Gifts: Ahead-of-the-game-goodies

Not talking about the stores, which whisk Halloween decor away on November 1, blow by Thanksgiving (in the US; in Canada we had ours), then fill aisles with Christmas presents. I'm talking about your kitchen, relatively placid and tidy this time of year.

So now is the time to make holiday or house gifts, before the onslaught of invitations and outings. Among my post-50 friends, no one wants a massive sweet tray, it ends up at the grandkids' or the office. So, think outside the cookie box, set aside an evening, and you're a big step closer to a serene holiday season.

Each of these recipes is just decadent enough to make it special.

Sweet chilli jam
Make from now to immediately before giving; do not freeze.

A savoury jam is terrific with meats or grilled vegetables, and thinned just a little, makes a piquant glaze for  roast chicken or pork. (This is a quick recipe but you do have to sterilize jars, which I do in the dishwasher. ) The jelly keeps three months in a cool cupboard.

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce
Make any time now and freeze.

An alchemic recipe that's a last-minute dinner or lunch lifesaver and a break from heavy festive meals. (Don't hesitate to give it frozen.) Uses fresh or canned tomatoes (San Marzano), and don't hold back on the butter, that's the magic. You might add a hunk of parmesan, now that's a luxe gift!

There is also a Bolognese version which is more work, but pleases serious carnivores.

Lynn's Brandied Fruit
Make at least 3 weeks before giving

This deep, cognac-infused compote is a sophisticated, adult indulgence. The recipient can keep it going, adding more fruits and brandy or cognac (as long as the fruit is immersed in alcohol it will keep practically forever), or snarfle the whole thing up and hope you give it again next year.

Sleepover Cinnamon Buns
Make these up to three weeks ahead.

You are the guest, and the party went late, but in the morning, the house awakens to the irresistible smell of fresh-baked cinnamon buns. Not the kind in a package—fresh, homemade plump buns. The folks at King Arthur Flour show you how to do it. You can hide the frozen buns in your car or the host's freezer; just remember to
- thaw them the night before
- bring a cup of confectioner's sugar and a little cinnamon if you want to ice them

Other comestibles, like nuts, charcuterie, or the eternally-loved box of chocolates do not require your effort. But it's so gracious to give something made by your hand. Knowing what your friends prefer can guide your choice; not everyone likes pickled fiddleheads.

If you have your own treasures and are willing to share, please add them,


Rita said…
The BEST canned tomatoes ar Muir Glen brand.
I've actually been thinking of doing something along this line this year as I now have the time. I was thinking of Limoncello or home made Vanilla Extract - a bit simpler to start with. My friends and I agree, we all have enough "stuff" but consumables are always welcome. One friend has a couple of pair trees and 2 years ago did pears in vodka for everyone and last year it was pear butter. Both proved to be very popular!
Duchesse said…
Rita; In tomato-taste tests, both rank high:
I buy San Marzanos from San Marzano (the stamp is on the can), not California. (I live very near a large Italian specialty food store.)

Margie: Pear or plum trees provide many options, wonderful way to use all that fruit.

Francie Newcomb said…
Duchesse, these are such nice ideas, and I love the Marcella Hazan tomato sauce idea. I have been thinking about making dark chocolate truffles for gifts instead of fudge this year. Thank you for this blog.
LauraH said…
Even though I'm not much of a cook, I bookmarked the tomato sauce recipe. It looks delicious and with only 4 ingredients....that's my kind of sauce! Thanks
Darla said…
Since we have prolific Meyer Lemon trees I like to make lemon curd. I make it only a day or two ahead of giving since it is easy. I don't know how long it will last in the refrigerator since it seems to go pretty fast when the jar is opened.
Duchesse said…
Darla: Oh, yum! The point of this post is to provide things you can make well ahead, so you are not overloaded in a very busy season. And if you have time to whip up the curd, or make other things just before giving, that's great too.
A very special gift you can make ahead of time is some savoury baking. A few times I've made an extra tourtière for a friend who doesn't cook or can't for various reasons - I usually make a duck tourtière or two, with a braised duck. I've also made vegetarian versions for vegetarian friends. Tourtières freeze very well.

Of course, only make this if you know that it will be appreciated!

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