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In the Kitchen: Holiday gifts from your friends, family will devour

Homemade gifts from the kitchen are always a big hit. Whether you bring a platter full of Christmas cookies to the break room at work, or you make individual gifts for neighbors and special friends, you are sure to be hailed as the head elf if you make some of these recipes. Enjoy! 

Salted pistachio brittle

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1 stick butter

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

12 ounces shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

In saucepan, combine sugar, water, corn syrup and butter and bring to a boil. Allow mixture to boil for 10 minutes, being careful it doesn’t boil over. Remove from burner and carefully add baking soda — it will bubble a lot. Add pistachios. Scrape onto a nonstick baking sheet or a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat. Spread into a thin layer and then sprinkle with salt. Cool for 30 minutes. Break into pieces and store in the refrigerator. 

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Simple chocolate fudge

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup peppermint candies, crushed (optional)

In a saucepan, whisk together sugar, cocoa and salt. Add the milk, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat. 

Meanwhile butter an 8- by 8-inch square pan. Fill the sink with a few inches of cold water. After about 10 minutes, take the temperature of the fudge and when it is 235 degrees, it’s done. Remove from the burner and stir in vanilla extract and butter. Stir. Place in the cold water and carefully beat the fudge until it is fairly cool. Pour into buttered pan. 

Sprinkle with crushed peppermint candies and allow to sit for an hour. Cut into small squares and store in the refrigerator. 

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Shortbread peppermint squares


1 cup butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups flour


30 soft peppermint candies

1 cup powdered sugar, divided

1/4 cream cheese

2 tablespoons milk

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8- by 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, letting the ends hang over the sides of the pan. Coat with non-stick cooking spray. 

For shortbread, beat butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add flour and salt and mix until combined. Scoop out ½ cup and place in bowl and refrigerate. Press dough into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. 

Put peppermint candies in a food processor and process until crushed. Alternatively, you can put them in a plastic bag and smash with a rolling pin. Mix the ½ cup powdered sugar with half of the crushed candies and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk softened cream cheese with the milk until smooth. Add the remaining powdered sugar and remaining crushed candies.

Combine the powdered sugar/candy mixture with the cream cheese mixture. When shortbread has cooled but is still warm, spread the candy/cream cheese mixture on top. Remove the reserved shortbread dough from the refrigerator and grate it on top of the mixture. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool a bit and then lift the parchment paper overhanging edges and place on a rack to cool. 

Cut into squares and store in the refrigerator. 

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Maple bourbon caramel sauce

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup maple bourbon

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Combine sugar, water, and corn syrup in a saucepan. Bring to a boil while whisking. Once it boils, let it boil for five to 10 minutes until it is an amber color, much the same color as the bourbon. If it begins to smoke, remove immediately. Off the burner, allow the mixture to cool slightly. 

Carefully and slowly add the heavy cream — it will bubble. Stir in the maple bourbon. Add the vanilla and cool completely before pouring into jars. Delicious over vanilla ice cream. 

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Dairy free “Nutella”

2 cups raw hazelnuts

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1 (10 ounce) package dairy-free chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Add the hazelnuts and toast for 10-15 minutes until fragrant. Remove the nuts and rub them with a dampened dish cloth until the skins come off. Discard the skins. Transfer the nuts to a food processor and add salt. Process until mixture is a fine meal. 

In a saucepan, combine coconut milk and sugar and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool a bit. Add to food processor with the nut meal. Process until mixture is creamy, scraping downs sides as needed. In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips over simmering water. 

Add melted chocolate to coconut mixture and process until creamy. Pour into container and allow to cool — it will thicken up. Refrigerate.