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eat edible holiday gift ideas by Christina Da Costa |
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For many of us, the month of December equals crazy crowds, screaming children, endless repetitions of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," mall Santas, gift receipts, overdue credit card bills and mounting stress -- all for the possible gratitude of mediocre gifts. If you do your shopping on the internet, you can skip all of the crowds, but you're still left with the bills, along with the specter of identity theft. How does the smart, savvy and cheap gift-giver navigate these holiday perils? By making gifts at home. Specifically, food gifts!

Homemade food gifts can be used up in the months after the holidays and appreciated by anybody who eats. You can avoid the carpal tunnel from endless mouse-clicking in search of random gizmos that your dad doesn't really want; if he likes mustard, he will love the Beer & Herb Mustard you make for him. For the other salt-fiends in your life, make the Best Nuts Ever (below) and the Easy Tapenade; better yet, include all three savory treats in an attractive box for a gourmet gift. Some people like their gifts sweet, so whip up some Vanilla Sugar, Chocolate Truffles or (Chocolate Dipped) Biscotti on a Saturday afternoon, and relax during the rest of the holiday season. Sure, some of these recipes do take some time and effort (especially when it comes to canning), but at least you won't be dealing with strollers bumping into your calves. Best of all, you never have to worry about whether or not someone already has what you're giving -- these gifts are entirely unique, and delectably consumable.

the savory
best nuts ever
This recipe was so closely guarded that an arm-wrestling match had to ensue on my nut-strewn dining room floor before the original recipe-keeper would give it up. These nuts are that good. They keep for about a week in a tightly-sealed container, but they never last that long.

2 cups each of unsalted cashews and pecans
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
-1 tsp. of Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
(use your judgment on the spicy factor)
2-3 tsp. of yellow curry powder
(same comment on spicy)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
sea salt and raw sugar for topping

1 Heat oven to 250F and line a baking sheet with tinfoil; don't be skimpy with the foil, as this recipe produces some caramelized gooeyness.
2 Place raw nuts in a big bowl. Combine butter, honey, maple syrup and hot pepper sauce in a small saucepan. Heat just until it melts together and stir until smooth and well combined. Remove from heat and stir in salt and spices. Let cool for a minute or so and pour over the nuts, tossing to get everything evenly coated. Taste a nut and see if you need more spice, honey, salt, etc.
3 Spread nuts on your prepped baking sheet and pop in the oven for 40-45 minutes. Check on them periodically to make sure they don't burn; stir them a few times so all sides bake evenly. Remove and place in a bowl, and break up large clumpy bits with your hands, keeping the smaller clusters intact. Sprinkle with raw sugar and some salt (if needed) and mix around some more. When cool, place in nice cellophane bags and give to friends. The mixture can keep for about a week if sealed well. Include recipe or withhold it for your own private gloating.

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