Got cranberries? Versatile fruit adds color, flavor to holiday meals
The fun and festive holiday season is upon us. In my quest for keeping my stress levels low and my spirits high, I'm keeping everything as simple as possible this year.
Spicy Cranberry Cream Cheese Pastry Bites is an appetizer I will be making all through the holidays to take to every single event that I'm asked to bring nibbles to share. And everyone who comes to my house will be served these luscious little sweet, tart, spicy, creamy, crispy bites.
I've stocked up on cranberries, cream cheese and boxes of frozen puff pastry. I've got a jar filled with cinnamon sticks sitting on my counter, looking very festive. A bottle of my favorite hot pepper sauce is in the refrigerator and a chunk of gingerroot in the same place should last through the holidays.
I'm ready. No sweat, no stress.
First, the cranberries can be cooked and strained. I keep the strained syrup in a small teapot with a tight-fitting lid in my refrigerator. This way, the syrup can easily be poured into the blender when I make my smoothie, stirred into a cup of hot tea, or maybe added to some fancy holiday cocktail for color and flavor.
The strained cranberry syrup can make you look like a laid-back, everything-under-control kind of gourmet in the kitchen. You really will impress your guests when they see you pull out the prepared syrup to add to their beverage.
The cranberries. Oh, the cranberries. Thick and sparkling with a bright surprise of fresh ginger, hints of cinnamon, pumped with the heat of hot pepper sauce. Sitting pretty in the refrigerator for up to a week, it's a miracle mixture just waiting to be turned into something amazing. That's easy.
When Spiced Cranberries are blended with a chunk of cream cheese and piped onto small pastry rounds, a pistachio tucked into each one, they are beautiful. And seductively addicting.
Don't need anything so fancy to take to the holiday potluck? Just spread the cream cheese on a plate and cover it with the Spicy Cranberry mixture that you can pull out of your refrigerator, sprinkle it with some chopped pistachios and pack a couple of boxes of crackers to take along. Remember a tool for hungry people to use for spreading the mixture onto the crackers.
Puff Pastry Crisps bake thinner, like a cracker, when they are weighted down with another baking sheet while in the oven. They can be made ahead and stored, tightly sealed, at room temperature.
Be prepared. Be stress free. Be happy this holiday season.
Spicy Cranberry Cream Cheese Pastry Bites
Spicy Cranberry Cream Cheese:
1 (12-ounce) bag or 3 cups whole fresh cranberries
2 cups sugar
5 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
35 pistachio nuts, for garnish
Puff Pastry Crisps:
1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, from a 17.3-ounce package (1/2 package), thawed overnight in refrigerator
All-purpose flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Rinse cranberries and pick out any bad berries. Place cranberries in saucepan with sugar, cinnamon sticks and water. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and cook until cranberries are soft, about 5 minutes. As the cranberries cook, smash them with a potato masher or a fork.
Pour the cranberry mixture into a strainer placed over a glass bowl. Strain the syrup into the bowl. Remove cinnamon sticks from the strainer. Transfer the cranberry solids to a mixing bowl. Pour strained syrup into a jar, seal and refrigerate.
Add hot pepper sauce and grated ginger to cooked cranberries. At this point, cranberry mixture can be covered and refrigerated for up to a week.
To make the pastry crisps, allow refrigerated puff pastry sheet to sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Have ready 2 identically sized rimmed baking sheets. Line 1 pan with parchment paper, and have ready a second sheet of parchment paper the same size.
Unfold the pastry sheet and place it on a lightly floured cutting board. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry just enough to remove the fold marks. Using a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out about 35 rounds. Place the rounds on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops of the rounds with the beaten egg, being careful the egg doesn't run down the sides. Cover with the second sheet of parchment, and place the second (empty) baking sheet on top, so the baking sheets nest together. (This will keep the pastry even and prevent it from rising too much, creating crisp wafers.) Bake until crisp and light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the top baking sheet and piece of parchment and let the Crisps cool on the pan on a wire rack. (The Crisps can be made up to 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.)
Using an electric hand mixer, blend softened cream cheese with spicy cranberry mixture.
Spoon the cranberry cream cheese topping into a pastry bag fitted with a wide, open star tip and pipe a rosette onto the center of each Crisp. Alternatively, use a butter knife to apply a delicate dab of the Spicy Cranberry Cream Cheese to the top of each Crisp. Top each rosette or dab with a pistachio. Arrange on a platter and serve at room temperature. Makes 35.
Tips from the cook
--Add the refrigerated strained cranberry syrup to your morning smoothie. Use it in your holiday punch bowl. Or, create a festive non-alcoholic beverage by stirring 4 tablespoons of syrup into 8 ounces of sparkling water for each serving. Garnish with a slice of fresh lime.
--If you don't need the holiday-fancy look, just spread the Spicy Cranberry sauce over the 8-ounce chunk of cream cheese, sprinkle it with some chopped pistachio nuts and have a basket of crackers ready for guests to serve themselves.