DECEMBER NEWSLETTER EDIBLE GIFTS

Homemade gifts of food can be the best gifts of all.  This year, whatever your cooking skill, time allowance or budget, you can give something truly spectacular, the kind of present you wish someone would have the presence of mind to make for you.

SPICY ORANGE PECANS

Makes 4 cups 

These pecans have a shelf life of six months and while it’s a rare household that doesn’t consume the day they’re made, it’s nice to know these don’t have to be made the night before the event.  Serve these with sweet and spicy dishes, especially Chinese or Indian food; or for a sweet sensation, add to chocolate ice cream and drizzle with Grand Marnier, both of which you can also bring as accompaniments. Transport them in style in take-out containers covered with festive holiday designs.

4 cups raw pecan halves
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 large egg white
Zest of two well-washed oranges
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
Pinch black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2. Place the pecans, orange juice and egg whites in a bowl and toss until the pecans are well coated. 
3. Add the remaining ingredients and toss again. 
4. Place on the prepared sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the pecans appear dry, about 1 hour. Set aside to cool and serve immediately. 

CAESAR SALAD DRESSING

Makes 2 1/2 cups 

Caesar Salad is ubiquitous in restaurants but how many people take the time to make their own at home? Give this gift either solo, with a big hunk of Parmesan cheese or with a rotary grater. The right packaging can elevate a delicious gift into a beautiful and festive one. Having on hand a supply of assorted jars, available at hardware and specialty stores, and a supply of ribbons, whether grosgrain, polar fleece or velvet or strips of fabric, will help you accomplish this. 

4- 5 garlic cloves, sliced
3-4 anchovy filets (optional)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup fresh lemon juice  (about 4 lemons)
1 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place the garlic and if desired, the anchovy in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until they are well chopped.  
2. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until the dressing is emulsified.

CITRUS-MARINATED OLIVES

Makes about 4 cups 

These are best eaten after they’ve marinated at least two days but are equally delicious after two months. Just remember to turn the jar upside down every now and then. Wrap a raffia ribbon around the jar with a recipe card attached, or present with an inexpensive olive tray for serving.

4 cups assorted olives, such as Nicoise, Calamata, Picholine, Alphonso and Sicilian Green
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
grated zest of 2 oranges
grated zest of 2 lemons
heaping tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 

1. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine.
2. Transfer to an attractive jar with a tight cover.
3. Cover and refrigerate up to three months.

ARTICHOKE DIP 

Makes about 2 1/2 cups 

The lightest, most vegetable-laden dip I know. If you’re taking this to a party, scoop it into a beautiful blue bowl for the hostess to keep. Serve with pita chips or endive leaves.

2 cans (13.75 ounces) artichoke hearts in water (8- 10), drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley leaves or ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup sour cream or whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. Place the artichoke hearts, parsley and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until chopped. 
2. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until combined. 
3. Cover and refrigerate up to 3 days or serve immediately, garnished with additional parsley. 

BLACK CHOCOLATE BANANA MINI-BREADS

Makes 4 mini-loaves 

With two children who only eat under-ripe bananas, I was making banana bread so often no one would eat it. As soon as I morphed the recipe by adding cocoa powder, I discovered that I couldn’t make enough of these dark, chocolate-y loaves. Simply slip these loaves into a cellophane bag or tightly wrap with aluminum foil and tie with a ribbon. Small ornaments, decorative leaves, sprigs of holly and small glass balls can be attached to the ribbons for further effect.  For a more elaborate gift, pair with mini bread tins and/or a bread knife. 

4 very ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)  

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter 4 mini loaf (2 cup) pans or one loaf pan.
2. Place the bananas and sugar in the bowl of a mixer and whip for 2- 3 minutes. 
3. Add the butter, eggs and vanilla extract, whipping well and scraping down the sides of the bowl before each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon. salt, baking soda and nuts, if using. and mix to combine.  
4. Pour into the prepared pan and transfer to the oven.  Bake until firm in the center and a toothpick inserted comes out with a bit of crumb on it, about 35- 40 minutes. You can also use 16 muffin tins and bake about 15- 18 minutes or use a full size loaf pan and bake for one hour.

BURNT CARAMEL SAUCE

Makes 2 1/2 cups 

While teaching my brother how to make caramel sauce, I walked away from the stove too long and returned to smoky sugar. Since I liked the smell so much, I kept going and found I much preferred the taste to the classic version, as did all my guests (well the five-year-old wasn’t thrilled). Now I always burn the sugar.  Accompany this gift with a pint of vanilla or coffee ice cream. Or both. And simply pour into a jar and tie with a dark orange ribbon. 

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoon water
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Place the sugar and water in a pot and bring to a boil.  Continue boiling, without stirring, until it begins to color on the edges, about 2- 3 minutes.  Cook, whisking all the while, until it turns a deep brown and just begins to smell burnt, about an additional 2 minutes.  (The darker the syrup the deeper the burn, so cook accordingly). 
2. Slowly add the cream, continuing to whisk, until it is completely incorporated. 
3. Off heat, add the vanilla and salt. Cool to room temperature and then cover and refrigerate. 

CRANBERRY-APRICOT CHUTNEY

Makes 2 cups 

I make this every single year and not only serve it with turkey, slather it on roast beef sandwiches, steak, chicken and swirl it into chicken and tuna salads. It’s sweet, tangy and spicy, just like chutney should be. When giving as a gift, I always package it in a glass jelly jar and accompany it with my favorite jar of curry powder. 

1 12 ounce bag cranberries (3 cups)
3/4 cup dried apricots, cut in small dice
1/4 cup apricot nectar 
1- 2 jalapeno or chipotle chilies, minced
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Zest of one lime
Zest of one orange
3/4 cup pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped 

1. Place the cranberries, apricots, apricot nectar, chilies and sugar in a small saucepan and cook, over medium high heat, until the cranberries are soft and have absorbed all the liquid, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
2. Add the salt, lime and orange zests and the nuts.  Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.   

Other great food-gift ideas include:  

  • Exotic oils, like pumpkin seed oil
  • Maple syrup and a recipe for pancakes 
  • A basket of assorted pears
  • A few wedges of really unusual cheese, with a cheese board
  • Handmade fresh pasta accompanied by Parmesan cheese
  • Assorted spices 
  • Chocolate covered espresso beans, dried strawberries, blueberries, almonds, anything 
  • Assorted dried fruits