Here’s another holiday party recipe,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets.

Happy entertaining!


Let’s face it. This creamy Middle Eastern eggplant dip is just not very pretty to look at. But it’s too delicious to let that keep you from serving it. My strategy is to garnish it with something green and serve it in small portions, surrounded by pretty tidbits. Here, I’ve given each guest a little individual cutting board (found them at a yard sale!) with a small bowl of Baba Ghanouj, a small knife, a wedge of aged Manchego, a few olives and a handful of smoked almonds. Pass warm pita or crackers to spread the Baba Ghanouj on.


1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

juice of ½ lemon

1/3 cup tahini

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 large clove garlic, peeled and smashed


  1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the eggplant cubes on a large baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil, the pepper and half of the salt. Arrange the cubes in a single layer and roast, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
  2. Put the cooled eggplant, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, garlic, and the rest of the salt in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Serve with crackers or warm pita.



Delight your Thanksgiving guests with this charming recipe,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets!


I originally posted this recipe in last year’s Thanksgiving blog, but it was so popular I decided to rerun it this year for all my new readers. These mini sandwiches make great Thanksgiving dinner appetizers. Or, serve the biscuits on the day after stuffed with turkey and cranberry sauce. Of course, you don’t have to cut the biscuits into turkey shapes. These beauties will taste just as good if you simply pat out the dough and cut it into squares with a knife.

(Makes 14 – 16 two-inch biscuits)


2 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon each cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg

¼ cup cold butter, cut into ¼-inch dice

1 cup baked and mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium sweet potato)

2 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons maple syrup

16 slices crisp fried bacon

Sliced sharp cheddar


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the chilled butter pieces and cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Stir together the mashed sweet potato, milk and maple syrup. With a wooden spoon, stir the potato mixture into the flour mixture until dough starts to form in clumps. Add a tablespoon or so of milk if the mixture is too dry, or a little flour if it is too sticky. Do not overmix.
  3. Turn the clumps out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead once or twice until the dough comes together. Roll or pat the dough out into a 1/2 –inch thickness. Cut out shapes with a 2-inch cutter dipped in flour. Gently pat the scraps together and repeat with the remaining dough. Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10 – 12 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. While still slightly warm, split biscuits and fill each with a strip of crisp bacon (broken into thirds to fit on biscuit) and a slice of sharp cheddar. Serve immediately.

Turkey Tip:

This old southern, artery-clogging, but delicious trick is sure to make your Thanksgiving turkey moist, flavorful and delicious. Slather the bird with bacon grease before roasting!

Get 10% off this or any of our gift baskets if you act quickly!

Bake adorable Thanksgiving cookies with this tried and true recipe,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets.

Happy entertaining!


I put chocolate cookie dough mix in some of my baking gift baskets, but if you’d like to make your cookies from scratch, here’s my tried and true recipe. Everyone loves cookies, so they make the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving dessert selection. Bag some up in small cellophane bags and tie with ribbon to hand out to your guests as party favors.


1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened

½ cup packed light brown sugar

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 large egg, at room temperature

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 cups all-purpose flour


  1. In a large mixer bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then the chocolate and baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour, beating until just blended.
  2. Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill until firm enough to roll out, at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and have ready 2 ungreased cookie sheets. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Add sprinkles, if desired.
  4. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies feel firm. Let cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.


Mile High Quesadilla Pie

November 16, 2009


Here’s another cool party recipe,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets


Now don’t everyone panic when I say, “springform pan.” This recipe is really easy and, thanks to a tip I found in Everyday Food magazine about trimming the tortillas to fit the pan, it’s even easier! This is an impressive for casual entertaining because it looks a lot harder than it is. Once I served it on a cakestand and really wowed my guests! Accompany the pie with soft polenta, a crisp green salad, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and tortilla chips.


1 pound lean ground beef

1 (1-ounce) packet of taco seasoning mix

5 (10-inch) flour tortillas

1 cup frozen corn, thawed

1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained

4 scallions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish

1 (4-ounce) can chopped roasted mild green chilies, drained

2 ½ cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (or a mixture)

fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish (optional)


Combine the beef and taco seasoning mix to make taco filling according to directions on the seasoning mix packet. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a paring knife, trim tortillas to fit a 9-inch springform pan, using the removable bottom of the pan as a guide. Assemble pan with bottom upside down (this makes the pie easier to remove after baking) and lightly oil bottom and sides.

Place one tortilla in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the corn and ½ cup of the cheese. Top with a second tortilla. Using a slotted spoon, top the second tortilla with the meat filling, spreading evenly. (You may have some left over.) Sprinkle with ½ cup of the cheese. Top with a third tortilla. Spoon the beans, scallions, and ½ cup cheese on top of the third tortilla. Top with a 4th tortilla. Spread the chopped green chilies and ½ cup of cheese on top of the 4th tortilla. Top with the last tortilla and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of cheese.

Bake until hot and cheese is melted, 20 to 25 minutes. Run knife around edge of pan; remove sides. Sprinkle with scallions and garnish with cilantro, if using. To serve, slice into wedges.



Brown Butter Pound Cake

November 9, 2009


Celebrate life! Try this pound cake recipe with a twist,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets.

Happy entertaining!


When I am at a loss for what to make for dessert I often turn to pound cake. This crowd-pleasing classic can be dressed up with glazes or frostings, or topped with fruit, ice cream, lemon curd, chocolate sauce or whipped cream. I’ve even cut plain slices into fingers and served them on a cheese platter.

I made this cake on the day I heard my beloved Gourmet magazine was folding. I have been a subscriber for almost 30 years and will miss it terribly. The recipe is from their October 2009 issue and was developed by Paul Grimes. I had the pleasure of working with Paul before he joined the staff at Gourmet, when I was creative director of Food & Wine and he was a freelance food stylist.

I added frosting, but this wonderful cake is delicious just plain.


Makes one (8 ½ by 4 ½) inch loaf

2 ¼ sticks unsalted butter

2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

4 large eggs

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees with rack in middle. Butter and lightly flour an 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pan.
  2. Heat butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until milk solids on bottom are a dark chocolate brown. Transfer to a shallow bowl and chill in freezer until just congealed, about 15 minutes.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Beat together brown butter and sugars with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated.
  5. Transfer batter to pan, smoothing top, then rap pan on counter to settle batter. Bake until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 ¼ hours. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then invert cake onto a rack and cool completely, right side up, 1 hour.


Using an electric mixer, beat one 8-ounce package of room-temperature cream cheese and ½ stick of room-temperature unsalted butter until light and fluffy. With mixer on low speed, beat in 1 cup confectioners’ sugar a few tablespoons at a time, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract and ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional); increase speed to high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy about 3 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to one week. Bring to room temperature before using. Makes about 1½ cups.



Crispy Eggplant Tapas

November 2, 2009


Celebrate the beginning of the holiday season with another party recipe,

compliments of Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets!


When entertaining during the holidays, it’s sometimes fun to serve lots of little plates with an assortment of small samplings of several dishes, rather than serving a traditional appetizer-main course-dessert type menu. If you’re planning a tapas get-together this dish is a good one to include. It’s kind of a low-cal, bite-sized version of Eggplant Parmesan. Of course, you could add a few calories and a lot of flavor by topping each serving with a slice of fresh mozzarella or some shaved Parmesan!


1 large eggplant

3 cups fresh breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan

a generous pinch each of salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper

1 egg white

olive oil cooking spray

prepared marinara sauce, warmed


Cut the eggplant into ½ inch slices. Place a large colander in the sink. Salt both sides of each slice and arrange them in the colander. Let them sit for about 20 minutes until they begin to sweat and give up their liquid. (This takes any bitterness away.)

Meanwhile, in a large, shallow bowl or baking dish, mix together the fresh breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white and 1 tablespoon of water.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Press the eggplant slices between paper towels to dry them off. Cut each slice in half. Dip slices into the egg white, then into the breadcrumb mixture to coat. Arrange coated slices on the prepared baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, turning once, until slices are brown and crispy on both sides.

To serve, place 1 or 2 hot eggplant slices on a small plate and top with warm marinara sauce.




Happy Halloween from Elizabeth W. Gift Baskets!

If you missed the first 10 you can find them here.

Now get your haunt on and start cooking!

Jack-o-Lantern Quesadilla

Place a large flour tortilla on a dinner plate. Sprinkle evenly with orange sharp cheddar cheese. Use scissors or a sharp knife to cut out a Jack-o-Lantern face from a second tortilla and place it on top of the cheese-sprinkled tortilla. Zap in the microwave until the cheese melts, about 8 seconds. Add a celery stem and serve.

Ice Scream Pie

Fill a prepared graham cracker crust with softened orange sherbet and smooth the top with a spatula. Place the pie in the freezer until it firms up. To decorate the top of the pie, gently press an open-backed Halloween cookie cutter, such as a black cat, into the center. Carefully fill the interior of the cutter with a generous layer of chocolate sprinkles. Remove the cutter to reveal a perfect replica. Return the pie to the freezer until serving time.

Crunchy Graveyard Bones

Dip pretzel rods into melted chocolate or brightly colored candy melts and decorate with Halloween sprinkles. Place on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet until coating hardens, about 10 minutes. (Candy melts come in a variety of colors and flavors and can be found at craft supply stores, Walmart and large grocery stores.

Witches Purse

Spread an 8-ounce wheel of Brie with apricot preserves or your favorite fruit chutney. Center the cheese round in a square of storebought frozen puff pastry that has been thawed and lightly rolled out. Gather up the four corners of the sheet and bring together above the Brie, twisting slightly to form a bundle. Tie the bundle at the neck with kitchen string, transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush lightly with beaten egg. Bake at 375 degrees until pastry is golden all over, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes and place on a platter. Garnish with fresh kumquats and grapes, if desired. Let guests serve themselves, cutting the purse into small wedges.

Snake-in-the-Lake Crudites

Freeze rubber snakes in a slab of ice to make a clever serving tray for broccoli florets, red pepper slices, carrots, and celery! To make the slab, fill a large sheet cake pan with water and arrange 2 or 3 long, rubber snakes, upside down, in the water. Freeze solid. When ready to serve, remove pan from freezer and let thaw for about 5 minutes. Turn the block of ice out onto a large, high-sided tray that will hold the water as the ice melts. (Or, just flip it over and serve it in the same sheet pan you made it in.) Arrange vegetables on top. Depending on its size, the block will last for 5 to 6 hours. The snakes become more visible as it melts.

Muffins From Hell

Make corn bread batter using one of the many mixes available. Stir in a pinch of crushed red pepper. Fill muffin cups halfway full of batter. Drop in a dollop (about ½ teaspoonful) of hot pepper jelly. Top off with more batter, completely covering the jelly and filling the cup almost to the top. Bake according to package directions. Serve warm with cream cheese.

Bat Bites

Mix together ¼ cup of prepared pesto, 8 ounces of softened goat cheese, and 4 ounces of softened cream cheese. Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls and roll the balls in poppy seeds or coarsely ground black pepper. Insert a triangular-shaped tortilla chip into either side of each ball to make wings. (Blue corn chips make nice dark wings.) Add eyes made from slices of pimento-stuffed olives or black olive slices with a pink peppercorn pressed into the center.

Black Cat Sammies

Freeze thinly sliced dark bread, such as Pumpernickel. Let thaw partially, and cut out cat shapes using a cookie cutter. (Using partially frozen bread slices allows you to cut out the shapes more easily without tearing the bread.) Sandwich prepared orange “Pimento Cheese Spread” between 2 cat cutouts. Arrange sandwiches on a platter and keep covered with plastic wrap until just before serving.

Ghost Chips

Use scissors to cut corn tortillas into freeform ghost shapes. Punch eye-holes into each ghost shape using a wooden skewer. Brush a large baking sheet with olive oil. Arrange the ghosts on the sheet and brush them lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes. As they bake, the ghosts will curl up slightly before becoming crisp, giving them a livelier shape. Let chips cool before serving with “Satan’s Smokey Guacamole,” below. (For more spirited chips, add pinches of spices to the oil before brushing the ghosts. A combo of chili powder, paprika, cumin and cayenne works well.)

Satan’s Smokey Guacamole

Scoop the flesh of 3 avocados into a bowl and mash with a fork. Stir in 2/3 cup each finely chopped onions and chopped fresh cilantro, 1/3 cup fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeded and finely chopped, and ½ teaspoon each cumin and salt. Serve with “Ghost Chips,” above.

Note: Some of these recipes are excerpted from past Halloween articles I’ve written for All You magazine