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Tried-and-true holiday food gifts
(article, Carrie Floyd)
Unless you spent the summer putting up preserves and smoking fish, the time to start making edible food gifts for the holidays is now. Every year I look forward to the tin of biscotti I receive from a friend; in addition, I like to make and give away the crisp Italian waffles known as pizzelle. (I got the idea from a friend who used to give them away but has since bequeathed her pizzelle maker to me.)
Though I fantasize about spending the month of December fashioning sugar plums and baking panettone, in reality I have neither the time nor the elves to pull off such projects. Instead, I need recipes that provide a big bang (rich flavor and flexibility) for the buck (limited time and money).
Narrowing the list to eight proved difficult. Before I selected the following, I considered many ideas: pickled ginger, loaves of my favorite James Beard cranberry bread, homemade mustard, dog biscuits (inspired by some witty "cookies" I found online), pickled beets, candied citrus, and spiced nuts.
In the end, though, I pared my list down to the tried-and-true, with a couple of new, no-canning-skills-required food gifts that I have enjoyed both making and receiving. Feel free to embellish these foods as you see fit: Pair pretty little glasses with the clemencello, couple a bottle of dessert wine with the panforte, give a pound of coffee to go with the truffles, or marry colorful cereal bowls with the granola.
If you're pinching pennies, rest assured; these gifts stand alone. Wouldn't you be happy to receive a large jar of homemade granola or a box of hand-rolled truffles?
#(clear n1). [%image reference-image float='clear right' width=350 caption="Vanilla extract"]Vanilla extract. This is a terrific gift for friends who like to bake. Split several vanilla beans lengthwise, stuff them into a tall bottle, and cover with a neutral-tasting alcohol (vodka or Everclear) or brandy. (The manager at my local Penzeys recommended using pear brandy.) Seal the bottle, give it a shake, and set it aside for a month. Let your gift recipients know this bottle can be replenished by simply topping it up with alcohol. If you want to add a baked good to the basket, pair the extract with a delicious vanilla loaf.
Recipe: Vanilla Extract
#(clear n2). [%image clemoncello float='clear right' width=350 caption="Clemencello liqueur"]Clemencello.
Come winter, when tangerines — clementines, satsumas, pixies — are in season, it's nice to extend the season by preserving them. A simple way to do that is to mix the fruit with alcohol, then let it sit for several weeks. When you're ready to share the booty, divide the spoils into pretty bottles and festoon with a homemade label. Clemencello, inspired by the popular Italian liqueur limoncello, is best served icy-cold in small portions, especially good with a plate of truffles and biscotti.
#(clear n3). [%image truffles float='clear right' width=350 caption="Chocolate truffles"]Chocolate truffles. Making homemade chocolate truffles, as Melissa Lion has pointed out, requires little more than time and a willingness to get messy. These are not the elegant dipped-chocolate bonbons produced by high-end confectioners; they're just balls of chocolate cream rolled in cocoa powder, which makes them look lumpy and dirty, rather like their fungi namesake. But they're cute and delicious and, heck, they're chocolate. Put together a batch, box 'em up a few at a time, and share the wealth.
Recipe: Chocolate Truffles
#(clear n4). [%image granola float='clear right' width=350 caption="Granola"]Granola My family loves this granola, and ideally our pantry would always be stocked with it. As it stands, I make it every few months, and put together an especially big batch around Christmas, gussying it up with extra orange zest, dried cranberries, and toasted pecans. It's a great gift to send in packages, either tucking zip-lock bags of granola around other gifts (think edible packing material) or in its own jar topped with a bow.
Recipe: Crunchy Granola
#(clear n5). [%image olives float='clear right' width=350 caption="Marinated olives"]Marinated olives. I like to keep a jar of these in my fridge for an easy appetizer: pair olives with slices of cured meat and a good, crusty bread (to dip into the spiced oil). And my favorite solo dinner is a simple mixed-greens salad with a tiny wedge of crazy-expensive cheese, marinated olives, and a glass of vino. To turn this into a fancier gift, add a bottle of wine and maybe some cheese, Gromit.
Recipe: Marinated Olives
#(clear n6). [%image panforte float='clear right' width=350 caption="Panforte"]Panforte. I have been known to forget my budget when a favorite bakery in town sells panforte during the holidays. I love this chewy, nutty confection, especially on a dessert plate (sliced thin) with chocolate truffles and shortbread. Alice Medrich's recipe is easy to follow, much cheaper to make than to buy, and addictive to eat. For an extra-special gift, throw in a copy of Medrich's book Pure Dessert; its lovely photos and mouth-watering recipes make this a terrific gift for someone who loves to make desserts.
Recipe: Panforte Nero
#(clear n7). [%image lemons float='clear right' width=350 caption="Preserved lemons"]Preserved lemons. Once you've made preserved lemons and know how easy it is to do, you'll never buy another $8 jar of them again. These lemons add a delightful and distinct taste to Moroccan Chicken, lamb and vegetable tagines, fish, even salads and salad dressings. To make two jars, wash and dry two wide-mouth jam jars and 10 lemons. Hold each lemon lengthwise and cut it into quarters, but don't cut through the bottom. Pour coarse sea salt into the cut lemon, making sure all the sides/quarters are coated with salt. (Check out a how-to photo if you like.) Place 1 to 2 lemons in each jar, adding a third if there's room (you may need to make more lemons). Once the two jars are stuffed with lemons, juice the remaining lemons and distribute, pouring enough lemon juice into each jar to cover the fruit. Set aside in the fridge for at least three weeks before using, or give them with a "don't use until this date" caveat.
Recipe: Preserved Lemons
#(clear n8). [%image biscotti float='clear right' width=350 caption="Biscotti to go"]Cornmeal-Almond Biscotti.
There are two camps of biscotti lovers: those who like them hard enough to gnaw on and those who prefer them crumbly to the touch. I actually like both (the third camp, I suppose, are the bottom-feeders who'll munch on anything called a cookie), but this recipe for Cornmeal-Almond Biscotti falls into the crumbly camp. One of my all-time favorites, this recipe comes from Judy Rodgers via Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts. Biscotti make a terrific gift for several reasons: they're an easy cookie to make in large batches, they hold up well over time, and, well, they're delicious.
Recipe: Cornmeal-Almond Biscotti
p(bio). Carrie Floyd is Culinate's recipe editor.