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Doesn’t everyone love to give (or receive!) gifts from the kitchen? I’m not talking about the usual tins of cookies. Instead, think of something fun and unique. Like homemade salted caramels. Or dill pickles. What about cream cheese, breadsticks or chocolate toffee bark?
You can find all these recipes in one of my favorite places, the “D.I.Y. Cookbook: Can It, Cure It, Churn It, Brew It” (America’s Test Kitchen, 360 pp., $22). The publication is a few years old, but it’s still in print, so you can enjoy it as much as I do.
Easily make Granola Bars, Quince Paste (great with Manchego cheese), Peach Mostarda, Apple Butter, Caramelized Onion Jam, Ketchup, Preserved Lemons, Coffee Liqueur, Horchata, Country-Style Paté and Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread.
They taste much better when homemade because you can do without the preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, mystery chemicals and other ugly stuff. The Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread, for instance, uses hazelnut oil instead of the palm oil found in the commercial version. Making your own granola is more affordable, and you can use whatever nuts and dried fruit that you like.
Make your own marshmallows, which are more pillowy than the gummy ones in a bag. Red Wine Jelly is a big hit with homemade cheeses and crackers. Heck, you can even make root beer, cocktail bitters and IPA beer!
These recipes make great hostess gifts, party contributions, holiday surprises and creative stocking stuffers. Plus, a warm kitchen is the best place to spend a few cold rainy weekends before the holidays.
Recently, I prepared dinner for several Rotary friends who were at my home for a meeting. So, I’m in the kitchen, juggling ingredients, pots, spatulas and knives. And I burned the sauce. Then when I was dumping it into the sink and starting over, I spilled it down the front of my dress and all over the floor. That will teach me about not wearing an apron!
But you do know that even Julia had kitchen mishaps, right? She once had a cake fall apart, so she crumbled it up, layered it with whipped cream, and called it a parfait. That’s who I want to be.
Capitola artist Ed Penniman had his own mishap recently. He was involved in dinner preparation and added some black pepper to the dish. As he was shaking the jar, the cap came off and released the entire contents into the pan. He grumbled a few choice words, threw it into the trash, and ate cheese with crackers instead.
Deana Musler had a similar incident. “In an attempt at organizing my kitchen cupboard, I lined up the spices in alphabetical order,” she said. “While making cookies one day, I grabbed what I thought was cinnamon and added it to the bowl. You can imagine my horror when I realized that what I had thrown in was cumin.”
When Susan Sims was a newlywed, her husband invited the boss for dinner. She thought she’d impress him with a nice quiche. Given that it was her first attempt, she didn’t realize that the vegetables should be sautéed first to release excess water.
Instead, she added fresh ingredients to the egg and cheese mixture. All the water released during baking, and she ended up with quiche soup.
Another “kitchen klutz,” known only as Jon, said he learned the hard way that eggs help hold a cake together. He forgot to add them to the batter, and the cake came out of the pan as a pile of crumbs.
To which I say, “Layer it with whipped cream, and call it a parfait!”
Following my column on non-stick pans, Dave Morrison says I missed the best ones. “The company is Hexclad at hexclad.com. Not only is their cookware non-stick, but you can use metal utensils on it. I’ve owned a set for over two years, have put them through Hell, and they still look brand new. I bought them at Costco.”
On a related note, I heard from Chemours, current makers of the Teflon brand of non-stick coatings. They said that the Teflon brand uses a specific manufacturing process that does not use PFOA, the harmful chemical used in some other non-stick cookware. So, you can feel safe using Teflon. Good to know!
Kitchen sinks are not the cleanest places for raw food. However, if you must place lettuce, raw chicken, or other ingredients in the sink, first line it with one or two kitchen towels. When finished, throw the towels in the wash.
Here’s a great gift idea from the D.I.Y Cookbook. Reducing the wine at the beginning helps to intensify the wine flavor while eliminating some of the alcohol. This goes very well with all kinds of cheeses and crackers.
1. Measure out 1½ cups of the wine, and pour it into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 15-20 minutes. Set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, add the rest of the wine and the sugar. Stir together and bring to a full boil. Stir in pectin, lemon juice, and butter. Return to a vigorous boil, stirring constantly, for one minute. Remove from heat. Add the reserved reduced wine.
3. Transfer jelly to very clean one-cup canning jars with new tight-fitting lids. Screw on the lids firmly, and set aside to cool to room temperature. The caps may “ping” and look concave as the jelly cools. This indicates a good seal.
4. Refrigerate for several hours. It may take up to 24 hours for the jelly to set. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months.
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