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TIP OF THE DAY: Make Christmas Tree Ornaments From Dehydrated Citrus

dehydrated-grapefruit-tree-ornament-specialtyproduce-230

Ruby Red Grapefruit

Dehydrate lemons, limes oranges and grapefruit to make tree ornaments. TOP PHOTO: An orange slice ornament. Photo courtesy Specialty Produce. BOTTOM PHOTO: Red or pink grapefruit make pretty slices. Photo courtesy Good Eggs.

 

You—or your kids—can make these dehydrated citrus ornaments in your oven. You don’t need an electric dehydrator, but if you have one, great.

The fruit slices become translucent after drying, adding color and textural interest to any display.

A convection oven is better than a conventional oven, but the latter works, too.

In addition to tree ornaments:

  • Use the dehydrated citrus in garlands or wreaths.
  • Add them to potpourri.
  • Give them as stocking stuffers.
  • Use them for party favors.
  •  
    MAKE YOUR OWN CITRUS CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS

    Ingredients

  • Your choice of citrus (we especially like blood oranges and red grapefruits)
  • Optional: cloves for the citrus rims
  • Metallic gift wrap string or other decorative tie
  • Optional: gift tags (for stocking stuffers)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT Preheat the oven to its lowest temperature setting, usually 140°F. (To use a food dehydrator, set the temperature to between 125°F and 135°F and dry for 2-12 hours. Remember to rotate your dehydrator trays for even drying.)

    2. CLEAN the skins of the citrus with a damp towel.

    3. CUT the citrus into slices from 1/4″ to 3/8″ thick. If using the cloves, use an ice pick to punch holes for them in the surface skin (not in the white pith). TIP: Pressing in cloves can create a sore spot on your finger. Use a thimble.
     
    *If you need a lot of cloves, it’s best to buy them in bulk (e.g., a one-pound bag).

     

    4. PLACE a wire rack atop a baking sheet(s), and arrange the slices on the rack. Place the sheet(s) in the oven, but leave the door open 2 to 4 inches. This enables the air to circulate and the moisture to escape, dehydrating the fruit. If you are preparing more than one tray, rotate the trays halfway through for even drying.

    TIP: You can set a fan just outside of the oven to supply further air circulation, and to help speed drying.

    5. DRY the orange slices in the oven for 6 to 12 hours, or until the peel is hard and the fruit is brittle. Allow the slices to cool completely; then store in an airtight container until ready to create the hanging loops or otherwise use them.

    6. USE an ice pick or other sharp implement to puncture a hole for hanging through the flesh of each piece. Use string (the metallic wrapping string is great here) to create a loop for hanging on tree branches. If you’re using a gift card, place it on the string before tying the knot.

     
      

    Comments

    GIFTS: Gourmet Food

    We taste thousands of products a year, and a few always stand out as “great for the holiday gift list.” Here’s the first of this year’s gourmet food gift lists. We also have a chocolate gift list, a stocking stuffer gift list, and others to come (spirits, food books and more).

    CARNIVORE CLUB: THE BEST ARTISAN MEATS

    For foodies or meat lovers, Carnivore Club finds the most exceptional cured meats and packages them a gift box with an introduction to the artisan and ways to serve the items. The club delivery can be monthly, quarterly, bi-annually or just once.

    Each box has 4-6 selections of handcrafted meat, a total weight of approximately 18 to 28 ounces. Past selections have included meats as varied as biltong, duck breast prosciutto, Iberico ham, ‘nduja, water buffalo braesola and wild boar sausage.

    Products are curated by a team of meat lovers dedicated to “finding the greatest artisans on the planet, and sharing their best creations with our members.”

    Satisfy someone’s inner carnivore at CarnivoreClub.co (yes, it’s co, not com).
     
     
    DEAN’S SWEETS: CHOCOLATE CHRISTMAS TREES

    Dean Bingham gets credit for the most creative chocolate Christmas trees this year: hand-stacked blocks of 70% cacao dark chocolate or 32% cacao milk chocolate that create the tree. The nonpareils add a Christmas lights effect.

    The artisan chocolates are all natural and are made in a nut-free facility. The large tree is 5.5” tall x 5.5” wide at the base (1 pound, 7 ounces of chocolate) is $29.50; small tree is 3.5” tall x 3.5” wide (7.5 ounces of chocolate, $17.50).

    Get your tree(s) at DeansSweets.com.
     
     
    E-CREAMERY: PERSONALIZED ICE CREAM PINTS

    eCreamery sells top quality artisan ice cream; but the real differentiator is the ability to create custom labels for each individual pints. Sure, you can leave the flavor as the title on the pint, e.g. Banana Toffee Praline Crunch or Chipotle Maple Bacon Ice Cream.

    But you can also personalize it: Peace & Joy From The Hofstadter Family, Amy & Sheldon’s Holiday Cheer, and so on. There are:

  • Nine holiday flavors, including the two previously mentioned plus Candy Cane Swirl, Gingerbread Cookie Swirl and others.
  • Twenty year-round flavors—the basics plus Chocolate Cake & Brownie Bites, Chocolate Malt Ball and Sea Salt Caramel.
  • There are five sorbets that are dairy free and vegan.
  •  
    Including overnight shipping in ice, four pints are $84.99, eight pints are $139.99 at eCreamery.com. BUT WAIT: There’s a savings of $15 off plus free shipping with code SweetNY15, through January 31, 2016 (shipped to one address).

    It still may be the most expensive ice cream you’ve ever bought, but it also will be among the most memorable.
     
     
    4505 MEATS: BACON-LACED HOT DOGS

    There are many recipes that call for wrapping a sausage with a strip of bacon. 4505 Meats of San Francisco saves you the trouble: Bacon is embedded in its hot dogs.

    These creative sausage makers have loaded uncured hot dogs with uncured bacon, a recipe guaranteed to wow. A 3-pound package of 16 dogs is $33.00 plus shipping at 4505Meats.com.

       

    Carnivore Club

    Chocolate Christmas Tree

    eCreamery Holiday Pints

    Bacon Hot Dogs  at 4505 Meats

    TOP PHOTO: A past box from Carnivore Club, featuring the charcuterie from Charlito’s Cocina. SECOND PHOTO: Chocolate Christmas tree from Dean’s Sweets. THIRD PHOTO: Bacon Hot Dogs from 4505 Meats. BOTTOM PHOTO: The finest ice cream with labels customized by you, from eCreamery.

     

     

    Robert Lambert White Fruitcake

    Savannah Bee Whipped Honey With Cinnamon

    Tonnino Ventresca Tuna

    Valrhona Hot Chocolate Mix

    TOP PHOTO: A deluxe fruitcake from Robert Lambert. SECOND PHOTO: Whipped Honey With Cinnamon From Savannah Bee. THIRD PHOTO: Tonnino’s Ventresca Tuna, made from sashimi-quality tuna loins. BOTTOM PHOTO: Valrhona Hot Chocolate at Sur La Table.

     

    ROBERT LAMBERT: ARTISAN FRUITCAKES

    Robert Lambert has long been a great food artisan, who uses the bounty of local California heirloom fruits and nuts to make his creations. He crafts our favorite fruitcakes, pricey but worth it, orchestrating a memorable symphony of flavors unlike anything you’ve ever imagined.

    There’s a white fruitcake and a dark fruitcake; the difference is the mix of hand-candied luxury fruits and the spirits.

  • White Artisan Fruitcake has light-colored fruits: golden raisins, candied bergamot, coconuy, Rangpur lime, Meyer lemon peel, blood orange peel, Buddha’s hand citron and candied young ginger all contribute. Nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans and walnuts. Each cake is soaked in the fine French cognac, infused with herbs and spices, topped with a California bay leaf and candied white grapefruit peel star.
  • Dark Artisan Fruitcake has dark fruits: dates, prunes and dark raisins, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts. The cake has a touch of molasses and brown sugar, the spices are cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. The cake is soaked in his favorite 10-year-old Ficklin port.
  •  
    The one pound fruitcakes are $55 each, or any two in a gift tin for $100, at RobertLambert.com.
     
    SAVANNAH BEE: ARTISAN HONEY

    Our favorite honey producer, Savannah Bee spins together crystallized honey and aromatic cinnamon, forming an irresistible and spreadable Whipped Honey With Cinnamon. There are two sizes: a 12-ounce jar ($16.55) and a pair of two 3-ounce jars ($6.50).

    Another favorite holiday gift is Winter White Honey. From the Idaho Rockies, it is creamy, smooth and spreadable with natural finishing notes of cinnamon. This white-hued honey with a bright red label is available in the 12-ounce jars ($12.50) and two three-ounce minis ($12).

    For the honey connoisseur—or anyone with a refined palate—Sourwood Honey Gold Reserve is the honey gift. The sourwood trees in the Appalachian Mountains blossom only in “vintage” years, when there’s plentiful sun and rain.

    The flavor of sourwood honey is big and complex with hints of maple and spice. With a large jar, there’s enough to spare for basting grilled chicken or pork tenderloin, as well as lavish in tea and on pancakes. Sizes range from 3-ounce minis to 80-ounce jumbos, $12 to $92. The popular 12-ounce size is available with an optional pump—no dripping honey.

    For an even more special gift, the Sourwood Reserve packages 20 ounces of honey in an elegant tall flute and equally elegant packaging, $120. The company owner, one of the world’s great artisan honey experts, it “calls arguably the best in the world.”

     
    TONNINO: TOP QUALITY TUNA IN JARS

    Some people buy the best of everything. In the case of tuna, that’s Tonnino tuna, so lovely it’s packaged in a see-through jar.

    Our local gourmet stores sell it for $8 to $10 jar, but on Amazon it’s just $5.99. “Just $5.99” may still have sticker shock for those who wait for sales of supermarket brands for 99¢, but for gifting, think outside the can!

    The large fillets stand tall in jars, very different from what’s packed into cans. And the flavor must be tasted! Even our brother, who waits for the 99¢ sales, acknowledged as much. We now have solved the problem of what to get the tuna lover and the health-focused.

    Tonnino varieties include Tuna Fillets With Capers And Garlic In Olive Oil, With Garlic In Olive Oil, With Jalapeño In Olive Oil, With Lemon And Pepper In Olive Oil, With Oregano In Olive Oil, In Olive Oil (plain) and In Spring Water.

    The top of the line is Ventresca, “the royalty of our gourmet jarred tuna.” It’s hand filleted from a small section of the tuna’s underbelly (sushi eaters, think toro).

    Even the olive oil is delicious! A jar in every flavor is a special gift. See more at Tonnino.com.
     
     
    VALRHONA: GOURMET HOT CHOCOLATE

    The first hot chocolate mix from master chocolatier Valrhona, one of the world’s great chocolate producers and the name for fine chocolate in France. A perfect blend of the finest cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips, it makes a rich, chocolaty, marvelous cup of hot chocolate. Exclusively at Sur La Table, a 12-ounce tin red and silver tin is $21.95.

    You can package it with Peppermint Cocoa Stirrers and Marshmallow Snowman Beverage Topper marshmallows for a more elaborate gift. Or, go whole-hog with a set of Peppermint Stripe Mugs.

    Find it at SurLaTable.com. Orders over $59 ship free with code SHIPFREE.

      

    Comments

    GIFTS: Stocking Stuffers, Part 1

    For stocking stuffers, we look for special items around $10 (or less). Here’s the first bunch of gourmet foods we’d like to find in our stocking.

    ANNIE B’S CARAMELS

    In polka dot gift bags of 20 caramels, Annie B’s caramels are sure to please. The Signature Mix includes Butter Rum, Chocolate, Sea Salt and Original (vanilla) caramels. The Holiday Mix has Chocolate Raspberry, Peppermint and Pumpkin Spice caramels. The Chocolate Lovers Mix has Chocolate, Chocolate Sea Salt and Chocolate Raspberry.

    Each bag is $8. There are larger gift boxes and keepsake metal tins, $24. Get them at AnnieBsCandy.com.
     
    BAULI MINI PANETTONE OR PANDORO

    These sweet Italian Christmas breads now come in 3.5-ounce mini sizes—the equivalent of a breakfast pastry or a croissant. But what a pleasure biting into the little domed yeasty raisin bread (panettone) or sponge cake (pandoro)—we prefer the panettone. They’re $2.99 each at PiccolosGastronomia.com.

    If you want to give a full-size version, no one will be disappointed. It just won’t fit in the stocking. See the whole line at BauliUSA.com. The line is certified kosher by Star-D.
     
    GOURMET CHOCOLATE BARS

    Chocolate bars from two prestige producers are just right for stocking stuffers.

  • Cailler (kai-YAY) from Switzerland is very smooth and creamy milk chocolate. The Swiss invented milk chocolate, so you know it’s special. Choices include plain Rich and Creamy, plus Hazelnut, Almond Hazelnut and Cranberry and Almond Hazelnut and Raisin. Each bar is packaged in charming box-like wrapper.
     
    There are also dark chocolate bars and boxes of bonbons. Three individual bars are $13.50 at Amazon. For more information visit Cailler.com.us.
  • Chuao Chocolatier (chew-WOW) in California makes two holiday chocolate bars we love: Hope, Joy & Gingerbread in milk chocolate, and Peace, Love & Peppermint in dark chocolate. The 2.8-ounce bars are $6 at ChuaoChocolatier.com. We’ve got to stock up on enough Gingerbread to get us through until next year’s Christmas chocolate is produced.
  •  
    THE MILL FUDGE FACTORY

    There’s lots of hand-crafted fudge around, but The Mill Fudge Factory gets it right: just sweet enough, not cloying. It’s melt-in-your-mouth moist, hand-cut and hand-dated for freshness.

    The company makes classic and inventive flavors. Choose from Belgian Chocolate, Chocolate Coconut, Chocolate Salted Caramel, Chocolate Raspberry, Chocolate Walnut, Natural Peanut Butter, Penuche and Pure New Hampshire Maple. Seasonal flavors include Cranberry Maple Nut, Eggnog, Holiday Mint and Pumpkin Pie.

    Want a hint of spirits? Scottish Whiskey fudge is made with with Johnny Walker Red. Cabin Fever Maple Whiskey Fudge is made with the whiskey declared the best flavored whiskey on the market. And Bailey’s Irish Cream Fudge is a perennial favorte.

    We loved every bite we tried of the regular fudge flavors. The sugar-free fudge was OK, but we could taste the erythriytol—we hope the company will consider re-formulating with maltitol (see the different types of non-nutritive sweeteners).

       

    Annie B's Caramels

    Bauli Mini Panettone

    Gingerbread Chocolate Bar

    Fudge With Whiskey

    TOP PHOTO: Annie B’s gift bag of caramels. SECOND PHOTO: A mini panettone from Bauli. THIRD PHOTO: Holiday chocolate bars from Chuao Chocolatier. BOTTOM PHOTO: The Mill Fudge Factory has conventional and “spirited” fudge.

     
    All confections are available in sampler gift boxes; half-pound portions are $10, one-pound is $18.00. There are more elaborate gift baskets, a four pound Fudge Sampler for $60 and a Fudge of the Month Club 3, 6 and 12 months, $14.99 or less per month. There’s free shipping on orders of $35 or more.

    Go for it at TheMillFudgeFactory.com.

     

    Quin Coffee Marshmallows

    Snowman Marshmallows

    Superseedz Pouches

    Topperfino Chocolate Mug Toppers

    TOP PHOTO: A foot of marshmallows from
    Quin Candy. SECOND PHOTO: A marsh-
    mallow snowman topper for hot chocolate or
    coffee, from Sur La Table. THIRD PHOTO:
    Three of the nine flavors of Superseedz.
    BOTTOM PHOTO: Topperfino chocolate mug
    toppers.

     

    QUIN “FOOT LONG” MARSHMALLOWS

    Quin’s melt-in-your-mouth marshmallows are different from any others. They’re made in foot-long lengths, then cut into thirds to fit into a stocking-worthy packet. In Coffee, Root Beer or Vanilla, they’re delicious, fun and $4 per bag (2.9 ounces) at QuinCandy.com.

    SUR LA TABLE SNOWMAN MARSHMALLOWS

    These adorable vanilla marshmallow discs with a snowman face are new and nifty. Individually wrapped in a perky square box, Frosty’s marshmallow face peers through a cut-out.

    Place one atop a cup of hot chocolate and it will melt into something even more delicious than it looks. The marshmallows work with coffee, too—especially flavored coffees like hazelnut and vanilla, or with a spritz of pumpkin spice syrup. We’ve used them to top chocolate teas, too.

    They’re $9.95 per box at SurLaTable.com.
     
    SUPERSEEDZ SEASONED PUMPKIN SEEDS

    SuperSeedz was a Top Pick Of The Week in 2007, and we’ve been superfanz ever since. Pumpkin seeds are a gift for anyone: vegan and cholesterol-free with 7g of complete, plant-based protein per serving. That means they contain the nine essential amino acids (more than peanuts, pistachios, almonds and chia seeds).

    They’re allergen friendly: dairy-free, egg-free, fish-free, peanut-free, shellfish-free, soy-free, tree nut-free and made with gluten-free ingredients. And they’re shell-free! SuperSeedz are dry-roasted in small batches, using a proprietary pan-roasting technique that bakes the seasoning right into each seed.
     
    Superseedz are currently available in nine flavors: Cinnamon & Sugar, Coco Joe, Curious Curry, Really Naked, Maple Sugar & Sea Salt, Sea Salt, Somewhat Spicy, Super Spicy and Tomato Italiano. Find them at food retailers across the U.S., including Safeway, Sprouts and Whole Foods Markets.

    They can also be purchased online at Superseedz.com. Two 1-ounce individual serving pouches are $3.99; a 5-ounce pouch is $4.99.
     
    TOPPERFINO CHOCOLATE MUG TOPPERS

    Our Top Pick Of The Week, Topperfino chocolate discs sit atop your hot chocolate or coffee, providing marvelous aroma before melting in to add Belgian chocolate to the cup.

    There are so many beautiful designs, in both dark and milk chocolate, that your biggest challenge will be deciding which design is perfect for which giftee. A box of 10 individually-wrapped discs is $13.99 at Topperfino.com.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Gobble Up Turkey Plates On Sale

    If you feel you could have done one more thing to dress your Thanksgiving table, we recommend turkey-festooned plates. They’re all on sale now for half price, maybe even less.

    The handsome tom turkey on these “Plymouth” porcelain salad plates greet guests when they come to the table. They plates can be used for desserts as well.

    They create an endearing family tradition. We always looked forward to seeing the turkey plates each year at our grandmother’s house; and when our mother or aunt hosted the dinner, Nana had to bring the turkey plates with her!

    Microwavable and dishwasher safe, a set of four salad/dessert plates is on sale for $29.98, regularly $59.95. They’re an online exclusive at Williams-Sonoma.com.

    A matching set of four dinner plates, bordered with a harvest garland of oak leaves and acorns, is $33.98, regularly $67.95.

    What are you waiting for? Gobble them up!

     

    Turkey Salad Plates

    Turkey plates make an elegant impression at the Thanksgiving table. Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.

     

      

    Comments

    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Topperfino Chocolate Coffee Toppers

    Our Top Pick Of The Week gets high points for innovation, flavor and beauty.

    The clever folks at Topperfino have hand-crafted discs from premium Belgian chocolate, with a lovely assortment of designs. When a disc is placed atop a steaming cup of coffee or cocoa, the beverage transforms into a work of coffee art.

    The thin disc then melts into the cup, releasing a captivating chocolate aroma and—oh, yes—adding chocolate flavor.

    The best Topperfino experience is on a coffee with crèma on top, such as cappuccino or latte. But we tried it on everything, including plain coffee, hot milk and rooibos and chocolate tea blends. (Numi, Republic Of Tea and Zhena sell chocolate tea blends. Our favorite is Buccaneer from Serendipitea.)

    And, per the company’s suggestion, it even works on a bowl of hot cereal (which might finally get the kids to eat their oatmeal and drink their milk).

    Topperfino is a memorable gift for anyone who drinks coffee or hot chocolate, and will delight adults and kids alike. Each disk has just 25 calories, and you can skip the sugar so the calorie switch is even.

    Gently place the Topperfino chocolate topper on top of your coffee cup and watch it melt into a creamy chocolate-y flavorful addition to your morning Joe!

     
    YOUR CHOICE OF DARK OR MILK CHOCOLATE

    Topperfino discs are made in dark chocolate in plain chocolate plus caramel, French vanilla and hazelnut, in more than a dozen designs. Milk chocolate toppers are available in caramel, French vanilla and hazelnut.

     

    Topperfino Chocolate Cup Toppers

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    TOP PHOTO: Two different designs turn cups of coffee into art. BOTTOM PHOTO: Gift box. Photos courtesy Topperfino.

     
    And what lovely designs: animal prints, circles, coffee beans, geometrics, hearts, music, orbs, paisley and snowflakes, for starters.

    What are you waiting for? Get yours at Topperfino.com. Each box of 10 toppers is just $13.99. There’s free shipping with two boxes or more.

    TIP: We used some aerosol whipped cream that made it easier to place the disc on the hot beverage. When your toppers arrive, you’ll see what we mean.

    TRIVA: Topperfino happened ­by mistake! The inventor, an artist, loved to drink coffee with a bar of chocolate on the side (in France and Italy, a square of chocolate is oftened served with coffee). One morning, a piece of chocolate accidentally fell into his coffee and floated for a short time. The light bulb turned on. After countless tests, he created the unique blend of art and chocolate that he named Topperfino.

      

    Comments

    HOLIDAY GIFTS: Gourmet Chocolate

    Edible Chocolate Box - Charles Chocolates

    Kakawa Cocoa Beans

    John & Kira's Winter Bonbons

    Chocolate & Whiskey Figs John & Kira's

    TOP PHOTO: Edible chocolate box with bonbons from Charles Chocolates. SECOND PHOTO: Coco Puro’s chocolate-coated cacao beans. THIRD PHOTO: Ganache-filled bonbons from John & Kira’s. BOTTOM PHOTO: Calabacita figs filled with chocolate whiskey ganache from John & Kira’s.

     

    We love putting together holiday gift lists, sharing our must-have favorites. The chocolate items here begin at $12. Items under $10 are on our Stocking Stuffers list, out later this week.

    If you’re looking for kosher gifts, check out Li-Lac Chocolates, below.

    CHARLES CHOCOLATES

    Our favorite chocolate-covered nuts are from Charles Chocolates: Triple Chocolate Almonds, premium California almonds that are fresh-roasted, then coated in bittersweet and milk chocolates and dusted with cocoa powder. They’re also available in Mint Chocolate Almond and Triple Chocolate Hazelnut, 6.5 ounces for $12. Toffee Chocolate Macadamias are $15 for 6.3 ounces. An assortment of all four varieties is $46.

    A memorable treat is the Edible Chocolate Box (top photo), filled with fleur de sel caramels, milk chocolate caramels and bittersweet peanut praliné butterflies. Seventeen ounces of chocolate, including the box, are $46.00.

    Get yours at CharlesChocolates.com.
     
    COCOA PURO

    Kakawa Cocoa Beans (second photo) are a unique gift for the chocolate connoisseur: chocolate-covered cacao beans—the whole bean, not the nibs, which are the “seeds” of the bean.

    The finest beans are roasted until crunchy, like coffee beans; then hand-enrobed in layers of white, milk and dark chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder. That’s five expressions of chocolate in one bite!

    Kakawa is the Olmec word for cacao. The Olmecs were the first people to cultivate the cacao plant in Mesoamerica.

    A 12-ounce bag is $28 at CocoaPuro.com.
     
    JOHN & KIRA’S

    Of all the wonderful choices at John & Kira’s, two are our favorites for holiday gifting:

    The Winter Forest Collection (third photo) comprises three seasonal designs and bonbon flavors, all enrobed in a 62% Valrhona dark chocolate shell.

    Snowcapped peak bonbons contain a crunchy hazelnut-almond praline center, crystalline snowflakes are filled with white chocolate mint ganache, and a starry night envelops vanilla-accented dark chocolate ganache.

    Nine pieces in a handsome reusable box are $29.95 at JohnAndKiras.com.

    Our perennial favorite are the Chocolate-Filled Figs With A Touch Of Whiskey (fourth photo). It’s become our annual treat to ourself, and truth be told, we buy two boxes (and have to restrain ourself from buying double that, and don’t share a single piece).

    A treat for the refined palate, organic dried Calabacita figs are filled with a whiskey-infused Valrhona dark chocolate ganache; then hand-dipped in 62% dark chocolate and nestled in a handsome gift box.

    Each bite becomes a treasured memory; and if you think we’re getting flowery here, just taste them! Get yours at JohnAndKiras.com. Twelve pieces are $38.50.

     

     

    LI-LAC CHOCOLATES

    This French chocolate gift assortment contains a luscious mix of milk and dark chocolate squares filled with soft centers: caramels, chocolate fudge, French creams, hazelnut truffle squares, mocha, mousse, marzipan, and rum ganache. Inspired by European-style chocolates from the 1920s, we said “yum” out loud with every bite.

    Twenty pieces in a handsome repurposable box, 8.5 ounces of chocolate are $28. Larger boxes—one pound, two pounds and three pounds—are also available. The line is certified kosher (dairy) by OU. Get them at Li-LacChocolates.com.
     
    MAISON DU CHOCOLAT

    The venerable Parisian chocolatier, with outposts in New York City, has created something truly special: the Sweet and Savoury Collection. For the connoisseur, these surprising pairings of chocolate and vegetables are quite wonderful (but do not count toward your daily portions of veggies).

    The flavors include: dark ganache with Guérande sea salt, dark ganache with hot red pepper, ganache with balsamic caramelized onions, hazelnut praliné with porcini mushrooms and praliné with black olives and olive oil. These combinations may sound strange to most people; but for the true connoisseur, they are treasures.

     

    Li-Lac French Chocolates

    Maison Du Chocolat Savoury Collection

    TOP PHOTO: Wonderful French-style chocolates from Li-Lac. BOTTOM PHOTO: Savoury chocolates from Maison du Chocolat.

     

    The Savoury Chocolate Collection can be enjoyed at any time of the day or night, but Master Chef Nicolas Cloiseau, who created the collection, enjoys it between the last course of dinner and dessert. Get yours at LaMaisonDuChocolat.us. There are two sizes, $24 and $36.
     
    Almost all of these chocolatiers sell a variety of chocolates; so if you haven’t found what you’re looking for yet, browse their websites.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Make & Bring Sweet & Savory Nut Clusters

    Homemade Nut Clusters

    Sweet and savory nut clusters, with pumpkin
    seeds added for the holidays. Photo courtesy
    QVC.

     

    If you’ve been invited to Thanksgiving but not asked to contribute, you may still want to bring a gift that isn’t a bottle of wine.

    Something like these Sweet & Savory Nut Clusters from QVC’s chef David Venable can be a gift to the hosts be enjoyed later. Package them in a decorative tin or jar.

    Or, they can be served with after-dinner coffee by those who are too stuffed for pie.

    For any occasion, they can be served with a slice of Gorgonzola as the cheese course, or as a garnish for a green salad along with crumbled Gorgonzola.
     
    RECIPE: SWEET & SAVORY NUT CLUSTERS WITH
    GORGONZOLA

    Ingredients For 8-10 Servings

  • 1-1/2 cups raw pecan halves
  • 1 cup whole raw almonds
  • 1-1/2 cups raw walnut halves
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Optional: Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
  • Optional: green salad with vinaigrette
  • Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 325°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

    2. TOSS the pecans, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds with the beaten egg white in a large bowl, until coated.

    3. COMBINE the brown sugar, sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and rosemary in another bowl and toss with the nuts until evenly coated. Pour in the honey and fold until coated.

    4. SPREAD the mixture out on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until toasted. Serve as desired.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Cranberry Vodka

    Should you change your vodka for the holidays?

    Some vodka producers make seasonal flavors. Pinnacle Vodka, for example, has a portfolio of holiday flavors that include Caramel Apple, Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Peppermint Bark.

    Finlandia, Skyy and Smirnoff make cranberry vodka. Maybe you’ll be luckier than we’ve been in finding it. So here’s another option:

    Infuse your own cranberry vodka with real cranberries, instead of the extracts used to make commercial flavored vodka. Serve it—or bring it as a house gift—on Thanksgiving, Christmas and in-between.

    Generally when making infused vodka, the flavors should blend for four weeks or longer; but this recipe lets you do it in just 3 days.
     
    TIPS

  • Pass by the cheap stuff and use quality vodka. For $10 to $15, you can buy Denaka, Luksusowa, New Amsterdam, Pinnacle, Sobieski, Smirnoff or Svedka.
  • Why not spring for pricier vodka? If you’re making the vodka as a gift and want to impress, use the recipient’s favorite brand or other prestigious label. It won’t necessarily make better-tasting cranberry vodka, but will please the status-oriented.
  •    

    Cranberry Vodka Cocktail

    An easy holiday cocktail: cranberry vodka and ginger ale on the rocks. Photo courtesy SarahsJoy.com.

  • Create a hang tag for the neck of the bottle, with the name of the product (straight or fanciful), year made, and any other information.
  • If you’d rather showcase your vodka in a clear wine bottle, you can hand-paint a label and add decorations. The bottles run about $3 apiece.
     
    RECIPE: HOMEMADE CRANBERRY VODKA

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries
  • 1 fifth good quality vodka
  •  

    Bowl Of Fresh Cranberries

    Just add vodka. In three days you’ll have
    cranberry vodka. Photo courtesy Good Eggs |
    San Francisco.

     

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, tilting and swirling the pan occasionally. Lower the heat and continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is slightly thickened (about 5 minutes).

    2. REMOVE the pan from the heat. Stir in the cranberries and set the pan aside for 2 hours.

    3. TRANSFER the cranberry mixture to a large covered bowl, jar or canister and add the vodka. Retain the bottle to refill with the finished product. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 days, stirring occasionally. If you don’t have room in the fridge, keep it in a cool, dark place.

    4. STRAIN the vodka into a large pitcher, reserving the cranberries. You can use them to garnish drinks.

     
    5. USING a funnel, pour the vodka back into the original bottle. Place the bottle in the freezer until ready to serve. Keep the reserved cranberries in the freezer, but defrost them prior to serving (they defrost quickly).
     
    To Serve

    Serve cranberry vodka:

  • Shots
  • Straight up or on the rocks
  • As Cranberry Martinis, with just a splash of vermouth
  • In other cocktails or punch
  •  
    Top with a few cranberries to garnish.

      

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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Dingel’s Oven Shortbread & Gingerbread (The Best!)

    Dingel's Oven Shortbread

    Three-inch monogrammed shortbread tiles,
    with a back coated with salted caramel.
    Photo courtesy Dingel’s Oven.

     

    A few months ago we were introduced to Dingel’s Oven, located in Beaverton, Oregon. What a find! And what a solution to gift-giving throughout the year. Because anyone who receives a box of cookies from Dingel’s Oven will look forward to another one, and another, and another.

    Bakers Uta and Ego specialize in the most delicious shortbread cookies and gingerbread cookies. Both are made in three-inch square “tiles” with crimped edges and a large monogram in the center.

    The cookies themselves are perfection, made even more perfect because each batch is hand-baked to order. In a cookie tin (provided by you), they’ll last for more than two months. That would be a theory, because no mere mortal can resist devouring them.

    But in the name of research, we’ve kept a few for almost three months now. While not as perfect as the fresh-baked—for example, the terrific fresh butter flavor we initially tasted is now a normal butter flavor—they are still delicious. No one who hadn’t tasted the originals would know the difference.

    The cookies freeze well, too.

    THE COOKIES

    Salted Caramel Shortbread Tiles

    The shortbread tiles have a surprise: The bottom of each cookie is covered with salted caramel. Shortbread and salted caramel together is wedded bliss.
     
    Glazed Gingerbread Tiles

    Requests for the gingerbread tiles continue beyond the holiday season, so the cookies are available year round. Centuries ago, ginger was expensive and a holiday splurge; that’s why gingerbread is associated with Christmas. Today, there’s no reason not to enjoy it year-round—especially with memorable cookies like these.
     
    Cookie Details

  • Many companies say that they only use the freshest, simplest, purest ingredients of the highest quality. That may be so; but Dingel’s Oven ingredients are even fresher and higher in quality. The butter in the shortbread really sets the bar, as does the ginger in the gingerbread.
  • The cookies are sold by the dozen. One dozen 3″ x 3″ cookies are $24.
  • The recipes contain no peanuts or nut products. No artificial additives, preservatives or extenders are used whatsoever. Sorry, but there is no gluten-free option.
  • Your personal message will be written on a gift card. For corporate gifts, the card can feature a 4-color logo.
  •  
    But don’t tarry. Since every the cookies are hand-baked to order, the bakers need two-week lead time for the holidays; and as much lead time as possible is greatly appreciated.

     

    BEYOND THE HOLIDAYS

    Think of Dingel’s Oven tile coookies year-round for:

  • Bachelorette parties
  • Wedding favors
  • Baby showers
  • Corporate gifts
  • Custom cookies for any occasion
  •  
    Instead of an initial monogram, you can have a logo or other image on your cookies.

    Thank you, Dingel’s Oven, for creating a memorable cookie that solves just about all gift-giving needs.

     

    Gingerbread a la Mode

    Serve the cookies à la mode, with vanilla, coffee or rum raisin ice cream. Photo courtesy Dingel’s Oven.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Apple Cider Salted Caramels

    We love salted caramels: plain sea salt, fleur de sel, gray sea salt, smoked sea salt (see the different types of sea salts).

    They aren’t inexpensive: A box of seven smallish squares, chocolate coated and garnished with salt, is $14.00 at Fran’s.

    So how about a project for a lazy Sunday: homemade salted caramels? It can also solve holiday gift-giving needs.

    This recipe, which adds the seasonal touch of apple cider, was developed by P.J. Hamel for King Arthur Flour. Here are additional photos and tips.

    This recipe is made in the classic French style: Salted butter is used and more salt can be added to the caramel, instead of the current vogue for sweet butter with a salt garnishing on top. We prefer the latter, so if you prefer, use unsalted butter in the recipe and garnish the top with sea salt or other fine salt.
     
    BOILED CIDER

    The boiled cider that flavors the caramels is simply reduced apple cider or juice. You can make it (instructions are in the recipe that follows) or buy it (King Arthur Flour sells it). If you’re making your own, you can make it up to three months in advance.

    Use the extra boiled cider to add flavor to:

  • Baking: Add to baked recipes that use apples: cakes, crisps, crumbles, pies, turnovers. Replace the honey or molasses in recipes for apple cake, gingerbread, spice muffins and similar recipes.
  • Breakfast: Drizzle over French toast, oatmeal, pancakes, waffles; stir into plain yogurt.
  • Condiment: Add a teaspoon to vinaigrette or barbecue sauce; drizzle over baked apples, crêpes, grilled fruit, ice cream, sorbet or frozen yogurt; spread on toast or cornbread; give better flavor to store-bought applesauce.
  •    

    Apple Cider Caramels

    Apple Cider Salted Caramels

    Try your hand at making caramels. Photos courtesy King Arthur Flour.

  • Dinner: Glaze grilled vegetables or poultry (brush it on) or add a bit to marinades.
  •  
    RECIPE: APPLE CIDER SALTED CARAMELS

    Ingredients For 64 Caramels

  • 2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream or whipping cream
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1/2 cup boiled cider*, purchased or made (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice†
  •  
    For The Boiled Cider

    Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 1 hour. The yield is 1-1/2 cups.

  • 8 cups fresh apple cider or apple juice
  •  
    See the difference between cider vs. apple juice, below.
    _______________________________
    *You can buy ready-made boiled cider from King Arthur Flour and other baking supply retailers.

    †Substitute 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice.

     

    boiled-cider-midwestliving-230

    Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels

    TOP PHOTO: Homemade boiled apple cider. Photo courtesy Midwest Living. Here’s their
    full recipe. BOTTOM RECIPE: Feeling
    ambitious? Dip your caramels in melted
    chocolate. Photo courtesy Alma Chocolate.

     

    Preparation

    1. MAKE the boiled cider. BRING the cider to boiling in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently, uncovered, for 1-3/4 hours. Stir occasionally, until the cider has reduced to 1-1/2 cups. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

    2. TRANSFER the boiled cider to a screw-top jar with a mouth at least wide enough to insert a spoon. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 months. The boiled cider will thicken in the fridge. Bring it to room temperature to use in this recipe.

    3. LIGHTLY GREASE an 8″ x 8″ baking pan and line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on opposite sides.

    4. COMBINE the cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter and boiled cider in a heavy-bottom, deep saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to medium-high heat and cook until the mixture reaches 248°F on a candy thermometer, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the salt and spice.

    5. POUR the hot mixture into the prepared pan. Let it stand for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature before cutting into 1″ squares.

    6. WRAP the caramels: Use 6″ squares of parchment paper. (We had 5-inch squares. The difference is shorter twisted ends.) Place one caramel in the center of each square; wrap the opposite edges of the paper around the caramel and twist the exposed edges to close. If you don’t have parchment paper you can use wax paper, but you need to be careful when twisting the edges because it tears more easily.

    Here’s a very helpful video on how to wrap caramels.

     

    APPLE CIDER VERSUS APPLE JUICE: THE DIFFERENCE

    Since Prohibition, which began in the U.S. in 1920, “cider” has referred to the unfermented, unpasteurized apple juice. “Hard cider” is used to indicate the alcoholic beverage. In the U.K. it is the opposite, with “cider” indicating the alcoholic drink for which special cider apples are used.

  • Hard cider is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from the unfiltered juice of apples. The alcohol content varies from a low 1.2% ABV* to 8.5% or higher—some imported ciders can be up to 12% ABV, an average level for table wines. It does not need to be refrigerated until the container is opened.
  • Fresh apple cider is raw apple juice, typically unfiltered. Thus, it is cloudy from the remnants of apple pulp. It is also typically more flavorful than apple juice—although of course, the particular blend of apples used in either has a big impact on the taste. It needs to be refrigerated.
  • Apple juice has been filtered to remove pulp solids, then pasteurized for longer shelf life. It does not need to be refrigerated until the container is opened.
  •   

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