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Gifts From the Gut

December 14, 2006 By:
Andrew Schloss, JE Feature
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There's no greater pleasure for a cook than to share food with others who love to eat. Yet at Chanukah time, many overlook the treasure trove of gift ideas in their culinary repertoires. They run from store to store in search of the perfect gift, when all they really need to do is preheat the oven.

Any recipe that makes a product solid enough to travel and moist enough to resist going stale can easily be converted into a single-portion size for gift-giving. And who wouldn't love to get a plate of brownies damp enough to leave their mark on anything they touch, or a jar of homemade marmalade packed with pulp and bright colored whiskers of rind?

Recipes for tea cakes, fruit cakes, nut cakes and pound cakes fit the mold perfectly. Try your favorite brownie or bar cookie wrapped in cellophane and tied up with ribbons, or bake cakes in easy-to-cut sheets, mini-loaf pans or muffin tins to yield enough individual portions to satisfy the better part of your gift list.

Flavored vinegars, oils and mustards are unbelievably easy and inexpensive to make at home, often requiring little more expertise than the ability to mix and heat a few ingredients for a few minutes. Flavor mustard with peppercorns, honey, brown sugar or wine. Infuse vinegars with herbs or fruit. Scent oil with chili, garlic or nuts.

With the help of a food processor or blender, homemade nut butters can be whipped up in a few minutes. Although peanut butter is the most popular, don't stop there. Make cashew butter spiked with ginger, or pecan butter sweetened with brown sugar and a jolt of bourbon. Stud walnut butter with morsels of figs, or turn peanut butter into a confection with a generous fistful of roasted peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips.

The following recipes are designed to help you celebrate each night of Chanukah with a one-of-a-kind delectable gift, handmade in your very own kitchen.

Apple Cider Syrup

(Pareve)

1 cup sugar
1 gallon apple cider

Combine the sugar and cider in a large heavy pot, and bring to a boil.

Skim off any foam that rises to the surface, and continue to boil until the mixture reduces to 4 cups. Pour into decorative jars.

Keep refrigerated.

Makes 1 quart.

Flavored Oil

(Pareve)

1 quart oil, see suggested flavor combinations
1/2-1 cup flavoring, see suggested flavor combinations

Heat oil to the temperature of hot tap water (about 120°).

Add flavoring agent and set aside until room temperature; strain.

Makes 1 quart.

Garlic Oil: Extra-virgin olive oil and a half-cup whole garlic cloves.

Double-Strength Nut Oil: Walnut, hazelnut, or almond oil and 1 cup of the same type of chopped nuts.

Citrus Oil: Canola oil and a half-cup coarsely chopped orange, lemon, and/or lime zest.

Flavored Vinegar
(Pareve)

1 quart vinegar, see suggested flavor combinations
1/2-1 cup flavoring, see suggested flavor combinations

Heat vinegar to the temperature of hot tap water (about 120°).

Add flavoring agent and set aside until room temperature; strain.

Makes 1 quart.

Herb Vinegar: Red- or white-wine vinegar and 1 cup of your choice of fresh herbs.

Fruit Vinegar: Red- or white-wine vinegar and 1 cup of your choice of fresh berries.

Maple Vinegar: White-wine vinegar and a half-cup 100 percent maple syrup.

Raisin Chocolate-Chip Peanut Butter
(Pareve)

12 oz. unsalted roasted peanuts
pinch of salt
1/3 cup pareve mini-chocolate chips
1/3 cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped

Chop the peanuts and salt in a food processor until finely chopped. Turn on the processor and process until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping the walls periodically.

Transfer to a mixing bowl, and fold in the chocolate chips and raisins.

Makes 2 cups.

Pecan-Shortbread Dreidels

(Dairy)

1 cup pecan pieces
2 cups flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 lb. cold unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°.

Chop pecans in a food processor, using 10 second pulses, until finely ground.

Add the flour, cornstarch and sugar, and process until the whole mixture is powdery.

Add the butter and vanilla, and process in pulses, until the mixture is uniformly moistened and begins to climb the sides of the workbowl.

Pat and roll to 1/3-inch thick, and cut with a small dreidel-shaped cookie-cutter (or other cookie-cutter), and place on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake until browned on the edges, about 20 minutes. Cool.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Orange-Liqueur Brownies

(Dairy)

flour and oil baking spray
4 large or extra-large eggs
2 cups sugar
11 Tbsps. butter, melted
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
finely grated zest of 1 large orange
tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsps. kosher orange liqueur
cup sifted flour

Preheat oven to 400°.

Coat a 9-inch square baking pan with baking spray; set aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the melted butter and chocolate, followed by the orange zest, vanilla, and orange liqueur. Fold in the flour.

Bake until the top is crusted, the edges are firm and the center is still fudgy -- about 20 minutes.

Cool completely in the pan and cut into squares.

Makes 25 brownies.

Whiskey Poundcake

(Dairy)

flour and oil baking spray
12 oz. butter, cut in tablespoon-size pieces, softened
3 cups light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
pinch of ground clove
6 large or extra-large eggs
31/4 cups flour
2 tsps. baking powder
1/2 cup kosher Scotch or Irish whiskey
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spray 8 mini-loaf pans with baking spray.

Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in vanilla, nutmeg and clove.

Add eggs, two at a time, scraping to keep the batter smooth.

Mix flour and baking powder in one bowl, and whiskey and buttermilk in another; add alternately to the batter, beating just until smooth.

Divide the batter between the prepared mini-loaf pans.

Bake until a tester comes out without a crumb clinging to it -- about 45 minutes.

Cool for at least 15 minutes, unpan, cool the rest of the way, and wrap individually.

Makes 8 small loaf cakes.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.

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