Gifts to Make: stylish goodies from your kitchen to give or to get


Madame Benoit’s maple walnut fudge

If anyone should know how to make a good Quebec fudge, it’s Madame Benoit. As a Cordon Bleu graduate, cooking school and restaurant proprietor, and TV star, she championed Canadian cooking with Canadian ingredients.

  • 1 c amber maple syrup
  • 3 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 c white sugar
  • 2 T baking powder
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • pinch salt
  • 2 T vanilla
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 c (or to taste) fresh walnut pieces

Blend maple syrup, sugars and cream in a large, high-sided pot on medium heat. When fully mixed, add salt and baking powder. Stir constantly while the baking power dissolves, turns the mixture a pale honey colour and starts to foam. Hook a candy thermometer on the side of the pot or hold in one hand.

Stir constantly to keep the mixture from foaming over. The colour will deepen as the mixture becomes more syrupy. Stir until the mixture reaches 240°F on the candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Turn off the burner and let the mixture cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and butter, and stir until mixed. Add nuts, if using; stir to mix. Pour the fudge mixture into an 8×8 cake pan, lined with parchment. Cool, then cut into squares and wrap in cello or waxed paper. The fudge keeps at room temperature for up to two weeks, for best flavour and texture, and can be frozen if necessary.


East Indian brittle

Honeyed almonds, cashews, and pistachios redolent of cardamom create an east-meets-west variation on the nut brittle theme.

  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • canola oil for parchment
  • 2 c sugar
  • ¼ c mild honey
  • ¼ c light corn syrup
  • ¼ c water
  • ¾ t salt
  • 1 c coarsely chopped raw cashews
  • ½ c coarsely chopped, un-dyed pistachios, shelled
  • ½ c skin-on sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 300°F. Oil two sheets of parchment paper. Place one sheet, oiled side up, on a heatproof work surface. Reserve the other.

Crush cardamom pods with the side of a large heavy knife or mallet and scrape out seeds. Discard pods. Coarsely crush seeds with a mortar and pestle or the side of a heavy knife.

Bring sugar, honey, corn syrup, water, crushed cardamom seeds and salt to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally. Let boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture registers 350°F on thermometer, about 10 minutes.

Add nuts and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture returns to a boil, about 1 minute. Carefully pour hot caramel mixture onto oiled parchment on work surface and cover with remaining sheet of parchment, oiled side down. Using a large wooden rolling pin, quickly roll out mixture between sheets to ¼ inch thick. If brittle hardens before it is thin enough, transfer to a large baking sheet (still between parchment sheets) and warm in the oven about 5 minutes to soften, then continue rolling to ¼ inch thick.

Cool brittle until firm enough to hold its shape but still pliable, 2 to 5 minutes. Remove top sheet of parchment. Score surface of brittle into 1½-inch squares. Warm to soften, if necessary. Cool brittle completely, about 30 minutes. Peel off the bottom sheet of parchment, and break brittle into pieces.

Place pieces in decorative bags or tins for giving. Brittle keeps in an airtight container for about a month.


Salted caramels

Old-school caramels get a modern makeover.

  • 1 c heavy cream
  • 5 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 t fleur de sel plus more for dusting
  • 1½ c sugar
  • ¼ c light corn syrup
  • ¼ c water

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.

Bring cream, butter and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, corn syrup and water in a large, heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil while gently swirling pan until mixture is a light golden colour.

Place candy thermometer into the large pot. Carefully stir in cream mixture. It will bubble up. Cook, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F, about 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into the prepared baking pan and cool 2 hours. Before the caramel is completely cooled, sprinkle a sparse amount of fleur de sel on the top of the caramels. Cut into 1-inch pieces and package attractively.

Makes 64 caramels.


Pears in brandy

Proper English brandied pears make a festive dessert. Simple and easy, serve with shortbread cookies, ice cream, plain cake or by themselves. Spanish Fundador brandy is a good choice, inexpensive, with good flavour.

  • juice from two lemons (about ¼ c)
  • 20 small pears
  • 1½ c sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 10-20 star anise
  • 3 c brandy

Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water, add lemon juice. Peel pears very carefully, leaving stems attached. Place pears in water as they are peeled.

Combine sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise and 12 c water in a large stockpot. Drain pears and add to pot. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until just tender when pierced with a knife, about 10 to 30 minutes, depending on size and ripeness.

Remove pears from liquid with a slotted spoon and divide evenly among jars.

Raise heat to high and cook remaining liquid until reduced to 2 cups. Remove from heat and strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a bowl. Divide the liquid evenly among the jars, and adding enough brandy to cover pears, to each. Add a few star anise pods to each jar. Allow jars to cool and screw on lids. Refrigerate for several weeks before eating to allow flavors to develop. Makes 6-8 one cup jars, depending on size of pears.



Short rib terrine

Cooked short ribs make an amazingly savoury terrine.

  • 5 lbs bone-in beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
  • sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 3 t canola oil
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • thyme, oregano, rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 head garlic, halved
  • 4 c home-made beef stock

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Season short ribs. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown short ribs on all sides. Don’t crowd the meat; work in batches. Reserve short ribs and pour off all but 3 T drippings.

Add onions, carrots and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until well mixed, 2-3 minutes. Add wine and short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium. Simmer until wine is reduced by about half, approximately 25 minutes. Add herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover and transfer to oven.

Cook until short ribs are tender, about 2–2½ hours. Cool, then refrigerate overnight. The next day take off any fat on the top. Shred
meat and reserve for terrine.

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ c extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1½ t hot Spanish smoked paprika
  • rosemary
  • 1 t sea salt
  • ½ t freshly cracked black pepper
  • 6 c shredded short rib meat (about 6 cups)

Cook garlic in oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over low heat, turning occasionally, until tender and golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer garlic with a slotted spoon to a cutting board and mash to a paste with a fork. Cook paprika, rosemary and seasoning in oil remaining in skillet over low heat, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir together paprika oil mixture, mashed garlic and the shredded short rib meat in a large bowl until combined. Pack mixture into a terrine, or bowl and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour to allow flavors to develop. Or, pack into individual terrines or bowls if giving as a gift. Refrigerate overnight. Serve at room temperature with slices of good bread, caper berries, Zinter Brown’s Onion Relish or agro-dolce cippolini onions. Keeps for about two weeks refrigerated.


Agro dolce (sweet and sour) cipollini onions

Delish with roast pork or goose, or on an antipasti platter with meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables. If you can’t find small round cipollini onions, use pearl onions instead.

  • 1 kg clean unpeeled cipollini onions
  • 1 c sugar
  • ¼ c water
  • 1 c dry red wine
  • 1 c red-wine vinegar
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 t salt
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T good quality balsamic vinegar

Blanch onions in a large pot of furiously boiling water for 1 minute, then drain. Transfer to a bowl of ice cold water to stop cooking. Drain. Peel onions and reserve.

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a large heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring, washing down any sugar crystals on side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, until syrup turns pale golden. Continue to cook caramel, gently swirling pan, until deep golden.

Immediately remove from heat. Carefully add wine, the caramel will steam, boil up, then harden. Return to heat. Simmer, stirring, until
caramel is dissolved.

Add onions, vinegar, oil, salt, peppercorns and bay leaf and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, about 1 hour. Transfer onions to a bowl, then boil liquid until reduced to about 1 cup, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in balsamic vinegar; pour liquid over onions. Cool to room temperature. Chill, covered, 1 to 3 days to allow for flavours to develop. Onions keep, covered and chilled, 3 weeks.

To give: transfer onions, with liquid to cover, into an attractive jar and label as you like.


Pickled hot peppers

Adapted from former Edmonton chef Lyle Beaugard’s recipe. You will need 8 small canning jars with lids and screw bands; a boiling-water canner, or a large deep pot, canning tongs and lots of clean towels. Use as part of an antipasto platter or add to pasta.

  • 1/3 c water
  • ¼ c sugar
  • 1½ t kosher salt
  • 6 c small hot chilie stems trimmed to ¼ inch
  • 7-8 cloves garlic
  • 3½-4 t pickling spices

To sterilize jars and lids, wash jars, lids and screw bands in hot soapy water. Rinse well. Dry screw bands and reserve on a clean towels.

Put jars and lids on a rack in a canner or pot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Heat until an instant-read thermometer registers 180°F (do not let boil). Keep the jars submerged in the hot water, covered, until ready to use.

Bring vinegar, water, sugar and salt to a boil in a large heavy pot. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes.

Drain jars upside down on a clean kitchen towel, 1 minute, then invert. Tightly pack jars with chilies and add 1 garlic clove and ½ teaspoon pickling spices to each jar. Fill jars with pickling liquid, leaving ¼ inch of space at top, then run a thin knife between liquid and jar to eliminate air bubbles.

Seal and process jars: wipe rims of filled jars with a damp clean kitchen towel, then firmly screw on lids with screw bands.

Put sealed jars on a rack in canner or pot and add enough hot water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, covered. Boil pickles, covered, 10 minutes, then transfer jars with tongs to a kitchen towel to cool. Jars will seal as they cool. If you hear a ping, a vacuum has formed at the top of jar. The lid will be concave.

After jars have cooled overnight, press center of each lid to make sure that it’s concave. If so, you have a seal. If not, keep refrigerated and use within 2 weeks. Makes 12 jars.


Olives with herbs and hot pepper

Olives are terrific for an antipasti platter or tossed with pasta.

  • 2 c brined pitted olives, such as Bella di Cerignola, Kalamata or Nicoise, rinsed
  • ¼ c extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for filling jars
  • ¼ t crushed red-pepper flakes
  • ½ t fennel seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 snips tarragon (optional)
  • 4 pieces fresh orange zest (1 long piece per jar)
  • 2 T white-wine vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients in a large saucepan and heat until fragrant and flavours blend, about 5 minutes. Cool and transfer to small jars. Top up with oil. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving. The olives keep up to 2 weeks. Drain before serving. Makes 4 small jars.