Unless you've been under a rock for the past two years, there's a recession going on. And it is still stubbornly hanging on. With all of us slashing budgets, nothing took a bigger hit than the Christmas shopping budget. But cooks can simply change gears and look to the kitchen for gift inspiration. A few weeks ago GIFTS COOKS LOVE: Recipes For Giving (Andrews McMeel Publishing; $25.00; ISBN: 978-0-7407-9350-9) arrived on my doorstep and not a moment too soon. In this divinely inspired book written by Diane Morgan for Sur La Table, there are plenty of wonderfully homey, elegant, sensationally delicious and easy-to-prepare gifts that won't stretch the pocketbook and will be appreciated long after the holiday season is over.
Moving to Portland, Oregon was a no-brainer for me. It's a fabulous town and its reputation as a hub for food is well-deserved. One of the city's best culinary assets is Diane Morgan, a fine writer of cookbooks and outstanding cooking teacher and host of her own cooking website called Diane Morgan Cooks! (http://www.dianemorgancooks.com/), that feature great videos. I've already reviewed her excellent The News Thanksgiving Table (Chronicle Books). GIFTS COOKS LOVE exceeds any previous book I've seen on this subject and is a generous collection of gifts from the kitchen encompassing sweet and savory preserved jams and curds, chutneys, mustards, sauces, ketchups, fish, cakes, cookies, bars, breads, breakfast treats, cookies, crackers, candies, drinks, cocktail purees, liqueurs, flavored butters and popcorn, spice blends and bbq rubs, pastas, and gift kits.
There is a long tradition of giving loved ones and friends gifts of food from the kitchen. It's a good way of preserving the bounty of the garden or farmer's market. I've been making chocolate sauce and jams for friends for years, but GIFTS COOKS LOVE goes far beyond those limited choices. Diane not only shows you how to create all these gift choices, but also provides the steps to make sure you have the necessary tools, ingredients in your pantry, and creative decorative packaging ideas, plus essential tips and techniques needed for preserving and dehydrating.
I've made lemon curd many times, but have often wished I had jars of quality curd on hand to save me a few steps. With Meyer Lemon Curd I can make what I need and still have a few jars for gifts. Boysenberry and Lemon Verbena Jam is a luscious spread for bread and toast. For Portlanders whose hearts were broken with uncooperative weather this summer that left their tomatoes unripened on the vine, here's a Green Tomato Chutney to make delicious use of all those un-red tomatoes. Apricot-Bourbon Mustard is just the finishing touch needed for a piled up Dagwood-style sandwich. Smokey Tomato Ketchup is a nice alternative to the store-bought stuff. Curing Salmon Gravlax requires no cooking at all, just a rub of sugar and salt, some fresh dill and a shot of gin. Jalapeno and Cheddar Skillet Cornbread with Honey Butter, Rustic Rosemary-Parmesan Crackers make fine gifts to serve at a party. For a friend or loved one's sweet tooth, there are lots of choices: Double Fudge Brownie Pops, Cracked Pepper, Dried Cherry and Chocolate Chunk Biscotti, Panforte, Blackberry-Merlot Jellies (Why don't I have the ingredients in hand now that I want to try these!), and Smoked Salt, Dried Apricot, and Almond Chocolate Bark. Make the holiday breakfast that much more memorable with Mini Apricot and Crystallized Ginger Quick Breads or Coconut Granola Crunch.
In Rome, Italian trattorias often offer gratis a small glass of house-made Limoncello, a tart and sweet liquer, to end the meal. I've always wanted to make my own, and I can now boast of a batch infusing in my basement as I write this. I'll keep one for myself and have three for gifts just in time for the holidays.
Each recipe in GIFTS COOKS LOVE comes with lots of tips on storage, script suggestions for gift cards that describes the use of each recipe, when it was made, instructions on how to serve it plus gift-giving tips on appropriate decorative touches, such as ties and ribbons, containers and other trimmings, plus ways to turn the gift into a basket with related items. A S'Mores Kit features chocolate plus Toasted Coconut Marshmallows and Cinnamon-Coated Graham Crackers. A grill kit might include Backyard BBQ Rub, Smoky Tomato Ketchup and Aleppo Pepper-Peach Chutney along with some skewers and wood planks for grilling.
Gorgeously photographed, organized for success, with Diane Morgan's excellent recipes, GIFTS COOKS LOVE will keep you out of the mall in in the kitchen preparing lots of creative gifts for everyone on your list this season. A thoughtfully prepared offering is surely the best gift of all.
The saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” We say, “When you are handed lemons, make limoncello and lemonade.” It takes 15 lemons to make limoncello, and since only the peel is used, that leaves all the fruit to juice for a refreshingly large pitcher of homemade lemonade—that’s the beauty of making limoncello in the summer! In addition, since it takes 40 to 80 days for the mixture to infuse, if you make it over the summer you’ll have bottles of limoncello ready for holiday gift giving. Use the freshest, most blemish-free, most fully ripe lemons you can find. In addition, buy organic ones if possible. Since the limoncello is made from the lemon peel, you want to make sure they haven’t been coated or sprayed with pesticides.
15 organic lemons
2 (750-milliliter) bottles 151- or 190-proof grain alcohol, such as Everclear (see page 11)
4 cups granulated sugar
9½ cups water
1-Gallon Glass Jar, Vegetable Peeler, Long Wooden Spoon, Measuring Cups, Large Saucepan, Four (1-Liter) Glass Bottles, Fine-Mesh Strainer or Coffee Filter, Large Bowl, Narrow-Neck Funnel, Ladle
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Infusing Time: 40 to 80 days | Makes four (1-liter) bottles of limoncello
Wash a 1-gallon glass jar and lid in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Alternatively, run the jar and lid through the regular cycle of your dishwasher.
Scrub the lemons in warm water and pat dry. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from each lemon in wide strips. Be careful not to remove the white pith, which will impart a bitter flavor to the limoncello.
Place the lemon peels in the prepared jar. Pour in 1 bottle of the alcohol, and push down the lemon peels with a wooden spoon to completely submerge them in the liquid. Tightly secure the lid, and set the jar in a cool, dark place to steep. Stirring is not necessary.
After 20 or 40 days, add the second bottle of alcohol to the mixture. Place the sugar and 7½ cups of the water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Decrease to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes to ensure that all the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool.
When the sugar syrup is completely cool, add it to the lemon and alcohol mixture in the jar. Tightly secure the lid, and return the jar to a cool, dark place to steep for an additional 20 to 40 days. Over time, the liquid will absorb the flavor from the lemon peels and turn bright yellow in color.
To bottle, first wash the bottles in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Alternatively, run the bottles through the regular cycle of your dishwasher.
Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, or coffee filter set in a strainer, into a large bowl. Add 1²⁄³ cups of water to the limencello if you used 151-proof grain alcohol; add 2 cups of water if you used 190-proof. (Note: The addition of the water will turn the liquid cloudy and pale yellow in color. This is the desired outcome.) Let it rest for a moment so that any remaining sediment will fall to the bottom of the bowl.
Using a narrow-neck funnel, ladle the limoncello into the prepared bottles, leaving 1 inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean, secure the lids, and label.
Storing: Store the bottles in a cool, dark place, or keep in the freezer until ready to serve. Limoncello will keep for several years.
Gift Card: This homemade Limoncello was bottled on [give date] and can be enjoyed for several years to come. Store it in the freezer, and enjoy it as a refreshing liqueur to sip after dinner.
Gift-Giving Tips: Tie each bottle with raffia or ribbon and attach a gift card. To turn this into a gift basket, add a set of cordial glasses.
—From Gifts Cooks Love: Recipes for Giving by Sur La Table and Diane Morgan/Andrews McMeel Publishing