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Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 02:04 am

Savory holiday gifts

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They’re everywhere: cookies, candies, and more cookies – an avalanche of cookie walks, cookie exchanges, tins of gift cookies. Same old, same old.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cookies, and I’ll make and eat my fair share during the holidays. But when it comes to giving food gifts, I like to do something different – something savory, but still festive.

Below are some of my favorites. I use florists’ cellophane bags and half-pint canning jars for the onion marmalade and cranberry chutney.

Asiago toasts

These long thin toasts look and taste sophisticated, but they’re easy and inexpensive to make. Give them by themselves, or with a wedge of good cheese (the Corkscrew has the best selection locally) and a bottle of wine.

Gift tag suggestion: Asiago toasts are great with soups and salads, as an accompaniment to cheese, or just to munch on.

  • 1 day-old baguette
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½-2 cups freshly grated aged Asiago cheese

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Slice the baguette on a sharp diagonal
into very thin long slices (1/8-inch to ¼-inch thick).

Brush the bread as lightly as possible on both sides with the oil. Place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the bread slices evenly with the cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp.

Caramelized onion marmalade

Caramelized onions are incredibly unctuous, with a rich mouth feel that belies the small amount of oil used. They are so delicious and have so many uses that I try to always keep some in my refrigerator. The only preparation that takes much time is slicing the onions. If making multiple recipes, you may need to use two skillets.

Gift tag suggestion: This onion marmalade has many uses: mixed with a little olive oil for a salad dressing, on sandwiches, as a topping for pizza and bruschetta (it’s especially good with blue cheese) or as a garnish for pork chops or steak. Keep refrigerated.

  • 1 very large red onion (1–1 ½ lb)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves (do not use ground)
  • 2 T. tawny port or medium dry sherry such as Amontadillo or Dry Sack, optional
  • 1 T. red wine or sherry vinegar freshly ground pepper to taste

Cut the onion in half lengthwise, and then into quarters. Slice about ¼-inch thick. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat and add the onion. Toss to combine, then add the thyme, the port or sherry and the vinegar. Cover and sweat the onion until softened. Remove the lid and turn the heat to low. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is deeply caramelized and the mixture is thick and almost gooey. Cool.

Makes about 1 cup.

Parmesan and herb biscuits

These biscuits are a wonderful alternative to other breads at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They’re a snap to make, particularly if the dry ingredients have been mixed ahead of time. To make them for gifts, line up the bags you’ll be putting them in and make an assembly line. Half the cheese goes into the dry mixture; put the remaining cheese for sprinkling on the biscuits’ tops in a plastic sandwich bag and knot it.

Gift tag instructions: Preheat the oven to 425° F. Put the contents of the bag (minus the cheese packet) in a bowl and stir in 1 c. heavy cream. Stir to form a dough. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of milk.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly about 20 times, but don’t overwork it. Pat the dough about ½-inch thick. Cut into the desired shapes — rounds, squares, or triangles — and place on a baking sheet, either greased or covered with parchment paper. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake 15–25 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly browned.

  • 1 3/4 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 T. baking powder.
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 2 tsp. crumbled (not ground) dried Herbs de Provence, or rosemary, thyme, marjoram, or a combination
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, or to taste
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan, divided (do not use freshly grated if you’re packaging this up for gifts; it has too much moisture and will clump up)
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream
  • Approximately 1–2 T. additional milk if necessary
  • Melted butter for brushing the biscuits’ tops

Preheat the oven to 425° F. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt and stir to combine well. Crush the herbs lightly and add to the flour mixture. Stir in the pepper and ¼ c. of the parmesan.

Mix in the heavy cream and stir to form a dough. You may need to add a tablespoon or two of milk.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly about 20 times, but don’t overwork it. Pat the dough about ½-inch thick. Cut into the desired shapes — rounds, squares, or triangles — and place on a baking sheet, either greased or covered with parchment paper. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake 15-25 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly browned. Makes 6-12 biscuits.

Cranberry black pepper chutney

My daughter, Ashley, found this chutney in Gourmet magazine’s December 2002 issue. Like her mother, she can’t resist tinkering with recipes; this is her adaptation. The tang of the cranberries and spicy heat from the black pepper is a welcome counterpoint to rich holiday meals.

Ashley makes a large batch every year to have extra for gifts. The recipe is easily doubled, tripled or even quadrupled; just be aware that the cooking time will be longer. It’s not meant to be eaten on its own; rather it should be used as a condiment.

Gift tag suggestion: This holiday chutney is great on turkey, ham, or grilled cheese sandwiches, or served with a cheese platter. Keep refrigerated.

  • 1/3 c. finely chopped shallots, preferred, OR red onion
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 c. fresh or frozen cranberries (don’t unthaw before measuring)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. orange juice
  • 1 T. cider vinegar
  • 1 T. – 1 tsp. very coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
Cook shallot in butter in a large non-reactive saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s translucent and golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a bare simmer, uncovered. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have burst and the chutney thickens, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Makes about 1c. Keeps, covered and refrigerated, for several weeks.
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