Season Stepp: Need a last-minute gift for a cook? Check out these ideas


Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 3:43 p.m.

Tick-tock. We're getting down to the wire, and chances are many of us have not finished our holiday shopping. Procrastination and lack of funds tend to let the “day of” sneak up on us. But don't fret — there's still hope. Get into the kitchen and get crafty. There are plenty of fun, inexpensive and quick options still available.

Gift baskets are always a fun option and are exciting to receive and explore. Many of those who love to experiment in the kitchen with world cuisines might find themselves intimidated by the lists of ingredients one might need for some of the more complex cuisines. Why not simplify these cuisines with spice blends or ingredient baskets? The creativity involved will be sure to impress, and the addition of a simple cookbook or two with lots of pictures will ensure this will be a food lover's favorite gift.

For those who love Indian food, a few great spices can change cooking from daunting to thrilling. Include whole spices such as cumin seeds, green cardamom pods, white peppercorns, star anise, fenugreek and coriander seeds. Expand with Indian chili powders, turmeric, curry powders and curry leaves, and throw in a bag or two of Basmati rice.

For fans of traditional Mexican fare, dried or fresh herbs such as basil, thyme, Mexican oregano, epazote, sage and peppermint could be combined with coriander seeds, cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, Mexican chili powder and unsweetened cocoa powder to stock a flavorful cupboard. Bulk up the gift with dried beans, tortillas and dried rice.

Different types of Asian foods can be daunting and often the most intimidating, mainly because of the sheer number and names of ingredients. Different languages might call the same ingredients by different names, so when shopping check out your local Asian market. For a simple Thai ingredient gift, give Thai chiles (fresh or dried), sesame seeds, cardamom pods, fresh lemongrass (easily trimmed and frozen), black peppercorns, galangal root, Kaffir lime leaves, black mustard seeds and Thai basil. Add extra flair to the basket with Asian ingredients such as Thai curry pastes, fish sauce, shrimp paste or dried shrimp, Jasmine rice, and rice or cellophane noodles. Following is a sample recipe for Thai ingredients:

Thai Green Chicken Curry with Lemongrass

2 pounds chicken breast:

boneless, skinless, thinly sliced and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces

Canola or vegetable oil

1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 shallot, peeled and minced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 Thai chiles, seeds removed and minced

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

cup cilantro, rinsed, dried and chopped

1 teaspoon shrimp paste

1 (14-16 ounce) can coconut milk

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon lime juice

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

2 kaffir lime leaves

cup frozen peas, thawed

2 cups Jasmine or Basmati rice, cooked

Heat a large saucepan over medium. When the pan is hot, add the oil.

Place several pieces of chicken into the pan, taking care not to crowd the pan. Cook on one side until golden brown before flipping. The chicken does not have to be fully cooked at this point. Set aside and repeat in batches with remaining chicken.

Place lemongrass, shallot, garlic, chiles, black pepper, cilantro and shrimp paste in the small bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is a fine paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

If needed, add more oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, add the lemongrass/curry mixture to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring continuously.

Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and kaffir lime leaves. Stir to combine.

Return the chicken in to the pan, along with the peas. Simmer the coconut milk mixture until it coats the back of a spoon.

Season to taste and serve curry over the rice.

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