During the holidays everyone is busy and gifts of food are fun not only to give but also to receive. Spreads and sauces are easy to prepare as gifts and simplify meal planning. An attractive ramekin or bowl of spread ready to serve at a party, or a jar of sauce to add zest to meals for family and friends, is always appreciated. Adding the recipe is a thoughtful touch.
Flavored butters are useful gifts because they play the role of either spread or sauce. Pack the butter in a crock or small dish, decorated with a label suggesting its versatility.
Gifts of spreads and sauces are even more valuable if suitable accompaniments are provided with them. For same day use, a crisp loaf of French or sourdough bread or of homemade bread is delightful. Crackers are good too, but try not to choose salty ones. They may overpower the spread.
For someone special, bring a whole party in a package: Wrap a box containing a selection of spreads, salads and sauces that revolve around a theme. The following gifts can form the basis for an informal French country party. LYONNAIS CHEESE SPREAD (4-6 servings)
Serve with fresh french bread, toast or crackers. 8 ounces cream cheese 2 tablespoons whipping cream 1 tablespoon dry white wine 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallion Salt and pepper
In a mixer, whip the cheese with the cream, wine and oil until smooth. Add the garlic, parsley and chives and beat until blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill 2-3 hours so the flavors blend. The spread can be kept for 4 days in the refrigerator. Serve cold or at room temperature. BASQUE PIPERADE SAUCE (Makes 1 quart, about 6-8 servings)
Serve this sauce hot with omelets, scrambled eggs, fish or chicken. It makes a good gift for those who are watching their calories because it consists mainly of vegetables. 1 fresh hot pepper 1/4 cup vegetable oil 2 onions, chopped 3 red bell peppers, chopped 3 cloves garlic, chopped 2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 2 1/2 pounds canned tomatoes, drained
Discard the seeds and ribs from the hot pepper. Finely chop the pepper. Wash your hands, cutting board and knife immediately.
Heat the oil in a saute' pan or deep frying pan. Add the onions and cook over low heat until soft but not brown. Add the bell peppers, garlic and hot pepper and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes or until the peppers soften.
Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring often, about 30 minutes or until the mixture is thick. Reduce the heat to low and continue simmering, stirring often, for 15-20 more minutes or until the mixture is very thick and dry. Taste and add more salt if desired. The sauce can be kept for about 1 week in the refigerator; or it can be frozen.
Note: A dried hot pepper can be substituted for the fresh. Soak it in cold water for 20 minutes before removing seeds and chopping. BAKED HALIBUT WITH PIPERADE SAUCE (4 servings) Oil for baking dish 3 cups Basque Piperade Sauce (see above recipe) 1 1/2 pounds halibut fillets Salt and pepper
Lightly oil a shallow baking dish. Spread half the sauce in the dish. Arrange the halibut fillets on top, in one layer. Season them lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the remaining sauce over the fish.
Bake in the 425-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the thickest part of the fillets is tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Serve hot or at room temperature. NORMAN CREAM AND CHIVE DRESSING (Makes about 2 cups)
Use this simple dressing for potato or pasta salads, or any salads of cooked vegetables. The mixture of whipping cream and sour cream approximates the taste of the French cre me fraiche. 1 cup whipping cream 1 cup sour cream; or 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup plain yogurt 2 tablespoons chopped chives Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (optional)
Whisk together the whipping cream and sour cream until smooth. Stir in the chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For a sharper dressing, stir in the vinegar. The dressing keeps about 3 days in the refrigerator. NORMAN POTATO SALAD (6-8 servings)
If giving this salad as a gift, wrap the chives for sprinkling separately. 2 pounds red-skinned potatoes Salt and white pepper 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar 8 stalks celery 1/2 pound sliced ham, cut in thin strips 2 cups Norman Cream and Chive Dressing (see recipe above) 1 tablespoon chopped chives
Scrub the potatoes but do not peel. Put them in a saucepan, cover them generously with water and add a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 25 minutes or until tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain and leave until cool enough to handle.
Peel the potatoes and cut in slices. Put them in a large bowl and sprinkle them with the vinegar, salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature.
Peel the celery with a vegetable peeler to remove the strings. Cut the celery in thin slices or in strips. Add the celery and ham to the bowl of potatoes and mix gently.
Add the dressing to the salad and mix gently. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with chives just before serving. FRESH HERB BUTTER (Makes 1/2 cup)
Herb butter takes any herb. It works wonders spooned onto hot steamed seafood or broiled fish or steak just before they are served. It is also good stirred gently into hot, cooked, well-drained pasta, rice, potatoes or other vegetables. 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, dill, cilantro or chives Salt and pepper
Beat the butter until soft and smooth. Stir in the chopped herb and season with salt and pepper to taste. The butter keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator; or it can be frozen. Let soften before serving. FRENCH CHOCOLATE SAUCE (Makes about 1 1/4 cups)
Often the simplest chocolate sauce is the best. No sugar is needed because the chocolate itself is sweet enough. 8 ounces semisweet chocolate 2/3 cup whipping cream
Combine the chocolate and the cream in a heavy saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring often, just until the chocolate melts. Stir until smooth. The sauce can be kept for about 1 week in the refrigerator or can be frozen. Reheat in a pan set in another pan of hot water over low heat. Serve warm.