Monthly Archives: December 2012

Homemade Culinary Gifts


To fill up the gaps in your holiday gifts this year, try adding some homemade items to the mix. Homemade gifts are the best gifts, particularly if they taste delicious or add a bespoke kick to your holiday cocktails. The ideas below are simple, inexpensive, and most of all,       thoughtful. A homemade gift shows the recipient you put in extra time and effort, and they’ll appreciate the delicious departure from the usual monotony of holiday gifts.

Brittles: This recipe is so versatile; you can add any combination of nuts, chocolate, even peppermint candy canes to the mix. Try the combinations below to get you started. Just lay your chosen ingredients evenly on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, then evenly pour the toffee caramel “brittle” mix on top to bind them all together. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar, 1 cup butter, and 1/3 cup water. Bring ingredients to a boil, and whisk constantly for exactly 12 minutes. That’s it! Refrigerate or freeze the brittle to set, and then break into piece

o   Chocolate Pecan & Salted Toffee Brittle: 1½ cups chopped pecans, 6 oz. milk chocolate bars, chopped, 1tsp. sea salt

o   White Chocolate & Peppermint Brittle: 1 cup finely chopped candy canes, 3 (1.55 ounce) white chocolate bars

o   Toasted Cashew & Bacon Brittle: 2/3 cup cashews, toasted, 8 oz. bacon, cooked till crispy, then crumbled

Compound Butters: Mix up any flavor combination you like to give gourmet flavor to just about any dish on the table. These make the perfect gift for a novice cook looking to expand their repertoire, or anyone short on time to spend in the kitchen.  Just add the below ingredients to one stick of softened unsalted butter, then roll into a log, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate. To gift, wrap in parchment and add a note with serving suggestions.  They keep for 2 weeks in the fridge, and several months in the freezer

o   Bacon-Bourbon Butter: 1 slice bacon, cooked and minced, 1tbsp. bourbon, 1-tbsp. maple syrup, 1tsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. black pepper. Note:  This is outrageous on pancakes and waffles

o   Lemon Herb Butter: ¼ cup mixed herbs (try basil, parsley, tarragon, thyme, chervil, rosemary (sparingly!), dill, or chives, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest. Delicious on fish, steak, vegetables, you name it

o   Chipotle Lime Butter: 1 chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce, minced, 1 tsp. lime zest, 1tsp. lime juice, 1 tsp. kosher salt. Takes pork chops and corn on the cob to a whole new level

Infused Spirits: You can go about this gift countless ways. My holiday favorites are Cranberry-Lime Gin and Vanilla Vodka, but use any flavor combinations you like

o   Cranberry Lime Gin– fill up a large Mason jar with halved cranberries and the zest of one lime (use a peeler to get big strips).  Add 1 tbsp. sugar, and fill to the brim with gin. Seal tightly and shake it up!

o   Vanilla Vodka is even easier- just run a knife length-wise down two vanilla beans, put them in a large Mason jar, and fill to the brim with vodka

o   “Mulled Cider” Bourbon: Fill up a large Mason jar with two cinnamon sticks, broken in halve, 1 tbsp. cloves, 2 clementines, quartered, 1 vanilla bean, halved, and 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger. Fill to the brim with bourbon

o   Shake these every day for a week or two, and gift them with a tag detailing a possible cocktail recipe for their gift.  The Cranberry Lime Gin shines when mixed with ginger-ale and a wedge of lime, and the Vanilla Vodka tastes delicious mixed with champagne and a splash of pomegranate juice for a fun celebratory cocktail. The “Mulled Cider” Bourbon is great with cider, served warm

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Homemade Lamb Meatballs {In a homemade tomato sauce}

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Cooking is one of the best ways to show your love. Around the holidays, when you’ve got lots of people around to feed and love, you want to make a dinner that’s extra special. This recipe for homemade lamb meatballs and tomato sauce fills your home with that delicious holiday smell, and feeds a big group beautifully. Its perfect family fare- everybody can get involved in the kitchen and enjoy cooking together.

You could use store-bought sauce, but the homemade version comes together with a few simple steps and tastes so much more delicious. You could even make some homemade pasta if that’s your thing, but a good quality boxed pappardelle or tagliatelle pasta works perfectly too.
Lamb Meatballs in Homemade Tomato Sauce

For the Tomato Sauce

    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • Red pepper flakes
    • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 2  15-ounce cans tomato puree (or diced tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes)
    • 2 tablespoons oregano
    • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
    • Small handful fresh basil
    • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a Dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic and a few red pepper flakes over medium low heat until onions are soft and just starting to turn golden.
  2. Add tomato paste and sugar and stir, mashing paste and onion mixture together, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Pour in tomatoes, and add oregano and parsley, and stir. Add a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar if you like, and season to taste.
  4. Simmer lazily over low heat, uncovered, for as long as you like. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little water to thin it back out. To finish it off before serving, add some fresh chopped basil.
For the Lamb Meatballs
    • 2 pounds ground lamb
    • 1 cup Italian bread crumbs
    • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
    • 2 shallots (or ¼ onion) minced
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
    • 1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
    • Dash of red pepper flakes
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Olive oil, for browning
  1. In a large bowl, combine meat, bread crumbs, eggs, Parmesan cheese, shallots, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Mash together with hands until thoroughly combined.
  2. Roll the mixture into balls (the smaller they are, the more tender they will turn out).
  3. In a large skillet, add a big glug of olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Begin browning meatballs, in batches, turning frequently.
  4. Remove when browned on all sides, and add to the slowly simmering sauce. Continue cooking over low heat for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Cook your pasta to al dente, then drain and add it back to your pot. Toss with the sauce and meatballs, and mix in some Parmesan cheese and basil to finish. Serve with a tossed arugula salad and some red wine, and you’ll have some happy friends and family!
Recipe Inspired by Dinner, A Love Story.
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Monogrammed Chicken & Sweet Potato Pot Pies

On chilly gray winter days, nothing tastes better than something warm and homemade. These individual chicken & sweet potato pot pies come out of the oven golden brown and delicious, and will impress your friends and family with minimal time spent in the kitchen. You could make this into one big pot pie, but I think the individual ones are so much more fun.

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 4 cups chopped carrots
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • Leaves from 5 sprigs of thyme, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cup milk mixed with 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cup cooked chicken (shredded or cubed; store-bought rotisserie is ideal)
  • 4 handfuls frozen peas
  • 2 packages of puff pastry
  • 1 egg- beaten for egg wash

1. Preheat oven to 425°F, butter and flour eight ramekins or miniature pie plates.

2. Bring broth to a boil in a saucepan. Add the potato, carrot, onion, and thyme and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

3. Stir the flour mixture slowly into the vegetables and simmer, stirring until everything comes together and thickens.

4. Remove the pan from heat, stir in the chicken and the peas.

5. Roll out the puff pastry dough on a floured surface, and cut eight circles out to fit the bottoms of each ramekin, and press the dough into the edges.

6. Add pot pie filling to the ramekins, and cover with the remaining puff pastry, and gently crimp the edges together to seal. Brush everything with egg wash

7. Using the puff pastry scraps, form letters corresponding with your guest’s names, and lightly press them into the tops of your pot pies. Brush again with your egg wash, and cut a few slits in the surface.

8. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden all over, and serve right away while warm.

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