantro, this guacamole may not be one you will feel compelled to make. But I would strongly encourage you to put aside your feelings about cilantro and make this version of a classic guacamole. I would go so far as to refrain from telling your lassie-faire cilantro family and friends that its' one of the guacamole's ingredients before they taste it. Unless they have an allergy to cilantro, this guacamole may help them see cilantro in a whole new light. This is coming from someone who only recently jumped on the cilantro bandwagon.

Rather than having that mushy avocado texture we have all become familiar with, this guacamole leaves the avocados in more of a chunkier mash state. The onions (white onions only please), chile, salt, and cilantro are smashed up into a paste creating a kind of flavor intense sauce ultimately mixed in with the avocados. Simplicity and authenticity are the hallmarks of this highly flavorful, addictive guacamole recipe. 

Before tasting this Classic Guacamole, I really thought the guacamole recipe I posted five years ago and the one I have been making religiously was really, really, really good. And it still is (although from those five year old photos you might not be so convinced). But this one, well this one is nothing short of being a GREAT one! It's actually so great, you should immediately stop everything you are doing and make it! What makes Roberto Santibanez's classic guacamole recipe so different from all of the other ones out there is that it will cause you to abandon your recipe, including the one your friends have given you high praise for or the one you have made for so long that letting go of it would be akin to giving up one of your children or beloved pet. This five ingredient guacamole, six counting the salt, is a game-changer. And if you are looking to up your guacamole game or want to legitimately (yet secretly) consider yourself a guacamole snob, this is the ONLY recipe you want to make. 

If you are looking to create a bit magic and circus at your next gathering, make this Classic Guacamole while everyone is gathered around enjoying margaritas, palomas, sangria, or iced cold beer. I would encourage you have enough ingredients to make a second batch as it is bound to quickly disappear. 

Classic Guacamole (barely an adaptation to Roberto Santibanez's Classic Guacamole recipe)
Serves 3, maybe 4 people

2 Tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 Tablespoon minced fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, including seeds (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (or 3 Tablespoons) chopped fresh cilantro, divided
2 medium sized avocados, halved and pitted
Squeeze of a fresh lime half
Your favorite tortilla chips
Optional for garnish: Chopped grape tomatoes or a chopped, small seeded tomato

1. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the onion, chile, kosher salt, and half of the cilantro to a paste.  Transfer paste to a bowl. Note: You can alternately mince and mash these ingredients together using a cutting board and large sharp knife.
2. Score the avocado halves in a crosshatch patter (be care to not cut through the skin) with a sharp knife, then scoop into the bowl. Using a fork, break up the avocado into small and medium sized chunks. Do not over mash.
3. Toss the paste, avocado chunks, and the rest of the cilantro. Mash coarsely with a fork. 
4. Squeeze some freshly squeezed lime juice (from half of a small lime) and mix in. Taste for seasonings. Add additional salt and/or chopped chile if needed or to taste.

Note: (1) If serving more than three or up to four people, consider doubling the recipe. (2) Only use a white onion, there are no other substitutions for this ingredient. (3) I used a jalapeño chile when I made this guacamole, but if you like a little more heat use a serrano chile. Generally a serrano chile has three times the heat of a jalapeño.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Meatballs in Marinara

Over the course of the last seven years, Italian style meatballs seem to have reinvented themselves. No longer is their presence reliant or co-dependent on a large platter of pasta. No longer are they satisfied with their second billing status. No longer are they relegated to the 'sides' section of a menu. No, meatballs have asserted their independence and taken center stage. Whether served as appetizers or as the main course, one can't help but wonder why it took so long for meatballs to finally take their rightful place on menus and our tables. Regardless of the plausibility of any one of the working theories aimed at trying to explain this long overdue meatball paradigm shift, meatball madness doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. 

These aren't your average bite-sized meatballs. No, they fall into the 'go big or go home' category. 

I have been looking for a new meatball recipe for awhile now. In the process, I discovered there are quite a few myths and mistakes surrounding them. Bon Appetit shared a number of them in an article published six years ago. From salt doesn't matter, to who needs fresh herbs, to eggs are the source of moisture, to mixing with a spoon, to one size fits all meatballs, to rolling them dry, to skipping the sear, I would venture to bet very few of us would agree they should all be universally dispelled. Particularly the 'to sear or not to sear' meatball making method. Spoiler Alert: These meatballs are first browned at high heat in the oven and then braised in marinara sauce.

If you don't yet have a favorite, beloved, to-die-for meatball recipe in your arsenal, then today is your lucky day. 

Honestly I was tempted to use a jarred tomato sauce when making these meatballs. You know, the semi-homemade, how is easy is that approach we have all found ourselves doing at one time or another. But this wasn't going to be one of those times. And the decision to stay on the completely homemade course allowed me to discover the deliciousness of this marinara sauce. Seriously, is there anything easier to make than a marinara? This one comes together in less than hour and delivers big, bold flavors. One the best things about a homemade marinara sauce is that it can be made early in the day or the day before. Enhanced flavor is an added benefit of giving it some rest time. 

Making meatballs is a messy business. But using your hands instead of a spoon or food processor helps to ensure you don't end up with an over mixed paste. So get ready to get your hands dirty! These meatballs are made with the trifecta of ground meats (beef, pork, and veal), fresh bread crumbs, whole milk ricotta, eggs, fresh herbs, spices, kosher salt, and pepper.

Using an ice cream scoop helps to create uniform size meatballs. Using a scoop 2 1/4" in diameter, this recipe makes 20-22 meatballs. Twenty of them fit perfectly in a lightly oiled 9"x13" pan (I threw the other two in the freezer.) In a preheated 425 degree (F) oven, the meatballs first bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Before adding the marinara sauce to the pan, it's critical you drain the liquified excess fat. Once drained, pour three cups of the marinara sauce over the meatballs and bake them for approximately one hour at a lowered 325 degree (F) temperature. You might think the meatballs would dry out with such a long baking time, but they don't. The marinara sauces serves as a braising liquid and keeps them moist. An added benefit to the long baking time further is an even deeper flavor to the marinara sauce. Notes: The meatballs can be formed early in day. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Remove from oven for approximately 30 minutes before baking.

There are a number of finishing options for these meatballs. The simplest one is sprinkling them with freshly chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Don't forget the garlic bread and/or garlic bread sticks.

To kick them up a notch, top the meatballs with thinly sliced pieces of fresh mozzarella, return to a hot oven (450 degrees F) for approximately 5 minutes to let the cheese melt. Then finish with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and chopped fresh herbs (parsley and/or basil). Whether you serve them just like this or turn them into meatball sliders, everyone will be swooning over them.

When plating the meatballs, serve with either a side of remaining warmed marinara sauce or set them atop a small pool marinara sauce. Have some garlic bread and/or garlic sticks within reach so everyone can mop up the marinara. Trust me when I say it would be akin to committing a sin to leave any of this mouthwatering marinara sauce on the plate.

Invite some of your family and friends over and make these Meatballs in Marinara. Soon! Open up a couple bottles of a great red wine and make some garlic bread/garlic breadsticks or slice up a dense Italian bread. You will be guaranteed a memorable, fun, 'they will be talking about this for days' evening. Unless, of course, your choice of wine is, well, how shall I put it.....lackluster. 

I will venture to guess these Meatballs in Marinara are destined to become your favorites. However, in case you ever get tired of making THESE meatballs, there are several other meatball recipes on the blog: Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberries; Chile-Cumin Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt and Cucumbers; and Bucatini and Meatballs. Wishing you many happy meatball moments!

Meatballs in Marinara (inspired by Fine Cooking's Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe)
Makes 20-22 very large meatballs

Marinara Sauce
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 cans (26-28 ounce sized) diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound ground beef (80-85%)
1 pound ground pork
12 ounces ground veal
2 cups fresh coarse bread crumbs
1 cup whole milk ricotta
4 large eggs
4 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano or 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper

1. Heat olive oil in heavy duty large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, oregano, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring often until the onion is soft (approximately 6-10 minutes).
2. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until darkened (approximately 3-4 minutes).
3. Add the diced tomatoes and salt. 
4. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce has reduced by about a third (approximately 40-60 minutes).
5. Remove bay leaf and season to taste with additional salt.
6. Transfer sauce to a food processor and puree. Return sauce back to pan, cover, and keep warm.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F). Oil a 9"x13" baking pan with olive oil. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the ground meats, breadcrumbs, ricotta, eggs, parsley, oregano, fennel seed, Aleppo pepper, salt and pepper. Mix gently but thorough with your hands.
3. Using a large ice cream scoop, make 20-22 meatballs 2 1/4" in diameter. Roll the meatballs to make them round. Arrange snugly in the baking pan.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops of the meatballs have lightly browned. Remove from oven, remove and drain the excess fat.
5. Decrease oven temperature to 325 degrees (F).
6. Pour 3 cups of the sauce over the meatballs. Return to oven and continue to bake for 60 minutes.
7. Choose a finishing option. Serve with additional Marinara Sauce and garlic bread sticks or on top of buttered/grilled small rolls to make Meatball Sliders.
8. Wrap any leftover meatballs and marinara sauce and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. They reheat beautifully.

Finishing Options:
1. Sprinkle top of the meatballs with chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmesan Cheese.
2. Place thin slices of fresh mozzarella over the meatballs, place in a 450 degree (F) oven and bake until cheese begins to melt (approximately 5 minutes. Sprinkle top of the meatballs with chopped parsley and/or thinly sliced basil and freshly grated Parmigianno-Regianno Cheese.

Notes: (1) Make your breadcrumbs in a food processor. I like to use ciabatta rolls when making fresh, coarse breadcrumbs. If ciabatta is not available, use another dense bread. (2) The marinara sauce can be made earlier in the day or the day before. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. After removing three cups of the sauce to pour over the meatballs, reheat remaining sauce when ready to serve. (3) If you don't have time to make your own marinara, use your favorite jarred marinara sauce. But don't tell anyone I told you to do this. (4) I used BelGioioso's whole milk ricotta and fresh mozzarella.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Rosemary Roasted Cashews

We celebrated the birthday of one of our friends this past weekend. This birthday gathering might best be described as an adult birthday party complete with a destination activity. Before we sat by the fire indulging ourselves in bottles of (my new favorite) Italian prosecco, some appetizers, a simple dinner, and of course, the birthday girl's favorite combination of flavors cake (peanut butter and chocolate), we spent two hours at the 'barre'. Depending on one's perspective, this was either two hours of 'pure' joy or two hours of being semi-permanently traumatized looking at yourself close-up in the mirror. But in all seriousness, doing any form of exercise with a group of friends, for however long or however challenging, is always so much more fun than doing it alone. There are an infinite number of reasons why we all love this collective friendship. Encouraging each another to be physically healthy and active is just one of them. Celebrating important life events together is another. I could go endlessly listing the mutual benefits everyone gets from this posse's friendship.

Being one of the Type A personalities in the group, I love when I get to host any of our gatherings here at my house. What I love even more is how generous everyone contributes, how comfortable everyone seems to feel when they are here as well as witnessing them experience a dish for the 'first' time. Whether it's a lox platter, a Dutch Baby, tomato jam, an Elderflower cordial, or these Rosemary Roasted Cashews, their reactions always make my heart happy.

I thought I had already shared my version of Ina Garten's Rosemary Roasted Cashews with you, but apparently I had only shared my variation of her Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts recipe. There are similarities and differences between the two so you need to have both of them. The Rosemary Roasted Cashews are made only with cashews, while the Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts recipe is made with cashews, walnuts, and walnuts. While most of the other ingredients between the two are similar, one uses maple syrup and one doesn't. This is the version that doesn't. 

This is a six ingredient appetizer. Depending on where you live or whether or not you have the uncanny ability to keep your herbs alive indoors during the winter months, fresh rosemary is available year round in most grocery stores. In spite of what you may read, dried rosemary isn't always a substitute for the fresh stuff. If there was ever a dish to prove that 'theory bordering on fact', it would be this one. In a pinch you probably could swap out the dark brown sugar for light brown sugar, but your Rosemary Roasted Cashews might suffer from a depth of sweetness. For optimal eating pleasure and presentation, splurge on whole cashews.

From start to finish, these Rosemary Roasted Cashews take about 20 minutes. They are one of those no fuss, simple appetizer that everyone will go nut for (please forgive the pun). In a preheated 375 degree (F) the cashews are roasted for approximately 10 minutes or until heated through.

The roasted cashews are stirred into the rosemary/chipotle chile/dark brown sugar/kosher salt/rosemary/melted butter mixture until they are coated. Making these Rosemary Roasted Cashews could not be easier. Once you taste them, you will think twice about serving 'naked' cashews. 

These Rosemary Roasted Cashews are highly addictive. It is almost impossible to eat only a few. Even for those who boast of having incredible will power. Recommended to be served warm, they are also sinfully delicious served at room temperature. The taste of the chipotle chile is detectable but subtle. They are definitely not like the 'hot' version I once made for a golf outing an extremely hot, humid, sunny day. When combined with the rosemary, brown sugar and kosher salt the cashews are transformed in a most savory, flavorful bite. They paired perfectly with prosecco, but these cashews are wine, champagne, cocktail, and beer friendly. In other words, serve them with your favorite beverages. When you make these Rosemary Roasted Cashews, your house just might become the one everyone wants to come to or come back to. 

Rosemary Roasted Cashews (slight adaptation to Ina Garten's Roasted Rosemary Cashews recipe)

1 1/4 pounds whole cashews
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile spice (or cayenne) Note: I use this one made by Spice Islands.
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).
2. Combine the rosemary, chipotle chile, brown sugar, kosher salt, and melted butter in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Set aside.
3. Place cashews on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until they are warmed through.
4. Toss the warm cashews with the rosemary mixture until they are completely coated.
5. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature.
6. If making ahead, allow to cool before transferring to a tightly sealed container. 

Notes: (1) In spite of the use of kosher salt in the coating, I use roasted and salted whole cashews instead of raw (unsalted) cashews as the rosemary coating doesn't adhere to the raw cashews. (2) I have made these Rosemary Roasted Cashews using both chipotle chile and cayenne. The ones made with the chipotle chile are my favorite. (3) For the most flavorful nuts, use fresh rosemary. Don't even think about using dried rosemary.

Sunrise views from the cottage. Little Compton, Rhode Island (2017)

Monday, November 20, 2017

Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa with Whipped Cream Cheese

In spite of all of the attention the turkey, the sides, and the desserts get on Thanksgiving Day, the unsung heroes of the day might just be the appetizers. Especially if the time between your expected arrival and when dinner is actually served can be as much as two or three hours. If you have ever starved yourself all morning in anticipation of not showing any restraint with how much food you put on your plate, you know waiting an hour in a house filled with intoxicating Thanksgiving aromas is a form of torture. And in spite of what myths or old wives tales you have been told, appetizers don't alway spoil your appetite. They actually keep you from acting as if you have never seen food before. In other words, appetizers enable you to demonstrate enviable social graces and the table manners every Emily Post-esq etiquette teacher in the world would be proud of.

In decades of either making or being invited to Thanksgiving dinners, I somehow managed to never come across Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa with Whipped Cream Cheese. I learned there was such a thing last week while I was getting my hair cut. Had I not asked my hair stylist what she was bringing to her family Thanksgiving dinner, who knows how long, or if ever for that matter, it be before I ever tasted the New England meets the Southwest Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa. The idea of this salsa was so intriguing, I began looking for recipes the moment I arrived home. I discovered I clearly have been living a salsa sheltered life, as there were literally hundreds of Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa recipes out there. After reviewing about a dozen of them (as exhaustive as a search as was needed), I realized I had enough information to decide how much heat and sweet I wanted my Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa to have. I also knew it wouldn't be one served slathered over a cream cheese log as I am a big believer in 'everyone should decide just how much cream cheese and just how much salsa they want' spread on their crackers. But there was another compelling reason. How many time have you arrived late to a gathering only to find that all of the good stuff put on top of the cream cheese had been scraped away? Even if it has only happened to you once, you remember wondering what you had missed out on.

For years I, along with Ina Garten, had not been a big fan of cilantro. Whether my palate is changing or not, I have finally seen the cilantro light. However, if you are already a big fan of this herb, you are going to love this Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa. But if you have been a cilantro hold-out like me, this salsa might be enough to convert you. 

With so many cranberry dishes vying for attention on Thanksgiving Day, why would any one consider adding one more? Because everyone needs at least one savory cranberry option to offset all of the sweet versions being served. But don't let me pigeon-hole this salsa into a 'make only on Thanksgiving Day' appetizer. No. It's one that should be made as often as possible while fresh cranberries are in season.

While perusing Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa recipes, every single one of them was made entirely in the food processor. Being concerned the cranberries would be over processed and the resulting salsa would be more mush than textured, I went with the 'pulse the cranberries in the food processor until coarsely chopped and dice/finely dice everything else route'. 

After the mixture macerated in the refrigerator overnight, I knew the extra chopping time was worth it. Sometimes a little more work makes all the difference in the world. 

Depending on how much heat you like, you will want to use either one or two jalapeños as well as decide whether or not to keep or scrape out the seeds. I used one large jalapeño and didn't throw away the seeds. As someone who isn't the biggest of fan of too spicy, the salsa turned out to have the right kind of spicy. In other words, consider keeping the seeds.

Many of the Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa recipes I looked at called for adding lemon juice. Some called for lime juice and then others gave the either/or option. My so-called logic for choosing lime juice over lemon juice was due in to large part to associating salsa with margaritas. Since the classic margarita is made with lime juice, then it seemed only natural this salsa would be made with lime juice rather than lemon juice. 

To optimize the salsa's flavor, it needs to be refrigerated for at least four hours or overnight. I patiently waited almost 24 hours before giving it the 'taste' test. 

As it turned out, the wait was definitely worth it. 

The combination of the cool, creamy cream cheese with the flavors of the sweet/spicy salsa is a match made in heaven appetizer. I will even go so far as to say it's a little on the addictive side. Seriously. Or could it be I am so late to the Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa party I wanted to make up for lost time? Well, yes I was most definitely late, but this happens to be one of those 'hard to eat in moderation' salsas.

When serving Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa just make certain your whipped cream cheese is creamy and spreadable. If you whip up your own cream cheese (from blocks of cream cheese allowed to soften slightly), wait until you are ready to serve to get our your mixer. Or buy the always creamy in the tub cream cheese. 

For turning me on to this Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa with Whipped Cream Cheese I am going to think long and hard about a worthy Christmas present for my hair stylist. Although how to you thank someone for telling you about a 'wow on the platter and even bigger wow on your palate' appetizer you never knew even existed? Maybe something will come to me while I nosh my way through numerous batches of salsa over the next several weeks.

Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa with Whipped Cream Cheese (inspired from multiple sources)

12 ounces fresh cranberries
1-2 Jalapeños (with seeds), finely diced (I used one large Jalapeño)
4 green onions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
2 1/2 ounce bunch of fresh cilantro, stems removed, finely chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1 large or 2 small limes)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
16 ounces of cream cheese, whipped (or a 16 ounce tub of the creamy vs block cream cheese)
Assorted crackers and/or nacho chips

1. Place cranberries in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer cranberries to a medium sized bowl.
2. Mix in the jalapeños, onions, sugar, salt, and lime juice. Stir until blended.
3. Add in cilantro. Stir until combined.
4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer mixture to tightly sealed jars and store in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. 
5. When ready to serve, place cranberry jalapeño salsa in a small bowl. Place whipped cream cheese in a separate bowl. 
6. Arrange bowls on a serving tray and surround with crackers. Serve immediately.

Notes: (1) To whip cream cheese, allow blocks of cream cheese to soften slightly. Whip with a hand mixer. Alternately buy already whipped cream cheese. (2) Some prefer to serve the Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa over a log of the cream cheese, however, depending on how long the appetizer sits out, the cream cheese will become saturated with the salsa liquid. (3) Many recipes for the Cranberry Jalapeño Salsa called for all of the ingredients to processed in the food processor. I think chopping the Jalapeños, green onions, and cilantro separately ensures the cranberries to do get finely chopped. (4) If you don't want the added heat from the seeds of the Jalapeños, scrape them out before finely dicing

Silos and farms in southern Wisconsin (November 2017)