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Special Gifts from Your Kitchen

Only one thing is nicer than a homemade gift--a home-grown one. There is something special about going out to the garden to pick something you have grown yourself and cooking it up into a present for someone you love. And if you don’t have a garden, don’t despair. You can create all of the following handmade gifts by using store-bought produce.

The important thing to remember when beginning to make gifts in the kitchen is to choose recipes that you enjoy making--and that you have the time to do. Read the recipes carefully to make sure you have all the materials and equipment you will need before you begin. If you’re planning to make a gift with a composed appearance, such as jars of layered pickled vegetables, start by making a test so that you can figure out the look you like.

There is a wide range of jars and bottles you can buy in which to pack your gifts. Other than that, homemade gifts require very little dressing up; the combinations of nature’s own colors and shapes are usually sufficiently striking. If you want to embellish them further, wrap the jars in cellophane and tuck them into pretty baskets lined with straw.

Be sure to label any canned or bottled gifts and specify whether they need refrigeration. It’s also a good idea to indicate how long they can be stored.

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As you pack your gifts, think about other possibilities for presents. Having a garden gives you the freedom to create your own personalized selection of produce--and it’s not too early to start planning for next year’s gifts.

This highly flavored oil with a spicy bite is very easy to make. It can be paired with roasted meats or grilled fish and drizzled on everything from simple grilled vegetables to bean soups.

OLIO SANTO (Holy Oil)

2 cups red chile pepper flakes

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40 small hot chiles (arbol, cayenne, serrano or jalapeno), thin enough to fit through bottle opening)

20 large sprigs fresh rosemary

50 bay leaves

10 quarts extra-virgin olive oil

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Using funnel, pour red chile flakes into each of 10 (1-quart) glass bottles to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Place 4 whole chiles, 2 sprigs rosemary and 5 bay leaves in each bottle. Pour olive oil through funnel into bottles and seal or cork. Make sure that herbs are completely submerged in oil to prevent mold. Set bottles in cool, dark spot for several weeks. Makes 10 (1-quart) bottles.

This is a two - step process. Most of the flavor is derived from the first steeping in hot vinegar. Replacing the herbs before bottling gives the finished product a fresh look.

HERB VINEGAR

White wine or Champagne vinegar

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Assorted fresh herbs, including thyme, sage, lavender and tarragon

Bring vinegar to boil in large, non-reactive pot. Pour into large plastic storage container. Add handful of each herb. Cover vinegar and let steep 4 days.

Strain vinegar through sieve lined with cheesecloth. Place couple of sprigs of each herb in glass bottles. Pour vinegar from pitcher through funnel into each bottle, covering herbs completely. Cork or seal bottles. Vinegar is ready for giving and will last indefinitely.

This is an unusual preservation of some favorite antipasti staples. Taking care in the trimming of the artichokes is important.

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BABY ARTICHOKES AND ONIONS IN BALSAMIC VINEGAR

5 pounds baby artichokes

4 lemons, cut in half

2 pounds pearl onions

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3 3/4 cups balsamic vinegar, about

40 peeled garlic cloves

Black peppercorns

20 bay leaves

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Remove brown outer leaves from artichokes. Slice 1/4 inch off top of each artichoke, then trim around bottom to expose heart. Cut in half lengthwise. Place in bowl of water with juice from 2 lemons.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add juice of remaining 2 lemons. Add artichokes and cook about 8 minutes, or until tender but still firm when pierced with knife. Drain and plunge artichokes into bowl of ice water. Set aside.

Bring medium pot of water to boil. Add onions and cook 3 minutes. Drain and plunge onions into bowl of ice water. Drain again. Peel off outer skin, leaving stem intact. Set aside.

Bring vinegar to boil and let cool slightly. Sterilize 10 (6-ounce) jars and line up on counter. Tightly pack each jar with artichokes, onions, 4 garlic cloves, few black peppercorns and 2 bay leaves, leaving about 1/2 inch at top. Pour balsamic vinegar over vegetables and seal jars. Will last for several weeks in refrigerator. For longer shelf life, process in pressure canner 25 minutes. Makes 10 (6-ounce) jars.

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Few people really appreciate persimmons. Here, the fruit lends its wintry color and texture to a wonderfully moist, long-keeping bread. Pack this in a basket with spicy Apple-Pear Butter.

SANDY SOTO TEICH’S FRESH PERSIMMON BREAD

6 very ripe persimmons

8 ounces unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

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2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs, room temperature

1 tablespoon vanilla

3/4 cup brandy

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3 3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

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1 3/4 cups golden raisins

2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Cornmeal or polenta

Granulated or crystal sugar

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Puree persimmons in food processor.

In mixer, beat melted butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until blended. With machine on low speed, stir in vanilla, brandy and persimmon puree. Toss together flour, baking soda, salt and nutmeg and add to persimmon mixture. Beat just until smooth. Stir in raisins and walnuts by hand.

Divide batter evenly between 2 (9x5-inch) loaf pans or 1 large Bundt pan that have been liberally sprayed with vegetable spray and dusted with dry cornmeal or polenta. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes, then pull breads out and quickly dust tops lightly with sugar. Return to oven and bake for another 30 minutes or until bread is a deep golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn out and cool thoroughly before slicing. Cooled breads may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen for longer storage. Makes 2 (9x5-inch) loaves, or 1 large Bundt cake.

Ginger gives a new twist to a traditional gift.

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APPLE-PEAR BUTTER

2 1/2 pounds Granny Smith or McIntosh apples

2 1/2 pounds pears

1/2 cup chopped ginger root

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2 cups water

1 1/4 cups sugar, about

Salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

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1 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

Cut apples and pears in pieces, without removing skins or cores. Combine with ginger in large, heavy saucepan and add water. Cook over low heat, until very soft. Put through food mill. Put mixture back into pot and stir in remaining ingredients. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly to avoid scorching, until mixture has thickened.

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To test for doneness, spoon a little onto plate. If no liquid seeps from butter, it is done. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal. Makes 15 (4-ounce) jars.


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