We're in the home stretch and if you just remembered someone who didn't make it to your shopping list in time, it's not too late to make them feel special. I have two kitchen gift options for you today - one sweet and one savoury - that you can accomplish with minimal fuss and bother.
Orange breakfast fruit scones
All the rage at local bistros these days, scones make the perfect take-along for a holiday breakfast or brunch. They also look fantastic in a large glass jar or napkin-lined basket.
There is really only one secret to making great scones. Don't overwork the dough. A light hand produces the flaky, tender crumb that shows off your kitchen skills.
If you don't have buttermilk, put 1 tbsp. lemon juice in a 1-cup measure and fill with skim or two per cent milk, then let it sit for a few minutes.
These are easy to make by hand, but I've found them easier still in a food processor - you choose, depending on the time you have left to spend. This recipe makes eight large scones.
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces (no other)
1 tbsp. finely grated orange rind (none of the white pith, just the orange part)
1/3 cup candied citron or peel
1/2 cup buttermilk or soured milk
1 tsp. cold water
Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, your fingertips or a food processor, to form a crumbly looking mixture. Add orange rind and candied citron, stirring until fruit is distributed evenly throughout the dry ingredients.
Add buttermilk and mix with a fork using light strokes. Stop when there are almost no traces left of dry flour. The dough will be quite sticky. Allow it to rest a couple of minutes while you grease an eight-inch cake pan. Gently lift the dough into the pan and pat with lightly floured fingers out to the edges in an even layer.
Whisk together egg and cold water and brush on top of the dough. If you like, you can sprinkle a little more sugar on the top for added crunch. Bake at 425 F for 17 or 18 minutes - just until the top is light golden brown. Allow to cool 10 minutes in the pan before removing. Wrap and deliver and strongly urge the recipient to serve with softened butter or thick cream. A spoonful of marmalade smeared on top is heavenly.
Sausage, peppers, onions and mushrooms
If someone brought you lunch in a casserole dish when you were at your busiest, or perhaps weren't feeling quite up to snuff, how would that make you feel? This slightly spicy, tasty mixture can be served as is with a slice of bread and butter for lunch; with plain rice on the side for supper; or in big crusty hot dog or sub rolls for a hearty holiday snack.
Most recipes for this classic Italian dish call for tomatoes and wine, but I think that results in something I would rather serve on pasta. This mixture stands on the quality of the individual components, and cooking them one at a time is the key to success.
This dish reheats perfectly for up to two days after it's made and serves eight hungry people.
8 large hot or sweet Italian sausages
1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
4 cups thickly sliced fresh mixed mushrooms (try portobello)
3 large onions, sliced fairly thickly so they hold their shape
1/2 tsp. salt
2 each red, yellow and green bell peppers, cored and cut into thick strips
6 to 8 large pickled banana or other peppers, chopped (optional but really good)
1 whole head garlic, separated into cloves and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Fry sausages in just enough of the olive oil to get them started in a large, heavy pan. Brown thoroughly on all sides; cover and cook until no longer pink in the middle. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add a little more oil to the pan and fry mushrooms until they release their liquid and it has just about completely evaporated and mushrooms are becoming golden brown. If pan is dry, add more oil. Add onions and salt and fry until they are nearly tender. Add sliced peppers, hot peppers and garlic and cook until everything is well blended and starting to soften. Stir in pepper.
Spoon vegetable mixture into a casserole dish and top with sausages. Bake at 400 F for 10 or 15 minutes, until piping hot and golden brown around the edges.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.