Gifts to Savor

From the latest cookbooks to dessert wine to homemade treats, food-themed presents help the holidays taste great

December 05, 2007|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Reporter

EAT

Kitchen treasures

WITH GOURMET FOOD AVAILABLE TO BUY AROUND EVERY corner and on thousands of Web sites these days, you have to admire the folks who still go to the trouble to make gifts from their own kitchens.

When we asked readers for their best recipes for gifts, we learned that despite the popularity of celebrity chefs and specialty ingredients, when it comes to the holidays, tradition still has a powerful hold. We picked seven reader recipes to share with you.

Barbara Weitzel of Ocean Pines has been making the Black Walnut Cake recipe she sent us for more than a quarter-century. She got it from her mother, who got it from Weitzel's grandmother.

When the adults in her family decided one year not to buy gifts for each other, Weitzel started making the cake as a gift instead. She has since extended the gift to her neighbors. She packs the cakes in baskets with coffee mugs, gourmet coffee, Christmas napkins and chocolates.

"The black walnuts really come through," Weitzel said.

Donna Macek of Towson shared her recipe for subtly scented Pear-Cardamom Bread, which can be made either in regular or mini-loaf pans. The recipe came from a Gold Medal Flour holiday recipe book that she picked up about five years ago at the grocery store.

"The beauty of this bread is that you can whip it up at the last minute and have a gift to give in no time flat, as long as you keep some pears on hand," Macek said. She often wraps the bread in a holiday cellophane bag with ribbon, and suggests attaching a butter spreader.

Barbara Melosh of Baltimore sent her recipe for Cranberry Vinegar, which has a festive color. Melosh wrote that she sometimes adds ginger to this recipe to give it a little extra kick. She uses it in vinaigrettes and drizzled over fruit or ice cream.

We received several recipes for spiced nuts, and we liked the version sent by Paige Evers of Bel Air, who got the recipe from Food for Friends by Sally Pasley Vargas. When Evers takes them to a party, she packs them in two levels of a Japanese bento box, ties a piece of Japanese fabric around the stacked boxes and uses the fabric knot as a handle. "They are always gone by the end of the night," she wrote.

If you're looking for a fun, easy gift for teachers or friends to make with your children, try the Pretzel Snowmen that Lauren Mischke of Towson found in a magazine (they've appeared in Family Fun). Mischke has been making them for children's parties for the last five years.

kate.shatzkin@baltsun.com

BLACK WALNUT CAKE / / SERVES 12 TO 14

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

3 cups flour

1 / 8 teaspoon salt

21 / 2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup floured black walnuts

confectioners' sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, sift flour, salt and baking powder together. Alternating with the milk, add flour mixture to the butter mixture a bit at a time, ending with the flour. Mix in vanilla and fold in floured nuts.

Pour batter into prepared tube pan. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar before serving.

.......................

Barbara Weitzel, Ocean Pines

Per serving (based on 14 servings): 410 calories, 7 grams protein, 20 grams fat, 9 grams saturated fat, 51 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 97 milligrams cholesterol, 115 milligrams sodium

CARAMEL POPCORN

MAKES 14 TO 16 CUPS

cooking spray

12 cups popcorn (popped without salt or fat)

11 / 2 cups unsalted mixed nuts, toasted

1 cup packed dark-brown sugar

1 / 2 cup light corn syrup

1 / 3 cup unsalted butter

1 tablespoon molasses

11 / 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 / 2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Coat a large jellyroll pan with cooking spray. Place popcorn and nuts in a large bowl; set aside. Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter and molasses in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 5 minutes, stirring once.

Remove from heat; stir in vanilla, baking soda and salt. Pour sugar mixture over popcorn and nuts in a steady stream, stirring to coat.

Spread popcorn mixture into prepared jellyroll pan. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir to break up any large clumps. Cool at least 15 minutes to serve warm after preparing.

Cool completely if transferring to tins.

Note: One-fourth cup unpopped popcorn makes about 8 cups popped.

.......................

Ann-Laurie Hyman, Reisterstown

Per cup (based on 16 cups): 218 calories, 3 grams protein, 11 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 30 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 199 milligrams sodium

DATE-PECAN MUFFINS

MAKES 2 DOZEN MINI-MUFFINS

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup sugar

1 large egg, beaten with a fork

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup pitted dates, cut into pieces

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup dry sherry, heated to just below a boil

1 stick salted butter, cut into small pieces (or 1 stick unsalted butter plus 1 / 4 teaspoon salt)

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