By Tina Wasserman
Yes, you can make a batch of cookies and give it to the teacher or your manicurist or doctor, but wouldn’t it be nice to make something that was totally unexpected, delicious and useful?
The following recipes are some of my favorite recipes to make for gift-giving, along, of course, with some baked goods that I can easily make in large quantity for people I didn’t mean to forget but still want to send thanks to.
Although you can always put your goodies on a plastic plate, why not find giant mugs or Ball jars that you can decorate with a square of cloth under the lid? Use your imagination. If these ideas are coming too late for your hectic schedule, consider hitting the after-holiday sales for all items with holiday motifs. Only caveat…remember where you stored them for next year. Have fun.
Spiced Angel Pecans
Get out your Costco or Sam’s card and buy those big bags of pecans. This recipe is fast and totally addictive. They store well, even in the freezer and make a great gift. One warning, those round cans you see at the Container Store are adorable but save them for cookies, otherwise you will find your supply of Spiced Pecans is rapidly diminished!
1 egg white
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound pecan halves
½ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
2. Place egg white in a 2-quart bowl and beat with a whisk until light and foamy.
3. Fold in melted butter and vanilla into the whites. Add the nuts and gently stir to coat all the nuts with the egg-white mixture.
4. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, allspice and salt, then gently fold into the nuts to coat evenly.
5. Spread the nuts onto a jellyroll pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes, stirring the nuts after the first 25 minutes. Nuts should be very crisp and dry.
6. When completely cool, store in an airtight container or freeze in zip freezer bags until ready to use.
For savory nuts: Substitute 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce for vanilla and use 1½ teaspoons Lawry’s seasoned salt, ¼-½ teaspoon garlic powder and ¼ teaspoon curry powder instead of the other spices. Prepare as directed above.
For orange-spice nuts: Substitute 1 teaspoon orange extract for the vanilla and use ½ teaspoon cardamom instead of the nutmeg. Prepare as directed above.
• Recipe can be doubled, but make sure to use two pans for roasting so the nuts aren’t crowded.
• This recipe can also be made with coconut oil, if you prefer them pareve.
Spiced Cranberry Vinegar
Here’s a gift that you can give on its own or add to your gift with your favorite salad ingredients, such as dried fruit pieces, croutons and toasted nuts.
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 quart apple cider vinegar
7 whole allspice berries
1 stick of cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
3-inch strip of orange zest
1. Wash and drain the cranberries and set aside for garnish. Pat them dry with a paper towel.
2. Place the remaining cranberries in a food processor work bowl and pulse 8-10 times until the cranberries are coarsely chopped. Place cranberries in a large glass container or plastic container, with a lid, large enough to hold ½ gallon.
3. Empty the vinegar into a 2-quart stainless steel pot. Add the allspice and the cinnamon stick and bring just to a boil.
4. Immediately pour the hot vinegar and spices over the cranberries. Cover and let them sit at room temperature for a day or so (the longer, the more intense the color and flavor).
5. Strain the vinegar into a clean 2-quart, stainless steel saucepan. Press on the crushed cranberries to extract as much of their juices as possible.
6. Add the sugar and heat on medium until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the hot vinegar into clean glass jars or bottles and add some of the fresh cranberries.
7. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, carefully remove only the zest from the orange, running the vegetable peeler horizontally over the orange to remove three or four 3-inch curls that are about ½ inch wide.
8. Add a strip of zest and, if you like, a piece of cinnamon stick to each bottle. Seal, refrigerate and use in any vinaigrette dressing.
• It is very important to use non-reactive pots and jars when you are working with acidic foods like vinegar. Never use aluminum pans.
• You can use a zester to make long strips of orange zest and then add four or five strips to each bottle instead of one large strip.
Homemade Irish Cream
The following recipe makes about close to a fifth of liquor. I would suggest putting it into 8-ounce decorative bottles. The longer the mixture sits in the refrigerator, the richer the taste and thickness but it’s OK to taste-test a little after you make it — just to make sure it is OK.
1 cup Irish whiskey
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
2 teaspoons powdered instant espresso
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender at low speed to thoroughly blend.
2. Transfer to a clean bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to three months. Shake well before using.
• I generally use Jameson’s Irish Cream, but I have also used Single Malt Scotch (much to my husband’s chagrin).
• If you are lactose intolerant, I found a can of sweetened condensed coconut milk, but I don’t know how available it is in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
• Do not worry about the eggs in this recipe. Prolonged contact with the alcohol “cooks” the eggs to make it safe to drink.
• If you want to add to your gift, you might want to give a pound of coffee or a pint of vanilla ice cream for serving suggestions.
I have had this recipe for over 40 years, and I forget how pretty they are as well as colorful. Instead of “strawberries,” you could shape them more like a dreidel and coat them in blue sugar with a piece of a chocolate Pokey stick pushed into the top.
8 ounces pitted dates
½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
1½ cups crisp rice cereal
½ cup pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 jar red sugar crystals
Green ribbon or leaves
1. Grind the dates in a processor work bowl with the sugar and coconut.
2. Add the butter and egg and pulse until butter is incorporated.
3. Empty contents of the work bowl into a saucepan and cook over low heat until mixture begins to bubble and appears thick. Stir frequently so the mixture does not burn. This should take about 7 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Meanwhile, grind the nuts and the cereal in the processor (there is no reason to wash the work bowl from the date mixture).
5. Stir the vanilla into the date mixture and add the nut mixture. Cool.
6. Scoop a teaspoon of mixture and roll into a ball. Roll this ball into the red sugar crystals.
7. Flatten one side of the ball and, holding all your fingers on one hand together, lightly pinch and shape the other side of the ball to make it somewhat pointed.
8. Cut the ribbon into a 1-inch circle with slightly jagged edges and place on the flat side of the “strawberry.” Place a 1-inch piece of toothpick through the center of the ribbon to look like a stem.
• I prefer to use soft medjool dates, but you can use the Deglet Noor that are commonly found in boxes in the baking aisle. Remember to remove the pits.
• Never use the boxed chopped dates. They are covered in sugar, would not provide enough dates and will provide more sugar for the 8 ounces.
• The recipe can be made with margarine instead of butter. Coconut butter can be substituted as well, but since it is very soft at room temperature, I am concerned that it might be too soft.
White Chocolate Holiday Hash
Why pay $20-plus for a mixture that you can make in a jiffy and reflects the holiday spirit? Delicious and easily made gluten-free with GF pretzels.
2 12-ounce bags of white chocolate chips
5 ounces candy canes or Starlight mints, or one 5-ounce candy cane stick
4 ounces of small pretzels or pretzel sticks
4 ounces sweetened dried cranberries, optional
4 ounces semisweet dark chocolate chips, optional
1. Unwrap candy canes or candies and place in a plastic bag. Pound bag lightly with a rolling pin to break candy into small pieces. Some of the candy will be pulverized; that’s OK. You should have about 1 cup. Set aside.
2. Place pretzels in a plastic bag and lightly pound with a rolling pin until you have very small pieces. You should have about 1½ cups. Set aside.
3. Place the white chips in a 2-quart glass bowl, then place the bowl in a 10-inch skillet that has been filled with 1 inch of water. This creates a double boiler effect. Heat chips over medium heat, stirring often, until chips are melted and mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the skillet.
4. Reserve 2 tablespoons of crushed candy. Add the remaining candy, all of the pretzel mixture and the sweetened dried cranberries, if using, to the white chocolate. Fold ingredients together until well combined.
5. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and then spread the hash with the back of the spatula until it is about 1/8-¼ inch thick.
6. Sprinkle reserved crushed candy over top, then refrigerate until firm. Break into pieces and serve or wrap for gifts.
7. May be stored at room temperature.
• White chocolate does not contain any chocolate liquor or cocoa, just cocoa butter. Care needs to be taken when cooking with this confection. If added to more fat or cooked over high heat, it will separate and become an unusable oily mass.
• Semisweet chocolate may be melted in microwave and then piped in lines through a small round tipped decorating cone over the hash while it is still warm. The biggest problem with this is sometimes the dark chocolate breaks off when it is set or during shipping.