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Gifts from your kitchen will make spirits bright

December 08, 2009|By GWEN SCHOEN / The Sacramento Bee

The malls are packed, and there isn't a parking place in sight. Your to-do list is so long, you have to fold it like an accordion, and the stress is ruining your mood. This is no way to spend the holiday season.

Here's some advice: Go home. Pull out your cookbooks and finish off your gift list with something made in your own kitchen.

"Food gifts are wonderful, personal things," said Diane Rossen Worthington, author of "Seriously Simple Holidays." "We all have too much on our plates, especially during the holiday season. It's the time and love that go into creating gifts of food that make them so special."

Making something from scratch doesn't necessarily require a lot of cooking skills, Worthington said in a phone interview. "Plus, it can be fun to plan what you are going to make and how you are going to package it.

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"Certainly, cookies are always welcome, but we are surrounded by so many sweet treats (during the holiday season), sometimes making something that can be enjoyed after the holidays or something that isn't sweet is especially nice," she said.

She likes to "make my seriously simple seasoning salt for gifts. I find pretty jars to store it in and attach a recipe card or a note explaining how to use it. ...

"It's basically a blend of fresh garlic ground up with a variety of salts and spices. And it can be stored in the refrigerator for three months, so there's no urgency to use it."

Worthington's other suggestions include a special breakfast bread or roll packaged in a pretty basket, seasoning mixes, mulling spices and homemade baking mixes.

"Another of my favorite gifts is hot cocoa mix. I put it in a holiday gift bag and put that in a fancy mug. Add a few candy canes and tie the whole thing together with plastic wrap and a pretty bow. It's simple to do and not terribly expensive," she said.

Keep simplicity in mind, for your own sake and for the busy person who receives the gift. One of the easiest things you can make for the coffee or chocolate lover is chocolate-dipped spoons. Just dip plastic spoons into melted chocolate. When the chocolate has set, put each spoon in plastic wrap tied in place with ribbon. When a spoon is used to stir coffee, it turns it into a wonderful mocha drink.

If you have a favorite recipe for homemade salad dressing, you can mix up a batch and pour it into a pretty glass cruet or just put the dry seasoning in a package tucked into a salad bowl. Make sure you include a recipe card telling the recipients how to make their own spice blend and which fresh ingredients are needed to finish the dressing.

Flavored nuts are also a great hostess gift. They store well and you can make them in large batches. They are wonderful to have on hand when unexpected guests drop by.

If you have a favorite recipe for bean soup, mix up a batch of dried beans, add a packet of spice mix and a recipe card explaining how to make the soup, and put the whole thing in a mason jar.

As for packaging, keep that simple, too. Don't use a dish you expect to have returned. It's likely to get misplaced during the festivities. Inexpensive baskets or decorative tins are ideal for holding holiday breads and cookies. This time of year, grocery stores often stock disposable holiday dishes.

CRANBERRY WREATHS



o Makes 12

This recipe, which is from Fleischmann's yeast, makes 12 beautiful breakfast rolls. Wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in a pretty holiday basket for a wonderful gift from your kitchen.

Dough ingredients:

3-1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope active dry or quick-rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup water
2 eggs

Cranberry filling ingredients:

1 cup finely chopped cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel

Powdered sugar icing ingredients:

1 cup sifted powdered sugar
4 to 5 teaspoons evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

In a large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, sugar, undissolved yeast and salt. Heat milk, butter and water until very warm (120 to 130 degrees). Gradually add to flour mixture; beat 2 minutes at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally. Add eggs and 1/2 cup flour; beat 2 minutes at high speed, scraping bowl occasionally. With spoon, stir in enough remaining flour to make stiff batter. Cover tightly with plastic wrap; refrigerate 2 to 24 hours.

To make the cranberry filling: In medium saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar and grated orange peel; bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until very thick. Remove mixture from heat and let cool.

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