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The Best Things in Life are Free - and Edible

Okay, not all of the best things, but most of them. So if I’m on your gift list, give me something to eat and I’ll be happy. Food is universally well-received - those delicacies you make yourself, in your own kitchen, are more personal - they’re the gifts people remember from year to year.

 

In a holiday retail market inundated with online shopping carts and point-of-purchase gift cards, a package of something homemade and delicious says ‘I thought of and made this myself and summoned enough restraint to save some to give to you because I knew you’d love it, too.’ Cooking up your own gifts is also a great way to spend time with any kids you may have around, and makes a perfect solution for those who want to give but have limited allowances and no access to a car.

Need teacher gifts? Giving is an important lesson, and kids get far more out of creating something themselves than having parents pick a little something up. So pick something delicious and spend a snowy Saturday filling jars or boxes and you’ll be set up for the party and gift giving season.

Caramel Sauce Three Ways

This decadent caramel sauce is easy to stir up in about 10 minutes; it's delicious as is, or try spiking it with espresso powder or use eggnog in place of the cream. Divvy up into dollar store jars to give as gifts.

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream or eggnog
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
1 tsp. vanilla
Optional: 1 tsp. instant coffee or espresso (if you want coffee caramel)

Whisk everything but the vanilla in a small pot set over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for about five minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and espresso, if you’re using it.

Sweet Salt & Peppered Almonds

Old glass-lidded Mason and Gem jars can sometimes be had at thrift stores or Value Village for around a dollar; their vintage appeal makes them the perfect package for sweet and spicy nuts.

2 1/2 to 3 cups whole almonds, pecan halves or a combination
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. water
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and butter the foil or spray it with nonstick spray.

Put the almonds, sugar, butter and water into a large skillet and set over medium-high heat. Cook, shaking the pan often (do not stir) until the sugar begins to melt. Continue to cook and shake the pan until the sugar mixture turns deep golden.

Working quickly, remove the pan from heat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and spread in an even layer on the cookie sheet. Cool and break apart.

Sour Cream & Brown Sugar Fudge

Fudge is always welcome any way you can get it, but I like to pack squares into tissue and waxed paper-lined Chinese takeout boxes.

3/4 cup sour cream (not low-fat)
1/4 cup milk
3 Tbsp. butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Butter a loaf pan (any size) and set it aside.

Combine the sour cream, milk, butter, sugar and brown sugar in a heavy saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, occasionally brushing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in warm water, until it reaches 238°F (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer.

Pour into a glass or stainless steel bowl and let it sit until it cools to 115°F. Add the vanilla and beat by hand or with an electric mixer for about two minutes, until it thickens and turns pale. Stir in the nuts if you’re using them, spread into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares.

Makes about a pound of fudge.


Julie is a best-selling cookbook author, food writer, cooking instructor and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio. She lives in Calgary with her husband and son, Wilem. Watch for her cooking show, It’s Just Food, with co-host Ned Bell on Access TV and CLT stations across Canada. For more information, visit www.dinnerwithjulie.com.

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