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Easiest food gifts possible

So, you've looked at the holiday to-do list, looked at the calendar and realized you are in a jam.

You've got too many people who already have too much stuff and you have too little time. What to do?

When panic strikes, I head to the nearest source of gourmet foods and start loading up the cart. Grab a wicker basket and fill it with cheese, crackers, party napkins and a decorative cheese spreader. Get a bottle of wine, stuff it in a fancy gift bag filled with colorful tissue paper and tie a bottle stopper or corkscrew onto the handle. Pick a pair of coffee mugs and fill them with cocoa mixes, peppermint sticks and chocolates. The gift is consumed and the inedible parts can be kept or re-gifted as needed.

Ah, chocolate: the ultimate face saver at gift time. There are some really great options in town. In addition to the grocery and drug stores, Dwyer's Hallmark in the Flinthills Mall carries boxed Russell Stover chocolates, or they can build you a gift box from their case of truffles, chocolate covered peanuts and raisins, coconut haystacks, mints and myriad kid-friendly confections. Of course they have a selection of wrap, gift bags, bows and cards, so one stop is all you need.

There are also chocolates at Emporia Floral on 12th and West. They have peanut clusters, caramels, truffles, double-dipped truffles and you can order a floral or balloon bouquet to go with them. There's plenty of curly ribbon to choose from!

Sweet Granada, 809 Commercial, is certainly ready to help you out. Locally made fudges are sold by the pound--you can even give a membership to the Fudge of the Month Club. One year's worth of fudge, one pound a month, will be delivered (free inside the city, or shipped for a small fee) to your special someone. Each month's fudge has a special theme--hurrah! Of course, they have those cute little chocolate mice, and truffles, and dark chocolates and milk chocolates and white chocolates and fruity chocolates, and...need I say more?

If you're in a hurry, they have a huge variety of chocolate combinations boxed up and ready to hit the door running. Kim Redeker says they're "grab-n-go" hand packed, handmade and beautifully packaged. Also, Sweet Granada can bake cookies FOR you; just call in an advance order. Of course Amanda at Amanda's Bakery, 7th and Commercial, can fix up some goodies for you, too. She says they get a lot of orders for dinner rolls, "The Ultimate Brownie", cookies (gingersnaps are a seasonal favorite), baguettes, sunflower wheat and honey wheat loaves. Just call a few days ahead at 340-0620.

If you're already at the Granada, and want to augment your chocolate gift, bop next door to the Granada Coffee Co. They have coffee beans, tea, art cards, gift certificates, T-shirts and works by local artists. Bev Beers said they sell tons of flavored cocoa packets, and can do gift baskets. You can pick what you want, or just give her a figure and she'll do the work for you.

I really like to give bottles of wine as host/hostess gifts, so I often run to the nearest shop for a nice shiraz or pinot noir, then go to Jack's Tobacco, which has a neat selection of baskets, wine gift bags, pickled snacks, flavored nuts, drink mixers, party picks (some plastic, some metal), napkins and even tropical drink umbrellas.

They have a wide variety of beverage glasses, from Irish Coffee mugs to martini glasses to sake sets, and a wonderful selection of wine chillers, corkscrews and bottle stoppers. To make a gift extra-special, stuff one of Jack's wonderful woven baskets with the ingredients for a cocktail, a shiny new cocktail shaker, a pair of glasses, some olives or cherries, party picks and napkins, maybe all wrapped in a cute bar towel! Jane King and her staff can set you up.

Of course, the gourmand does not live by wine and chocolates alone. A well-seasoned cheese ball and some unusual crackers can go a long way as a gift, not to mention jellies, pickled things, sauces, salsas and baking mixes. Sharon Steinkuehler of Honeysuckle Lane, Flinthills Mall, has several prepared dip mixes and they do occasional tastings in the store. Those mixes were flying out the door during their open house a few weeks ago. Their biggest sellers are White Cheddar Jalapeno, Honey Apple Pecan and Spinach Artichoke, which they like to make in this recipe.

HONEYSUCKLE LANE'S SPINACH ARTICHOKE DIP

1 pkg. Spinach Artichoke dip mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup colby or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1 pkg. refrigerated crescent rolls
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
pinch of paprika, optional

Mix the first four ingredients together and chill for two to four hours. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the crescent roll dough into two large rectangles, and place on an ungreased 13-x-9-inch pan. Press the dough over the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. Bake 10 minutes or until golden brown; remove and cool completely.

Spread the dip onto the crust. Sprinkle with parmesan and paprika, then bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm.

Second Love has a passel of stuff too, including caramel popcorn in the shape of an ear of corn (very cute!) and salt water taffy. They offer coffees, teas, cocoas, candies, Pennsylvania Dutch licorice, Jelly Bellies, dessert mixes and several dip mixes, which they occasionally sample in the store. There's a ton of Fiesta dishes, too. Jason Koch said the cheesecake dip and jalapeno dips are big favorites. He shared this recipe, and said it's delicious, not too hot, but if you want to make it hotter just add a little more of the jalapeno mix!

SECOND LOVE'S

JALAPENO DIP
1/5 of a jar of Texas Longhorn Jalepeno Dip Mix, including juice
1 8-oz. brick of cream cheese

Mix well and serve chilled with crackers.

I spoke with Kerri Freeman at Forget Me Not Productions (509 Commercial). She has all kinds of mixes for soups, dips, cheese balls, cookies, and a no-roll pie crust. "It's pretty good!" says Kerri. They also have coffee, teas, loose teas (and everything you need to go with them). They sell those nifty French-press pots, and can do gift wrapping. Kerri said everything "...sells pretty well! The Elsie Grace dips and mixes are really, really good!" From now until Christmas they'll have different samples to try, so stop on in there.

Madelynn's at 511 Commercial has a huge selection of all kinds of things for the food lover. I walked over there the other day just to see, and saw shelves laden with jars, boxes, bottles and pouches of wonderful things. There were cobbler fillings and butters (even peach butter!), wonderful spice combinations (especially multicolored peppercorns), and prepared mixes of all kinds.

I saw jars of condiments such as baby corn with sweet peppers or garlic stuffed olives, and long narrow bottles of dipping oils. Envision an artisan bread from Amanda's and a bottle of dipping oil from Madelynn's, nestled in a pretty mixing bowl lined with matching dishtowels, et voila!

There was a Cheddar Asparagus Dip mix that looked great, a Blue Cheese Buffalo sauce dip, and Peppercorn Parmesan dip. Casey Woods recommended the "Zinfandel, Spring Onions and Dill" cheese ball mix, saying it's a big favorite. He even has some inexpensive gourmet crackers right there to complete the dish for you. Casey shared this recipe with me; it's a perfect appetizer or party snack.

MADELYNN'S HOT

OLIVE PUFFS
1 jar of Madelynn's olives
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain olives. Mix cheese and butter together. Stir in flour, salt and paprika, and mix well. Wrap one teaspoon of dough around one olive until completely covered. Place on Aire Gourmet baking sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

And lest we forget, Madelynn's has a variety of hot beverages, along with brewers, grinders, infusers, canisters and coffee mugs. It's hard to go wrong making a gift of food, even if you didn't make it yourself. If you don't have time to cook right now, don't despair. Just stop off at one of Emporia's gourmet shops, drop a few bucks and get the perfect present for your loved ones. Let's get cooking...next week!

Source: Emporia Gazette

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