Giving gifts from your kitchen

THEY say it's the thought that counts, and what could be more thoughtful than going to the trouble of making your own Christmas gifts?

Not only will it save you cash, you'll earn lots of brownie points from your appreciative loved ones in the process.

In her new book, Gifts From Your Kitchen, Deborah Nicholas writes: "I truly believe that each gift given should mean something, both to the creator and the recipient.

"Anyone can buy a CD or a movie but it means something special when you take the time to create a batch of cupcakes."

Here are some of the author's gift ideas to try at home, along with suggestions for how to present them.

FRUIT AND NUT BUTTONS

(Makes 24)

Ingredients

200g good-quality dark chocolate

150g freeze-dried fruits

100g chopped mixed nuts

Method

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water. Do not allow the bowl to touch the water. Stir until melted.

Remove from heat and stir in half the freeze-dried fruit and three-quarters of the  nuts.

 Stir until all  fruit and nuts are covered in chocolate and spoon into button or sweet moulds. 

While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle the remaining fruit and nuts over the top of each button. 

Allow to set completely before removing from the button tray.

TOP TIP: Drop a handful of the buttons into a gift bag and embellish with a customised bag topper.

PEANUT BRITTLE

(Makes enough to cover 30 square centimetres before it is broken into pieces)

Ingredients

200g caster sugar

60ml water

2 tbsp strongly flavoured honey

150g golden syrup

150g salted peanuts

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp ground cinnamon

25g soft butter

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Method

Take out a large sheet of baking paper and set it beside the stove ready to receive the brittle once it is ready to pour.

Add the sugar, water, honey and syrup to a pan and gently bring to the boil. 

Turn up the heat and let it boil seriously for 10 minutes. 

It will be smoking by then so be warned! (Stand over it all the time to make sure it does not catch.) Be very careful as the sugar will be seriously hot.

Take the pan off the heat and, with a wooden spoon, stir in the nuts, followed by the vanilla, cinnamon, butter and bicarbonate of soda. 

You will have a golden, frothy, hot and gooey mix.

 Quickly pour this on to the baking paper and, using an oiled wooden spoon, coax and pull it to make a nut-studded sheet, puddle-shaped rather than heaped.

Leave it to cool, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Eat within 14 days.

TOP TIP: Peanut brittle is best presented in either greaseproof bags or glass jars. Glass jars keep the air away from the brittle, allowing the brittle to last a little longer. 

 Melt some good-quality dark chocolate over a pan of boiling water  and carefully dip each piece of peanut brittle in the chocolate. 

Leave to harden on a cooling rack.

 SPICED RED CABBAGE

(The quantities in this recipe make three 250ml jars)

Ingredients

red cabbage, thinly sliced

10 tbsp table salt

400ml distilled white vinegar

1 tsp white peppercorns

1 tsp five-spice powder

3 whole cloves

1 tsp light mustard seeds

Method

Place the red cabbage in a large bowl, covering each layer as you go with a sprinkling of salt. Cover and set aside overnight.

The following day, rinse the cabbage with cold water until all the salt has been removed.

Sterilise the jars and lids by placing face down in a preheated oven at 140°C for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the vinegar and spices in a heavy based saucepan and boil rapidly for about five minutes. 

Add the cabbage and stir until fully covered with the vinegar and heated through.

Spoon mix into the sterilised jars and make sure the cabbage is submerged in the spiced vinegar. Never put hot liquid into cold jars or cold  into hot jars.

TOP TIP: Present with a handmade label and  ribbon. Store in the sealed jars for up to a year. Once opened, refrigerate and eat within three months.

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