Some of the best gifts simply cannot be bought. Homemade presents, crafted with time and love, are often more pleasing than expensive ones. In just one category, “kitchen gifts” often become a treasured tradition — one looked forward to, year after year, by both the giver and the lucky recipients. Many Mobilians enjoy creating such seasonal specialties during the holidays to share with their friends and family. Here are several splendid recipes that should please just about everyone on your list.
1. Joe Hyland’s Favorite Marshmallow Fudge
The MB sales manager has been making this famous fudge for clients, neighbors and family friends since 1998. Throughout the year, he’ll receive calls from recipients, making sure that he plans to make another batch during the upcoming holidays. To make a similar peppermint version, Joe omits the butter and marshmallows and substitutes 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract for the vanilla.
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (Joe uses Eagle brand.)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups miniature marshmallows
dash of salt
1. In a heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chocolate chips with condensed milk and salt. Stir well. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Add melted butter. Fold in marshmallows.
2. Spread evenly onto an 8 or 9-inch square pan lined with wax paper.
3. Chill for 2 hours until firm. Turn fudge out onto cutting board. Peel off paper. Cut into squares. Store covered in refrigerator. Makes about 2 pounds.
2. Mary’s Mama’s Red Velvet Cake
One of my childhood friends, Mary Crosby Whealdon of New Orleans and Picayune, Mississippi, introduced me to red velvet cake many moons ago. I was instantly enchanted. Mary’s mama made this gorgeous cake for special occasions. As we got older, Mary and I made the cake for parties and showers as friends got married. It is especially stunning for holiday gatherings.
1/2 cup shortening (Mary’s mama uses Crisco.)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces red food coloring
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vinegar
Red Velvet Frosting (see below)
fresh rosemary, for garnish
cranberries, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a bowl, cream shortening and sugar together. Add eggs.
3. Sift flour, salt and cocoa three times and then add alternately with buttermilk to the creamed shortening and sugar.
4. Add vanilla and food coloring and beat well, until smooth.
5. Fold in baking soda and vinegar. Bake in three 8-inch greased and floured cake pans for about 30 minutes or until done. Frost with Red Velvet Frosting. Garnish with rosemary and cranberries coated with a bit of sugar, if desired. Refrigerate. Serves 12.
Red Velvet Frosting
1/3 cup flour
dash of salt
1 cup milk
1 stick margarine
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Mix flour, salt and milk in the top of a double boiler. Cook over a low flame to a thick pudding-like consistency, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.
2. In bowl, cream remaining ingredients, beating until fluffy. Add to pudding mixture and beat until smooth.
3. Michael Smith’s Merry Satsuma Margaritas
Several years ago, when the Irvine citrus crop was especially plentiful, we gave a sack of satsumas to our dear friend, Michael Smith, who bears a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. In return, he brought us a glorious batch of his homemade satsuma margaritas. A cheery tradition was born of annual exchanges. (I think the Irvines are definitely getting the best end of the bargain!)
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed satsuma juice
1 1/2 cups tequila (Michael prefers Sauza.)
1 cup Amaretto
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, cored and seeded
1. Combine water and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar; allow simple syrup to cool thoroughly.
2. Mix all liquid ingredients.
3. Add pepper and chill. The longer the jalapeño soaks, the more flavor it will introduce to the mixture. (Michael says he likes to give it 1 week, but can rarely hold out that long.)
4. Serve over ice. Makes almost 2 quarts, approximately 8 cocktails.
Note: Michael also makes a no-boil, slimmed down version combining 1 ¼ cups water and 1 ¼ cups Splenda. Simply stir to combine then chill before adding other ingredients.
4. Mark Bunting’s Praline Pecan Cheesecake
Over the years, Mark Bunting, VP and general manager at WKRG/WFNA, has become famous for his cheesecakes. Back in the late 80s, he started making them for clients and friends as a holiday happy. The cheesecakes became so popular folks started requesting them for other occasions.
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Blend ingredients together and press flat into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. (Do not go up the sides.)
3. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar (packed)
3 large eggs, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1. Beat together cream cheese, flour and brown sugar until smooth and blended.
2. Beat in 1 egg at a time until blended thoroughly. Fold in vanilla and chopped pecans.
3. Pour filling into prepared crust pan. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until center is just set. Remove to rack and cool. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Serves 8 – 13.
5. Ann Crosby’s Sourdough Bread
The gift of home-baked bread is always appreciated. This sourdough bread has a long history. Ann Crosby of Magnolia Springs has been baking this luscious loaf for decades. She got the recipe from her mother-in-law, the late Sarah Crosby of Stockton. Ann says her mother-in-law never went anywhere without taking a loaf along with her. Ann lost her sourdough starter during Hurricane Katrina; however, as luck would have it, she had shared the recipe and starter years before with her friend, Brenda Roland of Bay Minette. Brenda came to the rescue, so the recipe lives on.
6 cups bread flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup starter (see below)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups warm water
1. Knead together the ingredients until smooth and well combined. (It may seem a bit dry at first, just keep kneading.)
2. Place dough in a non-metallic bowl. Dampen a cloth with warm water, squeeze out excess water, cover the dough bowl and let sit out 8 – 10 hours or overnight in a warm place.
3. Punch down the dough and let sit for 10 more minutes. Put dough in 2 greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pans, cover loosely and let sit another 4 – 5 hours in a warm place.
4. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 – 40 minutes. Makes 2 loaves.
Sourdough Bread Starter
2 packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
2 cups bread flour
1. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Combine with the flour and beat with mixer (or in a blender or food processor) until smooth.
2. Pour into a non-metallic bowl, cover with waxed paper and a dish cloth or towel and let sit at room temperature for 48 hours. Stir several times during the 48 hours.
3. After the 48 hours, cover with a tight lid and refrigerate.
4. Keep the starter refrigerated until the night before you are ready to use it. (Always keep at least half of the starter. The longer you keep it, the better the starter will be.)
Note: You will need to feed the starter preferably every 3 – 5 days, or at least once a week, with the following mixture.
1 cup bread flour
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons potato flakes
1 cup warm water
1. Combine the above ingredients and stir into starter. Let sit out uncovered for 8 – 10 hours. (It will bubble, don’t be alarmed.)
2. When ready to use, stir well until smooth. Then use in bread dough.
6. Flavored Olive Oil
For an especially generous present, consider giving a loaf of homemade bread along with an accompanying bottle of richly flavored olive oil.
several sprigs of rosemary, thyme or other favorite herb
fresh garlic cloves, peeled and then sliced or minced
whole black peppercorns
best quality olive oil
1. Place a sizable sprig or two of preferred herbs, a tablespoon or so of sliced or minced garlic and 8 – 10 peppercorns into each bottle or jar.
2. Cover with olive oil. Seal or cap bottle tightly.
3. Allow olive oil to mellow for at least 10 days before using.
text and styling by Sallye Irvine • photos by Elizabeth Gelineau