Books · DIY · Drinks & Smoothies · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Last-minute Foodie Gifts

Have you procrastinated and are just now desperately looking for something to gift that home cook or restaurant lover in your life? I’ve got you covered.

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salt cellar // anthropologie

Make something edible

Find some pretty containers, make your own gifts tags, tie them on with festive ribbon, and you’re done! If you aren’t artsy, Etsy has loads of designers whose gift tags can be personalized, purchased and downloaded for immediate printing, no waiting by mail.

Send a magazine subscription

I love Food Network Magazine, Vegetarian Times, and EveryDay with Rachael Ray. Great recipes can also be found in Real Simple and (duh) Martha Stewart. Subscribe online, print out an e-card, and package in a fun little card or bag. Better yet, include the current issue with a bow around it and a note saying a subscription is on the way.

Join a wine club

A distinguished investment that won’t soon be forgotten.

Anthropologie

This place is a hidden treasure trove of cute food gifts. Mugs aren’t the most creative thing you can give someone, but if you go that route, the ones at anthro are as unique as you could hope for. They have lots of edible things to package with their pretty serve ware and accessories. Lots of preppy, boho, and hipster finds here. I also love their decorations! They can still ship by Dec. 24, too.

marshmallows, canape plates, wine openers, cocktail mix, mugs // anthropologie

Make personalized stationery for their food gifts

Check out Minted for personalized wrapping paper, gift tags and labels for goodies from the home cook. I would love to receive something like this!

$19 for 25, minted.com
$15 for 5 sheets, minted.com

Cookbooks

On Amazon, you’ve got until Monday for free two-day shipping with Prime and still make it by Christmas.

thekitchn

Use code BOOKDEAL25 to get an extra 25% off any book on Amazon through today (December 16).

Basket of goodies from Trader Joe’s

Someone did this for me one year, and I loved it. Inside were things I’d never tried from TJs, even though I go all the time. It totally inspired me to craft some new recipes! Throw in some wine or seasonal beer, snacks, a pretty dish towel or kitchen tool, and nestle in a nice basket for anyone who loves to cook. Round it out with one of the many popular Trader Joe’s cookbooks available for two-day shipping on Amazon, like this one or this one.

THEMES TO TRY

Winter Favorites: Cranberry apple butter, gingerbread cake mix, pumpkin waffle mix, winter blend coffee or peppermint tea, some holiday sweets (such as peanut brittle, salted caramels or candy-cane joe-joes), and dish towels in holiday colors.

Taste of Italy: Nice olive oil, flavored pasta (they have lemon, spinach & chive, and more), marinara or vodka sauce, Parmesan cheese, arborio rice, red pepper flakes, olives, capers, oregano. Package with a new colander, large serving bowl, pasta scoop, or cutting board.

Taste of Asia: Toasted sesame oil, rice sticks, Thai lime & chili cashews, coconut milk, red curry sauce, jasmine rice, soyaki sauce, and green tea. Include a unique tea cup and saucer, a sushi plate, pretty chopsticks, or noodle bowl.

Coffee Lover: Chocolate covered espresso beans, an assortment of coffees, dunk-able chocolate biscotti, after-dinner mints, chai or yerba mate mix. Do the same thing for a tea lover and package with a mug or a tea strainer.

reusable produce bags // facebook.com/victorybags

Finally, for new parents, it’s fast and easy to have weeks worth of meals delivered to them by organizing a mealtrain with your friends and family. This is also a great idea for anyone who is sick, new to your neighborhood, deployed, or recovering from an accident or surgery during the holidays.

And if you’re still looking for somewhere to donate toys, Boston’s Christmas in the City is taking orders to its Amazon wish list, which will distribute gifts to thousands — yes, thousands — of homeless children this weekend. Read more about last year’s event in today’s Globe and click here to donate. They continue to hand out toys after Christmas to kids of all ages who are living in shelters, motels or other unstable situations in Boston, so it’s never too late to give, and donations purchased from their Amazon wish list get delivered directly to their headquarters.

Have a wonderful week everyone and good luck finishing your shopping. 

CSA 2011 · Recipes · Tips and Tricks

HOW-TO: Roast pumpkin & make pumpkin bread from scratch

Maybe, like me, you still have a few pumpkins left from a CSA that ended at Thanksgiving. Intimidated by cooking them? Don’t be. I’ll show you step-by-step how to cut and cook pumpkins, preserve the puree, toast the seeds, and make fresh pumpkin bread that blows away anything you’ve made using canned pumpkin pie filling.

How to Roast Fresh Pumpkin

Frozen puree will last several months, so it should get you through the winter packed into freezer-safe containers or even Ziploc bags with the air pressed out.

You can also put up pumpkin puree for long-term storage, but it requires a pressure canner, not a hot water bath for safety reasons. The same goes for winter squash. Both MUST be cubed & cooked before being canned. Here are some great instructions.

But first things first. Before you can make pumpkin bread, you need to make pumpkin puree … and to do that, you need to learn how to cut & hull a pumpkin.The easiest way to slice a pumpkin is to make sure you have a sharp knife and a sturdy surface to work on. A serrated knife, like this one, works best — if you use a very sharp knife and slip, you could really hurt yourself. Cut the pumpkin in half using a sawing motion, then set aside the two halves.

Using a melon baller, scoop out the seeds into a small bowl. Save these, because you’re going to use them later to make savory roasted pumpkin seeds.

I used to think that cooking pumpkins always involved the oven, but turns out that’s not true at all — in fact, it uses less energy to fire up your microwave. (I also used to think you had to peel pumpkins and winter squash to cook them, but thankfully, you DON’T!) Place the pumpkin halves face up in a glass dish and fill with a couple inches of water. Cover and heat on high for 10 minutes; repeat until soft and mushy, usually two or three times depending on the strength of your microwave. You can usually get a good couple of cups of puree out of a small pumpkin.

Once the pumpkins are done, let cool briefly and then simply use a spoon to scoop the flesh away from the soft skins. You can either discard the skins or — like I do — eat them right off the bat!

If you are freezing your pumpkin, just scoop it into freezer-safe containers (you don’t need to mash it), then label and store. Whenever you want to use it, simply defrost in the fridge or warm in the microwave.

Note: If you prefer not to use a microwave or don’t have one, you can cook pumpkin on the stove top or in the oven. Just cook the pumpkin halves in a steamer on the stove top for about 10 minutes, or bake in the oven (this takes the longest) by placing the pumpkin plus several cups of water in a covered oven-proof dish. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour at 350, until a fork-poke shows they’re soft. With both of these methods, the skins should fall right away when they’re done.

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SAVORY ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS

Now that your pumpkin is cooked and stored, it’s time to turn those seeds into a healthful snack. Pumpkins (and their seeds) are considered super foods, packed with antioxidants and high in fiber and protein, making them a powerhouse for vegetarians especially.

First, wash the seeds well, separating the stringy material and guck from the seeds. I used my hands at first and then gave them a thorough final rinse in a colander before setting them out on paper towels to dry (you can speed this along with a hair dryer if you want!) It’s critical that they’re not soggy when they go into the oven.

Preheat the oven to 275 and spread the seeds out on a cookie sheet. To season, toss with vegetable oil or butter and any combination of seasonings you like: classic sea salt, something spicy like cayenne & thyme, or sweet such as cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice, or ginger for a kick, or garlic powder & Worcestershire sauce … or my favorite, good old Trader Joe’s 21-Seasoning Salute, which is a salt-free spice blend.

Heat for 10 to 20 minutes, watching them, and stirring here and there. You can eat them hot or cold and they’ll make a great snack on the go for a few days.

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Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Dry Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups of flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 cup oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin (or 1 can pumpkin pie filling)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Sift flour and mix in remaining dry ingredients.
  • Combine wet ingredients.
  • Add dry mixture to wet mixture.
  • Grease/spray loaf pans.
  • Bake for 1 hour; it may need an hour and 15.
  • Loaves are done when a toothpick into the center comes out clean.
Courtesy: Simply Recipes. I literally forgot to take a picture of mine before it was gone. Oops!

Other fun uses for pureed pumpkin:

  • Stir 1/2 cup of into pancake batter; add walnuts for pumpkin-nut pancakes
  • Using the recipe above, turn pumpkin batter into waffles instead; or, use the finished bread to make pumpkin french toast
  • Blend 1/4 cup pumpkin puree with cream cheese and cinnamon; spread on a bagel
  • Stir pumpkin puree into your morning oatmeal; top with brown sugar
  • Make homemade pumpkin gnocchi
  • Make vegan pumpkin tiramisu a la Chef Chloe
  • Stir pumpkin puree into risotto just before it’s done cooking
  • Freeze the puree in an ice tray to make cubes ready for smoothies, like this one

Do you have other ideas? Send them my way in the comments!

Recipes · Tips and Tricks

STEP BY STEP: Canning peach preserves

All summer I’ve been waiting for a free afternoon to do some canning.

I’m a newbie, so my husband bought me a Ball starter kit at Tags Hardware in Porter Square earlier this year, and my mom offered to show me the ropes this past weekend. We decided to start by putting up some farmstand peaches to share with our friends and family this winter, since they’re so abundant now!

Before you get started, here’s a list of essential equipment:

  • A large stockpot, deep enough to submerge the cans
  • A set of jars designed for canning, such as those made by Ball or Kerr.
  • A funnel to ladel the preserves into jars
  • Tongs or can lifters to remove hot jars from boiling water
  • A canning rack to submerge the cans upright
  • A magnetic lifting utensil to remove lids from boiling water
  • A headspace tool for eliminating air bubbles
  • Dissolvable can labels
  • Pectin (a jelling agent for fruit)
Ball’s Canning Discovery kit is a great starter pack for novice canners.

More experienced preservers may also own a pressure canner for low-acid foods that require temperatures beyond the boiling point, such as vegetables & meats.

I bought four pounds of peaches for $9 at the Farmer’s Market on Natick Common Saturday morning. To get them ready for preserving, my brother and I first boiled them for about 10 minutes and then dunked them in an ice bath to make it easier to remove the skins and pits.

Meanwhile, wash the cans in hot soapy water and sanitize the lids and rings in simmering water. It’s important not to let the lids and rims boil.

Before I go any further, here’s the recipe we used.

Peach Preserves (from the Ball Blue Book)

Yield: about 9 half pints

  • 4 cups sliced, pitted and peeled peaches (about 4 pounds)
  • 6 TBSP Ball Classic Pectin
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 7 cups sugar

Combine peaches, classic pectin and lemon juice in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Meanwhile, simmer the jars so they are hot and set aside.

Ladel hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace (there’s a handy guide in the Ball Blue Book, but if you are looking at the jar at eye level, 1/4 inch of space at the top falls just about near the upper-most rung on the mouth).

Make sure to wipe the rims of the jars so they are totally clean before processing.

Remove the lids and rims from the simmering water with your magnetic jar-lid-lifter. Adjust two-piece caps on the jars. You don’t want to put them on too tight; just a spin until they’re snug will do.

Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

You may need to process in two batches if you are putting up more cans than the pot can handle at one time. Remember it’s very important to pick a pot that’s large enough so the jars are covered by at least one inch of water. And, contrary to what you see pictured above, you should always use a lid! Once the 10 minutes are up, carefully use your tongs to remove the cans from the water and set on a rack to cool. Do NOT pour cold water over them or do anything else to speed up the cooling process.

I find it’s best to let your preserves sit for at least 12 hours — a full day is even better. Within a few minutes of taking them off the boil, you should hear (and see) the lids “pop” when they seal up. Once they’re at room temp, you can store them in a cupboard for up to one year. Before you store them, though, don’t forget to label and date them. Now, you have delicious preserves to help you enjoy the fresh taste of summer throughout the crisp fall and into the long, cold winter!

Troubleshooting

Most people have to learn the hard way that you can’t get the same results by doubling or halving a canning recipe. Follow them only as directed.

It’s also important to use only fresh-picked produce for canning.

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