Peace & Love. Christ is the Reason for the Season. I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.
I know what you are actually thinking.
(Cue stressful shreiky Norman Bates music)
It’s Christmas week and I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping.
Does the thought of facing unruly, rude hordes at the mall make you want to stay home and get an early start on your taxes? Perhaps volunteer as a test subject down at the local CIA training facility? Listen to a continuous loop of a PBS-NPR fundraising remix? Maybe just spend the afternoon bathing the cats?
You don’t have to.
Gifts Cooks Love was written by Diane, produced by the national kitchenware retailer Sur la Table, and published by the award-winning publisher Andrews McMeel. Quite the trio and it is a beautiful, beautiful book. The photographs by Sara Remington are exquisite. Seriously, this book is truly inspiring.
It’s one of the best culinary DIY manuals I’ve seen and offers something for every level of kitchen prowess. The recipes are easy and accessible with suggestions for wrapping and presenting. It’s chock full of helpful tips and techniques and even contains detailed ingredient notes for the gift tag. Diane practically is in the kitchen doing it for you. Don’t worry about having to bring out too much of your inner Martha, (I know, remember, I used to work for her.) These recipes and suggestions are practically foolproof.
Crotchety Aunt Gladys will be so enamored with her tasty treat she won’t remember to comment on how poorly your kids behave and that Billy needs a haircut. Uncle Bob will be too busy nibbling to ask you when are you getting married. And, the neighbors? Consider one of these delicious recipes from Dianne to be the ne plus ultra, the absolute ultimate olive branch.
Oh, and, if you’re just too lazy or busy washing those cats to make use of Diane’s great book, click on over to your favorite online retailer and order it for for your friends. Maybe they’ll have the sense to use it. It will be the gift that – at least for you – keeps on giving.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
EIGHT-HOUR BUTTER-BRAISED ONIONS
Onions as a gift? Indeed. This is the perfect hostess gift when the invitation to a friend’s cabin for a ski weekend arrives. Bring along the makings for an après-ski lunch of French onion soup. Requiring only a slow cooker and a little attention from the cook, the preparation is nearly done before the trip. Thick slices of onion are simmered for hours in butter and fresh thyme until meltingly soft and savory. This becomes the base for the classic and hearty soup, served piping hot with melted Gruyère bubbling over toasted bread and oozing down the sides of a ceramic bowl. Pack an artisan loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and a bottle of Beaujolais, and you are in winter heaven.
Prep Time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 8 hours | Makes two (6-cup/1½-liter) jars of butter-braised onions; enough for two batches of French onion soup, six servings each
10 large (about 8½ pounds) sweet onions, such as Walla Walla, Vidalia, or Maui
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
Onion Goggles, Cutting Board, Chef’s Knife, 6½-Quart Electric Slow Cooker, Measuring Spoon, Silicone Spatula, Two (6-Cup/ 1½-Liter) Glass, Canning Jars, Wide-Mouth Funnel, Ladle
To prep the onions, trim the stem end, cut in half lengthwise through the root, and peel each half. Leaving the root end intact, cut each half lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Trim to remove the root.
Scatter the butter in the bottom of a 6½-quart electric slow cooker. Add the onions and sprinkle the thyme over the top. Place the lid on the slow cooker, set the cooking mode to high, and set a timer for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, use a silicone spatula to stir the onion mixture. Set a timer for 6 hours, continuing to cook on high. (As tempting as it might be, there is no need to stir the onions during this long cooking period.)
Turn the power off, remove the cover, give the onions a stir, and let cool in the ceramic insert for 1 hour.
Ladle the onions into the jars through a wide-mouth funnel, dividing evenly. Cool completely, and then cover and refrigerate.
Storing: Refrigerate, covered, for up to 5 days.
Gift-Giving Tips: Tie each jar with raffia or ribbon and attach a recipe card. To turn this into a gift basket, consider including an artisan loaf of bread and a hunk of Gruyère cheese. To make the gift a bit more elaborate, include 6 French onion soup bowls.
Recipe Card: create a card to package with gift
Bistro-Style French Onion Soup
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1½ T. of unsalted butter. Add 1½ T. of all-purpose flour, and whisk until the flour is absorbed and begins to turn golden. Add 1 T. of sugar; whisk to dissolve. Add the onions and 4 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a simmer. Season to taste. Have ready 6 thick slices of toasted French bread and 6 thick slices of Gruyère cheese. Divide the soup among 6 heatproof bowls, and top with a slice of bread and cheese. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
JALAPEÑO AND CHEDDAR SKILLET CORNBREAD WITH HONEY BUTTER
This is a gift to bake and give immediately. Though the honey butter stays fresh in the refrigerator for up to a month, the cornbread is best when eaten within a day or two of being made, so plan your gift giving accordingly. For friends, family, or co-workers who enjoy cooking but might not have a kitchen full of equipment, they’ll receive a home-baked gift and a skillet to boot. The honey butter looks adorable and country-chic when formed into a log, rolled in waxed paper, and tied with raffia. Giving the honey butter packed into a butter bell is an alternative way to make the gift more elaborate.
Prep Time: 25 minutes | Bake Time: 30 to 35 minutes | Makes three (6½-inch) skillet cornbreads and three logs honey butter
1¾ cups medium-grind yellow cornmeal
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¹⁄³ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1¾ cups buttermilk
3 large eggs, beaten
1 (15-ounce) can creamed corn
½ cup canned diced jalapeños, drained
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon bacon drippings or melted butter, for greasing pan
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup honey
Large and Medium Bowls, Measuring Cups and Spoons, Can Opener, Box Grater, Whisk, Rubber Spatula, Three (6½-Inch) Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillets, Ladle, Wire Rack, Food Processor, Waxed Paper, Scissors, Clear Cellophane
To make the cornbread, position one rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk and eggs. Add the buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring just to blend. Fold in the creamed corn, jalapeños, and cheese. Stir in the melted butter.
Coat the cast-iron skillets with the bacon drippings. Place the greased pans in the oven until hot, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately ladle the batter into the heated pans, dividing it evenly. Bake until the cornbread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool in the pans on a wire rack. Wrap tightly once the cornbread is completely cool.
To make the honey butter, place the butter and honey in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until completely blended and smooth, stopping the machine once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Cut three (8-inch-wide) sheets of waxed paper. Using a rubber spatula and table knife, transfer one-third of the honey butter to the center of each sheet of waxed paper. Form a log about 1½ inches in diameter and 4 inches long. Starting at the bottom edge, roll up the waxed paper, covering the butter and rolling it on the counter to form a smooth log. Twist the ends, tie with raffia or ribbon, and trim with scissors. Refrigerate the honey butter logs.
Storing: Keep the cornbread in the pans. Cut 3 large sheets of clear cellophane and three 14-inch lengths of ribbon or raffia. Place a skillet in the center of a cellophane sheet and bring up the edges to tightly wrap the skillet and the bread. Tie securely with ribbon or raffia. Repeat with the remaining skillets of cornbread.
Store at room temperature for up to 1 day. The honey butter will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Gift Card: This home-baked Jalapeño and Cheddar Skillet Cornbread was made on [give date] and should be eaten right away. Cut the cornbread into wedges and warm it before serving. The Honey Butter can be refrigerated and enjoyed for up to 1 month. Soften the butter at room temperature before serving.
Gift-Giving Tips: Since the cornbread is being given in a cast-iron skillet, consider writing the recipe on a fun gift card and attaching it so that the recipient can make the cornbread again. To make the gift more elaborate, pack the honey butter in a butter bell rather than forming it into a log and wrapping it in waxed paper. Arrange the wrapped skillet and butter bell in a decorative, towel-lined basket. See page 169 for a gift kit idea.
Do you have a Dagwood-style sandwich maker on your gift list, one of those friends or a family member who loves nothing more than raiding the refrigerator and making a mile-high sandwich layered with meats and cheese and smeared with mayonnaise and mustard? This is the perfect gift—a unique homemade mustard blending the sweetness of dried apricots steeped in bourbon with the bright bite of whole mustard seeds.
Soak Time: 12 to 24 hours | Prep Time: 20 minutes | Maturation Time: 2 weeks | Makes 2²⁄³ cups, enough to fill four (6-ounce) condiment jars
²⁄³ cup yellow mustard seeds
1 cup bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark
²⁄³ cup water
²⁄³ cup packed chopped dried apricots
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
Measuring Cups and Spoons, Two Medium Bowls, Cutting Board, Chef’s Knife, Four (6-Ounce) Condiment Jars, Strainer, Rubber Spatula, Food Processor
Put the mustard seeds in a medium bowl and pour in ²⁄³ cup of the bourbon and the water. Soak the mustard seeds overnight or for up to 24 hours.
At least 1 hour before you plan to make the mustard, put the apricots in a bowl and pour in the remaining ¹⁄³ cup bourbon. Macerate the apricots until most of the bourbon is absorbed. (The apricots need to soak for a minimum of 1 hour, or you can start soaking them at the same time you prepare the mustard seeds.)
Before making the mustard, wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Alternatively, run the jars through the regular cycle of your dishwasher.
To make the mustard, first strain the mustard seeds, reserving the soaking liquid. Set aside the mustard seeds.
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the apricots, any unabsorbed bourbon remaining in the bowl, cider vinegar, honey, and salt. Purée until almost smooth. Add the mustard seed soaking liquid and continue to purée until smooth. Add the mustard seeds and process until about half of the seeds are cracked and the others are incorporated but still whole.
Evenly divide the mustard among the prepared condiment jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean and secure the lids. Label and refrigerate for at least 2 weeks to allow the flavors to develop and mature.
Storing: Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 weeks and up to 3 months.
Gift Card: This Apricot-Bourbon Mustard was made on [give date] and can be enjoyed for up to 3 months, kept in the refrigerator. It makes a delightful sandwich spread and a great dip for hard or soft-baked pretzels, or use it as a condiment for cured meats and smoked or grilled sausages.
Gift-Giving Tips: Tie each jar with raffia or ribbon and attach a gift card. To turn this into a gift basket, consider including a bag of twisted hard pretzels, or smoked sausages, cured meats, crackers, and a jar of cornichons.
Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.