Thursday, December 02, 2010

Savory Surprises

My homemade gifts are always of the consumable variety. Doubtless there are people who make lovely ornaments, wreaths, or handpainted plates to bestow as potentially cherished gifts. But glue guns, stencils and anything involving silk flowers or wired ribbon make me hyperventilate and break out in hives. I avoid craft stores like the plague. My creativity is culinary, and I love to spread it around during the holiday season. Food gifts work; they are economical, personal, and best of all, not permanent--like the cake plate adorned with your nephew's face or the purple and gold
wreath that prevents your door from shutting properly.....Here, as promised, are some more ideas for the Graces among you who prefer to bestow a savory treat.

1. Parsley Pesto

When the mercury drops, basil, which is the traditional herb for pesto, is hard to come by. If you do manage to find it, it's ruinously expensive and of dubious quality. Parsley is ubiquitous and cheap, and happens to taste great, so I concocted this delicious, accessible, off-season alternative to our fave summer sauce.

4 cups flat leaf parsley, rinsed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp pine nuts
generous sprinkle of crushed red pepper

Equipment: Cuisinart or blender, small jars or containers.

Mix all ingredients in Cuisinart or blender til completely blended and smooth. Distribute into gift sized jars or plastic containers. Pesto keeps in the fridge for about a week or frozen for several months. It's great tossed on pasta, spread on bruschetta, scooped by the teaspoon into minestrone soup, or slathered on grilled/roasted fish or chicken.

Variation: substitute arugula or cilantro for the parsley.

2. Honey-Mustard Dressing

4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup mustard
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup vinegar

Equipment: Cusinart or blender, small jars/containers

Puree til all ingredients are mixed,and dressing takes on a smooth, creamy consistency. Distribute into jars. Honey Mustard Dressing keeps in fridge for about a week. This is great as a salad dressing or as a dip for crudites.

3. Mango Chutney

1 large mango, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped jalapeno pepper (optional; may omit or substitute hotter pepper)
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric
freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients in 1-1/2 qt microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 7 minutes. Stir, cool, then cover tightly and store in refrigerator. Chutney keeps for 1 week in fridge and is divine on roasted or grilled fish.

4. Dinner

No specifics here, rather some guidelines. Who wouldn't love a cook-free night during the holiday season? This allows you to play to your strengths and give a most welcome gift. Do you make a magnificent mac and cheese? A mean meatball? Perfect Puttanesca sauce? Excellent enchiladas? Superb soup? Ok, enough alliteration, you get my drift. If so, you have a wonderful opportunity to give something that will be really appreciated (just don't give the bacon clam chowder to your Kosher neighbor or beef chili to your vegan hairdresser.) Assuming that you avoid these pitfalls, mix up a batch and deliver it; it can be frozen for future use, or heated for immediate consumption.

Here are some general strategies:

  • Always use disposable containers--unless the dish/pan is part of the gift. Aluminum baking dishes, one-use Tupperwares, or even giant Ziploc bags work just fine. It sort of undermines the gesture if the grateful recipient has to deal with the hassle of returning your soup tureen long after enjoying your delicious minestrone.
  • Choose something that has shelf-life. (Remember, during the holiday season, there are lots of nights out, parties, and events that make traditional dinners at home somewhat scarce.) Your creation should be an item that can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, or is freezer-friendly. Avoid souffles and sushi.
  • Affix heating/serving instructions to the dish--better yet, write it in Sharpie marker directly on the foil or container.

Perhaps you'll take a cooking class this season to glean further inspiration. If so, I hope it does not resemble this one, from Will and Grace--I do miss that show!


Dee Merritt, N.C. (Nutritional Merritt) said...

Love the Parsley Pesto idea - perfect homemade gift :) Question - when attending family event and asked to bring a dish isn't it nice to also bring a little hostess gift, especially if the host/hostess is serving a big meal? My husband's side of the family does not think it is necessary, but I beg to differ. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Social Grace said...

Yes, it is very Gracious to bring a little something the hostess as well as the dish you have been assigned. A hostess gift is a little something to thank the hostess for her efforts--cocktail napkins, scented soaps, gourmet food items, or a kitchen gadget giftie (someone recently gave me a zester which was a great gift!).

Glad you like the parsley pesto--it's been a hit around here.