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Posts Tagged ‘gifts’

Candied Grapefruit

Here we are at last—the big day. We’ve looked at sectioning citrus, and zesting citrus, and making luscious citrus syrup. Now, finally, we’re ready to candy all those peels that we’ve saved (well, not the ones that we zested, but stick around and I’ll even show you a bonus way to use those—tomorrow).

Candied citrus peels are one of my favorite holiday confections (and quite popular among my list of recipients). There are a lot of steps involved, but as candy making goes, they’re relatively easy—you don’t even need a candy thermometer. I use the recipe found in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, with only very minor alteration.

The hardest part is saving enough to give as gifts!

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Homemade Orange Syrup

So, let’s see… So far, we’ve looked at a way to enjoy citrus fruit, and a way to enjoy citrus zest. How about citrus juice? (After all, we’ll want more peels for candying, since we zested some.)  Of course, fresh-squeezed orange (or grapefruit) juice does not need any special destination (other than my belly). But, with seasonal festivities ahead, this is another way to enjoy it that also makes a good gift idea, or a welcome addition to a holiday breakfast.

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Chocolate and Vanilla Truffles

It seems to be human nature to polarize. But somehow, when they handed out the genes for decisiveness, I was off somewhere trying to decide what to have on my waffles for breakfast.  When confronted with life’s deep, fundamental questions—you know—”Are you a cat person or a dog person?”, “Baseball or football?”, “Chocolate or vanilla?”, I answer “Erm, sort of,” “Well, not really,” and “Why must I choose?!?”  If, like me, you hear the question, “Chocolate or vanilla?” and wish you didn’t have to choose, then these truffles are a firm and decisive “Yes!”.

Chocolate and vanilla, though they are often treated almost as opposites, have a lot in common. Both are derived from seed pods of tropical plants that were originally native to Central and South America—the cacao tree and the vanilla orchid. Both undergo lengthy and labor intensive processes to develop them into the forms and flavors we recognize as chocolate and vanilla.

They share a similar history as well. The cacao tree was likely first cultivated by the Olmecs, who introduced it to the Maya; vanilla orchids were first cultivated by the Totonac Indians. Both products ended up being adopted by the Aztecs, and vanilla was one of a number of ingredients that they used to flavor their chocolate drinks. The Spanish were the first Europeans to encounter the two flavors, and they in turn brought them back to Europe.  The words ‘chocolate’ and ‘vanilla’ are Spanish in origin.

Now about those truffles…

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Hot Pepper Sauce

Hot Pepper Sauce

Back in October, when I had that big pile of peppers to use up, I didn’t put them all into Harvest Chili—I used some to make hot pepper sauce.  Why, you might wonder, would anyone go to the trouble of making hot pepper sauce from scratch when there are so many on the market to choose from?  Well, for one thing, it’s not really all that much trouble, so long as you don’t put the blender together wrong. And, if you did, by some chance, maybe get the gasket on the wrong side of the blade insert, and now you notice that hot pepper juice is leaking out over the base of the blender and counter, don’t panic. (Also: don’t try to pour the contents right out into the saucepan you have sitting ready on the stove—you would not believe how much more pepper juice will leak out of a not-properly-put-together blender if you upend the sucker.) Just calmly get your biggest mixing bowl, empty the contents into it, and put the blender back together the right way.  At least, that’s what I’ve heard

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Homemade syrups, ready for lids and labels.

I like giving homemade gifts—especially food gifts; I feel like I’m giving something that stands a better chance of actually being used and bringing joy.  And, let’s face it, I’d rather spend time making something from scratch that I know is good, than spend that same time trying to find and acquire a bauble of dubious usefulness, thereby demonstrating that I spent a requisite amount of money.  Do I sound like a curmudgeon?  Maybe I do.  But, money is an unavoidable issue—especially these days—and I know that I can make gifts that will be of better quality than I could afford to give otherwise.

Making wax paper candy cups to hold truffles.

There’s still a certain amount of research and forethought needed, though.  Not everyone likes sweets, enjoys spicy things, or what have you, and food allergies and other dietary concerns are more prevalent than one might realize.  Perhaps that’s why homemade gifts can sometimes have a bit of a reputation, like the oft-lampooned fruitcake. I’ll confess, ever since I began contemplating a post on homemade gifts, I have not been able to get the Pink Bunny Suit from A Christmas Story out of my head (this is a problem, because I don’t type well as it is, and the giggling isn’t helping).  But, if Aunt Clara had only done a little research, she would have known that Ralphie was neither four years old, nor a girl. Just imagine if her present had been a Red Ryder costume instead.

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