Saturday, December 17, 2011

Homemade Gifts: Cranberry Orange Bark with Almonds

Gifts from the kitchen are delightful.  They are appreciated by many and filled with love and patience.  Most of my homespun gifts must wait until I return to Washington, since traveling with fragile edibles is not worth the level of stress. I decided last weekend that peppermint bark would not be too much of a travel undertaking, since it is supposed to be broken! Perfect.  So I picked up some good chocolate and made a batch of peppermint bark that rivals Williams-Sonoma.  Then I was really inspired, and got a bit inventive.  The true gem turned out to be the Cranberry Orange Bark with Almonds.  The key to this candy is to use good quality dark or semisweet chocolate.  Here are the recipes for both types:

Cranberry Orange Bark with Almonds
  • 12 ounces high quality dark or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon orange essence
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler, until liquid*
2. Stir in orange essence until oil combines with chocolate (~1minute)
3. Pour chocolate onto baking sheet lined with silicone mat or waxed paper
4. Sprinkle almonds and cranberries evenly over the surface, and lightly press into chocolate with palms
5. Place in refrigerator until very firm, at least 1 hour
6. Break into various sized pieces and package for gifts or enjoy with friends

Peppermint Bark
  • 6 ounces high quality dark or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 6 ounces high quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 4 candy canes
1. Unwrap candy canes and place in freezer bag, wrap the bag with a towel, and hit with a rolling pin or heavy pan until broken into small pieces.
2. Melt dark chocolate in double boiler*
3. Pour chocolate onto baking sheet lined with silicone mat or waxed paper, and place in refrigerator for 1 hour
4. Melt white chocolate in double boiler*
5. Gently spread on top of dark chocolate, you will likely get a little marbling (just embrace it)
6. Sprinkle peppermint pieces onto white chocolate and gently press in with palms
7. Return to refrigerator for at least 1 hour
8. Break into various sized pieces and package for gifts or enjoy with friends

*To make a double boiler: find a heatproof bowl that will sit atop one of your saucepans.  Pour 1 1/2 inches of water in the bottom of the saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Place bowl on top, ensuring that the bottom does not touch the water.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Five Gifts for Food Lovers

Oh December.  I love this month so much, but yet I always seem to become uncontrollably stressed out.  Today marks two weeks until Christmas, and I am amazingly about halfway through my Christmas shopping. This might be a record.  Starting early has allowed me some creativity and increased thoughtfulness with my gift finding strategies. Some of the best gifts for a food lover are those that will live in the kitchen for a lifetime, and will better as they age.  Here are some ideas for unique gifts:

The Artist: Block Prints from Rigel Stuhmiller's Etsy Shop.  I actually ordered this calender or my mom's birthday in November, and she loved it.  He also has lovely prints and notecards, many with a food-oriented theme.

The Feminine: Anthropologie aprons are delightful gifts. They are flirty, fun and functional.  This is my personal favorite.

The Rustic: Handmade, recycled kitchen signage "savor" "eat" or "cook" are some good options.  Keep in mind your loved ones' kitchen spaces to make sure the sign will fit.

The Practical: Stoneware never goes out of style, cooks beautifully, and looks fantastic in any kitchen.  This oval enameled dish would make a great addition to many cooks' tools.

The Splurge: The beloved Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer; a must have for many cooks, especially those who are passionate about baking.  Not only are they useful, they are beautiful too, and can add a splash of color to any countertop.  In our tiny studio kitchen, I despise appliances that live on the counter.  The only exception is my stand mixer.