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Easy recipes make great holiday gifts, appetizers

Folsom Lake Entertainer
By: Rachel Chaddock, Folsom Lake Entertainer
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Every year I worry about holiday gifts — gifting proper as well as hostess gifts and “little somethings” for coworkers and friends. I don’t want to drown the holiday spirit by pouring on woes about these economic times, but seriously, y’all — no one on my friends list is getting caviar. Or Belgian chocolates. Or Waterford crystal. Or, sadly enough, diamonds, no matter how many friends I may indeed have in the diamond business. I like homemade presents, anyway. Not that I’d turn away diamonds, mind you. But there’s something neat about a platter full of cookies, or a fabric-topped jar with some homemade concoction inside. My mom and I still talk about the legendary Melissa Malloy’s Brandied Pear Conserve in hushed, awed voices — and that was from years ago! Usually I go the cookies/candy route myself, and probably I still will this year (I daren’t forget my mother’s rugelach, nor the formidable Grammy B.’s buckeyes), but I thought I’d also toss out a few different ideas, some a bit savory, some sweet, and all ridiculously easy. And why make these kinds of treats, rather than cookies for the hosts? Well, remember you’re not the only one entertaining. And it’s nice to bring out something special for the breakfast table (pumpkin butter on a hot biscuit, anyone?), or as noshes to keep folks out of the kitchen (the spiced nuts, the acorns, and the pimento cheese spread). Oh! And a note on the pimento cheese: yes, I am a born-and-bred Southerner, and nope, we never ate this. I actually called my mom to ask about it, and she said while she loves it herself, she can’t stand the store-bought kind and never made it because she thought we kids would turn our noses up at the pimentos (which are just jarred sweet peppers, if you didn’t know). I’ve recently seen a resurgence of this rather-retro spread (and you can bet that Paula Deen has had a lot to do with that), and the truth is, this stuff is good, and dead easy! You can pretend you’re being healthy and stuff it in celery, or spread it on a cracker (probably a Ritz if you’re being authentic), or…better yet, broil it on top of a ripe tomato slice or make a grilled cheese sandwich with it (Mom’s suggestion), or, what I can’t wait to try, stuff it in a burger. Please don’t turn your nose up at pimento cheese if you’ve only seen the stuff in the plastic tub. Enjoy your holidays, whichever you celebrate — just make sure you do it with others! * * * Microwave Pumpkin Butter 1 15 ounce can pumpkin purée (not pie filling) 3 tablespoons powdered fruit pectin 1/2 teaspoon allspice 2 teaspoons cinnamon 2 1/4 cups sugar In a 2 quart microwave bowl, combine pumpkin, pectin, cinnamon and allspice. Mix well. Microwave on high for 6 minutes or until very hot, mixing every 2 minutes. Add sugar, mix well. Microwave on high for 5 to 7 minutes or until at a full rolling boil, stirring once during cooking. Continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove to storage containers (I use jelly jars) and refrigerate for three weeks or freeze for up to three months. Makes about 3 cups. Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts 1/3 cup dark-brown sugar 2/3 cup granulated sugar 1 tablespoon kosher salt Generous pinch of cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 1 pound pecan halves 1 egg white 1 tablespoon water Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add walnuts, and stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together. Pimento Cheese 6 ounces extra-sharp white Cheddar, grated 8 ounces extra-sharp aged Cheddar (orange), grated 1 jar pimentos (2 oz.), drained and finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon black pepper Dash of Tabasco sauce cayenne to taste 2/3 cup mayonnaise (I used homemade but use whatever kind you like) Mix together cheeses in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in pimento, pepper and cayenne. Add mayonnaise and stir with a fork, mashing until pretty smooth (or cheat and use your immersion blender, as I did, or a food processor. You should still see chunks). Refrigerate, covered for a few hours (overnight is better) to let the flavors develop. Simple Cookie Acorns 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips Nutter Butter Bites (which I found in 8-ounce “Snak Sak” bags) Hershey’s kisses (unwrapped) (I used the dark chocolate because I like them) 1/2 cup melted chocolate (I just melted some of the chips) The number of these this recipe makes depends on the number of kisses you want to unwrap and the corresponding number of cookies you have on hand. Use some of the melted chocolate to attach the kiss to the cookie. Let that cool for a few seconds, and then use a tiny dab of chocolate to attach the mini chip to the top of the cookie. Let set in the fridge for a few minutes. Done! Rachel Chaddock writes a cooking blog at rachelscookery.com. Reach her at rachels.recipes@yahoo.com.