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GIFTS WITH TASTE

Christmas is the season for giving and the personal touch makes all the difference. Gifts from your kitchen are always special. A day spent creating culinary treats can provide a dozen or more thoughtful surprises for lucky family members and friends.

Well priced, attractive containers are readily available. All you need to do is fill them with some homemade baking or sweets and tie with a ribbon. Or fill with a dry muffin mix (with instructions to keep it in the refrigerator plus how to add the milk and egg). You could also include a muffin tray.

Pomander balls make fragrant gifts. Medieval herbalists used pomanders — mixtures of aromatic dried herbs and spices in cloth bags or perforated boxes — to ward off illness or bring strength and good fortune. A festive version is firm oranges studded with whole cloves either all over or in a diamond or circular pattern. As the oranges dry they release a delicate spicy fragrance. For a stronger fragrance they can be rolled in a mixture of ground cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Leave in a bowl or hang from festive trees. Mmm — the aroma!

CAPSICUM & CHILLI JAM

Delish with cheeses or meats.

4 (500g) red capsicums, seeded and roughly chopped
3 long red chillies, seeds in, roughly chopped
10cm piece root ginger, peeled and diced
6 large cloves garlic
2 cups white sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup white vinegar
1 bay leaf

Place the capsicums, chillies, ginger and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Pour into a heavy-based saucepan. Add the sugar, salt, vinegar and bay leaf. Bring to the boil.

Remove any surface scum then reduce the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes until thick. Remove the bay leaf.

Pour into sterilised jars and seal. Makes about 2 cups.

CHRISTMAS BLISS BALLS

Simple as and gluten-free.

1 cup Christmas fruit mince
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
1/2 cup each: ground almonds, desiccated coconut

Combine the fruit mince,vanilla and ground almonds in a bowl. Add a little extra ground almonds if too moist. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.

Roll into walnut sized balls and coat in the coconut. Place in festive mini paper cases. Store in the refrigerator. Makes 12.

APRICOT MUFFIN GIFT MIX

Dry Mix: 300g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons each: baking powder, ground cinnamon, ground mixed spice
100g walnuts, coarsely-chopped
125g dried apricots, coarsely chopped
100g light brown sugar

Place the flour in the base of a 1 litre glass jar. Layer the other ingredients in the order given.

Write the instructions for making the muffins on thick paper:

‘Instructions. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Place the contents in a large bowl and mix. Make a well in the centre. Add 2 beaten eggs, 300ml milk and 100g melted butter. Mix until just moistened. Spoon into 12 paper-case lined muffin holes. Bake for 18-20 minutes. *Use the muffin mix within 4 weeks.’

Glue the instructions to the jar.

FESTIVE FLORENTINES

100g butter or table spread
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup plain flour
50g glacé cherries, halved
175g blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
100g candied peel
125g dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Lightly grease two or three baking trays and line with baking paper.

Place the butter, caster sugar and milk in a saucepan and melt over low heat. Stir to combine. Cool completely.

Stir in the flour, cherries, almonds and candied peel. Place teaspoons of the mixture well apart on the lined trays.

Bake for about 7 minutes, until golden. Leave until lukewarm then carefully lift the Florentines off the trays to a wire rack.

Melt the chocolate over low heat. Using a flat-bladed knife or small metal spatula, spread the undersides with chocolate. When half set, make wavy lines in the chocolate using a fork. Cool completely.

Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

For gifts, pile five Florentines on top of each other and tie with ribbon. Makes about 20.