There’s a remedy for folks who find shopping for Christmas gifts stressful, especially at this late date. Even if you like hunting for holiday presents, it’s not enjoyable if you’ve waited until the last minute, when selections have run low and nothing you find seems very exciting. In addition, funds may be limited, or what’s out there is poorly made and of a quality, that you know just won’t last. Those are the kinds of gifts you’re better off not giving at all.
If you have a good eye for the desirable, recognize an antique or collectible or simply understand value, making gift purchases in thrift stores and consignment shops might just be the kind of holiday retail therapy that makes choosing gifts for family and friends actually fun. Furthermore, I promise, should you locate a hard-to-find item for someone who has been searching for it for decades, they will love you for the rest of your life. Thrift store prices are beyond good, with most non-profit stores selling tax-free goods that are also tax deductible. Consignment shops are generally a little pricier, understandable since shop owners are only getting a percentage of what they sell, with the rest going to the consignor. Still, consignment stores are immensely affordable, no matter your budget.
In addition, if you wish to purchase something tasty and delectable, you can never go wrong with a gift from a specialty purveyor of fine foods or spirits whose reputation is solidly built on years of service to an ever-growing legion of loyal customers. Premium Royal Riviera Pears and authentic Amaretto Liqueur are recent gifts used in some of today’s recipes. Also, put to venerable use is a gently used No. 113 (4-quart) made-in-Germany Romertopf clay baker and a vintage John Wright Co. cast iron alphabet cookie mold – thrift store/consignment shops finds, both.
If there’s a downside at all to buying gifts from organizations and businesses such as these, it is giving up your finds, so when shopping for others, be reminded: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Clay Baker Short Ribs of Beef with Fresh Pear Salad
Serves: 6 to 8
4 pounds beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and pepper
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons flour
1 cup tomato sauce
¼ teaspoon Herbs de Provence
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups beef stock
2 cups dry red wine
2½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 drops Tabasco sauce
1 bay leaf
Fresh parsley, for garnish
Soak your clay baker, both top and bottom, in tap water for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from water and proceed with recipe.
Rub ribs on both sides with some salt and pepper; place them in the bottom of the baker, then cover baker with lid. Place baker in COLD oven and set temperature to 450 F. Bake for 60 minutes. Remove lid and add celery, carrots, onions and garlic; sprinkle with flour.
In a large mixing bowl, combine tomato sauce with Herbs de Provence and thyme. Add stock, wine, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire and Tabasco, mixing well. Pour mixture over ribs, adding the bay leaf to the baker. Replace lid and bake for 1½ to 2 hours, or until ribs are tender.
Remove baker from oven and place on a folded dishcloth, or wooden cutting board, or hot pad. (Never place the hot baker on a cold surface, such as marble or granite.) Remove meat and strain gravy. Spoon off any excess fat and serve gravy over ribs. If desired, sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.
When it’s time for cleaning up, be sure to cool your Romertopf clay baker to room temperature before washing. (Recipe adapted from a recipe by Romertopf, www.romertopfdirect.com.)
Fresh Pear Salad with Low-Fat Cranberry Vinaigrette
“Remarkably sweet and juicy,” Harry and David’s Royal Riviera Pears are the focal point for a colorful salad dressed for the holidays.
6 cups mix salad greens or Bibb lettuce
2 fresh Comice pears, cored and sliced
2/3 cup candied pecans
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
Handful of seedless grapes for garnish, optional
Cranberry Vinaigrette for serving (recipe follows)
Divide salad greens among 4 individual salad plates. Top each plate with ½ a sliced pear. Evenly distribute candied pecans and cheese over pears. If desired, garnish with a few grapes. Drizzle each salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette, serving more dressing on the side.
Yield: 1 cup
½ cup canned whole-berry cranberry sauce
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Place ingredients in a medium-size mixing bowl, whisking to blend.
Good Molding Shortbread
Yield: 26 cookies, depending on size of cookie mold
1 cup King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour (dip and sweep measuring cup into flour, then level with the flat-end of a knife
½ cup salted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla, optional
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
Heat the oven to 325 F. Position oven rack to lower third of oven.
With an electric mixer set to medium speed, cream the butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Turn mixer off and sift confectioners’ sugar over butter. With speed set to low, mix sugar with butter until it is well blended. Add flour gradually and continue to beat just until all the flour is incorporated into the creamed mixture. (Do not overmix. Doing so will introduce too much air into the mixture, causing your cookies to “puff,” which will distort the shape of your cookies.)
For ease of handling, place the bowl and dough in the refrigerator, and chill for 15 minutes. While the dough is chilling, brush cookie mold lightly with vegetable oil, wiping out excess with a tea towel. (Do not use a paper towel as paper fibers may settle into the crevices of the mold.)
Once dough is chilled, pinch off a scant 2 teaspoons of dough from the dough ball, placing it into each well of the cookie mold. Using your fingertips, evenly press the dough into mold. (The dough should fill the mold about halfway.)
Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes or until pale golden brown around the edges. Remove mold from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before gently removing cookies from mold. (I do this by carefully coaxing each cookie out of the mold by inserting a small wooden skewer or toothpick under one corner of the cookie and then gently lifting it out of the mold. If the cookie is too soft to allow removal from the mold without breaking, let the cookies cool a few minutes more in the mold.)
Place cookies that have been removed from the mold onto the wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in a tightly sealed cookie tin for up to 1 week.