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White: Some simple ideas for holiday gift-giving

Published December 06. 2012 4:00AM

Thanksgiving was early this year. That's a good thing for retailers because they will have five weekends to sell their wares. It is also good for me, because like so many others, I will begin to bake and cook and refrigerate and freeze the food I give to so many of my friends and neighbors. My gifts will go to the people who take care of me every year, those who bring me my packages and mail and, of course, my neighbors. I often make three or four batches of each and pack the treats into small Ball jars for presents.

Next week, I will tell you about the "cookbook" my daughters and daughters-in-law will get for the holidays. It may be the funniest and naughtiest present ever.

Amazing Peanut Brittle

From H.G. Sawyer, DDS, Groton

4 cups sugar

1 cups white and/or dark Karo syrup

1 cups water

4 cups Spanish peanuts

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

3 tablespoons baking soda

Butter two rimmed cookie sheets.

Mix sugar, syrup and water into a heavy-bottomed large pan. Stir with long wooden spoon. Place candy thermometer into the mixture. Heat at medium-high until thermometer reaches 320 degrees (it will take a long time to hit 290 degrees and very little time to hit 320). Add Spanish peanuts, stir, then add butter and vanilla. Stir, then add baking soda and still until frothy, about 15 to 20 seconds. Pour into cookie sheets and thin to about one-peanut high. (It is great to have a silicone spatula for this.) Place outside if it is cold out or put sheets in refrigerator until hardened, about 20 minutes. Break brittle apart and place in tins or zippered bags.

Caramel Sauce

From Cucina Simpatica by Johanne Killeen and George Germon (HarperCollins, New York, 1991)

Yield: makes 2 cups

2 cups heavy cream

cup sugar

In a heavy-bottomed pan, scald the cream, reduce heat to very low and keep warm

Heat the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Do not use a metal spoon, as the high heat produced by the sugar will be conducted through the spoon, making it too hot to hold. The sugar will slowly melt into a clear liquid and gradually darken. Don't worry if the sugar lumps. Break up the lumps with a wooden spoon and they will melt into the caramel as it darkens.

When the caramel has turned a rich mahogany color, pour it slowly into the hot cream, whisking constantly. (I let the caramel get only to the medium-golden color since the dark color seems a bit burned to me.) The caramel will spatter, so be careful not to burn yourself. If the temperature of the cream is too low, you may find that portions of the caramel solidify in it. In that case, increase the flame under the cream and stir until the bits melt and mixture becomes smooth. The caramel sauce will thicken as it cools and will solidify in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to 2 days. It may be reheated gently to pouring consistency.

Chocolate Syrup

Adapted from my grandparents' grocery store in Troy, N.Y., circa 1905

2 cups sugar

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1 cup boiling water

teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium-sized saucepan, whisk together sugar and cocoa. Add boiling water and whisk together. Turn on burner to medium-high. Stir until syrup begins to boil. Immediately turn heat to simmer and cook 5 minutes. Turn off heat and whisk in salt and vanilla. When syrup begins to cool, put into jar. Syrup is good for at least two or three weeks in the refrigerator.

Nibbles

I don't know about you, but rarely is heavy cream in my refrigerator and, if it is, I must sniff it to make sure it hasn't been in there since the Pleistocene era.

So, when I was looking through the shelves at Trader Joe's, what did I spy but pint-sized cartons of whipping cream. Huh, I thought, but I shouldn't have been surprised. I have been buying milk in pantry cartons for years (and the Europeans have been doing that for decades). I bought a few pints and have been using it for a couple of months. This is, as Martha might say, a good thing.

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