I am about to share with you what is literally the best sauce to pour over cream cheese.
This retro appetizer we grew up knowing as red sauce (full name: cream cheese and red sauce) is an easy to make sweet and sour sauce that is sheer perfection when poured over a block of cream cheese and then spread onto your favorite crackers.
Fans of retro appetizers, you might also want to set up your appetizer table with a port wine cheese ball or another of our favorites growing up, poppy seed ham and cheese sliders.
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Delicious Christmas Traditions
Every year that we were in town for Christmas and not at Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray’s in New Jersey, we went to Queenie and Ivan’s Christmas Eve Party. And an epic party it was.
Adults wearing everything from tacky holiday sweaters to long dresses adorned with crystals talked and laughed; drank and ate. And drank.
It was a loud party; it was a fabulous party; it was a delicious party.
It was the kind of party where, even if you only saw these folks once a year at the party, you brought them a little Christmas treat.
As little kids, we all played together almost every day anyway. At the Christmas party, we just played in nicer clothes.
As we got older and went away to college, we kids would carve out a space in the downstairs rec room and pull up chairs. We’d catch up, first with sodas and then over beer and wine. The Christmas Eve Party was our touchstone.
Everyone brought food. All the women and some of the men had their specialties that had to make an appearance lest they not be invited back the next year.
My mom made cheese olive puffs. Queenie made Nuts & Bolts–the real kind, back before crazy fake blends of crackers were sold as “Party Mix.”
Ivan’s mom Ethel made vegetable sandwiches. Incidentally, I’m in charge of the vegetable sandwiches now since Ethel died this year. I will endeavor to do her proud.
Queenie often made those fantastic little ham and cheese “biscuits,” the kind with the poppy seed and mustard spread.
Sauces to Pour Over Cream Cheese
And then there was red sauce.
I don’t know if there was one specific person in charge of making the red sauce since it was a neighborhood recipe. But someone brought it every year.
Or a jar of hot pepper raspberry preserves. Yeah.
But for me, red sauce is the hands down best.
What Does Red Sauce Taste Like?
How to describe red sauce to you?
It is ketchup based.
It’s sweet and sour and one of the tangiest sauces ever.
It’s unapologetically neon red, just a tiny bit spicy and so very moreish that there is rarely any left once I get started.
If I run out of cream cheese, I just shrug and eat it without.
It’s one of those recipes from the 70s that combines a bunch of different prepared products that don’t sound like they should go together.
Reading the ingredient list is like listening to a symphony warm up. Nobody is playing with anyone else.
The oboist is playing in one key while the flutist is playing in another and the viola is playing in a third.
And then, the lights dim and come back up, and the symphony plays in harmony.
That’s what happens with red sauce.
So What’s In This Magical Appetizer Sauce?
Here’s the admittedly odd ingredient list:
- A1 Steak Sauce
- chopped onion
- minced garlic
- black pepper
- yellow mustard
- freshly squeezed lemon juice
Right? I know it sounds crazy. But all it takes is simmering all these ingredients together for 10 minutes to make the best sweet and sour, hard to stop eating, most delicious sauce ever to be poured over a (very lucky) block of cream cheese.
I wish I could explain to you how much I love this stuff. I know it sounds kind of odd what with the ketchup and A-1 and mustard and all, but man is it good!
Where Did This Sauce Come From?
Please make some and then come back and tell me how much you enjoyed it, and then pass the recipe along because there is very little mention of it at all on the Internet.
Of course I checked, and the only reference to it I saw on the entire Internet is a post from 2011 in a now-defunct forum.
A forlorn person was asking–nay begging–for the recipe that they remembered from their childhood in the 1970s.
Someone shared a red sauce recipe, but it’s not this one. And this one is The Best. I hope they find it, because their search is over.
While the origins of this sauce may be shrouded in mystery, my guess is it was developed for a magazine back in maybe the late 60’s. One of those recipes designed to feature sponsors’ ingredients.
Whoever the recipe developer was, I wish I could give them a hug.
How To Serve Cream Cheese and Red Sauce
For a party, you’re supposed to pour red sauce on a block of cream cheese so it cascades down the sides.
The best crackers to eat with it are ones that have a fairly neutral flavor like Ritz or Captains wafers or any sort of butter cracker.
I only had Triscuits, and they work fine to get it to your mouth, but the crunch and assertive wheatiness of them tend to fight with the sauce.
Buy some unassuming crackers to play Barbara Hershey to the red sauce’s Bette Midler, and get yourself to the kitchen to whip up a vat.
If you want to go with homemade crackers, you might like my spent grain crackers. They have good flavor on their own, but the texture and flavor won’t fight with the tang of the sauce.
What’s your favorite retro holiday appetizer that you couldn’t get enough of as a kid (or now)?
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 Tablespoon A-1 Steak Sauce
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon table salt)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard
- 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Put all the ingredients in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until it comes to a boil.
- Simmer 10 minutes, then cool.
- Serve chilled over cream cheese with crackers.
You can play with this recipe if you want, changing up proportions or trying it with Dijon mustard, but I implore you to try it exactly as written. I am telling you; it is perfect.
You can easily double this recipe, and you will not regret it.
Nutritional Information is based on a serving size of approximately 2 tablespoons. Expect to eat much more than that. The nutritionals only reflect the calories in the red sauce and not in the crackers or cream cheese.
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Nutrition InformationYield 16 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 49Total Fat 0gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 0gCholesterol 0mgSodium 177mgCarbohydrates 13gFiber 0gSugar 12gProtein 0g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
Thanks for reading, friends, and I hope cream cheese and red sauce finds its way onto your holiday appetizer list this year.
Take care, and have a lovely day.