Come the holidays, homemade gifts from the kitchen are the ones I like to make and receive. They’re not at all fussy or fancy — spiced nuts in a pretty container, marinated cheeses and herbed biscuits — but they are foods I might find useful during the holidays, too.
In this season of sweets, such savory foods are most likely to be enjoyed right away and not languish at the back of the cupboard or refrigerator, like the garish tin of fruitcake my grandmother gave us each year imported from England. My mother would regift it to our neighbor, who regifted it to the other neighbor next door. It became a running joke along our block.
As I plan, procure, toast and bake, I like to mull over the year, recalling the conversations and moments of joy with friends and family. Plus, there’s a certain efficiency when making big batches of foods that keep nicely. Choosing recipes that are easily doubled and that call for ingredients purchased from the bulk bins of food co-ops saves time as well as money. It makes decisions about what gifts to give who easy and quick: There’s no worrying over sizes or colors — homemade kitchen gifts are always a good fit.
I seldom make everything from scratch; rather, I supplement the basket with a selection of store-bought items that go along with the lot — special charcuterie, bakery breads, artisan crackers, mixed olives, condiments, candied fruit. Given the cost savings, it’s OK to splurge on pretty resealable jars, bright ribbons, hand-woven baskets, carving boards and special boxes to wrap things up.
These recipes make wonderful individual gifts on their own as well as when bundled and given together. They’ve been chosen to balance each other’s flavors and textures. When presented in pretty reusable containers they are ready to be served just as they are. I like to include a nice bottle of wine or gourmet chocolates to round out the whole lot.
These recipes also don’t take much time to whip up. Once packaged, they’ll will hold for at least a week until ready to give to friends and colleagues. Be sure to save some to give to yourself, too.
Makes about 6 cups.
These are the ultimate party snack. They’re easy to scale up and they store beautifully. Add a little more sugar if you’d like them sweeter; a pinch of cayenne gives them heat. Just make sure you watch them closely so they don’t burn. From Beth Dooley.
11/2 teaspoon coarse salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoon maple or brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
6 cup mixed raw nuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, ginger, cinnamon and sugar. Scatter the nuts onto a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until they begin to smell toasty, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Transfer the hot nuts into a large bowl, add the butter and toss to coat. Add the spice mixture and toss again, then return the nuts to the baking sheet. Toast until they darken and you can smell the spices, about 3 to 5 minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn. Cool completely before packing into jars.
Makes about 1 dozen cookies or a 9-inch pan.
This is a basic shortbread recipe made fragrant with rosemary and flecks of lemon. The food processor dispatches this quickly and it scales up beautifully, so feel free to double or even triple the batches. Try your own variations, swapping out the lemon for orange or lime zest or add a dash of curry or chili powder for a spicy effect. From Beth Dooley.
2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 cup unsalted cold butter, cut into chunks
In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, rosemary, lemon zest and salt. Pulse in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs, then continue pulsing until the dough just comes together, being careful not to overprocess.
(If doing this by hand, put the flour, sugar, rosemary, lemon zest and salt into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, two forks or your fingers, work the butter into the dry mixture until it resembles fine crumbs. Using a wooden spoon or the back of a fork, continue to work the mixture until it comes together as a soft dough.)
Remove the dough and, using your hands, shape it into a log, about 10 inches long. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unwrap the dough and slice the cookies into rounds about 1/2-inch thick and place on the baking sheet. Bake until the cookies are just golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool on the pan for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely before packaging.
Shortbread bar variation: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Once the dough is processed, transfer it into an ungreased 9-inch baking pan and gently press it down so that it spreads evenly. Prick the dough all over with a fork. (There is no need to refrigerate this dough.) Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting into bars while still warm.
Marinated Cheese With Herbs and Pink Peppercorns
Makes about 2 to 3 jars.
Note: Marinating cheese enriches it and infuses it with flavor. While chèvre is the most familiar marinated cheese, it tends to fall apart when kept too long. A firmer cheese such as mozzarella or provolone will retain its texture and is easier to serve. This will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least two weeks. From Beth Dooley.
About 10 to 12 oz. cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes (see note)
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
Generous pinch red pepper flakes
1 large sprig rosemary
2 to 3 cups extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
2 to 3 wide-mouth pint-size jars
Divide the cheese between the jars. Add the peppercorns, red pepper flakes and rosemary to the cheeses and then gently pour in the olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 3 days before serving. This will store for up to two months in the refrigerator. Serve with toothpicks or on crackers. When the cheeses are gone, use the oil in sautés, dressings and vinaigrettes.