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Chef Kathy Gunst's Ideas For Delicious Food Gifts To Make Or Buy This Holiday Season

Making food gifts from your own kitchen is one of the most meaningful presents you can give. And this year, as it becomes increasingly difficult to go out and shop due to the pandemic, staying home and cooking makes even more sense.

It doesn’t need to be complex or elaborate. A batch of cookies, homemade candy, a sweet sauce tied up with string with a card and the recipe attached are wonderful presents. Here is a collection of some new — and a few favorite — gifts from my kitchen. I’ve also put together a short list of food gifts you can order online.

And, of course, with restaurants struggling to stay alive through this pandemic, a gift certificate to your favorite restaurant would be a significant gift not only for the recipient but for your local restaurants as well.

Stay safe and happy holidays to all.

Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Rosemary And Chile Pepper Shortbread

Editor’s note: This recipe has been updated to correct an error.

This savory shortbread goes as well with festive holiday drinks as it does with morning coffee or afternoon tea. Sharp cheddar cheese and lots of fresh (or dried) rosemary is mixed into a shortbread dough along with a dash of dried red chile flakes.

You can make the dough a few hours ahead of time and chill so it’s easier to work with. This savory shortbread is a nice change of pace from all the holiday sugar.

Makes around 30 shortbreads.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 packed cup sharp cheddar, plus 1/4 cup, grated on largest hole of box grater
  • 1/2 packed cup grated Parmesan cheese, grated on largest hole of box grater
  • 1teaspoon coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
  • 2 heaping tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped, or 1tablespoon dried and crumbled
  • About 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes or pinch of cayenne pepper
  • About 1/2 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons cold water


Instructions

  1. Line one or two baking sheet(s) with parchment paper or lightly grease with butter. In the container of a food processor, mix flour, 1 cup cheddar (leaving the 1/4 cup to the side) and the 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, salt, rosemary, chile flakes, and pepper and process to mix. Add the butter and water and pulse until the butter is in tiny pieces. Carefully place the dough on a sheet of parchment paper (it will look very loose and super crumbly so don’t worry) and pull up the sides of the parchment and push the dough into one large ball. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Divide dough in half. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface or between two sheets of parchment or wax paper. Roll the pastry out to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 2-inch wide glass or biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out the shortbread into 2-inch rounds, and arrange on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Press down gently with half of the remaining 1/4 cup cheddar cheese. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake on the middle and lower shelves of the preheated oven for around 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are dry and the bottom of the shortbread looks golden brown. Remove and place on a cooling rack. The shortbread will keep in a tightly sealed tin for around a week or can be frozen for about 3 weeks.

More Recipes For Sweets Treats:

A Few Favorite Mail-Order Food Gifts:

Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen

If you crave new flavors, these Malaysian condiments might be your answer. In Southeast Asia, sambal is as common as American ketchup. Auria’s Hot Chili Sambal and Lime Leaf Sambal, made from ground fresh chiles and spices, will add punch to stir-fries, soups, rice dishes and more.

The Salted Caramel Kaya is a rich coconut spread that can be spread on toast or used as a topping for ice cream, pancakes, waffles, cookies, and other sweet treats.

Prices start from $9.

Blondery

Auzerais Bellamy is a gifted baker. Her virtual bakery has two goals: to make the perfect blondie and to help make her “profession a better place for women and people of color.”

Blondery’s Blondie is a rich, moist, perfect bite topped with pecans and salted caramel. Blondery makes several flavors (Red Velvet, Sweet Potato, Cinnamon Sugar and more) that arrive in boxes so beautiful they look like they hold jewels.

Prices start from $25.

Brightland

This boutique collection of olive oils and vinegars are produced on a family-run farm in northern California. Owner Aishwarya Iyer comes from a family of salt farmers from South India. Her goal with Brightland is to farm and create food that improves our health.

What makes this olive oil worth it? The harvest date is printed on each bottle so you know it’s fresh, the oil is high in antioxidants, and has a high smoke point (so you can cook with it or drizzle it on salads and soups). The oil has a bright, peppery flavor with a wonderful, buttery consistency. The Basil Oil adds a pow of fresh herb flavor to your cooking.

Brightland’s vinegars — Balsamic and Champagne — are double fermented and made from California grapes. Don’t stash these special oils and vinegar in your pantry. The white bottles and arty labels make them pretty enough to keep out on your kitchen table all day.

Prices start at $22.

Duxbury Salt Works

Duxbury Salt Works is a woman-owned and operated sea salt company that makes salt from distilling down sea water from Duxbury Bay, Massachusetts. The salt has a full, almost concentrated flavor that makes you want to use on salads and soups, sauces and stews, as well as sprinkling it on top of cookies and cakes.

The flakes are longer and “fluffier” than the famed Malden Sea Salt from England, but just as appealing. The salt comes in a variety of flavors, but I loved the plain sea salt as a kitchen staple.

Prices range from $9 and up.

Jasper Hill Farm

Small cheesemakers, like so many restaurants and food companies, took a real hit during this pandemic year. Jasper Hill Farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont makes some of this country’s finest cheeses. The Cabot Clothbound is an aged cheddar (from Vermont’s Cabot Creamery) with a crumbly texture and nutty, complex flavor that hints of caramel and sweetness.

The Harbison is a soft-ripened cheese wrapped in spruce bark. It’s so creamy that you literally scoop it up with a spoon; it’s rich and unforgettable. Jasper Hill offers beautiful collections of their cheese paired with other Vermont made products.

Prices from around $20 and up.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kathy Gunst's recommendations for food gifts this holiday season. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)
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Kathy Gunst's recommendations for food gifts this holiday season. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)