Homemade fancy foods are presents with a personal touch Gourmet Gifts from the HEART

November 07, 1993|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Contributing Writer

It's holiday time, and the stores are brimming with their annual array of gourmet food gifts. Everything from baskets of fruit to exotic ethnic delicacies to chocoholic extravaganzas is wrapped, tagged and ready to go.

As you might suspect, food is a great joy in my life, and I take particular delight in sampling savories made by someone other than me. But as a recipient, I feel these packaged, assembly-line holiday edibles are not only overpriced but impersonal. If you agree, then look no further than the bounty of gourmet goodies no one else can give and everyone will be thrilled to receive. Gifts from your own kitchen come with an extra ingredient the pros can't match -- the heartfelt personal touch.

Every year we face the same dilemma: "I need a little something for a lot of co-workers." One solution is to fill a collection of coffee mugs to the brim with cappuccino mocha mix sealed in a plastic bag and wrapped in cellophane. Write directions for preparation on a small paper scroll and tie it to the handle with a handsome demitasse spoon and several cinnamon sticks. The mix offers many advantages: It takes mere minutes to assemble, is easy to multiply, can be stored indefinitely at room temperature, and won't make a big dent in your wallet. For a more extravagant gift, fill a mug, ceramic coffee pot, or demitasse set with the mix and arrange it in a basket with a miniature or full-size bottle of your favorite liqueur, such as brandy, Kahlua, Amaretto or Bailey's Irish Cream.

Biscotti, those tantalizing twice-baked Italian cookies sold at every espresso bar, make a great gift on their own or paired with cappuccino mocha mix. My dried-fruit version, imbued with anise and Marsala, is chock-full of nuts, raisins, dried figs, apricots and currants. Because they are baked until they become dry and crisp, they stay fresh at room temperature for several weeks and are especially durable for mailing. If you package them in a glass jar with a flat lid, decorate the top by gluing on whole unshelled and shelled nuts and plastic or papier-mache fruits.

If you have a gardener or vegetarian on your list, fill glass bottles with reduced-fat homemade salad dressings. In the citrus Caesar dressing, orange juice replaces some of the oil and contributes a hint of sweetness. V-8 or tomato juice adds tang and flavor to the refreshing V-8 vinaigrette. Turn the dressings into a more substantial salad offering by adding pita croutons, tarragon mustard, a packet of rainbow peppercorns, and fresh or dried herbs. P!ace the items in a plastic salad spinner or basket lined with a pretty dish towel or cloth napkin, and crown the wrapped top with a set of salad servers or a garden trowel.

No matter how large or small your gift, visual appeal is the icing on the cake. Let your imagination fly with out-of-the-ordinary wrappings and containers, oversized bows and whimsical add-ons. When the package is glorious to behold, the contents become even more delicious. Best of all, when the gift is from the heart of your kitchen, the recipient will know it is truly from your heart.

Biscotti with dried fruit

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Chill Time: 1 hour

Bake Time: 30 to 35 minutes plus 5 minutes standing

Makes about 52 biscotti

1/4 cup dried apricots

1/4 cup dried figs

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup currants

1/4 cup Marsala

1/4 cup hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or pecans

1/4 cup walnuts

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, cut into 8 pieces

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons anise seeds

L 1 tablespoon anise-flavored liquor, such as Pernod, optional

In a food processor with the metal blade, pulse apricots and figs until chopped. Transfer to an 8-cup (2 quart) microwave-safe bowl and stir in raisins, currants and Marsala. Microwave covered on high (100%) for 2 to 4 minutes or until hot and fruits are soft. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in same food processor bowl, pulse nuts until coarsely chopped; remove to small bowl. Add butter and sugar and process until creamed. Add eggs and process until blended; the mixture will look curdled. Add flour, baking powder, salt and anise seeds; pulse until incorporated. Pulse in liquor, if using.

Remove to bowl with dried fruit. Stir in nuts until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for one hour or longer.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray 2 baking sheets. Pat dough into 4 logs, 2 per sheet, about 1 inch high, 1 inch wide and 15 inches long, spacing at least 3 inches apart.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned, rotating their positions halfway through the baking time. Logs will flatten and spread as they bake.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

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