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How to prepare food gifts like a pro chef

Did Santa leave you a goodie basket but you don't know what to do with it? Mark Bittman, author of  “The Best Recipes in the World,” shares recipes.
/ Source: TODAY

Now is the time to enjoy the fruit, nuts and cheese you may have received as holiday gifts. Chef Mark Bittman, author of “The Best Recipes in the World,” was invited on the “Today” show to share a few ideas for these kinds of goodies.From-Scratch Salad Dressing (Vinaigrette)
Makes about 1 cup
Time: 10 minutes

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil5 tablespoons or more good wine vinegarSalt and freshly ground black pepper1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard1 large shallot (about 1 ounce), peeled and cut into chunks

Combine all ingredients except the shallot in a blender and turn the machine on; a creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds. Taste and add more vinegar, a teaspoon or two at a time, until the balance tastes right to you.

Add the shallot and turn the machine on and off a few times until the shallot is minced within the dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve. (This is best made fresh but will keep, refrigerated, for a few days; bring back to room temperature and whisk briefly before using.)

Kolachkys: Fruit-filled Cookies
Makes 4 servings
Time: 1 hour, plus time for resting

2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter1/2 cup sugar8 ounces cream cheeseTiny pinch salt2 cups flour, plus more as needed An assortment of thick preserves, like apricot, raspberry, and orange2 egg whites, lightly beatenGranulated sugar as needed

In a bowl, using a wooden spoon or your hands, or in an electric mixer, combine the butter, cream cheese and 1/2 cup of sugar; stir in the salt. Gradually add the flour, making a sticky dough. Sprinkle the outside of the dough with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour, and up to 24.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Working with about a quarter of the dough at a time, roll out to less than 1/4-inch thickness (3/16 is about right), using flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Cut into 2-inch squares and put a dollop of one of the preserves in the center of each square, or spread it across the diagonal, stopping short of the edges. Roll up and seal, or fold into triangles, or, if you spread the filling on the diagonal, bring up the corners and pinch across the center. 

Brush each finished cookie with egg white and sprinkle with sugar, then put on a greased or nonstick cookie sheet and bake from 10 to 15 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Cool and serve within a day.

Cheese Fondue
Makes 8 to 10 servings
Time: 25 minutes

1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced in half, optional2 cups dry white wine, or a little more2 pounds cheese, preferably two different types2 tablespoons cornstarch

Rub the inside of a large pot with the garlic, if you're using it, and discard the garlic. Add the wine and turn the heat to medium; bring to a slow bubble. Whisk together the cornstarch and a tablespoon cold water; set aside.

Gradually add the cheese while folding the mixture until it's melted and creamy; do not let the fondue boil. Whisk the cornstarch slurry again and then add to the fondue while stirring; cook for another five minutes.

If the fondue is too thick, stir in more wine and cook another 3 minutes or so. Serve immediately with cubes of bread and vegetables. 

Citrus Jello with Honey and Mint
Makes 4 servings
Total time: 1-1/2 hours, largely unattended

1 grapefruit2 medium (or 1 large) navel oranges2 tangerines 2 temple or other juice oranges1 tablespoon honey, or to taste1 tablespoon fresh mint, plus a few mint leaves for garnish1 envelope unflavored gelatin

Over a bowl, cut the grapefruit in half and section as you would to serve it at the table, making sure to catch all the juice; you want small pieces with little or no membrane or pith. Peel the navel oranges and tangerines, then, over the same bowl, trim of most of the white pith that clings to their surface. Separate into sections and cut into small pieces if necessary, again, making sure to catch al the juice. Strain the fruit. To the reserved juice, add the squeezed juice of the juice oranges.

Toss the fruits with the honey and mint and put them in 4 small bowls. Put the juice in a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Wait a couple of minutes, then warm the mixture over low heat, stirring to dissolve the gelatin. Cool slightly, then pour the juice mixture over the fruits in the bowls.

Refrigerate for about an hour, or until the liquid in the bowls gels. Serve, garnished with additional mint.

Pansotti (Pasta with walnuts)
Makes 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 thick slice Italian bread1/2 cup milk1 cup walnut or pecan halves2 cloves garlic1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil2 teaspoons fresh marjoram leaves or 1 /2 teaspoon dried marjoram1 pound linguine, spaghetti, or other long pasta

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Soak the bread in the milk. Combine the nuts, garlic, and cheese in a food processor and turn the machine on. With the machine running, add the oil gradually, using just enough so that the mixture forms a very thick paste. Squeeze out the bread and add it to the mix, which will be very thick. Now add the milk the bread soaked in, and enough water to make a saucy mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, until it is tender but not mushy. When it is ready, drain it — reserve some of the cooking water — and toss with the sauce; if the mixture appears too thick, thin with a little of the pasta cooking water (or more olive oil). Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve, with more Parmesan.

Recipes excerpted from “The Best Recipes in the World" by Mark Bittman. Copyright © 2005 by Mark Bittman. Published by Broadway Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.