Gifts from the Kitchen

December 23, 2003

Gifts from the Kitchen

I have been making batches of different things like crazy. The kitchen looks like a disaster area, but if you look closely, it is very organized chaos. I have all of my most used recipes in a database and print each one out when I make it, so the working copy gets written on, crossed off, and splattered on. There are several works in progress, some bowls filled with the dry ingredients, topped with the recipe, with the things inside already crossed off of it, patiently waiting for me to get the time to finish making and baking it.

I have been busy making the labels to adorn each item. I like designing and experimenting with the fonts and the colors think the presentation of the goodies is just as important as the treats themselves. We get inundated with catalogs at the beginning of the season, and as I browse through them, I see many food gifts that are so appealing. If you look closely, it is the packaging and the labels that make them that way. Crate and Barrel always makes their food treats look really beckoning. Sure, Williams-Sonoma does a good job of offering decadent indulgences, but they don’t usually show the packaging. Somehow, I have a hard time imagining myself giving those as gifts. The ones in Crate and Barrel are mostly scrumptious looking, yet simple, things that are presented in a great package with fun labels. They are also inexpensive enough for those who don’t want to make things themselves, but want that same feeling. I aspire to that in my own gifts of food.

In my kitchen, I have a large frame that contains all of the labels that I have used over the years, for all of the different gifts on different occasions. It is fun to look at, to see the diversity, and to remember all of the things I have made to give to others. I like it when guests notice the framed labels. It is a fun conversation piece and it holds meaning for me for so many things I have created. I can remember each of the gifts, and how each was packaged. I love finding fun boxes or containers, or even making a gift basket and using the shrink wrap bags to make it look “professional”. With all of the technology available these days, it really isn’t that hard to make something incredibly appealing, before it is even tasted.

This season of giving is something that is fun for me. I can always find many recipients for my different goodies, and can find reasons to try all sorts of new things. I do have a good base of standard things that work, things that I know people love. But it is fun to try a few new things too. There are plenty of things that are easy for those more intimidated by cooking too. It is always easy to dip things in chocolate (dried apricots, oreos in white chocolate with mint extract, pretzels, and even pecans with a small piece of caramel on them). Repackage some good hot chocolate mix, wrap it up with some marshmallows and two mugs. Think of simple things that you’d like to enjoy.

Get busy in the kitchen, then go out after dark, and drive around the neighborhood and look at the lights of the houses nearby. Feel the magic of the season. It was hard not to this year, as we popped both the boys in the car, only to hear a two year old in awe. His little voice saying “ohhhh, cooool” followed by “more…” Enjoy as much as you can through the eyes of a child, and give simple indulgences that can bring anyone pleasure.

Vanilla Scented Granola
from epicurious – excellent and addictive. Easy to make many batches.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup pecans, split in half (I added these to the recipe)
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 300°F. Lightly spray large baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix next 6 ingredients in large bowl.
Combine oil, honey, and sugar in small saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat.
Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Pour hot liquid over oat mixture; stir well. Using hands, toss mixture until thoroughly mixed.(okay- I use a good LeCreuset scraper and mix it alot)
Spread granola on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Transfer sheet to rack; cool granola completely. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)
Makes about 8 cups. (enough for 2 quart sized zip-lock baggies full)

Chocolate Butter Crunch
Everyone LOVES this!!! Give it in boxes at Christmas. It is pretty easy. Just make sure you cook the butter and sugar long enough or it won’t solidify. Alot less sweet than traditional butter crunch.

Saltine crackers (1 sleeve)
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 sticks butter
1 (12 oz.) bag semisweet choc. chips
1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Line a jelly roll pan with foil (12×15), leaving a 2 inch cuff. line
bottom with a single layer of saltines.
2. Heat butter and sugar in a saucepan until it bubbles, stirring well. Once it bubbles, turn the heat to low for 2 mins., stirring occasionally. (it should be starting to brown)
3. Pour butter mixture over crackers & spread evenly.
4. Bake at 350 for 13 mins.
5. Remove pan from oven and immediately sprinkle choc. chips over crackers, allow to sit for 40 seconds.
6. Spread choc. evenly and sprinkle with nuts.
7. Refrigerate overnight and break into pieces. Store in airtight container.

Makes enough for 2 gift sized portions.

Cranberry Almond Biscotti
These are good and easy too. They are the first biscotti I ever made. I gave a bunch away, and everyone seemed to like them. I like them just a tad less crunchy than they should be, giving way just a little when you bite into them. From Williams-Sonoma Gifts from the Kitchen.

1 cup dried cranberries
2 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for topping
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
1 cup slivered blanched almonds

Preheat an oven to 350. Place the cranberries in a bowl with hot water to cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, the 3/4 cup sugar, oil, orange zest. cinnamon, baking powder, vanilla extract, and salt. Whisk to blend. Add the flour, almonds, and cranberries and stir until a dough forms. Turn out onto a heavily floured surface and knead until smooth, adding more flour if too sticky to work, about 20 turns. Divide the dough in half.
Continuing to work on the floured surface, form each half into log 2″ in diameter. Carefully transfer the logs onto an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them well apart. Sprinkle the tops with sugar.

Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Leave the oven set at 350.
Using a spatula, carefully transfer the logs to a work surface. Using a serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into slices 1/2 inch thick. Return the slices, cut-side down to the baking sheet> Bake until browned, about 20 minutes.
Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Makes about 3 dozen.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

This recipe is from the Epicurious site- from Bon Appétit (Nov ‘95). It has a few modifications, based on the reviews there. I made it for the Renbrook bake sale, then made a whole bunch more for gifts. This bread freezes well too.

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon ground allspice
1 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup raisins, soaked- or craisins- or choc. chips(optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour ( or spray with cooking spray) two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Sift flour, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Mix in raisins, if desired.
Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.
Makes 2 loaves.
(when I make this recipe, I keep a big plastic bag beside the bowl when I’m measuring all the dry stuff, and make another batch of the dry stuff into the baggie at the same time, and label it, so that the next time, it is quick to just mix up another batch when I have less time)

Chocolate Mint Cookies

From my friend Julie, who share the opinion that chocolate is a food group. These are good, and make alot, about 5 dozen or so, depending on size. I found when I ran out of Andes mints, that a mini Reeses cup upside down worked great too!! (just smoosh it a little when it melts)

3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 T water
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 1/4 t baking soda
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1 package Andes crème de menthe candies

Cook butter, sugar and water until melted over a double boiler. Add chips; stir until partially melted. Remove from heat. Stir until completely melted. (I just do it in a pan)

Pour into a large mixing bowl, put in fridge for 10 minutes.

With mixer on high, add eggs one at a time. With mixer on low, add dry ingredients, beat until just blended.

Chill dough for 1 hour. Using a little less than a tablespoon of dough, roll into a ball. Preheat oven to 350. Place on cookie sheet. Bake 12-13 minutes, do not overbake.

Break candies in half. Place half piece on each cookie as it comes out of the oven, while still on the cookie sheet. Let sit until it melts, then swirl it around.

Makes about 5 dozen.

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