Cooks Corner

Mango salsa, walnut fudge are good ideas for DIY holiday food gifts

Mango salsa: A Coral Gables chef designed this recipe for Hanukkah, but it can be used in any setting.
Mango salsa: A Coral Gables chef designed this recipe for Hanukkah, but it can be used in any setting. Shay Cohen

It is that time of good cheer, when gifts from the hearth are always a good idea, so I’ve rounded up some easy recipes you can wrap and roll.

The hot flavor this year — pumpkin and spice and everything nice — has gotten ubiquitous. But paired with maple, pecans and popcorn, it is a tempting and inexpensive treat.

The barbecue sauce has heady cachet and is a spirited offering for discriminating palates, while the mango salsa will spice up the table for a wide variety of main courses. The fudge is an old favorite I rediscovered recently when it was declared “best” at a tasting of treats judged by food writers from around the country. It is so easy (10 minutes, max) and tastes divine, with an amazingly creamy texture.

Master Chef Rolf Nettesheim of the Palace at Coral Gables, an independent living community that’s won awards for its restaurant-quality meals, created the mango salsa recipe for Hanukkah, but it is so versatile it can dress many entrées.

Kevin West, preserving expert and blogger and author of Saving the Season (Knopf, $35), created the barbecue sauce here, drawing on his Southern roots while showing the influences of his home now in California. He told me he used wine in his sauce to provide “elegant acidity for balance, as opposed to the harsh zing of vinegar that is typically used.”

West suggests Simi Sonoma County Pinot Noir and says using the wine also “helps to dispense the alarming quantities of sugar that characterize most barbeque sauces.” The sauce is lively and deeply flavored, but not cloyingly sweet.

Tried and New

Just found Reynolds new parchment paper sheets in my supermarket, and they are a great help with holiday baking and treat making. If you’ve ever wrestled with a roll, trying to get it to the right size and hoping it will tear straight, with your hands sticky with dough, you’ll love the convenience. Sized perfectly for most cookie sheets (12-by-16 inches). Retails for about $4 at Target, Walmart and other grocery stores where Reynolds products are sold.

Not familiar with parchment paper? Commercial bakers use it all the time. It’s a high-density coated paper that will not burn up to 420 degrees. You use it instead of greasing cookie sheets. Baked goods — even sticky ones — slide right off. The paper keeps the cookie sheets covered so there is little cleanup.

Another plus: You can take a whole sheet of baked cookies off the pan and transfer right to cooling racks, so you can put the reloaded pan back in the oven more quickly. It also works with cakes and brownies and bar cookies, which you can pull out of the pan for easier and cleaner cutting.

Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.

Condiment

Barbecue Sauce with Pinot Noir

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 whole peeled garlic cloves

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon grape seed oil

1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes

2 cups Pinot Noir

1/4 cup canned chipotle chiles, pureed with their liquids (or more to taste)

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon paprika

2 tablespoons kosher salt (or a generous 1 tablespoon granulated salt)

Using a deep pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, sauté the onion and garlic cloves in the butter and oil over low heat until partially caramelized, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the wine, and the remaining ingredients. Stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered. Stir occasionally.

Carefully puree the hot mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Simmer 30 minutes longer, or until thickened to your liking. Bottle the sauce or ladle into airtight containers. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Makes 4 cups.

Per cup: 365 calories (17 percent from fat), 7.1 g fat (2.2 g saturated, 1.3 g monounsaturated), 7.6 mg cholesterol, 4.3 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 4.5 g fiber, 3531 mg sodium.

Condiment

The Palace’s Tropical Mango Relish

2 cups diced mango (if fresh is unavailable, frozen can be used)

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup red onion, diced

3 green onions, chopped at an angle

5 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup honey

Pinch of salt

Toss the mango, bell pepper and red onion together. Combine rice wine vinegar and honey and emulsify. Add to the mango mixture. Chill. Add salt to taste. Serve with chicken, fish or atop a turkey sandwich. Recipe may be made up to 24 hours in advance. Makes six 1/2-cup servings. Makes a nice hostess gift, chilled in a clear glass bowl or canning jar.

Per serving: 130 calories (2 percent percent from fat), 0.3 g fat (0 g saturated, 0 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 1 g protein, 34.2 g carbohydrates, 1.7 g fiber, 77 mg sodium.

Source: Chef Rolf Nettesheim.

Side dish

Maple Pumpkin Spice Popcorn

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin spice mix

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

5 cups popped popcorn

Have the popcorn freshly popped and ready. Butter a deep large bowl. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or coat generously with cooking spray. In a large saucepan or pot, heat brown sugar, maple syrup and pumpkin pie spice mix over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes, or until sugar is dissolved and mixture is bubbling.

Stir in butter until melted and well blended. Add pecans, if desired. Have popcorn ready in a large buttered bowl. Drizzle on the hot sugar mixture and stir until kernels are well coated. Spread out on the cookie sheet, breaking up any large clusters. Allow mixture to cool before serving. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container. Makes 5 cups.

Note: This produces a slightly chewy texture. If you prefer a crisp one, put the cookie sheet into a 300-degree oven for 10 minutes.

Per cup: 120 calories (52 percent from fat), 7.1 g fat (2.2 g saturated, 1.7 g monounsaturated), 6 mg cholesterol, 0.8 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 95 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted by Linda Cicero from a recipe by The Popcorn Board.

Dessert

Maple Walnut Fudge

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

3 cups white baking chips

1/4 cup butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon maple flavor extract

1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, divided

Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper, extending over edges of pan. Combine sweetened condensed milk, baking chips, butter and salt in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 2 minutes or until melted and smooth when stirred.

Stir in 1 1/4 cups of the walnuts and maple extract until evenly blended. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 cup walnuts. Chill 1 hour or until set. Remove fudge from pan by lifting edges of foil. Remove foil. Cut into small squares. Makes 64 servings.

Per serving: 97 calories (53 percent from fat), 5.8 g fat (2.5 g saturated, 0.6 g monounsaturated), 5 mg cholesterol, 1.7 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 0.2 g fiber, 31 mg sodium.

Source: Eagle Brand.

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