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Tasteful Giving

By Jennifer Kornegay

Food/Photography by Brooke Echols

“’Tis better to give than receive.”

That’s an admirable sentiment, but maybe not so accurate when you’re set to be on the receiving end of an edible gift. Who doesn’t love retrieving a little bundle from their mailbox or a bag at their front door, opening it and breathing in the scent of freshly homemade goodies? Maybe it’s the warmth and spice of a cinnamon-perfumed nut bread, the pure sweetness of brightly iced sugar cookies in festive shapes or the richness of something (anything!) enrobed in chocolate.

Gifting with edibles is great for the other side of the equation too. If you’re the one in your family who carries the burden of checking names off the gift list, you know how stressful and time-consuming coming up with a truly appreciated item can be. But everyone eats, and everyone loves a special treat (and they’re also “one size fits all”).

It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It doesn’t have to look perfect. It can be as simple as a few cookies in a cellophane bag tied tight with cheery red ribbon. The time and effort you put into it (even if it’s short!) means something more than the same amount of energy spent at the mall. So skip the traffic and the crowds, and just grab the things needed to whip up a few of these reader-submitted edible gift recipes on a regular grocery store run.

Make it Merry

Once you’ve made your edible gifts, try one of these fast and frugal ideas to package your delights with some flair.

  • Embellish plain brown paper lunch sacks with a few holiday-themed stick  ers, fold the top over a few times, thread some ribbon through two hole-punched holes and tie into a bow to close.
  • Stack small cookies in Mason jars. Hot glue some ribbon around the top’s metal band. Or ditch the jar’s top and instead, cover the jar with a red or green paper cupcake liner turned upside down and secured with ribbon or a colored rubber band.
  • Line plain brown cardboard boxes with tissue paper before filling with your goodies, and decorate their outsides with holiday stickers or holiday ink stamps.
  • Slide your treats into food-safe clear plastic baggies (found at most craft supply stores) and twist them closed. Secure with a piece of ribbon and adorn with a sticker gift tag.

Cook of the Month:

Denise Swann, Dixie EC

Denise Swann has always loved baking. She learned it from her grandmother and today, prefers it to any other kind of cooking. The retired teacher also loves the food culture and flavors of Italy, a country she’s visited multiple times, so she combined her two passions in her recipe for Cranberry Orange Almond Biscotti. “I really enjoy biscotti and I saw a recipe that I liked, but I tweaked it to make it my own,” she said. The change was the addition of blood orange’s bold zip. She’s not the only one pleased with the results, one reason she now gives these biscotti as gifts. “I have a friend who likes them so much I give her the entire recipe for her birthday each year, but for most gifts, I put about six pieces in a cellophane bag and wrap it up pretty,” she said. “They’re great for Christmas.”

Cranberry Orange Almond Biscotti

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Zest of one orange (I use blood orange, but plain is fine)
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup craisins
  • 1 cup whole roasted almonds 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and zest until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs. Combine flour, salt and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in craisins and nuts by hand. Divide dough in half. (It is very sticky. I have water to dampen my fingers when forming the logs.) Form 2 logs on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the logs are light brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 275 degrees. Cut the logs on a diagonal into 1-inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes or until dry, then cool. This recipe makes about 20 cookies.

Baby Ruth Bars

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup white corn syrup
  • 2½ cups crunchy peanut butter
  • 5 cups Special K cereal
  • 6 ounces almond bark (3 squares off the whole block)

Bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil. Remove from heat; add peanut butter and melted almond bark; blend well. Add cereal, stirring to coat. Pour into a 9×13-inch pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Cool and remove bars from pan. Cut bars into small pieces.

Peggy Key

North Alabama EC

Almond Joy Candy

  • 2 14-ounce bags coconut
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can or bag of almonds
  • 2 12-ounce bags chocolate chips
  • 1 bar paraffin wax

Heat butter and sweetened condensed milk until butter is melted; stir together. Add coconut. Cool completely. Form a small ball around each almond to form candy.  Melt chocolate chips and paraffin together until smooth. Dip each candy in melted chocolate and lay on wax paper to cool completely. Store in refrigerator until ready to bag or bowl for gifts.

LaCretia Bevel

North Alabama EC

Fruitcake Cookies

  • 1 pound mixed candied fruit
  • 2 cups nuts, chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1½ cups flour

Mix all together and spoon on cookie sheet or mini muffin pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Shanna Bryars

Baldwin EMC

Yee Haw Toffee

  • 1 10-ounce package saltine crackers
  • 1 cup of butter (no margarine)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 12-ounce package milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Line cookie sheet with saltine crackers, edges touching. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar. Cook until mixture reaches 235 degrees on candy thermometer. Pour mixture over crackers and spread evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot toffee. When chips turn glossy, spread chocolate evenly with spatula. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Freeze 20-25 minutes, remove from freezer, break into pieces and serve.

Beth McLarty

Cullman EC

Crockpot Apple Butter

  • 3 pounds gala apples
  • 3 pounds fugi apples
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar

Remove cores from apples and chop into chunks (no need to remove skins) and place in a 6-quart crockpot. Combine rest of ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over apples and stir to coat. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour then low for 10 hours, stirring a couple of times throughout. Spoon mixture into a blender or food processor, leaving a vent open for steam to escape and blend to desired consistency. Allow to cool to room temperature then refrigerate or freeze. Makes about 5 pints.

Emily Nebrig

Joe Wheeler EMC

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal flour (Using a food processor, blend old fashioned oats to make 3 cups flour)
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons ground hemp seed (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons ground chia seed (optional)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter powder
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 6 tablespoons milk

Whisk wet ingredients together. Stir in the dry ingredients. Mix in chocolate chips. Roll into balls and enjoy.

Carissa Pittman

Joe Wheeler EMC

Coming up in January…Slow Cooker Favorites!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

February: Spicy Foods | Dec. 8

March: Honey | Jan. 8

April: Bread | Feb. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

Tough ‘other’ bass offer anglers hot action in cold water

Spotted bass like this one often hit jigging spoons that resemble small shad or other baitfish. Photo by John N. Felsher

Ferocious, hard-fighting and aggressive, spotted bass populate most Alabama waters, but typically go almost overlooked, particularly in the winter when so many sportsmen prefer hunting to fishing. Most anglers catch them more by accident than intention when seeking largemouth, smallmouth or striped bass, but these vicious predators can challenge tackle anywhere in the Cotton State at any time.

“Spotted bass have a lot of backbone and fight,” says Brooks Holland with Boogerman Guide Service (334-549-2126) in Prattville. “Catching a 5-pound spot is like catching a 10- to 12-pound largemouth. Once, I caught a 6.5- and a 6.75-pound spotted bass on the Alabama River in 10 casts.”

Sometimes called Kentucky spotted bass, spots don’t quite grow as big as largemouths, but they can still top 11 pounds. Phillip C. Terry of Decatur set the Alabama state record with an 8-pound, 15-ounce spot he pulled from Lake Lewis Smith near Cullman. In the Bankhead National Forest, Lake Lewis Smith snakes across 21,200 acres on the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River. Deep, clear and blue, the lake drops to more than 300 feet deep in places.

With a greenish-white coloration, a spot looks very similar to a largemouth, but with a slightly smaller mouth and more black splotches along its lateral line. The defining feature, a rough “tooth patch” on its tongue, distinguishes this species. Once considered a subspecies, but now reclassified as an entirely separate species, an Alabama bass looks almost identical to a spot, but grows a bit larger.

“Spotted bass are found all throughout Alabama,” says Michael P. Holley, a fisheries supervisor for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries in Eastaboga. “We now recognize the spotted bass as the Alabama bass in the Mobile drainage lakes and rivers. I consider a really big spotted bass in Alabama to be about six pounds. A four-pounder is still considered big and bass this size show up more frequently in angler catches. Pound for pound, in my opinion, Alabama bass fight harder than any other species of black bass in Alabama, including smallmouth bass.”

Spots or their Alabama cousins populate almost all waters across Alabama. They prefer current and thrive in rivers like the Tennessee, Coosa, Chattahoochee, Alabama and down to the Mobile River drainage. They also populate the associated reservoirs and tributaries of these and other systems across the state.

While spotted bass look similar to largemouths, they act more like smallmouths and stay very active in cold water. Spots love rocks and flowing water. They frequently stay around main channel points, ledge edges with rock or woody debris, rocky shorelines, sandbars, riprap and similar places. Also look for them near dams and in the backs of creeks.

Spotted bass hit anything that largemouths and smallmouths might strike. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, slow-sinking jerkbaits and topwaters rank among the best spotted bass baits. They’ll also hit jigs, worms and other temptations. In deeper water, jigging a chrome spoon can produce a lot of action, particularly during temperature extremes in the winter.

“Quite often, I’ll catch largemouths and spots when fishing the same points or ledges with the same bait,” Holland says. “Spots tend to hold on hump edges. Vertically jigging a spoon is a good way to find fish. I’ll jig a spoon or sometimes a lipless crankbait. A drop shot is another good technique. To catch the largest spots from November through January, I recommend using a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce football jig in a crawfish color. A shaky head worm in a green pumpkin, watermelon red or watermelon seed is another great bait for spots.”

In any freshwater system across Alabama, anglers might tangle with a feisty spotted bass. However, some waters consistently produce big fish. No waters produce more impressive spotted bass than the Coosa River impoundments.

“If an angler wants to catch a large spotted bass, then the Coosa River impoundments are where they should go,” Holley says. “Weiss, Neely Henry, Logan Martin, Lay, Mitchell and Jordan are all good fisheries that produce large spotted bass. The Coosa River is fertile with a high nutrient base, so bass have plenty of forage and grow really fast. These lakes also offer the right habitat that spotted bass prefer, such as deep boulders and rocks.”

Holley also recommended Holt Reservoir, a 3,296-acre impoundment on the Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa. Anglers might also try Harris Reservoir, also known as Lake Wedowee, on the Tallapoosa River near the town of Wedowee.

Other good places to catch spots include the Jones Bluff section of the Alabama River, also known as R. E. “Bob” Woodruff Lake, between Montgomery and Selma. Millers Ferry Lake, also called William “Bill” Dannelly Reservoir on the Alabama River in Dallas and Wilcox counties, can also produce good fish.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. He’s a professional freelance writer and photographer with more than 2,500 articles published in more than 150 different magazines. Contact him through Facebook.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Mama’s perfect Christmas turkey

As we enter the Christmas season, many of you are looking back on a Thanksgiving and thinking, “I wished I had baked a turkey.”

You know why you didn’t.

Turkey baking is a daunting task.

The bird is big.

You have only one chance to get it right.

All sorts of things can go wrong. And if wrong they go, the blame falls on the cook.

You are the cook.

Full of dread at the prospect of disaster, you went out and bought one of those easy-bake turkey breasts, which are an anathema to dark-meat lovers like me, and passed it off on family and friends with a casual “a whole turkey is so, you know, passé.”

And everyone looked at you “that way.”

So you sulked back to the kitchen, knowing that you have failed as a host/hostess, and that those who gather around your table hope that come Christmas, they get an invitation from a more competent cook.

Well friends, and you are my friends, I am here to help you.

Knowing how much Alabama Living readers love recipes, Old Hardy is gonna pass on to you the method my sainted Mother, the Queen of the Kitchen, followed to make sure that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even Easter, would be celebrated with perfect Turkey.

First be warned. THIS ONLY WORKS WITH AN ELECTRIC OVEN – which, being a member of the electric co-op, you obviously have.

Also, we have never tried it with a turkey weighing over 20 pounds. Might work. Might not. Don’t want to risk a big bird? Get one smaller.

Here we go:

The day before Christmas, or whatever holiday on which you are feasting, thaw the turkey. Remove the giblets and save them for gravy. Wash and salt the bird.

Around two hours before bedtime the evening before the holiday (assuming you go to bed at a decent hour, like 9 p.m.) pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees.

Get out your graniteware baking pan, the kind with a lid, the kind your Mama used.

Place the bird breast down in the baking pan.

If you don’t have a baking pan, get one of those big old throw-away roasting pans you can buy at the grocery store.

Add one quart of cold water.

Cover the bird with the lid or with heavy duty aluminum foil – make sure whatever covers it seals the bird completely – and tightly. That is very important.

Place the bird in the 500-degree oven and cook one hour, undisturbed.

After one hour, turn the oven off.

Do not open the oven.

Let the oven cool completely overnight. Do not open. No peeking. Self-restraint is required.

In the morning, when you open the oven, the bird will be ready to carve.

But remember.

Make sure you turn the oven off after an hour. The electric stove will hold the heat and the turkey will slowly cook overnight.

If you forget to turn the oven off, and if the bird cooks at 500 degrees, all night long…on Christmas Day you will feast on turkey jerky.

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at