What’s the most memorable gift you’ve ever received? Chances are it wasn’t an expensive handbag or a bottle of wine. Instead, it might have been a child’s art project or a basket of welcome-to-the-neighborhood cookies. When we give a homemade gift, we’re also giving our time, energy and love.
This holiday season, whip up one of these DIY treats from Edina cookbook author Paulette Mitchell. From luxurious limoncello to yummy hot fudge, you’ll find something for everyone on your list. Yep, even the folks who have everything, says Mitchell. After all, she asks, “Who doesn’t like hot fudge?”
Mitchell recommends planning ahead, especially for items such as liqueurs, which can take at least 40 days to rest after preparation. And don’t forget the packaging. “Containers are important, because that’s what turns something ordinary into a special gift. Save bottles from vinegars or dressings, save jelly jars,” she says.
Go above and beyond with a few extras, too. For example, package limoncello with a set of pretty glasses from Ampersand, or pair jars of jelly with linen napkins from Gather.
It’s time to get cooking! Read on for four of Mitchell’s favorite recipes, and wish your giftees a very delicious holiday season.
Ampersand, 3445 Galleria; 952.920.2118.
Gather, 5041 France Ave. S.; 612.920.1400.
Makes 4 quarts
Use the freshest, most blemish-free, ripest lemons you can find. Since limoncello is made from the lemon peel, make sure they haven’t been coated or sprayed with pesticides. It’s a good idea to use organic lemons.
You’ll also need a one-gallon glass jar, a fine-mesh strainer or coffee filter, and a narrow-neck funnel. Buy bottles in advance or save bottles from vinegars or salad dressings, making certain they are well-cleaned before using.
This recipe takes only about 15 minutes for the first stage, but you must allow 40 to 60 days for the mixture to infuse.
15 organic lemons
2 750-milliliter bottles of 151- or 190-proof grain alcohol, such as Everclear
4 cups granulated sugar
9½ cups water
Wash a one-gallon glass jar and lid in hot, soapy water; dry thoroughly. Alternatively, run the jar and lid through the regular cycle of your dishwasher.
Scrub the lemons in warm water and pat dry. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from each lemon in wide strips. Be careful not to remove the white pith, which will impart a bitter flavor to the limoncello.
Place the lemon peels in the jar. Pour in one bottle of the alcohol, and push down the lemon peels with a wooden spoon to completely submerge them in the liquid. Tightly secure the lid and set the jar in a cool, dark place to steep. Stirring is not necessary.
After 20 to 30 days, add the second bottle of alcohol to the mixture.
Pour the sugar and 7½ cups of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Decrease to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes to ensure that all the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool.
When the sugar syrup is completely cool, add it to the lemon-alcohol mixture in the jar. Tightly secure the lid and return the jar to a cool, dark place to steep for an additional 20 to 30 days. Over time, the liquid will absorb the flavor from the lemon peels and turn bright yellow.
To bottle the limoncello, first wash the bottles in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Alternatively, run the bottles through the regular cycle of your dishwasher. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer, or a coffee filter set in a strainer, into a large bowl.
Add 1⅔ cups of water to the limoncello if you used 151-proof grain alcohol; add 2 cups of water if you used 190-proof. (Note: The addition of the water will turn the liquid cloudy and pale yellow. This is the desired outcome.) Let it rest for a moment so that any remaining sediment will sink to the bottom of the bowl.
Using a narrow-neck funnel, ladle the limoncello into the prepared bottles, leaving 1-inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean, secure the lids and label.
Store in the refrigerator and serve chilled.
Red Wine Jelly
Makes 3½ cups
This is a great way to use the last of a bottle of wine and a lovely gift from your kitchen to share with friends. It’s unnecessary to cover the containers in the traditional manner using paraffin. Instead, store the jelly in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator for up three weeks or in the freezer for up to one year.
As an appetizer, top thin slices of French baguette with a sliver of Gruyère and a dollop of this jelly to savor the contrast of sweet and salty. Or simply spread the jelly on thin slices of French bread, perhaps over a layer of chèvre, to accompany salads.
For dessert, use wine jelly as a glaze for a fruit tart or cake; melt the jelly over low heat, spread it with a brush, and then chill the creation.
3 cups sugar
2 cups red zinfandel or another full-bodied, jammy red wine
3 ounces liquid fruit pectin
Begin by sterilizing glass jars to accommodate the 3½ cups of jelly. First, wash and rinse the jars. Then immerse them in boiling water for at least 10 minutes or until needed.
Combine the sugar and wine in the top pan of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves, about five minutes. Add the pectin; stir constantly for about one minute. Use a large spoon to skim off the foam.
While the jelly is still hot, pour it into hot sterilized jars (see Tip). Leave a half-inch of space at the top for expansion if you choose to freeze the jelly. Wipe the rims clean and cover at once with a lid. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours or until set, then transfer to the refrigerator for up to three weeks or freezer for up to one year.
Pectin, a natural substance derived from fruits, is used for thickening jellies, jams and preserves. Liquid pectin, which comes from apples, thickens properly only when mixed with the correct balance of sugar and acid. You’ll find liquid pectin in most supermarkets.
From The Spirited Vegetarian by Paulette Mitchell
Hot Fudge Sauce with Toasted Hazelnuts
Makes 4 cups
For the best results, use high-quality chocolate such as Scharffenberger or Valrhona. This decadent sauce is great to have on hand to turn an ordinary bowl of vanilla ice cream into a gourmet dessert.
1 cup hazelnuts
½ cup unsalted butter
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
3 cups powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Spread the nuts on a small, rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until deep brown and the skins begin to flake. Transfer the nuts to a thin kitchen towel and fold it over the warm nuts. Rub vigorously to remove the skins. Then coarsely chop the nuts.
While the nuts are toasting, melt the butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. Stir in the evaporated milk and powdered sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, for one minute or until the sauce is thick and glossy.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla, salt and toasted hazelnuts.
Serve the sauce immediately while warm. Or let the sauce cool and transfer it to covered containers. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to one year.
To reheat, transfer the sauce to a microwave-proof container and heat on high in the microwave until softened and warm.
From The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet: Creative Cuisine Made Fast and Fresh by Paulette Mitchell
Spiced Mixed Nuts
Makes 2½ cups
Here’s a delicious way to enjoy nuts as a healthful snack or as a crunchy garnish for salads. They make a tasty party treat, a welcome gift and, for the busy cook, a sweet reward.
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 egg white
2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup (4 ounces) whole walnuts
½ cup (2 ounces) unblanched almonds
½ cup (3 ounces) hazelnuts
½ cup (2 ounces) whole pecans
Preheat the oven to 275° F. Line a baking sheet or jelly-roll pan with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil cooking spray.
Combine the sugar, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, allspice and ginger powder in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, beat the egg white until foamy and stir in the water; stir into the sugar mixture. Add the nuts and stir until evenly coated.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the nuts from the sauce, letting the excess sugar mixture drain off. Spread the nuts on the prepared pan. Bake, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until lightly browned and dry.
When cool, break the nuts apart, if necessary.
The nuts will keep for up to three weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.
Spices such as nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and cumin are aromatic seasonings obtained from the seeds, flowers, stems, bark or roots of various plants. Many are sold in both whole and ground forms. After grinding, spices quickly lose their aroma and flavor, so buy them in small quantities. Whole spices can be ground as needed. Store whole spices for up to six months in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
From Vegetarian Appetizers by Paulette Mitchell