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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mission Impossible: Unique Holiday Gifts

It's been raining in Houston the past couple of days, and yesterday, as I left my parking garage at work, my first thought was "Yay! The trees will be so happy and I get a free car wash. Win-win".

What's so odd about this is that not even 3 months ago, I was leaving my office building in New York cursing the rain that thoroughly soaked me as though my umbrella was just some sub-par accessory.

No matter where I live, I can positively say that my favorite activity alongside a wintery storm trying to outdo Noah's flood, is baking. Given the mass amounts of snow and rain that are set to sweep the nation these next two weeks, I think you'll love it too.

Perusing the countertop this weekend, I realized a couple things. For starters, my family has some incredible friends who provide the best of tried and true holiday treats every year given the hoard of cookies, nuts, and chocolates (which will be the death of me, but don't worry, I'm accepting). That said, the very last thing I want to do is go up against my best friend's snack mix, or my aunt's sugar cookie, or even those addictive little chocolate turtles that call for me day and night.

So, here I find myself, having made two holiday goodies I've never received and daring you to gift them. Trust me, if you can get them out of the door, they will not only vie for the most unique holiday treat your friends receive, but also the most mouth-watering.

THIS is Food 52's Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary. Oh yes, you read that correctly. I'm putting the nut you use in pesto alongside an herb you use in fried chicken, and I'm still telling you it's a delectible treat.

Aren't you just brimming with intrigue already?

Recipe Ease: Let's put things in perspective. THIS is a candy recipe. Candy recipes typically involve stop watch accuracy, candy thermometers (don't even get me started, they're terrifying), and the teensiest window of time in which a perfectly nutty and caramel toffee turns into yuck. Now that I've sufficiently terrified you, allow me to assure you that this recipe involves none of the above. While THIS is not necessarily as easy as one, two three, it's certainly not rocket science.
Has Lindsey gone all Pioneer Woman on us and started taking pictures of prep-time? Of course not, but might I suggest you prep all your ingredients prior to beginning so you're not runnin' round like a chicken with her/his (hey guys) head cut off trying not to burn your candy
Yumminess: Get ready to have your mind blown to shreds. I know, you're thinking "sure, it sounds all sophisticated, but this is one of those fancy schmancy desserts that makes you wish for fruitcake". Well, you think wrong dear reader because what you will be thinking after trying a bite is "sweet gods of the baking world, this is one of those sweet treats that fills an empty hole in my heart I didn't even know was there". THIS is that perfect combination of salty-sweet - nutty, creamy, spicy and salty all in one.
Does your sugar look like this shortly after it starts melting? Never fear friends, this is a GOOD thing
Health Benefits: Did you see how much sugar is in THIS recipe? That's correct - 2 cups. This is not skinny and if you're like me and have somehow made it onto sugar's sh*t list, just stay away...or maybe just take a nibble, but just one, seriously. In other news, if you're following the fad or truly inflicted, this will fit quite well into a gluten-free diet without the necessary purchase of funky flours.
See? About 2 minutes later, it will look like this
Shortly thereafter, this caramely, cognac sugary goodness will appear
$$$: Pine nuts are not in the "bread and butter" price range unless you live in Italy. THIS is definitely not your wallet-friendly option, but allow me to provide alternatives so as not to deprive you of the glory of a savory-sweet candy. You can use de-skinned almonds, chopped cashews or macadamia nuts in the same quantity. Just make sure that these larger nuts are piece size.
spread toffee - no need for it to be even as you'll be breaking it up shortly
Best in Show-worthy: Is it obvious? I'm so wretched at hiding favorites, but just in case you're blind to my favoritism, THIS is it.
I package it in a leftover nut jar (it's only 1/2 a regift), but you can use a festive box or even carnival popcorn funnel
I put it in a little faux-glass container, wrapped it in cellophane and stuck a big candy cane with a gold bow...mason jars work too

THAT is Smitten Kitchen's Hot Fudge Sauce in all of it's chocolatey, close your eyes and say "mm" glory.

Recipe Ease: THAT is definitely a perfect go-to when you have 30 minutes to whip up a fabulous hostess gift. It's a two pot recipe, and as long as you watch your chocolate from burning, it's full proof.
Double broiling - a heat-proof (VERY IMPORTANT) bowl over boiling water in a saucepan
Yumminess: You all know my feelings on chocolate. I like to think of it as a great love and not an addiction, but call it what you will. Depending on what flavor additive you use (I went with vanilla but think that peppermint extract would be perfectly festive), THAT will taste subtley of it and rich, not too-sweet chocolate. It's ideal because I often find chocolate fudge recipes to be too sweet to actually put on top of already sweet ice cream. No worries here - you will be able to gorge for quite a bit longer. THAT is coat the roof of your mouth creamy.
like magic
Health Benefits: ...antioxidants?
not the prettiest part, but when adding the chocolate to the water, add slowly and don't fret over the bubbles and foam
$$$: If you're like me and you keep chocolate around the house, you won't need to purchase anything at all, yet another reason this is a great last minute gift.

CAUTION: during cooling period, it may be found irresistable to certain people such as fathers from who you inherited your chocolate addiction armed with sugar cookies 
Best in Show-worthy: THAT is the perfect gift for all chocolate lovers, for people you may not know too well (who rejects chocolate in full, I ask you!), for families, children, or your chocoholic girlfriends looking for a fix.

If you're looking for ANOTHER option, a chocolate dipping frenzy is a great go-to. It's perfect for doing with kids, those entirely void of any kitchen skills, or those in need of both a watch and wallet friendly gift.

Chocolate Covered Everything
whatever you have in the pantry including but not limited to:
- peppermint sticks
- pretzel sticks
- potato chips (seriously life changing)
- graham crackers

2 cups of chips including but not limited to:
- 2 cups of milk chocolate
- 2 cups of white chocolate
- 2 cups of butterscotch chocolate

1 cup of add ons including but not limited to:
- 1 cup ofcrushed peppermints
- 1 cup ofsprinkles
- 1 cup ofmini marshmallows
- 1 cup ofM&Ms
- 1 cup ofchopped Ande's mints
- 1 cup ofchopped dried fruit
- dashes of spicy peppers or salt

Melt the chocolate per brand's melting instructions (some will require a fat such as butter and others will not).

While melting, line 2 baking pans with parchment or wax paper

Dip sticks/chips/crackers into your chocolate choice and coat in your choice of add-ons. Then place on the baking pan and repeat.

You may put the pan in the fridge or freezer should it need to set quickly but don't put peppermint in as it will get tacky.

While these are particularly suited for giftees of the younger set, I dare you to find anyone with strong feelings against them.
I gift them in a wine-bottle bag stuffed with gift tissue
Are there any other unique or tried-and-true holiday gifts you know of as either the gifter or the giftee?

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