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Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 04:35 pm

Saucy Christmas

I love giving edible Christmas gifts that are different from the usual cookie/candy/fruit basket options. The sauces below make wonderful and unusual gifts. But I don’t just give them away – I make them for myself and my family during the holidays and other special occasions. 

Hazelnut romesco sauce

Romesco sauce is a Spanish classic, used as a dip for raw or grilled vegetables, shrimp or as a condiment for roasted meats. The traditional version calls for dried chiles and almonds and requires more laborious preparation. This different version is lighter, easier to prepare and equally delicious.

  • 1/3 c. roasted hazelnuts, skinned
  • 2 large roasted red bell peppers, peels and seeds removed, either freshly prepared or bottled, about 1 1/2 c.
  • 3-4 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 T. sherry vinegar
  • 1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 T. chopped fresh marjoram or savory
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Cayenne, hot pepper flakes, or other dried hot pepper to taste, optional
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in the container of a blender or food processor. Process until everything is finely ground, scraping down the container as needed. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. The sauce should be quite thick. Check the seasoning. You may want to add more salt, sugar, vinegar or hot pepper. The sauce can be used cold, room temperature, or gently warmed. (If it’s too hot, the oil will separate.) Makes about 1 3/4 c.

Chocolate fudge sauce

This ber-rich sauce is always a hit – and has many uses. If you don’t want to use liqueur, substitute 1 T. pure vanilla. 

  • 1 c. heavy cream, preferably NOT ultra-pasteurized
  • 1 1/2 c. extra fine sugar, also called baker’s sugar or bar sugar
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • pinch of kosher or sea salt
  • 6 oz. unsweetened chocolate cut into chunks
  • 3 T. liqueur such as Frangelico, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, or Meyer’s Rum

Heat the cream, butter, sugar, and salt in a small heavy-bottomed pan over medium low heat, stirring until it shows the first signs of simmering.

Remove the pot from the heat and add the chocolate. Reduce the heat to low and stir until the chocolate has melted and incorporated with the other ingredients. Raise the heat to medium low, bring the mixture to a bare simmer and cook until the sauce has thickened to that of a rich fudge sauce, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Add the liqueur and cook a couple minutes longer. Leftovers freeze well.

Warm: Over ice cream, or chocolate fondue.

Serve fondue in a heavy pot over a candle to keep warm. Use bamboo skewers to spear items to dip into the fondue. Some dipping possibilities: cubes of pound cake (Sara Lee all butter’s dense texture stands up well to dipping), strawberries, banana chunks, marshmallows, shortbread cookies or biscotti, dried apricots.

Cold: Filling between cake layers, filling for homemade sandwich cookies, topping or filling for pancakes, crpes, or scones.

Homemade cocktail sauce

Sure, you can buy cocktail sauce. You can even make it by combining catsup and horseradish. But this homemade version transforms cocktail sauce from a tired old standby into something terrific. 

  • 1 tsp. whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. celery seed
  • 1 quart peeled, chopped and drained tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 2 c. diced red bell peppers
  • 1 c. diced onion, NOT super-sweet
  • 2 T. kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 c. cider vinegar
  • 1 c. sugar
  • Drained bottled horseradish

Put celery seed and cloves into a spice bag and tie up tightly. Simmer all ingredients except the sugar in a large pot in a large pan until thick, stirring occasionally. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Remove the spice bag. Add the sugar and simmer about 20 minutes more, stirring frequently to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold. The sauce can be left as is – slightly chunky – or puréed in a blender for a smooth texture. Add drained horseradish to taste – from as little as 2 T. to half as much horseradish as the sauce. Makes 1-2 pints.

Pickled mustard seeds

This recipe comes from Tom Colicchio, celebrity chef and host of the reality show “Top Chef.” But I first found it in a cookbook by another master chef, David Chang, whose New York Momofuko restaurants in New York are wildly popular, as I can attest. This condiment can always be found in my refrigerator. I use it on everything from sandwiches to salads – and even to top deviled eggs. 

  • 1 c. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 T. salt

Combine the mustard seeds, water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the mustard seeds are plump and tender, about 45 minutes. If they look like they’re beginning to dry out, add water as needed to keep them barely submerged. Cool and refrigerate in a covered container. It will keep for months.

Carrot (or sweet potato) hot sauce

Carrot hot sauce is a Caribbean specialty. I first tasted it at a Jamaican restaurant in St. Louis and bought bottles of it there until the restaurant closed. I searched in vain to find another source and finally decided to try making it myself. I recently had a variation that substituted sweet potato for the carrot at the restaurant Cochon in New Orleans. It was as good – maybe even better – than that made with carrot.

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 c. chopped carrot or sweet potato
  • 2 c. water
  • 4 habaneros, or more or less to taste
  • 3 T. lime juice
  • 2 T. white vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt

Chop onion and garlic, sauté in oil until softened. Add carrots and water to pan, boil until softened. Cool to room temperature. Purée with remaining ingredients in blender or food processor. Makes about 2 c.


Mexican cajeta is, hands down, the most delectable caramel sauce I’ve ever had. Jarred cajeta can be found in the ethnic sections of groceries, but it’s nowhere near as wonderful as this homemade one. I don’t know why the goat milk makes such a difference – perhaps a subtle tanginess – but the sauce doesn’t taste at all “goat-y.” Goat’s milk can be found at Food Fantasies and at many groceries. 

  • 1 quart goat milk
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 T. light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2-inch cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican
  • 1 T. dark rum

In a large (at least 1 gallon) heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, corn syrup, and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.

Dissolve the baking soda in 1 tablespoon of water, remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the soda mixture. It will foam up, so have ready a spoon to stir it down. Return the pan to the stove and adjust the heat so that the mixture simmers at a steady roll. Stir regularly as the mixture reduces.

When the cajeta has turned light brown and noticeably thickened, reduce the heat to medium-low. Now stir constantly and thoroughly until the mixture thickens into a caramel brown syrup slightly thinner than corn syrup.

Remove from the heat and stir in the rum. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Cool completely before refrigerating. Serve warm or cold. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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