One week until Christmas - I hope none of you are feeling as frazzled as I am.

I'm hosting my family for the holiday, and efforts to clean my house, buy and wrap gifts and plan our Christmas dinner are all behind where I would like them to be.

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But I keep taking deep breaths because I know it will all come together. Once I de-clutter the house, it will feel good to get it really clean. My family agreed to go simple with gifts this year, so as long as I execute the last few items on my short list of shopping, I'm set. For the meal, the main dish is all I really need to worry about since everyone wants to bring something to help anyway. And my sister-in-law, the great baker, won't be coming, so I get to make a dessert, which I'm pretty excited about.

Now if I could only choose which one ....

In the meantime, with Christmas just a week away, I thought I would suggest some homemade food gifts that you could try out. Food gifts are so personal and practical that I think they are always appreciated.

My first recipe is for chocolate biscotti, and this recipe is pretty cool because it tastes just like brownies, though crunchy instead of soft. I made these in place of chocolate cookies this year, and I'm pretty pleased. I left the nuts out because I'm not a big fan, and I plain old forgot to put the egg wash on top, but they were fine without it, so I can only imagine they must be even better with it.

My only complaint is that it tells you to cut the cookie loaves into slices with a serrated knife, which is what all biscotti recipes say, but if your recipe has chocolate chips and nuts in it, the sawing motion is more likely to just pull the nuts and chips out and leave holes in your cookies. I decided to use a downward cutting motion halfway through, and I think I had better results that way.

Pair these biscotti with a bag of coffee, tea or hot chocolate mix, and you've got a great gift to share.

The second recipe is for flavored salts, which I came across in a slide show from

Country Living

magazine. Flavored salts are pretty cool because they are an easy way to dress up something bland like chicken or plain potatoes.

These recipes do call for using a spice grinder, which is pretty much a small coffee grinder. You can use your coffee grinder, but since they are so hard to clean, your coffee might end up tasting like ancho chiles the next day, or your salt might taste like coffee. But who knows, those coffee addicts on your list might really like that.

After you make the flavored salts, you can put them in cute glass jars and make fancy labels for them. I know that's something I would appreciate receiving.

I hope you are able to get all of your last-minute holiday preparations done and take some time to enjoy some peaceful moments as well.

Enjoy!

Brownie biscotti
1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)
For the topping:
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the vanilla and eggs, one at a time.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa and baking powder; stir into creamed mixture on low until well-blended. Dough will be stiff. By hand, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
Divide dough into two equal parts and place on prepared baking sheet. Shape each into 9- by 2- by 1-inch logs, making sure they are 4 inches apart. You can also use two pans.
Blend the egg yolk and water together and brush the loaves lightly with the mixture.
Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until firm. Remove from pan, cool for 30 minutes.
Using a serrated knife, slice the loaves diagonally into 1-inch slices. Return the slices to the covered baking sheet, placing them on their sides.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 10 minutes on each side or until dry. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.
Source: http://www.penzeys.com

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Smoked paprika and ancho salt
4 dried ancho chiles
1/4 cup smoked paprika
¾ cup fine sea salt
Remove stems and seeds of dried ancho chiles. Using a mortar and pestle, break up chiles. Using a spice grinder and working in batches if necessary, pulse until coarsely ground.
In a medium bowl, combine ground chiles, smoked paprika and fine sea salt.

Celery salt
4 heads celery, leaves only
1 cup fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place leaves from 4 heads of celery on 2 parchment-lined baking pans and bake until dry, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely.
Using a spice grinder and working in batches if necessary, pulse until coarsely ground. In a medium bowl, combine ground celery leaves and fine sea salt.

Lime-ginger salt
Zest of 6 limes (about 1/2 cup)
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 cup fine sea salt
Spread lime zest on waxed paper; let dry overnight. In a medium bowl, combine lime zest, ground ginger and fine sea salt.
Source: http://www.countryliving.com

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