Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas and Holiday Gift Idea: Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar always reminds me of Christmas.

My mother, Gran Fran, uses confectioner’s sugar with vanilla in it to coat her Viennese Crescent cookies (post coming soon!). I always keep a jar mixed in my refrigerator for a last minute baking project. My sister Noel (she of baking fame from this post) suggested making a confectioner’s and a standard white sugar (or raw sugar) mixed with vanilla to give as gifts.

She said she mixes the standard vanilla sugar into coffee and it’s delightful. It took me about ten minutes to make these sugars, yielding enough for three or four small jars to share with friends.

Vanilla beans are usually quite pricey. I’ve found a great place in San Francisco that sells both saffron and vanilla beans at very affordable prices. Here’s a link to their site, saffron.com (yes, for reals), and they ship. They have a nice history of vanilla on their site, too.

Pair these sugars with some excellent coffee beans (or ground coffee) and a nice wooden spoon attached to the jar and you’ve got yourself a unique holiday gift.

Vanilla Sugar Bundle

yields 2 four ounce jars of confectioner’s sugar and two four ounce jars of white sugar
  1. Scrape 4 vanilla beans into 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar.
  2. Mix well and seal.
  3. Use the hollowed out beans to flavor 2 cups of regular white sugar.
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Christmas and Holiday Gift: Lentils for Good Fortune

Lentils are a new favorite around here.

I figured out that if you cook them with a nice ham hock, they taste great. My friends gave me a gift last year that included a lentil recipe and the dry ingredients with which to make it. I’ve included a vegan version, too.

Here’s my version of that same gift. Throw in a bottle of wine for good measure. It can be included in the stew, or drunk alongside it.

A great celebration, La Festa di San Silvestro takes place in Italy at New Year’s that features the humble lentil. It is thought that lentils bring prosperity and good luck in the coming year. You can read about it here, and be happy that you can share this tradition with your friends via this wonderful gift.

First up, is my lentil butternut squash with ham stew. I stumbled upon this when I was trying to make split pea soup with ham. I figured one dried small legume was the same as another. I was right. Nice and nutty, this is a wonderful recipe. You can include walnuts, chicken stock, bay leaves, curry powder and lentils for this version.

Below is another variation, that involves lentils, rice and saffron. Again, and always with beans, in my opinion, include a bay leaf or two, and chicken stock. I love to present gifts in the pot or pan you might cook them in. Place the lentils and all the dry ingredients in a saucepan with a lid, add a bow and you’re set. I’ve also included a mason jar of rice with the same ribbon. Print out this recipe and attach it to the bag or basket the gift is in. Voila! Instant holiday meal.

Enjoy.

Cooked Lentils with Saffron

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried lentils
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 to 8 ounces saffron
  • 1 cup cooked rice, according to your taste: basmati, jasmine, pearl
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Place lentils, water, saffron and bay leaf in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, add salt and pepper.
  3. Reduce to medium-low, let simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 to 30 minutes, until softened.
  4. While the lentils cook, brown the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft.
  5. Mix together the onions, garlic and lentils. Remove the bay leaf, add salt and pepper if needed and serve over rice.
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Christmas and Holiday Gift Idea: Sugar Cookies and Tea

Sugar cookies and tea…there couldn’t be a lovelier combination.

Christmas is a time for cozy and warm moments.  Why not give your friends a bake-at-home roll of sugar cookie dough and some loose leaf tea as a gift this year? Ready for baking and brewing, the classic combo of tea and cookies will delight both young and old.

I love tea and usually go for Mariage Freres teas. This year, I decided to go to a local tea shop, Spike’s Coffee and Tea in the Castro. My sister reminded me of their great tea selection and friendly service. She was right, Trevor, who was on duty, was patient and helpful, even though the customers kept streaming through the door. Although I kept adding flavors, the bill was still reasonable and the packaging was lovely.

I purchased six quarter pound bags of loose leaf tea, including Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchang, Chai, Russian Caravan and Moroccan Mint. Depending on each of my friends’ tastes, I will chose a tea to include with the cookie dough.If you can, grab some actual tea filters or a tea strainer to include in the gift. Some friends may get a few small bags of each flavor of tea

Here’s a link to brewing the perfect cup of tea, as per Twinings of London. You may want to include the link with the recipe below so you’re friends can make the best cup of tea ever. You can also add a jar of frosting, or a copy of the recipe.

Happy holidays to you and yours!

Sugar Cookies and Tea Gift Set

(All pictures are cookies made with standard all-purpose white flour. You can replace white flour with Gluten Free Pantry’s All Purpose Flour Mix)

Make the dough:

You can find the dough recipe here.

Instead of baking right away,  wrap the dough into 4 portions into waxed paper logs, tie with ribbon and refrigerate.

Include these instructions with the roll of cookie dough:

  1. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  2. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in a 375 degree preheated oven, or until golden. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks.
  3. Frost (recipe here) and serve with a cup of brewed tea.

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Christmas and Holiday Gift Idea: Homemade Mulling Spices

Homemade mulling spices make a wonderful gift with either a bottle of wine or a jug of apple cider.

Super easy to make, you’ll impress your friends with this warm, spicy homemade gift.

Homemade Mulling Spices

Step 1: Gather the ingredients

  • Rinds of 3 oranges
  • 8 ounces whole cloves
  • 6 cinnamon sticks, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons allspice
  • 3 tablespoons candied ginger, diced into small bits

To remove the pith:

  • Cut the oranges into quarters, just deep enough to remove the skin from the fruit.
  • Peel the skin off the fruit. Turn it pith side up and using a serrated knife (or better yet, a grapefruit spoon)  scrape the skin clean. Be careful not to cut through the skin with the knife.

Dry The Orange Rinds:

  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.
  • Cut the cleaned orange rinds into strips.
  • Place the strips on a parchment paper lined baking tray.
  • Dry in the oven for up to an hour (make sure to keep an eye on them, so they don’t become too brittle).

Combine all of the ingredients, package and share!

  • Sterilize 4 4 ounce jars (see here for instructions).
  • Spoon mixture into jars and seal. Use a decorative ribbon to finish the jar.
  • Wrap your favorite red wine or apple cider in tulle or colorful fabric, tied with a decorative ribbon
  • Warm 4 cups of wine or cider over a medium flame. Add mulling spices and warm again for five minutes, or until you smell the aroma of the oranges, spices and ginger being released from the mixture.
  • Strain the mixture, keep warm over low flame and serve.
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