Off the Hook for Christmas
No matter how much you love Christmas, the presents thing can be a drag. Especially your presents for those kind and valued neighbors who stop by with gorgeously decorated cookies or homemade stollen that you couldn’t match in a million years. So here is my present to you for this and all following years: three little recipes calling for no expertise whatever and very little time. Give the neighbors a little jar of each with maybe pretty scraps of fabric held over the tops with rubber bands, and you are home free. Best of all, the contents are so irresistible that you can give them the same thing every year, and their thanks will be totally sincere.
I found the first recipe in an out-of-print Maida Heater cookbook almost forty years ago. She called it “the world’s best hot fudge sauce.” She’s still right. If you can keep yourself from eating it from the jar with a spoon, you have a nobler character than mine.
½ C. heavy cream
3 T. sweet butter, cut up
1/3 C. granulated sugar
1/3 C. dark brown sugar, firmly packed
pinch of salt
½ C. strained Dutch-process cocoa powder
Melt butter and cream together in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Stir until butter is melted and cream at a low boil. Add both sugars and stir to dissolve.
Reduce heat. Add salt and cocoa and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat.
Serve at once or refrigerate. Sauce will solidify when cooled. Reheat in double boiler. If needed, thin with a very little hot water.
I have no idea where the next two recipes came from. They are on cards in my recipe file, in my handwriting from my pre-arthritis years, alongside cards now almost a hundred years old. Those are either in my grandmother’s handwriting or my grandfather’s elegant draftsman’s lettering. Grandma at least labeled hers: “Ruth Edgett’s Seafood Newburg.” “Dee’s Special Chinese Sauce.” I hope these will migrate to my grandchildren’s recipe boxes. Or at least make it onto their iPads.
The marmalade recipe takes days to make, but all you have to do is show up. It soaks and simmers without attention beyond an occasional stir, except for the last hour. If you buy big fruit, one batch will satisfy many neighborly obligations of the season.
1 grapefruit, 1 orange, 1 lemon
6 C. sugar
Wipe fruit and slice very thin, rejecting only the seeds and core of grapefruit. Measure amount of fruit, add 3 times that amount of water. Let stand overnight. Next day, boil 10 minutes and let stand overnight again. Boil about two hours, until reduced to about 6 cups. Can add water if it falls short. Boil one more hour, stirring enough to prevent sticking. (A Crueset casserole or a Dutch oven helps with this.) Pour into jelly jars and seal. Makes 6 half-pint jars.
The cranberry sauce is quick once you’ve toasted the chopped nuts. The recipe calls for celery, so I put it in below for accuracy. I don’t put it in the sauce. Dicing it takes time, and I resent vegetable additives in my sweets. I don’t put olives in my martinis, either.
2 C. dried tart cherries (go light)
1 C. fresh cranberries (go heavy)
1 C. raisins
1 C. sugar
½ C. apple cider vinegar
½ C. finely chopped celery
6 T. apple juice + more for cooking
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 T. chopped lemon zest
1 C. coarsely chopped, toasted hazelnuts
Combine all ingredients in a 2 qt. Saucepan over medium heat. Cook 20 minutes, stirring well. Add apple juice as you go to keep consistency slightly liquid. Cool to room temperature. Fill jars and cap. The recipe says to refrigerate and count on a 2-week keeping period. Once the lids seal, I keep them on my pantry shelves as long as necessary, and I’m still alive.
Merry Christmas to all our readers, and I hope to see you, wearing a couple more pounds on your hips, in the New Year.