Inspirations in Ink: Food Gift Love

Cover art courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Cover art courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In the midst of my personal chaos of this fall, a gem of a book arrived in my mailbox. I was so excited to open up and start reading through Food Gift Love, a new debut cookbook written by the talented Maggie Battista, creator of Eat Boutique, a blog and on-line curated food gift shop.

Food Gift Love is filled with ideas for delicious food gifts to create in your own kitchen. I found myself bookmarking the recipes on almost every page. However, what makes this book stand out from others like it are the elegant, yet simple, packaging ideas that accompany each recipe. I didn’t realize that my drawer of extra bits of ribbon and my box of extra scraps of pretty paper can be elevated from “junk” to embellishments to decorate my food gifts.

Jars of homemade chutney with labeling inspired by Food Gift Love

Jars of homemade chutney with labeling inspired by Food Gift Love

Food Gift Love is organized into chapters that group the food gifts into similar preparations or shelf lives.

  • The introductory chapter lays out the basics about food gifts, packaging and gift wrap basics, and shipping tips. The basics also include a guide to creating an ingenious Traveling Cheese Tray and other potluck recipe suggestions.
  • Fresh Gifts offers food gifts that won’t last long. These recipes are meant to be prepared and shared immediately such as pesto, salad, soup, and homemade dairy products.
  • Pantry Gifts can be made in advance and stored for use in your own kitchen or for gifting – such as dried herbs and all manner of infused things: sea salts, sugars, oils, vinegars, and homemade extracts.
  • Candied Gifts include all sorts of special sweets including homemade candy, chocolate dipped things, and caramel popcorn.
  • Have you ever actually met someone who doesn’t enjoy Baked Gifts? This chapter offers a handful of new cookie, pie, crisp, quick bread, and other baked recipes to add to your repertoire. I can’t wait to try out the instructions for making your own custom gift box for conveying tarts or other pastries. I have way too much wrapping paper, so this looks like a creative use to reduce my stash.
  • Preserved Gifts snapshot the flavor of the season for enjoyment later with recipes for canned things such as jams and marmalades. I’ll revisit this chapter next year as we go through summer’s fleeting bounty.
  • Finally, Spirited Gifts provide glitter for the home bar (yours or a friend’s) with recipes for flavored syrups, cordials, and other cocktail mixes.

I am a veteran food gifter during the end-of-year holidays – during the year of hostess gifts as well. I always limited my vision of food gifts as something the recipient puts in to the pantry to be enjoyed later. I loved Maggie’s inclusive definition of food gifts which bring food brought to potlucks and other shared meals into the fold. She is so right that these are food gifts even if I previously thought of them in an altogether different category. I feel like this expanded way of thinking gives me license to dress up the presentation next time I bring a dish to share.

To celebrate my enthusiasm for this beautiful new book, I hosted a “Food Gift Love” party. Several of my friends came over for dessert and conversation. I prepared several of the treats from recipes in the book along with some tarts that weren’t. The spread included Sweet and Salty Pantry Cookies (page 152), a mini-ice cream sundae bar: vanilla ice cream topped with Maple Walnut Syrup (page 202) and Salty Dark Caramel Sauce (page 139), fresh fruit, a French apple tart, and a fig-frangipane galette. I made a few “pantry” items, also from the book, as favors to share the love when my guests went home.

"Food Gift Love" Party Guests

“Food Gift Love” Party Guests

All of the recipes I tried from the book are winners. The instructions are clear, and every one I tried worked without a hitch.

  • I love the crispy texture of the Sweet & Salty Pantry Cookies as well as the contrast between the sweet cookie dough and the salty pretzels mixed in. I used the called for shredded wheat, but I will vary the mix-ins in the future, making these cookies a great way to use up odds and ends of cereal in a delicious way.
  • Maple Walnut Syrup with its touch of bourbon is a grown-up version of the Smuckers jar of wet nuts my mom used to buy for the special sundae nights of my childhood. Toasted walnuts drowning in a thickened maple syrup are perfect on vanilla ice cream.
  • Salty Dark Caramel Sauce is another delicious topping for ice cream, or drizzled on top of a slice of apple tart. I’ve always been wary of working with molten sugar. The reassuring tone of the recipe walked me through and, next time, I’ll be confident and approach this recipe without fear.
  • I don’t think it matters whether you actually use Citrus Sugars or not. My house was filled with the heady fragrance of lime and lemon for days after I made this. Coming in the door was a joy. Of course, this sugar infused with dried lemon and lime zest can be sprinkled as a finishing touch on baked goods such as cookies, scones, or muffins, or could coat the rim of a refreshing drink.
  • On the savory end of the flavor spectrum, Orange-Fennel Salt is a twist on the infused sugar idea based on sea salt instead.
  • Homemade Granola, Your Way is my new go-to recipe for granola. I’ve made it twice, with different nut, seed, and spice combinations. Due to preferences at my house, I omitted the chocolate and dried fruit, but as the recipe name indicates, you can make this your own with your favorite combination of ingredients. I’ve tried pecans with cardamom and almond with ginger. For seeds, I like a combination of pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds. Usually, my one complaint about making granola has always been the constant stirring or turning as it bakes. The genius of this recipe is that the liquid ingredients are combined and heated, then poured over the dried ingredients which have been warmed up on the cookie sheet. At this point, one good mixing is enough and the granola bakes and then cools on the sheet. I love, love, love this recipe.


As we settled into the living room to enjoy our sweets, I did a “show and tell”, telling everyone how much I’m enjoying this book, pointing out which things we were eating came from recipes in the book. I also passed around samples of the favors.

We talked about how we envisioned using the Orange-Fennel Salt: “on everything” was the prevailing opinion, including roasted vegetables, chicken, and fish. The fragrance of the Citrus Sugar made everyone swoon. The Granola generated some excitement too as we brainstormed ideas on how to best package it to send to the college students whose mothers were among the group.

Stoked up on sugar and good company, guests departed with their favors in hand, and a few Pantry Cookies to share with their families at home.

If you’re a podcast listener and you’d like to learn more about the author Maggie Battista, I suggest you download her recent interview featured on Heritage Radio Network’s The Food Seen.

I’d also like to share the recipe for the Citrus Sugars for you to enjoy at home.


Makes: 2 cups

Preparation Time: 25 minutes

You may juice citrus regularly but perhaps don’t realize what you’re missing: all the flavor from the peel.

Citrus zest brightens so many recipes but if you have citrus sugar in your pantry, you’ve got a wonderfully fragrant gift. Keep it tucked away for sprinkling on cookies, rimming the glass of a tart cocktail, such as my Margarita Mix, or gifting to your favorite baker or mixologist who will delight in the flavors of preserved sunshine.

This recipe is for a lemon-lime version but follow the fruit on your counter. I’ve used many combinations of orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit to great results. (It’s also easy enough to vary with other flavorings: I keep both lavender sugar and rose sugar on hand.) As a general rule of thumb, mix 2 tablespoons of dried zest or culinary grade flowers to 1 cup of granulated sugar, but this is a very forgiving recipe so, have fun with it. The flavorings are so pretty as is, but if using the floral sugars for baking, crush them in a grinder so the flavor blends into your batter well without big textural bits. If you don’t choose organic fruit, just make sure to scrub the peel well before zesting.


2 tablespoons (about 2 large lemons) lemon zest

2 tablespoons (about 3 medium limes) lime zest

2 cups granulated sugar

Special Equipment:

Microplane zester

Preheat the oven to 150° F (or the lowest possible temperature; some ovens only go down to 170° F).

Wash and dry the citrus fruit. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Over the lined cookie sheet and with a zester, remove the top layer of the skin of each citrus fruit, taking care to avoid any white pith. Measure the zest into tablespoon-size portions as you work. Once you’ve collected 4 tablespoons of zest, lightly move your fingers (or a fork) across the top of the zest to spread it evenly across the pan. Place in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, until the zest is fragrant and dry but not browned. (Don’t expect the aroma alone to signify your zest is ready; it should be crispy and dry to the touch.) Remove zest from oven and permit to cool for 2 to 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and the zest with a fork for 2 to 3 minutes or until well-combined and the sugar, and the air around it, is sweetly perfumed. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.



Vintage ribbon

Cut a piece of ribbon and wrap around the lid of the sealed jar a few times. Tie in a knot and trim the ends.

Text excerpted from FOOD GIFT LOVE, (c) 2015 by Maggie Battista. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Photo (c) Heidi Murphy.

Photo (c) Heidi Murphy.

A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 5 plates (out of 5)

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for being on the Food Gift Love Launch Committee. The opinions expressed about this book are 100% my own.

Cottage Cooking Club: October 2015

Tomato Basil Mozz Tart

After taking a hiatus for September, I’m back in the game for the Cottage Cooking Club, an on-line group working their way through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg. October is a month of transition. The weather makes a definite shift from summer to fall, and the harvest in my backyard garden and at local farms winds down. From the choices our group leader, Andrea, The Kitchen Lioness, selected for this month, I chose to make the most of the end-of-season tomatoes before wishing them farewell until next summer.

First up was the Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Tart. Anyone who follows my cooking knows that tarts are one of my favorite kinds of food to make. This recipe starts with puff pastry which is my nemesis. Well, store-bought puff pastry causes me trouble. Homemade rough puff pastry is much easier for me to deal when I have time to make it, which I didn’t this month. Instead, I used my favorite pastry crust recipe as the base for my tart.

Uncooked Tart

First, I sprinkled some slivered garlic on top of the partially-baked crust. Then, I covered it with halved cherry tomatoes fresh out of my garden, and scattered chunks of burrata on top. When the tart came out of the oven, I added the final touch: slivered basil leaves (the last of my garden crop). This tart screamed of all the best flavors of summer. Howard said it tasted like a pizza margherita, on pie crust. We also decided that I should have fully baked the crust before adding the toppings because the tomatoes’ juices make it a little bit soggy. This is a tart that I will revisit earlier in the season next year because I can’t wait to make it again.

Tomatoes Before Drying

The other recipe I made was the Oven-Dried Tomatoes. I had admired these when other CCC members made them last summer. I bought a big basket of the last tomatoes from Wilson Farm and slow roasted as many tomatoes as fit on one large pan. A friend had just given me a big bunch of thyme to dry, so I scattered a few on top of the tomatoes along with some broken bay leaves, olive oil, and salt and pepper. The recipe suggested they roast for 4 to 5 hours to be moistly dry. I opted not to remove the seeds, so for me, with all the extra moisture attached to the seeds and their gel, it took closer to 7 hours to get them to the right level of moist dryness. The long slow roast concentrated the tomato flavor, and they tasted (and smelled) amazing. Not having a plan on how to use them, I tossed them in more olive oil and put them in the fridge while I decided.

Oven Dried Tomatoes

After much thought, I decided to use my oven-dried tomatoes in a pan of baked ziti. Typically, cooked ziti is tossed with a marinara or other tomato sauce and them layered with mozzarella cheese before baking. Because I was using tomatoes instead of sauce, I took a slightly different approach. I tossed cooked ziti with a mixture of ricotta and pesto, then layered the noodles with coarsely chopped oven-dried tomatoes and a blend of mozzarella and Parmesan. We loved it!

Baked Ziti made with Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Baked Ziti made with Oven-Dried Tomatoes

With this pair of tomato recipes behind me, I’m feeling ready to let the summer go and move on to winter squash, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli. I’m glad to be back with the Cottage Cooking Club, and I’m excited for Andrea to reveal her delicious choices for enjoying autumn’s vegetables as we move into November.

Baked Ziti with Ricotta
Serves 8

1 lb ziti
1 lb ricotta cheese
½ cup pesto (purchased or made from your favorite recipe)
1 recipe of Hugh’s Oven-Dried Tomatoes (made from about 2½ lbs tomatoes)
½ lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Boil a large pot of water, add about 1 Tbsp salt, and cook the pasta to just shy of al dente (about 9 minutes), then drain.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the other ingredients:

  • Whisk together the ricotta and pesto until well blended.
  • Coarsely chop the tomatoes.
  • Combine the mozzarella and Parmesan.

Stir the ricotta mixture into the drained pasta to coat evenly.

In a large baking pan, layer half the pasta, half the tomatoes, and half the mozzarella/Parmesan. Repeat for a second layer.

Bake for 30 minutes, until everything is bubbly.


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