Gifts for the palate, from pudding to pizza sauce

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

This year you may decide on one food item to make in quantity to take care of hostess and holiday gifts. Or you may find it more fun to make a variety of edibles, taking into account individual tastes. If you are renowned for your fruitcake, your friends may look forward to receiving it; or you could make a pudding sauce for the ubiquitous plum pudding, or some individual fruitcakes in pretty fluted paper cups.

A festive cheese ball or bell on a pretty plate with the appropriate crackers is a thoughtful gift at a time when there is much holiday nibbling. An extra appetizer or hors d'oeuvre is always a welcome gift to any hostess, whether it's a drop-in occasion or an overnight visit.

Your friends or relatives who have children home from prep school or college, or who have house guests, would surely be pleased with a jar of homemade pizza sauce. You might also include a package of pizza dough mix and a pan for baking it. Cheese Bells 1 cup finely shredded provolone cheese 1 cup finely shredded Swiss cheese 1 3-ounce package cream cheese 1/2 teaspoon instant minced onion 2 tablespoons milk 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce or hot pepper sauce Pimiento-stuffed olive slices Pimiento strips

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Cream cheeses and minced onion. Gradually add milk and Worcestershire sauce. Beat until thoroughly blended. Pack into three salad molds, 1/2 cup each. Refrigerate. Prepare one day in advance to blend flavors.

Unmold them onto a bed of lettuce. Garnish each, using thin slices of olives for the bell clapper and strips of pimiento placed in the shape of a bow at the top. Makes 1 1/2 cups. Peanut Clusters 1 6-ounce package chocolate pieces 1 2-ounce package butterscotch pieces 1 12-ounce package salted Spanish peanuts

Combine the chocolate and butterscotch pieces in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat until melted. Stir once during melting. Stir in peanuts. Drop by teaspoons onto sheets of wax paper. Let set until firm and store in an airtight container. Recipe makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen. Homemade Pizza Sauce 1/4 cup oil, preferably olive 1 1/2 cups chopped onion 1 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, undrained 3 tablespoons tomato paste 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano 1/4 teaspoon basil 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

In a large, heavy skillet heat olive oil over moderate heat. Add chopped onion and cook about 5 minutes, stirring several times until onion is tender. Crush the tomatoes in a blender and add with their liquid to the skillet. Add tomato paste, oregano, and basil, and simmer sauce about 1 hour over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Watch sauce as it cooks to prevent burning. When sauce is thick and no watery liquid shows around the edge, remove from heat and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Makes about 3 cups. Sauce freezes well and recipe may be doubled. Cranberry Conserve 1 large orange 4 cups (1 pound) fresh cranberries 1 cup golden raisins 1/4 cup honey 3/4 cup sugar 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Quarter orange and remove seeds. Put through food chopper with cranberries. Mix with remaining ingredients. Chill in refrigerator several hours so flavors blend. Makes 4 cups. Deluxe Holiday Hard Sauce 1/4 cup soft butter 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans

Beat softened butter until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until smooth. Stir in flavoring and pecans. Refrigerate. Allow to soften before using as topping for plum pudding, cake, brownies, or poached fruit. Makes about 1 cup. Mincemeat Bread 1 cup prepared mincemeat 1 egg 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 3 tablespoons honey 1/4 cup water 1 package (1 pound 1 ounce) nut bread mix

Combine mincemeat and egg in bowl. Blend thoroughly. Stir in cinnamon, honey, and water.

Add nut bread mix all at once, and stir until just blended. Do not overmix. Pour into well-greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F. 50 to 60 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely before slicing.

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