If you forgot to get a gift for the mail carrier, the babysitter or the neighbor who always waters your plants when you leave town, it’s not too late. Head to your kitchen to make something that will say “thank you” tastefully. The best part is, one size fits all.
Russian tea cakes
A unique teacup or tea strainer and a few special teabags in a basket will complement these delicious treats. Recipe from Eating Well magazine; makes about 4 dozen cookies.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoons low-fat milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a bowl, whisk flour, cornstarch and salt; set aside. Use an electric mixer to cream 3/4 cup of the sugar, the butter and oil in a large bowl until smooth and light. Add milk and vanilla; beat until smooth. Add dry ingredients and walnuts; blend on low speed just until mixed. Roll dough into half-inch balls and put on two ungreased cookie sheets about an inch apart. Bake, one sheet at a time, for 10 to 12 minutes or until very lightly browned on bottoms. While cookies are baking, sift remaining half cup sugar into a shallow dish. Remove cookies from oven and roll immediately in sugar, a few at a time. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Sift more sugar over cookies just before storing, if desired. Store in a tightly covered tin for up to one week or freeze for longer storage.
Curried seeds and nuts
Here’s a thoughtful gift for armchair quarterbacks or anyone who wants a break from all the holiday sweets. Feel free to substitute almonds, cashews or walnuts for the pumpkin seeds and corn nuts, but bake nuts for a shorter period of time. Recipe from “Holiday Favorites” by Food &Wine Books; makes about 4 cups.
1 pound hulled pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
Two 3-ounce bags corn nuts
Preheat oven to 350 F. Put pumpkin seeds or nuts in a medium bowl. In a small frying pan, combine oil and curry powder; cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until oil is very hot, about 3 minutes. Immediately pour oil over seeds. Sprinkle with salt and toss. Spread seeds on a baking sheet and bake on middle rack, stirring occasionally, until light brown, about 15 minutes. Return seeds to bowl, add corn nuts, and toss to combine. Stir mixture as it cools; store in an airtight container.
Rosemary rejuvenating tonic
Anyone who parties a little too much during the holidays or just works hard will appreciate this invigorating tonic, said to increase energy. Recipe in “From Our House To Yours,” a cookbook to benefit Meals on Wheels; makes 4 cups.
3 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves, broken into small pieces
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1-inch piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
4 cups purified water, boiled
1/2 cup honey
To make tonic: Put rosemary, thyme, ginger and lemon in a French press. Add the hot water; stir. Steep for 10 minutes and strain. Sweeten with honey and serve hot or cold. To give as a gift: Put all of the raw ingredients into a colorful tin and add the printed recipe.
Lemon ginger cookies
These easy to make, refreshingly different little cookies will fit into any size tin or box for gift giving. Lay them on a colorful cloth for a special touch. Recipe from “Christmas Gifts of Good Taste” by Leisure Arts, Inc.; makes about 7 dozen small cookies.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons grated dried lemon peel
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, sift together first eight ingredients. In another large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add molasses and egg; beat until smooth. Add dry ingredients; stir until a soft dough forms. Shape dough into one-inch balls; roll each ball in sugar and transfer to a greased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light brown. Cool completely on a wire rack; store in an airtight container.