In many places, it is customary to bring a gift of food when paying a special visit to a neighbor or a member of the family. On holidays, too, gifts of homemade food are the expressions of a heartfelt and sincere desire to share good things with others.
Gifts affectionately made in your kitchen are the perfect one-size-fits-all present. Who doesn't love food? Gifts from your kitchen are very personal, but they're not the sort of thing that makes anyone feel uncomfortable. They're perfect for the mailman, the teacher, a co-worker or that new person you've just started dating, especially if you're not sure if you're at that critical "gift giving" stage of the relationship yet.
Making gifts in your kitchen can also save you money, but instead of looking cheap, you'll come out smelling like a rose! (Or in this case, smelling of lavender and cinnamon.) Furthermore, if you're the type of person who never goes near the kitchen, the recipients of your gifts will be extra delighted to know you spent time and gave of yourself, a commodity that's all too lacking in today's busy world.
The art and custom of giving gifts of food is not as popular here in the United States as it is in other countries, and that's a shame. These recipes, which can be created in your kitchen, the heart of your home, will inspire anyone who loves to give or receive a gift from the heart.
Next week I will bring you part two of the Foodstuff Holiday Newsletter, full of wonderful gifts to buy the cook in your life.
There are two methods of determining when candy has been cooked to the proper consistency. One is by using a candy thermometer and the other is the cold water test. For the wonderfully creamy consistency you want with fudge, your base mixture (sugar, water, etc.) should come to between 234-238 degrees on the candy thermometer. If you don't have a thermometer, then you must use the cold water test. Use a fresh cupful of cold water for each test. Remove the sugar mixture from the heat and drop about 1/2 teaspoon of it into the cold water. Pick it up and roll into a ball, if possible. If the candy rolls into a soft ball which quickly loses its shape when removed from the water, it's perfect for fudge. If the mixture rolls into a firm, but not hard ball, and flattens out a few minutes after being removed from the water, your fudge will have the consistency of a caramel or even taffy, so be careful not to go too far with boiling the base.
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup marshmallow cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
Line a standard size loaf pan (5x9x3-inch) with foil or parchment paper. In a metal bowl, stir together the bittersweet and milk chocolate, marshmallow cream and vanilla; set aside.
In a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the sugar, condensed milk, water, cream and butter. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush down the sides of the pan to prevent sugar crystals from forming. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high and clip a candy thermometer onto the pan (if you have one). Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly but slowly until the mixture reaches 234 degrees on the thermometer, about 9 or 10 minutes.
Pour the boiling mixture over the chocolate and marshmallow cream mixture in the metal bowl. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the chocolate melts and the fudge thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the nuts. Pour the fudge into the pan and smooth with a rubber spatula. Cool until firm, about 1 hour.
When well chilled, trim the edges evenly and cut into 32 pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature.
Present these wrapped in cellophane and tied with a festive ribbon.
3 quarts freshly popped corn (about 1/2 cup unpopped)
2 cups of your favorite nuts, cashews, macadamia, pecans or walnuts, or a combination of these
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 stick of butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Butter a large roasting pan. Combine the popped corn and nuts in the prepared pan, mixing well. Place in the oven while it is heating.
In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt. Bring to a medium boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Boil for 4 minutes without stirring. Remove from the heat and mix in the vanilla and baking soda. Gradually pour the glaze over the popped corn mixture, stirring to coat well. Allow to cool enough to be workable. Scoop up and shape into balls. I use rubber gloves or heavy freezer bags to protect my hands if the mixture is too hot.
Makes about a dozen baseball-sized balls.
1 egg white, stiffly beaten
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, or nuts of your choice
Pinch of salt
Red or green food coloring (optional)
In a large bowl, beat the egg white until stiff and set aside. In a saucepan, boil the sugar, water and syrup while stirring gently. The mixture is done at 245 degrees or if it forms a firm ball when dropped into cold water. Pour the mixture over the beaten egg white, beating continually. Add vanilla, nuts and a pinch of salt. Add a few drops of red or green food coloring if desired. Beat this mixture until it is almost hard, then drop by the teaspoonful onto waxed paper.
Makes about 35 - 40 pieces.
Make an extra-pretty gift by wrapping jars of fudge sauce in a square of fabric, tied at the top with a pretty ribbon. Include a gift tag with warming instructions (given below).
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup
4 ounces good-quality milk chocolate
Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse well.
Warm the cream in a medium saucepan over very low heat. Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan, combine sugar and corn syrup. Add enough water to just cover the sugar mixture. Without stirring, cook over medium heat until the temperature reaches 356 degrees on a candy thermometer, or until mixture turns a deep amber color. (About 20 minutes.) Remove from the heat, add the warm cream (the mixture will bubble up; be careful to avoid splashes) and whisk until smooth. Add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Spoon warm sauce into the jars and seal the lid tightly. Let cool to room temperature. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to give as a gift. Serve hot or warm.
Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.
Warming Instructions: Reheat in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, or in the microwave on 50% power, stirring at 30 second intervals.
Yields about 1 quart of sauce
Give these delicious confections freshly baked, or give the raw dough in a tub, frozen, so your lucky recipients can have hot cookies at home any time they want. Don't forget to include the baking instructions.
1 1/4 cup butter, at room temp.
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 to 2 tsp. lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and flour, just until blended. Stir in the walnuts and zest and mix well. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes. Yield: About 50 cookies.
Include a gift tag that suggests brushing this flavored olive oil on toasted Italian bread, mixing it with pasta and grated cheese, or tossing it with a salad. If they are available in your area, use the highly aromatic California bay leaves in this recipe.
1 large lemon
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns
Scrub the lemon to remove all surface impurities. Rinse thoroughly and dry well. Pour the olive oil into a small heavy saucepan. Using a zester and working directly over the pan, remove the zest from the lemon, letting it fall into the oil. Add the bay leaf and peppercorns. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan. Heat the oil over medium-low heat until the thermometer registers 200 degrees. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Transfer the oil mixture to a sterilized bottle. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 2 months. Yields 8 ounces.
Nothing tastes better than hot cider on a cold winter's day. Present these bundles with a gift card that reads: "To make great spiced cider, simmer 2 quarts of cider with 1 bundle in a covered pan for 30 minutes. Ladle into mugs and enjoy." These aromatic bundles can also be used for making mulled wine; simply substitute red wine for the cider.
6 cinnamon sticks, each about 3 inches long
30 whole cardamom pods
30 whole cloves
18 fresh ginger slices, each about 1 inch in diameter
12 small bay leaves
Cut out six 5-inch squares of cheesecloth. Break the cinnamon sticks into pieces and divide them evenly among the squares. Place 5 cardamom pods, 5 cloves, 3 ginger slices and 2 bay leaves atop each square. Bring the corners of each square together and tie with kitchen string, white thread or twine. Use immediately, or place in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to two months. Makes 6 sachets.
2 cups cranberries
1 small onion, quartered
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
Grind cranberries and onions in food processor or meat grinder, being careful not to puree. Add sugar, sour cream and horseradish and mix well. Cover tightly and freeze. Include instructions to keep frozen until one hour before serving. Place in refrigerator to thaw.
This potpourri looks beautiful in an oversized cup or a decorative bowl. It makes a wonderful hostess gift.
1/4 cup whole cloves
1 cup whole allspice
10 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
8 bay leaves
4 whole nutmegs
3 tablespoons star anise
2 tablespoons whole cardamom pods
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. Store indefinitely at room temperature, stirring occasionally. Yields 2 cups.
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
Place the sugar and lavender in a food processor fit with the metal blade. Process until flowers are finely chopped. Place in colorful jars, airtight containers or plastic bags. Include a list of uses, such as flavoring ice cream, muffins, pound cake, crème brulee, cookies, or tea.
We couldn't forget the dog! This recipe is from THE DOGGY BONE COOKBOOK by Michele Bledsoe
4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup corn oil
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, wheat germ, cornmeal and parsley. Add water and oil to the dry ingredients. Knead for 2-3 minutes. Roll dough to 1/2" thickness and cut out with a large cookie cutter. Bake at 350 degrees on an ungreased cookie sheet for 30 minutes or until edges start to brown. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.
*JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: The next issue of Foodstuff will have great things to buy for your favorite Epicurean.
*I'm very excited to announce that anyone on the Internet can access my Foodstuff Message Board! Go to http://forums.prodigy.net and choose " Foodstuff" to post a message on the Food Community Message Board. There's a subject called "Please Introduce Yourself" which would be a good place to start. This message board is very informal. Subjects range from recipes to kitchen tips to a posting of Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song--I hope you will check it out.