November 13, 2017
The holiday season always seems to come up too quickly, and with parties being planned, gatherings and other occasions filling up the calendar, I often forget to stock up on those small, tasty gifts that show teachers, coaches and music instructors I appreciate what they do. I also like bringing something delicious and homemade to a party, rather than (or along with) a bottle of wine for the festivities.
Things that can be made ahead and stashed in the pantry to grab and go (or thrust into the hands of the recyclers or delivery people when they show up at the door) are my favourite things. I love to make preserves, especially using the fruits of the season—Mandarin oranges are often overlooked for their preserving potential, but make a delicious, soft jam that’s reminiscent of marmalade, but makes use of the soft flesh rather than the citrus peel. I also often make holiday preserves with cranberries, Mandarin oranges, dried fruit and spices, to give away but to also keep a few jars of to spread on our morning toast and pour over the occasional Brie before baking.
Spiced nuts are also ideal for making ahead, and having on hand to round out cheese boards and put out in small dishes for nibbling. I like to package up small bags and sometimes tie them to the neck of a bottle of bubbles for a more complete, and memorable, gift. Sweet and spicy balsamic pecans, spiked with fresh rosemary, are some of my favourites—we make them every year.
And sometimes, when I’m on the ball early enough, I make a large batch of vanilla to sit on the shelf until it’s time to portion them out into small bottles I collect over the course of the year and gift to the bakers in my life. If I’m not on the ball, I sometimes blend a vanilla bean, snipped into pieces, into a cup or two of sugar (you can do this in the food processor for maximum blending), then quickly sift it into a jar to get rid of any sinewy bits, for the most aromatic, wonderful vanilla sugar you can imagine. The recipient can add this sugar to cookies (especially shortbread), coffee or tea, or just occasionally open the jar and inhale.
Cooking for other people is the very best kind. Have a wonderful week, all!
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Charcuterie is no longer reserved for fine European bistros or large catered events.
We may be winding down our Cheese Festival, but you could say we’re saving the best for last.