Thursday, October 15, 2009

Time To Plan Ahead.... Making Holiday Gifts At Home and Save!!!

Don't freak out when you start reading this post, ok?. Get real. It's October already and the holidays are almost upon us, at least this is for those of us that decide to make your own Xmas gifts and save... save... save.

Since you have to prepare (shop for the best price, get everything you need and then get it done) you need to do this in advance. The nice thing about this is that once it's done, you won't need to rush around during the holidays since your gifts will be ready and waiting for you in the closet when you're ready to start giving them out. You could do this all year round, planning ahead and having your little projects in different states of completion, for all age groups and for all kinds of holidays too! Not so organized? Not to worry, I'm listing some easy projects you can do now that will be a big hit for Xmas that anyone can get done....

Now if you were really OCD about things (mea culpa..) you could begin by hoarding coupons, looking for discounts on seasonal ingredients, finding your vessels or gift boxes, ribbons and papers and even hitting the .99 cent stores for anything you could use later on. I used to have a neighbor, an older lady who had a "gift closet" that was like a doorway into another world... full of wonderful things for everyone. She always had just the right gift or token for you.

With all this in mind, here are a few suggestions to get you in the right frame of mind:

CHOCOLATE BARK.- Anyone would love to get this for a gift!

Chocolate (milk or semi-sweet)
Classic Toppings: Dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, candied orange peel, cranberries, and cherries. Toasted nuts including hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, and pistachios.

Line a chilled baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour warm (not hot), melted chocolate into the prepared pan.
Spread the chocolate evenly to about 1⁄8 inch thick using a small offset spatula. Sprinkle toppings on the chocolate and place in the freezer to set, approximately 20 minutes.
For even-sized pieces, cut up bark before it sets completely. If you like a more rustic look, allow the bark to harden completely before breaking it up into pieces. Store in a cool, dry place.

HOMEADE AMARETTO LIQUOR.- What a great way to give and make this favorite liquor... it's fabulous!

1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups vodka
2 tablespoons almond extract
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine water and sugars in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until the mixture is boiling, and all of the sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 10 minutes.
Stir vodka, almond extract and vanilla extract into the mixture. Store in a sealed bottle.

HOMEMADE GALLIANO LIQUOR.- Another great flavored liquor to make and give. Great to cook with too!
2 c. sugar
1 c. bottled water
6 tsp. pineapple extract
3 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. banana extract
1 tsp. pure anise extract
1 qt. 100 proof vodka
5 drops yellow food coloring

Combine sugar and water in saucepan. Boil gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Remove from heat and measure 2 cups of syrup. Pour into large container and cool. Add all extracts, vodka and food coloring. Shake or stir well to blend all ingredients. Makes 1 1/2 quarts galliano.

BEST HOMEMADE KAHLUA.- Everyone loves the flavor of Kahlua and now you can make it for yourself and really splurge!

1 12-cup pot very strong coffee (chocolate flavored is best)
2 lbs. light brown sugar
4-6 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 bottle 190 proof Clear Springs or Everclear (you can also use Vodka)

Bring coffee to a boil in dutch oven or large pot. Gradually add 2 lbs. light brown sugar and return to boil stirring constantly. Let cool until room temperature. (I add up to 1 cup of ice to cool faster and place pot in sink of cold water).
When completely cool, add the vanilla and 190 (I prefer the Clear Springs). It is ready to serve. I like to fill the Clear Springs bottle first and put away to age for special occasions. I have made this recipe for many years and everyone who tries it likes it much better than the recipes with vodka.
Add Vodka for Black or White Russians. Chocolate Velvet Coffee is what I like to make my Kahlua with, usually, but I have also made really good flavors with Hazelnut, French Vanilla and Chocolate Macadamia Nut. Sometimes, I like to add a little almond extract to give it an Amaretto flavor.

APRICOT BRANDY.- YUM! Think of all the ways you could use this for....

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon honey
3 cup brandy
2 pound dried apricots

Make the brandy mixture: Combine 1 1/2 cups water, sugar, and honey in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Allow syrup to cool slightly and combine with brandy and fruit in a large, sealable jar. Store in a cool, dark place for 4 to 8 weeks.
Strain the brandy: Line a strainer with a double layer of dampened cheesecloth and strain the brandy. Discard apricots or save for another use. Transfer the brandy to a clean container and store for up to 1 year.

BEST XMAS CAKE.- This is a recipe for a white fruit cake with a lovely liquor flavor.....

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups flour, sifted
1/2 t. salt
1 cup bourbon
1 pound pecans, chopped
3 cups white raisins (or use candied fruit)
1 t. nutmeg

Sift all dry ingredients together and set aside. Turn on the electric mixer and beat one cup of butter in a large bowl. Add one cup of sugar and beat. Beat in six eggs, adding one at a time and add to the bowl, add the cup of dried fruit. Add the flour a little at a time making sure it's incorporated well.
Now add the nutmeg and nuts.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Grease and flour your pans well. Pour your batter into the pan or pans. Bake for 1 1/2 hours for a large loaf pan, an hour for smaller pans. Cake should be dry on the top and golden. Test to insure it's completely done.
Once done be sure to remove it from the pan and let cool on a plate. Then return to the pan and poke holes into it with an ice pick or similar. You will be pouring:
1/3 Cup sugar
1/2 C. Whiskey
1/4 C. Water
2 T. Butter
Heat this mixture to dissolve the sugar, and pour over the cake while still very warm. Wrap tightly in foil or plastic wrap.
If heated long enough, all alcohol will evaporate and only the taste will remain for those of you who are tee-totalers. Or, you could use orange juice instead of whiskey.
Note: you can also open it up every couple of weeks or so and pour about 1/4 cup whiskey into the cake, re-wrap and store until ready to eat or give out.

BLACK BOTTOMED CHEESECAKES.- These lovely little cheesecakes are easy to make and a delight to eat. Make them with all flavor preserves too!

oil non-stick spray
24 plain chocolate wafer cookies, preferably Nabisco or even Oreos
3 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
8 ounce cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup fromage blanc (6 oz), at room temperature or goat cheese or similar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup seedless raspberry preserves, warmed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with foil baking cups and spray the cups with vegetable oil spray. In a food processor, crush the chocolate wafer cookies. Add the butter and process until fine crumbs form. Spoon the chocolate cookie crumbs into the prepared baking cups and press with the bottom of a glass to compact. Bake for 5 minutes, or until almost set. Leave the oven on.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar at medium speed until smooth. Beat in the fromage blanc, then add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.
Pour the cheesecake batter into the baking cups, filling them three-quarters full.
Bake the cheesecakes for 15 minutes, or until slightly jiggly in the center. Remove from the oven and spread 1 teaspoon of the warmed raspberry preserves on top of each cheesecake. Transfer the muffin tin to the freezer and chill the cheesecakes until set, about 15 minutes.
Remove the cheesecakes from the pan and peel off the foil baking cups. Transfer the cheesecakes to a platter and serve. The mini black-bottom cheesecakes can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. If turning into gifts, leave in the foil baking cups, they'll keep better.

DO IT YOURSELF TRUFFLES.- One of the tastiest gifts you can get or receive. I don't know anyone who doesn't like these!

1 quart heavy cream
3 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
Pinch of salt
Truffle Flavorings:
1 1/2 tablespoon dark rum
4 teaspoon pure peppermint oil
2 teaspoon instant espresso dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

To make the ganache: In a large saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. In a large bowl, combine the chopped chocolate with the butter and salt. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let stand until the chocolate and butter are melted, about 5 minutes. Whisk the ganache until smooth and shiny.
Divide the ganache into 4 bowls. To flavor it, add either the rum, peppermint oil, espresso, or cardamom to each batch. Cover the ganache and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours.
Line 3 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 1-tablespoon-size ice cream scoop, drop level tablespoons of the ganache onto the baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 1 hour.
Coat the truffles: Spoon the coatings into small bowls. Moisten your hands with ice water and roll the ganache into balls, then roll in the coatings. Package the truffles in decorative bags or boxes. The coated truffles can be refrigerated up to 3 days.
Optional toppings that can be used for the coating: Finely crushed toffee bits, mint candies, pretzels, dehydrated raspberries, amaretti cookies, malted milk balls, chocolate cookies, finely chopped toasted almonds, chocolate covered espresso beans, toasted coconut, roasted salted peanuts, candied ginger, cinnamon-sugar, confectioners' sugar mixed with cocoa powder, and large pinch kosher salt.

Truffle ideas:
Peppermint filling with powdered sugar, chocolate cookie crumbs or mint candies
Espresso filling with cinnamon-sugar, amaretti, or cocoa powder-salt mixture
Rum filling with coconut, candied ginger or toffee
Cardamom filling with cinnamon-sugar, amaretti or candied ginger
Plain chocolate filling with raspberry, malt balls or peanuts

I've got a lot more of these which I'll be sharing with you soon.... you'll have plenty of options to pick from come holiday time.... Don't be put off by the recipes either, these can be made by everyone really well.... you'll love the results and everyone will love them too! Talk soon...

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