Faith's invitation to write a guest post with a Homemade Holiday theme prompted me to remember those wild and crazy holiday parties my parents threw when I was just a cub. My mother made a fabulous appetizer whereby she took a block of Philadelphia brand cream cheese and a jar of apple jelly — I can't remember exactly, but I'd bet a locavore's toe (that would be mine) that it was Smuckers — and a couple of teaspoons of prepared horseradish and voilà!
Her technique was to disrobe the entire package of cream cheese and center it on a tray, stir the horseradish into the jelly and pour the mixture over the rectangle, making sure it oozed down the sides just so. The ubiquitous (at least in my house) Ritz crackers were placed invitingly around the perimeter of the platter.
I do understand that my mother's famous party dish may have lost some of its allure in our world of No Reservations, Martha, and heck, the entire sustainable food movement. But I'm here to say; that creamy, spicy-sweet combo landing between your teeth with a salty, festive crunch was the perfect combination. A party in your mouth if you will. So I set out to update this classic.
As an avid home canner, the preserves were as close as my larder shelves. If you haven't jumped on the preserving train yet (we can talk about that later) getting your paws on homemade preserves these days is easier than you may think. I'm willing to bet you have a friend that makes his own jams and is planning right this very minute to place one in your hands at your upcoming swanky holiday soiree. If not, there's a whole slew of artisan preserves at your nearest holiday farmers' market just waiting to come home with you. The farmers' market is the perfect place to find local soft cheeses too.
You'll most likely find some sort of berry-chile or berry-pepper jam as they are quite the rage right now. Most like my mother's combo, this type of preserve goes perfectly on a mild, fresh cheese. A simple chevre would be divine. I paired my Smokin' Strawberry (strawberries and chipotle) with 3-Corner Field Farm's Brebis Blanche, a soft and crumbly sheep's cheese with an ever-so-slight tang.
Taking it further than could probably ever be imagined in a suburban American 80's household, I moved on to those lovely rounds of cheese whose semi-soft buttery insides are embraced by downy white mushroom-scented rinds. If you're feeling goaty Lazy Lady Farm's Sweet Emotions is a great choice, or try Old Chatham's Hudson Valley Camembert for a luscious cow-sheep mix. A spicy chutney — I used my Spicy Chewy Dried Fruit Chutney — atop these buttons will make the whole lot disappear in no time, I assure you.
It's probably blasphemous that I even attempted to sweet top Uplands' Rush Creek Reserve, one of those thick-rinded and salty cow cheeses that needs no other prompting than a room temperature jaunt to turn into fondu on the plate. It's a delicious mess that gets even more delicious and messy with the addition of a straight-up hot and sweet preserve swiped over the top. I used my Plum Hot Jelly, but any good jalapeño or pepper jelly will do, and will surely be easy to come by. A word of caution, serve this one with a spoon.
Some final advice, you'll want to make sure the crackers add a bit of salt to bring the whole thing to the level of my mom's cream cheese-Smuckers-Ritz combo. Even those are not so hard to come by these days in artisan form.
So you see, with a little bit of planning you can offer up a party dish that has stood the test of time, enjoying both the convenience so revered in days gone by and your friends' faces as they lick their foodie fingers clean.
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(Images: Tigress of Tigress in a Jam)