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Tasty gifts are always welcome

Monday, December 20, 1999

Compiled by Arlene Burnett, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Homemade gifts of food are a unique way to show people they're special. And with the many demands placed on hostesses during the holidays, gifts of food might be appreciated more than you know.

The first recipe, Banana Nut Bread, is one of the most moist we've ever had the pleasure to test. This bread is bursting with banana flavor. Try a slice of Banana Nut Bread with cream cheese -- it doesn't get any better. But the fun part of this recipe is that it can be baked in cans, which is what we did (make sure the cans are clean and dry). These breads are a perfect size to give as gifts -- wrap them in colored plastic wrap, add a bow, and you're on your way.

Last week we ran a recipe for Thumbprints. This week we have another -- but slightly different. This recipe calls for brown sugar and shortening instead of the butter and granulated sugar.

Our final recipe, Mushrooms Stuffed With Crabmeat, makes a grand display and would be welcome at any holiday party -- and they won't last long. The earthy taste of mushrooms combined with the crabmeat and spices is just too delectable to pass up.

Some mushroom facts and hints:

The packaged mushrooms you find in all grocery stores are known as cultivated white mushrooms. Mushrooms labeled button mushrooms are just a smaller version of the larger cultivated mushrooms. Avoid mushrooms with soft spots. Select mushrooms of equal size if they are to be cooked. Because mushrooms should be stored with cool air circulating around them, store mushrooms on a tray in a single layer, uncovered, with a damp paper towel -- they can be refrigerated up to 5 days. Mushrooms should never be soaked in water; they are highly absorbent and they will become mushy. To clean mushrooms, gently wipe with a damp paper towel or, if absolutely necessary, rinse with cold water. Always dry mushrooms thoroughly.

Source: "Food Lover's Companion" by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

Banana Nut Bread

1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup mashed bananas (2 large)
1 1/2 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine (we used butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream or buttermilk

Thoroughly grease three 29-ounce cans or a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Sift dry ingredients. Beat butter, eggs, sugar and flavoring well. Add bananas, cream, nuts and flour mixture. Beat on low speed. Fill cans 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees for about 1 hour. Cool thoroughly. Slice thin and spread with cream cheese.

When Darlene Swalwell of Minneapolis spotted the request for a Thumbprint recipe in the Kitchen Mailbox, she e-mailed us with her recipe. Her version of Thumbprint cookies has been in her family for years and is her husband's favorite.

Thumbprint Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk, save the white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Finely chopped walnuts, about 3/4 cup

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat all ingredients (except egg yolk and nuts) together until creamy (we used a stand mixer and creamed the ingredients for about 5 minutes). Beat egg white slightly and set aside. Form dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in egg white, then in nuts. Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheet. With your thumb, press center of cookie to make indentation. Bake cookies for approximately 8 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Cool and drop dollops of icing in center of cookie.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Note: For the icing, Swalwell uses prepared cream cheese icing in a can that she colors with food coloring.

Mary E. Creighton of Rosslyn Farms requested a recipe for Stuffed Mushrooms with garlic butter sauce. This recipe doesn't call for a garlic butter sauce, but we added 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh garlic which we sautéed in the butter along with the onion.

This recipe was sent in by Mary Ann Devlin of Dravosburg.

Stuffed Mushrooms

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup crabmeat (6 1/2 ounce can)*
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons heavy cream**
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 pinch ground red cayenne pepper
16-20 large mushrooms

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter; sauté onion till soft, about 5 minutes. In a bowl, combine onion with crabmeat, bread crumbs, egg, cream and parsley; mix well. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. Stir in lemon juice. Remove stems from mushrooms; discard stems, or reserve for another use. Sauté caps in oil 2-3 minutes, turning frequently, or brush caps with oil and grill 2 minutes. Place mushrooms in a flat-bottom baking dish. Fill the cavities with crab mix. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover with foil and bake 15 minutes.

*The remainder of the crabmeat can be frozen for another use.

**If you don't want to purchase an entire carton of heavy cream, try whole milk.

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