Last month we kicked off our recipe contest in search of the perfect party dip by asking for your favorite recipes.
After four weeks, three elimination rounds and two nights of tasting, we finally have one winner from our 48 recipe contestants.
When Tony and I sat down to select our 12 semifinalists from the pool of entries, we knew we had an arduous task ahead, so we asked ourselves: What makes a perfect party dip?
1. Tasty: The perfect party dip should be a crowd-pleaser, one that has a broad-based appeal for every appetite.
2. Easy: The recipe should be a breeze to prepare in just a few steps, and consist of common pantry items or ingredients that are easy to find in a local grocery store, even when at the lake.
3. Affordable: The dip should also be easy on the pocketbook so that the recipe can be doubled (or tripled) for bigger crowds.
4. Appealing: The perfect party-pleaser must have wow factor. It should be visually appetizing and able to stand out on a crowded party buffet.
5. Versatile: The winner should have some versatility when it comes to dipping items so you can use whatever you might have available in your pantry.
Once we'd chosen our top 12, we invited a panel of seven judges to taste and rank each dip. We then invited the public to choose the winning party dip. Our six finalists presented a well-balanced party table, featuring three cold dips and three hot dips, all varying in style and taste.
We conducted our public taste-and-vote event two nights at Sarello's to draw a wide sampling from the public. With more than 70 votes cast, we emerged with only three votes separating the top three party dips: Peggy Fisher's Hot Beef Taco Dip, Sherre Sattler's Jalapeno Popper Dip, and Jean Eppler's Cranberries Gone Wild Dip.
In the end, only one party dip could be named perfect, and the winner is Eppler of Fargo. The first-grade teacher at Nativity Elementary School was inspired by a recipe she found two years ago. She adapted it as her own by adding or adjusting several ingredients.
"Whenever I bring this dip to an event, people always ask, 'What IS it?' " Eppler said. "They assume at first that the red fruit is pomegranate and are surprised to find out it's actually cranberries."
Eppler says she doesn't even particularly like cranberries but loves this dip.
For our part, we were initially attracted to the gorgeous picture Jean included with her entry and loved the festive red, white and green colors, which make it perfect for a holiday or Italian-themed party. For all its beauty, this dip is surprisingly easy to make.
As our winner, Eppler receives a prize package valued at $450 and designed to help her celebrate her win and enhance her party dip pantry including:
E A Four-Course Dinner for Two at Sarello's.
E One Daily Bread each month for a year, and dipping oils and vinegar from Breadsmith of Fargo.
E A piece of original pottery from North Dakota potter Tama Smith, of Prairie Fire Pottery, Beach, N.D.
E The opportunity to appear with Tony in a demonstration video on InforumTV.com.
E A $50 Gift Card to Hornbacher's.
Thanks to everyone who shared a recipe with us. You can find all of the recipes on our blog at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com.
We had so much fun with this event, and can't wait to share the details for our next contest with you so stay tuned.
Jean Eppler's Cranberries Gone Wild Dip
12-ounce package fresh cranberries
1 bunch green onion, chopped
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper
1¼ cup sugar
¼ heaping teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Dash kosher salt
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, freshly whipped (use a mixer to whip the cheese just before serving).
Lime tortilla chips
Chop cranberries in a food processor.
Cut up your green onion, cilantro, and jalapeno pepper into small pieces.
Mix all ingredients (except cream cheese and chips) in a bowl, cover and store in the fridge for at least four hours. The sugar needs some time to soak into the cranberries and break up their bitter taste.
When you are ready to serve, spread cream cheese on a platter.
Pour cranberry mixture over the cream cheese.
Serve with lime chips and a margarita.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com