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Cranberry Holiday Salsa

Image of Cranberry Holiday Salsa
Here’s a healthy holiday appetizer dressed in the colors of the season, which will contribute a tasty mix of both sweet and spicy to the festivities! A favorite dish of Robert Schueller, Melissa’s longtime Director of Public Relations, who adopted it many years ago and has now become a tradition in the Schueller household, served several times at this time of year.

“Actually, I was watching my weight around the holiday season and found this recipe about fifteen years ago in a magazine focused on cooking light,” Robert recalled. “The first time I served the salsa with crackers and cream cheese was before Thanksgiving dinner, and it was an instant hit. So I started making it on Christmas day, and now we enjoy it three times a year as the dish has also become a family tradition for New Year’s Eve celebrations too! What elevates this addictive appetizer to “very special” is using only fresh cranberries when they are in season.”

Both of Robert’s descriptions hit the mark – very special and very addictive! While salsa is the Spanish word for sauce, those conquering conquistadors were only naming the condiment mixture of peppers, tomatoes, squash, and beans they noticed the Aztecs were fond of using to flavor cooked meats. The Aztecs were definitely a culinary culture. They were the first people to domesticate the tomato, which served as the foundation for many of the sauces, salsas, and other dishes in the Aztec diet. These ancient foodies obviously broke the primitive stereotype of a kill-eat mentality in preparing their foods. Like all passionate cooks, they apparently could not resist tweaking a dish with flavorings, and the salsa was born!

OK, while there were no cranberry bogs in Northern Mexico, Robert’s recipe does include jalapeno pepper, some onion and cilantro that helps qualify the mix as a salsa. And I am sure those tweaking Aztecs would approve of the culinary creativity. Very easy to make, with a short ingredient list of a few fresh components, the recipe can be prepared quickly and will last for a week in the fridge. Like all salsas, the knife work creates the texture and is key. Meaning “minced” means just that – not diced, fine diced, or small chopped. Do all those kinds of cuts if you must, then go back and start slicing again until tiny pieces are achieved. It sounds like a little thing (no pun), and that’s the point: “Tiny” makes for a salsa’s well-balanced salsa with efficient “scoop-ability”! So put on some holiday music, pour a glass of a favorite adult beverage, think tiny and enjoy the process. ‘Tis the season!

Full Disclosure: I also suffer from a need to tweak, which for this recipe was based on a personal preference for a bit more heat, so the two tablespoons of jalapeño pepper were increased mightily. While spicy heat is a matter of taste, the sweetness of the cranberry mixture just needed more heat to deliver the right “sweet-to-spicy” ratio for my palate. The final version used two full-sized jalapeños; to each their own!
Image of Robert
Robert Schueller is Melissa’s media professional, who is in his twenty-seventh year as the company’s publicity guru. His role is to educate “the Media” in all its forms about the exciting world of fresh and processed from fresh produce products at Melissa’s, especially keeping the media informed about new items that the company is constantly introducing to the marketplace. Over the years, he has developed a network of influential media personalities who take his calls. He has also co-authored seven of Melissa’s Produce Cookbook series.

“As Public Relations Director, I am the spokesperson on behalf of the company for trade and consumer media outlets. So, I spend a lot of my time informing food bloggers, chef-writers, as well as radio and TV culinary personalities about exciting new produce items that Melissa’s may be introducing and the background on the production of each product. The goal is to create enough interest in these professionals that they will spread the word to their audiences in print, through the airwaves, or through viewership. I also attend various media events and all industry trade shows across the country where I enjoy presenting our product lines directly to merchandisers and buyers.”

When not manning Melissa’s trade show booths, schmoozing bloggers and cooking show hosts, Robert has always found nature, especially the forest, a great place to decompress. For years, he enjoyed camping and trout fishing amongst the giant redwoods in Sequoia National Park. So, about 15 years ago, he and his wife Yvonne bought a cabin in the same mountain range.

“It’s a great weekend place to enjoy nature, and the cabin is just a 4-hour drive from our home. I have seen so many of our “neighbors” out the cabin’s windows: deer, bear, bobcats, foxes, turkeys, raccoons and even a mountain lion. The critter bucket list is almost complete, though we are still waiting for our first sighting of the newest residents in the area, a pack of grey wolves. Also located just minutes from the cabin is the amazing Stagg Tree, the sixth-tallest tree in the world and the fifth-tallest redwood in Sequoia National Park. In person, the majesty and age of that tree always leave me speechless.”

Robert and Yvonne have been married for 24 years. Both their kids, Nathan and Joan, attend college locally. Robert’s oldest daughter, Tannis, was recently married. When asked for a famous person, living or from history, he would invite to enjoy a meal at his own table if he could; Robert was very quick with his answer.

“That’s easy; I would like to enjoy ANOTHER meal with Jose Andres. While it was in a group setting about 20 years ago at an event at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America), I did get to experience his passion for food and his budding dedication to feeding people in need even back then. Today, he is known for his World Central Kitchen, a non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters. It’s an amazing concept: chefs as first responders. This time, it would be a one-on-one conversation that I hope would go on for hours.”

Robert, a menu suggestion for Jose: Tell him it’s a potluck!

Cranberry Salsa over Cream Cheese
Image of Cranberry Holiday Salsa ingredients
Ingredients
3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
¼ cup green onions, minced
2 tablespoons jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded, minced
½ cup granulated sugar (or sugar substitute)
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese

Garnish:
Cilantro leaves
Jalapeño slices

Preparation
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Pick over cranberries, discarding all that are soft or bruised. Place them in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped but not mushy.
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Place crushed cranberries in a bowl and prep the rest of the ingredients on the list down to the cream cheese.
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Now add those ingredients and mix thoroughly: onions, jalapeno peppers, sugar, cilantro, ginger, and lemon juice. This mixture will be too sharp and tart to eat right off; cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours so flavors develop—overnight is best.

Plating: Center cream cheese blocks on a serving plate. Cover with the salsa, garnish with cilantro cuttings and slices of pepper. Serve with crackers.
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