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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Quick Finish

So as our month of Food Gifting comes to a close, we thought we’d finish with one of our favorites – quick breads! Quick breads are just that, easy and quick to make. When they’re done, wrap them up in some holiday bags or clear wrap with pretty ribbon and they make an excellent homemade gift.
During the holidays, what we like to do is make mini loaves too. The best part about this idea is that with one recipe you can get six gifts! Most recipes that make two regular size loaves will produce half a dozen minis.

There are lots of great quick bread recipes out there, but here are some of our favorites.

Harvest Pumpkin Apple Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp salt
3 cups sugar
1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple juice or water
1 lg baking apple, peeled, cored and diced

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour loaf pans.
Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in large bowl then set aside.
Combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, vegetable oil and apple juice (or water) in a large mixing bowl and beat until just blended.
Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moistened, then fold in apples.
Spoon batter into loaf pans, bake for 45-65 minutes (depending on the size) or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean or the top of the loaf springs back to the touch.
Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; then take loaves out of pans and allow to completely cool on racks.
For three 8x4” loaf pans, bake for 60-65 minutes, for mini loaves (5x2.5”), bake for 45-50 minutes (start checking after 35 minutes).

Banana Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2-1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas

Preheat oven to 350° degrees F. Lightly grease loaf pan.
Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar, then stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended.
Stir banana mixture into flour mixture and stir just to moisten.
Spoon batter into loaf pans, bake for up to 45-65 minutes (depending on the size) or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean or the top of the loaf springs back to the touch.
Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; then take loaves out of pans and allow to completely cool on racks.
For 9x5 loaf pan, bake for 60-65 minutes, for mini loaves (5x2.5”), bake for 45-50 minutes (start checking after 35 minutes).

Gingery Gingerbread

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 cup molasses
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 350° degrees F. Lightly grease mini loaf pans.
Cream butter, shortening and sugar, then add beaten egg and molasses.
Sift together the dry ingredients and then add to the molasses mixture.
Add the hot water and beat until smooth.
Spoon batter into prepared loaf pans and bake for up to 45 minutes (start checking on them after 35 minutes) or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean or the top of the loaf springs back to the touch.
Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; then take loaves out of pans and allow to completely cool on racks.

Zucchini Bread

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon (yes, tbsp, this is not a typo)
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups course grated zucchini
1/2 cup dark seedless raisins (optional)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350° degrees F. Lightly grease mini loaf pans.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl.
Stir in zucchini (and raisins, if any) until coated in flour mix.
In a small bowl, beat oil and eggs together, then stir into flour-zucchini mix until moist.
Spoon batter into loaf pans, bake for up to 35-50 minutes (depending on the size) or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean or the top of the loaf springs back to the touch.
Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; then take loaves out of pans and allow to completely cool on racks.
For two 8x4” loaf pans, bake for 50 minutes, for mini loaves (5x2.5”), bake for 35-40 minutes (start checking after 35 minutes).

We hope this month's posts got the brain juices flowing with ideas for fun, tasty and new. With the holiday party season starting, in December we'll be bringing you recipes for appetizers and finger foods to enjoy, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food in a Jar (now with bonus recipe)

Today’s gift is great for a) giving as a last minute present, b) giving to those who may be challenged in the kitchen, and/or c) giving to those are financially stretched and may be living on a diet of ramen noodles and popcorn (ie college students).

Food in a jar, It’s a classic do it yourself gift that has tons of variations, both what you put in, and how you present it.

The steps are simple:

1. Find a recipe that you want to give (below are some links for where you can find loads of food in a jar recipes).
2. Place the ingredients in the jar.
3. Attach a gift tag that indicating what you're giving, and all additional steps that need to be done to get a completed meal.

That’s it! You can gift a single jar, or create a meal of jars. We decided to do a meal with a southwestern theme: southern cornbread, 3-bean chili and chocolate chip brownies.

The nice part of these is that you can dress them up, or keep them very simple (we chose to show the simple route). Also note that you can use jars that you have around the house, or you can buy mason jars.

Below are a few links where you can get some ideas for gifts in a jar.

Are you ready for this? As a Thanksgiving treat we’re going to give you a bonus recipe. If you’re looking for a last minute pie to make for turkey day, break this one out and impress your guests!

White Chocolate Pecan Pie

2 large eggs
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 cups pecan halves
1 cup (about 5 ounces) white chocolate chips
refrigerated pie crust

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Using an electric mixer, beat eggs in a large bowl until light. Add brown sugar, both corn syrups, butter, vanilla and salt; beat until mixture forms soft ribbons when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 cups pecans and white chocolate.

Transfer filling to prepared crust. Bake until filling is set and top is golden brown (this will take about an hour). If the crust is getting too dark, tent it with foil for the remainder of baking.

Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.

Serve pie at room temperature.

This year, we added some dried cranberries, adds just a hint of tartness to the pie. Yum, yum!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


A jar of chutney makes a nice gift. It’s colorful, fruity, sweet, and SO easy to make. Especially around this time of year when cranberries are plentiful and considered a staple in the holiday feasting, a pretty ribbon-clad jar of cranberry chutney makes a nice gift for any hostess serving up a traditional meal.

Cranberry Chutney

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
12 oz. cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup apples, peeled and diced (about half a medium-sized apple)
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground clove

In medium saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Add the rest of the ingredients then return to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, until apples are tender.

Pour into a medium glass mixing bowl and cover with plastic, cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend.
Best served at room temperature, serve with turkey or pork. Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

Here are some other non-traditional varieties to try.

Carambola (Star Fruit) Chutney

2 cup star fruit, cubed (about ¾ lbs)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tbsp finely chopped and peeled gingerroot
1/4 tsp ground clove
2 tbsp white wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and stir well, bring to a simmer over medium high heat.
Cook for 25 minutes, or it thickens.
Store in refrigerator, makes about 1 cup.
It makes a nice compliment to curry, chicken, pork, or vegetable.

Pineapple Chutney

2 cups cubed pineapple (fresh or canned in juice)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves

In a medium saucepan, combine pineapple, onion, pineapple juice, raisins, brown sugar, vinegar, and cumin.
Set pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.
Simmer 15 minutes, until mixture thickens and reduces.
Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.
Serve with pork, ham or chicken.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Salty Sweet Treats

If you had to make a choice between salty or sweet, would you be able to chose? If not, you’ve come to the right place. There’s no reason you can’t work both the salty and sweet taste buds at the same time. While you’re at it, share the experience with some friends.

First course:

White chocolate dipped pretzel sticks. Easy AND quick. Throw a few (or five) in a bag, tie with a pretty bow, and you’ve got a nice foodie gift. In fact, the culinary creative team will be creating a large number of these pretzels to use as table gifts for a holiday party!

Melt some white chocolate, dip a pretzel rod about a third of the way into the white chocolate, put onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper, and throw on some sprinkles! We found that the braided honey wheat rods give a little added hint of sweetness.

Second course:

Chocolate dipped potato chips. We promise, these are delicious. In fact, they were so delicious that they were immediately removed from sight as soon as the photos were finished. This could be a great addition to a movie basket gift.

Melt some semi sweet or milk chocolate (or use chocolate bark, like we did.) and dip half of a ridged potato chip into the chocolate. Give the chip a few quick side to side shakes to remove excess chocolate from between the ridges.

Third course:

Sweet and spicy nuts. So we mixed it up a bit, threw in some spice, but as said in a previous post “variety is the spice of life”.

1 lb. of mixed nuts (you can create your own mixture, or buy pre-mixed)
2 egg whites
½ tsp. water
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. salt (reduce or omit if your nuts are pre-salted)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cayenne (can be halved if you want to cut the heat.)
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Whip the egg whites, water, and vanilla extract until frothy. Add nuts and mix until they’re coated.

Blend the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. Pour ¾ of the sugar mixture over the nuts, and mix until nuts are covered.

Spread nuts onto baking sheet and pour remaining sugar mixture over them.

Bake for 30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes.. If you can, stir the nuts around a bit to make sure they’re browning evenly. They may stick to the foil or parchment, it happens, just let them be.

Let the nuts cool until you’re able to handle them without burning yourself. Remove the nuts from the lined pan (this may take some effort, but it’s completely worth it), and put in a storage container.

There ya have it, three salty sweet and delicious treats worthy enough to share!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fancy Fudge...Fantastic!

Who doesn’t like fudge? No sane person we know. A nice (and impressive) food gift is a box of homemade fudge. What we like to do is make several varies and then fill the box with a sampling of tasty flavors.

If you don’t mind putting a little effort into making fudge, then try this out.

P’Butter Fudge

1/2 cup butter
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
½ cup milk
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Melt butter in a pot on the stove over medium to med-high heat.

Add brown sugar and milk then bring to a boil for two minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla, blend well.

Pour mixture over confectioner’s sugar.

Line an 8 x 8” pan with wax paper (or foil) and spread fudge evenly in pan.
Let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to firm up.

For those who like something a little easier, you’ll like this recipe. It’s very versatile and possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Simply Fudge

3 cups chips (chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter, or butterscotch)
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

In a pot on the stove, mix chips and milk together.
Over low heat, stir occasionally until all the chips are melted.
Line an 8 x 8” pan with wax paper (or foil) and spread fudge evenly in pan.

So here’s where we decided to get creative.

White Chocolate-Cherry-Walnut Fudge

Make Simply Fudge using white chocolate chips.

Once the chips are melted, add in chopped dried cherries (alternately you can use dried cranberries) and finely chopped walnuts (come packaged as such). Then pour into the pan.

Chocolate Pecan Fudge

Make Simply Fudge using chocolate chips (we use a blend of semi-sweet and milk chocolate morsels). Once the chips are melted, add in chopped pecans. Then pour into pan.

Chocolate Mint Fudge

Melt 2/3 cup of white chocolate chips in the microwave, add a drop of green food coloring and ¼ tsp of peppermint extract. Set aside.

Make Simply Fudge using chocolate chips. Once the chips are melted, pour into pan.

Drop about 2/3 of the mint chocolate mixture on top of the fudge, and using a knife, blend it into the chocolate fudge. Some of it may blend, but the main purpose it to work a marbled layering into the fudge. Put the fudge in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes allowing it to cool a bit before drizzling the rest of the mint chocolate mixture on top (may have to reheat to smooth out again). If the mixture doesn’t drizzle well, add a smidge of shortening to it thin it out.

In honor of the winter holidays, we decided we wanted to add another familiar flavor to our fudge collection and used a recipe we found online.

Eggnog Fudge

It’s got great flavor, but we recommend using about 1 cup less sugar than the recipe calls for or else you’ll be giving someone a sugar coma to end all sugar comas. It doesn’t set up as firm as the others, but we would still recommend giving it a whirl.

Finishing Touches

You can find candy boxes in craft stores, like Michaels or AC Moore, in the cake decorating section. If you’re a local Durhamite, you can also find them at Not Just Paper. They’re available in ¼ lb and ½ lb sizes. Line the box with wax paper and will with fudge flavors. Add in a small knife and then if you’re feeling ambitious, add in a card with the fudge descriptions. Tie it up neatly with a bow and Voila! People love the look because it looks professional and you will be able to blow them away when you tell them you made it yourself!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Night at the Movies

So another fun-to-make gift idea we thought you might like are Night at the Movies Baskets. These are especially good for group or family gifts, though any movie addict (like K2 and Wendi) would enjoy them.

Step One: Pick a theme, any theme. Choose the type of movie you want to give and make that your central theme for the gift basket.

Step Two: Find a container or basket and fill (when we can, we like to match our containers to the overall theme of the movie or even just the DVD covers).

Step Three: Fill with movie-snacking goodies. If you can, pick items that tie in with the movie type or you can go with the classic movie night staples – popcorn and candy.

Step Four: Wrap it up. You can find big clear bags to wrap your gift up in and then tie off with a ribbon.

Even if it’s filled with pre-made goodies, the time and effort you put into making a basket from scratch will make it special. Just to show you what we mean, here are some samples we put together.

80s Night – Like Totally

For our movies, we chose two classics – Some Kind of Wonderful and Pretty in Pink. Found a big neon pink plastic bowl that doubles as a popcorn bowl. For our snacks we went with classic 80s treats – Jiffy Pop, Reese’s Pieces, Pop Rocks, and Twinkies. Some bright pink tissue to fill in the bottom and tied it all up with neon orange ribbon.

You could always add in a little something extra like jelly bracelets or a Rubik’s cube or a 80s-style t-shirt. There are lots of retro sites online where you can find nifty 80s throwbacks.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

To go along with our theme of classic Audrey, we used a 50s blue squared bowl, silver tinsel for fill, a bottle of champagne (alternately you can use a sparkling cider), and two martini glasses filled with chocolate gold coins and ring pops.

Family Fun Night

For our movies we chose an old Disney classic, Lady and the Tramp, and a new Disney classic, Monsters, Inc. We went with traditional movie treats of Whoppers, Twizzlers, and popcorn, threw in some individual popcorn bags (available at the Dollar Tree) and some homemade chocolate chip sandwich cookies.

Here are some other variations to try:

An Evening with Jane – chose a Jane Austen movie, include some tea bags and tea biscuits or scones, can also add a jar of marmalade or clotted cream.

Sports Night – pick out a sports-themed movie and add in a couple of beers or sodas, some popcorn, bag of nuts or pretzels into a tin bucket or big basket. At some specialty shops you can get chocolates wrapped up like golf balls, soccer balls and basketballs.

Just the Two of Us – pair up a romantic comedy or two with some chocolate-covered strawberries, small bottle of wine or fancy fizzy flavored water. Or you can go with a picnic feel and include a small summer sausage, some cheese and crackers.

Harry Potter and the Magical Movie Basket – Harry Potter movies in a big basket or mini chest with silver and gold fill, some Pixie Sticks or pretzel sticks, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Jelly Beans, and we find that cocoa-rolled chocolate covered almonds make excellent bezoars.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Variety REALLY is the Spice Mixture of life

Some people collect stamps, some people collect coins, after going through our spice cabinets, we found out that we were spice collectors. So, in keeping with the gifting theme, we thought it appropriate to share some ideas for spice gifting.

Does the person you’re giving a gift to enjoy baking? Give them a little kit of a pie pan, server, and homemade pie spice mix. To make it even more personal, attach your favorite pie recipe that uses the spice mixture.

Giving something as simple as a mug filled with mulling spices for wine or cider or even a cocoa with marshmallows and a bag of homemade cookies, can make for a quick and inexpensive gift. If you want to add to this, put in a book that you think the recipient would like, maybe add in a CD or a snuggie (come on, you know you want an excuse to buy one!)

If you want to give a variety of spices, and aren’t sure how to highlight each, create your own spice rack with some of your favorite mixtures. We went to the dollar store and found some spice jars, and used a silverware organizing basket as our rack. We filled each of these with homemade mixtures. A Cajun spice mix, an Italian spice blend, a BBQ spice, and of course the pie spice mixture. If you’re pressed for time, and don’t want to create your own spice mixtures you can take the store bought mixtures and put them into the nice jars in the rack. Make sure you label each jar with what spice mixture they contain.

There are ways to customize even further. Add in a few recipes, or include a small recipe box/book with recipes that use the spice mixtures that you have prepared. Find out your recipients favorite cuisine and create an entire spice rack that correlates to that cuisine.

If you’re planning on doing a larger number of racks, a great place to find spices is at one of those large warehouse stores. Membership is normally required, but some will give you a free one day trial membership. If you DO plan on making the spice mixtures yourself, try to locate a store with bulk spices (many co-ops, as well as whole foods and fresh markets carry bulk spices, as do online stores, such as We find that you get a much better bang for your buck with these spices.

So, now you’re completely excited to start making your spice mixtures right? Below are just a couple of the links we used to find recipes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In vino veritas

We’re starting off our Food Gifting marathon with wine. Now we don’t claim to be wine experts by any stretch of the imagination –- Wendi doesn’t drink wine and K2’s more a “ooh, look a pretty bottle” connoisseur –- so actual recommendations we’ll leave to the experts, BUT we will give you ideas on how to make a Wow presentation with your gift!

We look at wine gifting as a chance to expose friends to new wines that they might not have chosen for themselves otherwise. So, to that end, our rule of thumb is that if you don’t know how it tastes, go with how it looks. (If you’re not that brave and want your wine-drinking friends to ask you back, we would suggest asking someone who knows.)

“Simply” Elegant

If you want a near-to-no brainer gift, pick out your wine gift bag first then find a wine to match it! There are so many cool labels and bottle shapes out there that it should be easy to do. It’s subtle, but if you find a bag, bottle, and tissue that has a theme it’s going to make your gift look well put-together and it will register on some level that this is more than just a grab-and-go gift.

A Little Something Extra

Don’t send your wine out on its own! Add a little something extra to tag along with it -- like chocolate, a nice corkscrew, fancy nuts, or some cute coasters. There are lots of little things you can find that will make a nice companion for your vino. Check out the dollar bins at your local craft store or hit a dollar store to see what you can find.

A Trisket A Trasket

Gift baskets are fun to put together, though honestly it’s not always the less expensive route to go. But when cost is not really an issue, what we like about doing it ourselves is that it can be personalized to suit your "giftee's" tastes or used as an opportunity to show off your artistic and/or culinary talents.

This basket has two half-bottles of wine, three sample-size cheeses and a variety of homemade crackers – cracked pepper, sesame, and plain. With smaller items you can get a wider variety of goodies in it. You may already have a favorite cracker recipe, but if not, this is the one we use and just add our own spice variety to it,

For more of a splash, we picked a red color scheme for this festive bucket. The shiny star spray and red fill (both from the Dollar Store) picks up the shininess of the metal bucket. Then for the gift we have a bottle of red, some fancy crackers, a wheel of brie and a matching red bottle opener (sorry not really visible, see "stuff" photo above).

The Right Stuff

For baskets, buckets, and other containers, we recommend you check not only craft stores, but hardware stores or shops like Ross or TJ Maxx where you can find unusual items at discount prices. Thrift shops is another place to find baskets or unusual containers. Fills, bows, and funky ribbons can be found inexpensively at dollar stores, fabric shops, or craft shops.

Most grocery stores these days have a pretty decent selection of wines and there are any number of wine warehouses around too, but if you’re in the market for great wine at great prices you should check out the smaller specialty stores. In fact, we have a family & friend favorite to recommend for those of you who are local, Wine Authorities in Durham (check out our “Check It Out” post for their web link).

We hope this will give you some things to think about and get those creative juices flowing!