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If you're looking for gifts this holiday season that have a personal touch but don't cost an arm and a leg, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst suggests making your own food gifts. It can be easier than you think.
"There're a lot of people thinking 'I don't have time to cook for my family, how can I make food gifts?' But these are super-quick ideas, some of them I've been doing for 30 years and some of them are are brand new," she told Jeremy Hobson.
Kathy shares recipes for seasoned salts, spiced nuts, her traditional buttercrunch (thanks to her sister-in-law Andrea), as well as citrus crisps from Maggie Battista's new book "Food Gift Love: More than 100 Recipes to Make, Wrap, and Share."
Seasoned Sea Salts
Kathy's Note: The real appeal of seasoned, sea salt is that you get a huge punch of flavor with just a modest sprinkling.
The following recipe makes about 1/2 cup seasoned sea salt. You can easily double or triple the recipes. If possible, try to use organic herbs and citrus.
Place the salt in small, glass jars, and gift them to friends. The salt should be kept in a cool, dry spot. Unlike regular sea salt, seasoned salts will only keep for three to four months.
Sprinkle this woodsy, aromatic salt on leg of lamb, roast chicken or duck, or on other proteins or sprinkle it on yogurt with grated cucumbers, or directly atop salads.
1/2 cup sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoon chopped dry rosemary
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
In a small bowl mix the salt, breaking up any large crystals. Stir in the herbs and lemon zest. Mix well. Let sit at least two hours to dry out the fresh lemon before sealing in a small, glass jar.
- Orange and thyme, or lemon and thyme
- Chamomile tea, ground ginger and orange zest
- Provencal Herb and lemon (For the Provencal Herb- 1 teaspoon each of dried: organic lavender, thyme, rosemary, basil, and oregano)
- Vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg (The beans from one, 3-inch vanilla pod, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg)
Andrea’s Chocolate-Dipped Buttercrunch
Kathy's Note: My sister-in-law, Andrea Gunst, shared her buttercrunch recipe with me many years ago, and it changed my holiday traditions forever. This is the stuff that everyone begs for year after year - be sure to make multiple batches.
Buttercrunch, a caramel coated in chocolate and ground nuts, keeps for over a week and makes a great gift. You can double the recipe, but if you want to make more than that, don’t multiply the recipe by three or four - simply keep doubling.
Serves 6 to 8; once you taste it, it’s hard to stop!
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light Karo syrup
2 tablespoons water
2 large (about 7 or 8 ounce) chocolate bars*
About 1 cup very finely chopped walnuts**
*Buttercrunch can be made successfully with regular, grocery store, milk chocolate or chocolate chips, but the better the chocolate the better the buttercrunch. Try to find good quality bittersweet or semi-sweet, 60% cocoa chocolate.
**You can use walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachio, or any type of nut so long as they are finely chopped to properly adhere to the chocolate.
Line a cookie sheet with a piece of well-greased aluminum foil or parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and water over low heat, stirring frequently. The mixture will caramelize and is ready when it hits 290 degrees on a candy thermometer, which will take at least 15 to 20 minutes. Watch it carefully, particularly toward the end of the cooking process; the mixture can burn easily. Reduce the heat to very low and stir constantly if it seems to be cooking too quickly or turning darker than pale, golden brown.
When the candy hits 290 degrees, remove from the heat and pour out onto the greased sheet of foil or parchment. Carefully spread with a spatula in an even layer. Let cool and harden. (If you are really impatient, you can place the cookie sheet in a cold, protected place so that it will harden more quickly.) The caramel layer is ready when it’s no longer soft to the touch.
While the buttercrunch is hardening, melt the chocolate in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring until smooth. If you choose to let the buttercrunch harden outside or in a very cold spot, you must bring it back to room temperature before spreading with the chocolate. If the buttercrunch is too cold, or too soft the chocolate won’t adhere properly.
When the buttercrunch and chocolate are ready, use a soft spatula to spread a thin layer of chocolate over the entire, front side of the caramel. Sprinkle with half the nuts, pressing down lightly so that they adhere. Again, if you are the impatient type, you can let the chocolate harden in a cold spot. The chocolate is ready when it is dry—no wet spots to the touch. Carefully lift the buttercrunch off the sheet and remove the foil or parchment from underneath. Flip the buttercrunch over onto the bare cookie sheet. Spread the remaining chocolate on top of the other side of the buttercrunch and then sprinkle with the remaining nuts, pressing down lightly. Let the chocolate set in a cool spot.
Spiced Maple Nuts With Sea Salt
Kathy's Note: If you have about 20 minutes, you can make this tasty gift. The nuts will keep for several weeks and are delicious served with a cheese plate, sprinkled on holiday salads, added to decorate holiday pies and cakes or served on their own alongside cocktails.
You can use any variety of nuts you like for a total of 3 cups. This recipe can easily be doubled.
Makes 3 cups.
1 cup walnut halves
1 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup shelled, salted pistachios
1/2 cup pecan halves
2 tablespoon butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
About 1/2 teaspoon good sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large, dry skillet toss the nuts over low heat for 5 minutes to toast them. Add the butter, cinnamon, ginger, chili powder, cumin, and half of the salt (1/4 teaspoon) to the pan and toss to make for sure that all of the nuts are coated. Cook 2 minutes. Add the maple syrup or honey and stir well. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the syrup is somewhat thickened and the nuts are evenly coated.
Pour the nuts in a single layer on a cookie or baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat pad. Bake in the oven on the middle shelf for 10 minutes. Stir the nuts and smooth out into a single layer. Turn off the heat and let sit in the still-warm oven for another 5 minutes, or until the nuts are sticky but also somewhat hardened. Sprinkle with the remaining sea salt and let cool thoroughly. Separate any nuts that clumped together before packing in Mason jars, plastic bags, or ceramic containers.
Recipe excerpted from Food Gift Love, Copyright © 2015 by Maggie Battista. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Maggie Battista's Note: This straightforward recipe for preserving citrus will make them last almost indefinitely. Citrus Crisp uses are endless, so they’re a permanent fixture in my Food Gift Love pantry, to gift and to decorate food gifts. They are the food gift that truly keeps on gifting.
Citrus Crisp slices are wonderful in drinks, for the presentation and the tart aroma that drifts around the glass. Lemon crisps mingle well in a pitcher of lemonade, along with a handful of mint or thyme. Meyer lemon crisps are beautiful decorations on cakes, and, when served with marmalade, my Panna Cotta Cups get an orange crisp for garnish. Enhance a fresh-from-the-oven lemon-roasted chicken with lemon crisps and fresh herbs, or serve alongside cheese and nuts as makeshift crackers. Nonfood uses are plentiful as well. My holiday tree always gets the year’s remaining Citrus Crisps in the form of a garland—just weave twine or wire through each slice and hang.
Humidity is the prevailing challenge to Citrus Crisps. Moist days or climates will require a little more cooking— just make sure they’re completely dry before storing. Use firm fruit and don’t stop at lemons. All citrus dries well; the larger the fruit, the longer the bake.
Makes: 24 to 30 slices // Preparation Time: 20 minutes active time (up to 18 hours total time)
3 Meyer lemons (or regular Eureka lemons, navel oranges, or limes)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: Glass jar with airtight lid
Preheat the oven to no lower than 150°F (or the lowest possible temperature, such as 170°F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Slice the lemons into 1/8-inch slices with a very sharp knife. If you come across any seeds, discard them. Place the slices on the baking sheet, about an inch apart.
Bake at least 3 1/2 hours, flipping the slices 1 to 2 times during cooking. Be mindful of the hot spots in your oven, and turn your sheet as needed to evenly distribute the heat. Turn off oven when the slices feel dry-ish to the touch, and let sit in the oven 2 to 4 hours longer, until cooled to room temperature.
Remove from the oven and let sit at room temperature 12 hours or overnight to ensure that the fruit is completely dry. Sometimes, I leave the slices out for a couple days to make sure every bit of moisture is gone.
Gently peel the slices from the parchment. Store in a clean glass jar up to 1 year.
Ceramic container or box
Cut a length of ribbon and place it across the container, pressing it inside. Trim a piece of parchment paper, enough to line your container with enough overhang to enclose the crisps. Crimp the edges with pinking shears and place in the container over the ribbon. Add your crisps and fold the paper over to cover. Tie a loose knot in the ribbon and pin to secure. Write the label on a tag and slide it under the ribbon.
Correction: An earlier version of the cooking video at the top of this page included inconsistencies with the recipe. It has been fixed. Our apologies.
This segment aired on December 2, 2015.
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