What to bring the party hostess who has most everything? A gift from the kitchen extends the holiday cheer from your home to hers.
Sur La Table's gorgeous new cookbook Gifts Cooks Love: Recipes for Giving by Diane Morgan (Andrews McMeel, $25) is filled with dozens of foodie-gift recipes -- sweet and savory, edible and drinkable.
Just paging through the full-color photos will make you hungry to try making smoked salt, dried apricot and almond chocolate bark; blueberry-blackberry-basil margarita puree; or a s'mores kit.
No detail goes unmentioned, as each recipe comes with tips for recipe card verbiage, storage information and ways to create gift packages. Buy Gifts Cooks Love at Sur La Table, 4527 Travis St., Dallas; www.surlatable.com; Amazon.com; or major booksellers.
Smoked salt, dried apricot and almond chocolate bark
This recipe is divine with the crunch of nuts, the orange pop of color from the fruit, and the tantalizing hint of salt. However, it is also fun to experiment with different flavor combinations while following the same method and keeping the same proportions. Consider using pistachios, roasted hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries or cranberries, finely chopped crystallized ginger, or even crushed peppermint patties.
Makes 1 pound of chocolate bark, portioned into four (1/4-pound) packages
1/2 cup dry roasted unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (at least 64 percent cacao), finely chopped
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons coarse-ground smoked salt
1. Line a 17-by-11-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the almonds and dried apricots in a medium bowl.
2. The chocolate can be tempered either using a microwave oven (the easiest way) or on the stovetop in a double boiler. To temper the chocolate using a microwave, place three-quarters of the chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe glass or ceramic bowl. Set aside the remaining chocolate. Set the microwave at 50 percent power. With the bowl uncovered, heat the chocolate for 1 minute, and then stir using a rubber spatula. Repeat, heating for 30 seconds and then stirring, until almost all of the chocolate in the bowl is melted, about 4 minutes total. To temper chocolate on the stovetop in a double boiler, place three-quarters of the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. (Check to make sure the water doesn't touch the top section of the double boiler, and be careful that no water drips into the bowl of chocolate.)
3. Using an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature of the chocolate. It should be about 115 degrees. Heat briefly if it hasn't reached the desired temperature. Then add the remaining chocolate and stir constantly until it is completely melted and smooth and the chocolate drops to just below 84 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, very slowly and carefully heat the chocolate, bringing the temperature of the chocolate back up to 88 to 90 degrees. The chocolate is now tempered and ready to spread.
4. Working quickly and using an offset spatula, spread the chocolate in an even layer about 1/4-inch thick on the parchment. Evenly and artfully scatter the apricots and almonds over the chocolate. With a delicate touch, use your fingertips to gently press the nuts and apricots into the chocolate so they set into and adhere to the chocolate.
5. Immediately sprinkle the salt over the top. Set the bark aside in a cool, dry spot to set and harden, about 1 hour. Break into irregular pieces.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 191 calories, 19 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, no cholesterol, 205 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 72 percent of calories from fat.
Storing: Store in a tightly covered tin lined with parchment paper. The chocolate bark will last for up to 3 weeks.
Gift card: "This handcrafted smoked salt, dried apricot, and almond chocolate bark was made on [give date] and can be enjoyed for up to 1 month when stored in a cool, dry place."
Gift-giving tips: Wrap the chocolate bark in gift boxes or airtight tins lined with decorative wax paper or parchment paper. Alternatively, arrange the bark in cellophane bags and tie with a ribbon. Attach a gift card. To turn this into a gift basket, consider including a bottle of port or brandy.