Growing up with family in the food business (both sets of grandparents in delis, everyone else in distribution) doesn't translate into what you think it does when it comes to the holidays.
Time-consuming, all-day cooking projects? Not happening. Nearly everyone has to work right up to the last minute. So instead, we have a spread of no-fuss snacks (celery sticks filled with cream cheese), make-ahead supermarket specials (like this Oreo ice cream cake), a smattering of deli specialties (including a most perfect rice pudding) and a big ol' ham that's worth the wait.
While our meals have evolved over the years, our appreciation for low-brow, mostly store-bought deliciousness has not. So when a friend showed up six years ago with a container of red pepper jelly, a block of cream cheese and a box of Ritz Crackers in hand, we didn't bat an eye. Actually, we devoured it and then demanded the recipe.
Turned out the instant family classic was as easy as we hoped. You start with four red peppers, a cup of white wine vinegar and one-and-a-half cups of sugar. That's it. Core the peppers, throw them in a food processor and let them whirl. Once they're chopped nice and fine, strain them. Technically, our friend says to press out the liquid over two hours. But I don't have the patience for that, so I squeeze the heck out of them with a paper towel for the same effect.
Now put the peppers, vinegar and sugar in a pot, bring all it to a boil and then let it simmer. At this point, I go about my merry business (read: having a glass of sherry) and check on it every 20 minutes or so. It takes about an hour for the extra liquid to boil off. To test if it's done, I go for the tried-and-true practice of putting a bit on a spoon and leaving it in the freezer for a minute. If it comes out the right jammy consistency, great. If not, let it boil a bit longer. (Word to the wise: Better to undercook than overcook. If it's too watery, you can throw it back on the heat.)
Then into the fridge it goes. I recommend making it a day or even a few days before you want to serve it, so that when you're ready, you just slap a block of cream cheese on a plate and pour that sweetly acidic jam right on top.
All that's left is to open a sleeve of Ritz and give the people what they want.
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