Tasteful Holiday Treats

If your holiday budget is stretched, here are three easy recipes from local chefs.

Want to give your loved ones something from the heart? Aim for the stomach. Skip the mall and head to your own kitchen for easy, edible gifts that are not only a joy to receive, but to make.

We asked three of Edmonton’s best chefs to share recipes for the perfect stocking stuffer, hostess gift or secret Santa exchange. All you need to think about is dressing your treats for the occasion with satin ribbons and handmade labels with serving suggestions. Don’t forget to attach the recipes to pay it forward and know you’re giving the best gift of all: Your time.

Spicy Candied Pecans

Cindy Lazarenko, Co-owner of OnOurTable.ca 

The tradition of gifting spiced nuts started on Cindy Lazarenko’s wedding night, when she created guest favours wrapped in clear cellophane bags. Years later, she put these addictive candied pecans on her menu at Highlands Kitchen, which she recently sold. “It’s one of those things people won’t take the time to make for themselves, but so nice to have for unexpected company,” she says.

They’re equally delightful on a cheese board as in a salad, and they take only 10 minutes to make.

Says Lazarenko: “It’s really easy to buy a bottle of wine, but this says I took the time to make you a gift.”

Ingredients for six cups

6 cups pecan halves 1.5  L

4 tbsp butter 60 ml

8 tbsp brown sugar 120 ml

2 tbsp maple syrup 30 ml

1 tsp chipotle powder 5 ml

4 tbsp water 60 ml

2 tsp fresh rosemary, 10 ml
finely minced 

1 zest of one orange, 1 or to taste

2 tsp Maldon sea salt flakes, 10 ml or to taste  

Directions: Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. On medium-high heat, place the pecans, sugar, butter, water, maple syrup, orange zest and chipotle powder in a large, non-stick pan. Stir constantly for about five to seven minutes, until sugar and butter have melted and nuts are coated. You should be able to smell the caramel and toasted nuts. Watch it carefully. Stir in rosemary and take off heat. Spread nuts in a single layer on prepared cookie sheet. Finish by spreading Maldon sea salt on nuts while still warm and sticky. Let them cool completely on your kitchen counter.

Chef’s tip: You can substitute almonds instead of pecans, if you wish. And watch it closely. If you cook them too fast, the sugars will burn but the nuts won’t be caramelized.

Auchentoshan Whisky Chocolate Truffles 

Tracy Zizek, Executive chef and co-owner, Caf de Ville, downtown

For a gift that’s the antithesis of something mass-produced, whip up a batch of Tracy Zizek’s boozy truffles, each delicately hand-rolled and coated in crunchy, bitter cocoa nibs. Inside, it’s the perfect contrast – dark, silky chocolate spiked with Auchentoshan Three Wood single malt Scotch whisky. “I like this whisky because it lacks that peaty, burning tire, thick smoke kind of flavour,” says Zizek.

Ingredients for about 30 truffles, depending on size

For filling:

6 tbsp heavy cream 90 ml 2 tbsp glucose syrup 30 ml 3/4 cup dark Callebaut chocolate 175 ml

1 tbsp butter, soft 15 ml 4 tbsp Auchentoshan Three Wood 60 ml single malt Scotch whisky

For coating:

1 lb dark chocolate, tempered 450 g

2 cups crushed coca nibs500 ml

Directions: In a pan add heavy cream and glucose syrup. Bring to a boil. Pour mixture over 200 grams of dark chocolate. Let it stand for three minutes. Stir in butter, and then the Scotch. Pour onto a cookie sheet and allow the mixture to sit in a cool, dry place for 24 hours to set. Scoop out and level a tablespoon of ganache filling. Form into a ball and set aside. Repeat for rest of filling. Chill until set. To coat truffles, place each ball on a fork and dip into tempered chocolate. Place coated truffle into a bowl with the cocoa nibs. Roll truffle around until coated completely. Set on clean cookie sheet and allow chocolates to set for four hours. Serve immediately or freeze up to three months.

Chef’s tip: Freeze truffles in metal cookie tins, set in single layers separated with parchment paper.

Balsamic Fig Compote

Corey McGuire, Executive chef, TZiN Wine and Tapas

Described as “magical” by one TZiN customer, Corey McGuire’s fig compote requires no wizardry and is surprisingly easy to make. On TZiN’s menu, this fig compote adds sweetness to the charcuterie and cheese board, and tanginess to the flourless chocolate cake. “But I also love it for breakfast, just smeared on toast,” says McGuire. Wrap up a jar with an antique silver spoon tied with twine, and share the magic.

Ingredients for about two cups

1/2 lb Mission or Kalamata figs 228 g (one package)

2 cups red wine 500 ml 2 cups balsamic vinegar 500 ml

3/4 cup white granulated sugar 175 ml

Directions: Place all ingredients in a pot. Bring
to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low to
simmer. Let it reduce for about an hour and
a half until it’s a little thick. Let it cool to room temperature. With an blender, puree to a jam-like consistency.

Chef’s tip: If it’s too thin, put it back on the heat to thicken slightly. If it’s too thick, thin it out with water, wine or beef stock. If you reduce it too fast, you’ll over-caramelize the sugar and get a burned sugar taste. Use good wine that you’d drink. “The cheap stuff can be too vinegary!”

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