Nobody puts cookie in the corner

…but they should

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Angostura sugar cubes make a great gift, and a perfect addition to champagne cocktails.

Breaking the mold on ho-hum hostess gifting

It’s that time of year when your calendar is filled with holiday gatherings and parties, and a gift is required for the host. So you find yourself making those same holiday cookies you’ve been making since holidays were invented. How do you turn that ho-hum into “ho ho ho?” It’s time to break the mold. This year, think outside the cookie cutter!

For advice on alternatives to the thumbprint, I went to the doyenne of holiday delights, Catherine Stroud Vodrey. She hand-crafts chocolates, which she will customize and mail anywhere (if you get stuck on this make-your-own-holiday-gift thing, she has you covered). For years Catherine wrote about food for The Pittsburgh Press, and for many other publications such as Gourmet and Better Homes and Gardens (I still have a tattered newspaper clipping of her cheesecake recipe from the early ’80s which is the only one I make). She’s basically the Martha Stewart of Southeast Ohio. I asked what she does for holiday food gifts. She told me about some recipes which are simple, easy and are her favorites.

Cookie crush saga

Catherine began with a cookie that she swears by, so for those of you who can’t break the cookie habit, relax. She also included recipes for a host of other options for your host. (For full recipes, visit my blog at

“Here’s a recipe for one of my favorite cookie gifts—it’s a recipe I developed years ago and which you have to let sit a day (or even two or three) before you can give/eat it. I know that’s an unusual quality in a cookie, but believe me when I say these are hugely disappointing on day one and ambrosial on day two and thereafter.” At this time of year who doesn’t like a do-ahead recipe?

Gluten free goodies

So what about people who are either dieting or have dietary restriction? This is a tough time of year for them. Once again, Catherine has you covered. “I have a recipe called “Jeff’s Brownies,” which I developed for my low-carb, low-gluten brother-in-law. They are terrifyingly good for all the low-this and reduced-that [diets].”

Deck the halls with pies of chocolate

Catherine’s chocolate pecan pie recipe is her effort at putting some well-deserved chocolate on the Thanksgiving or Christmas table. “This recipe looks like you’ve poured tar into the pie pan, fills your kitchen with stupefying fragrance and makes everything right with the world after just a bite or two.” Catherine, you had me at chocolate. But she wasn’t through just yet. (Told ya she could out-Martha Stewart even Martha herself!)

Cheers for cheer

“A number of times in the past, I’ve given flavored vodkas. They are simplicity itself and look and smell delicious. A stick of cinnamon and a handful of blueberries in a pretty ‘boughten’ bottle of clear glass will look lovely and taste like a tipsy blueberry pie. You should wash the bottles first, of course, but no need to go through all that pesky sterilization stuff because the alcohol keeps them pretty well germ-free. If you do this now, they will be good and macerated by the holidays and the entire process takes only a few dollars and a whopping 30 seconds to put together.”

Sugar cubed

Catherine’s vodka suggestion prompts me to bring up my own go-to party gift for this year. It’s especially appropriate for a New Year’s gathering where the champagne is sure to be flowing. And it’s a last minute, two-ingredient recipe you can make yourself in a food processor—Angostura sugar cubes for champagne cocktails!

It’s basically this: 1 cup superfine sugar (make this with any sugar by pulsing it in your processor), and 1 tablespoon Angostura bitters. You’ll combine in a bowl, stirring until the liquid turns the sugar uniformly pink. If you decide to get fancy and make shapes, you can press the sugar into candy molds and either microwave them at 50 percent for 30 seconds or let them sit out overnight. If you’d like to simply make cubes, use a parchment paper lined 9×5 baking pan and a 250 degree oven. Pour the sugar into the pan, tamp it down with a meat pounder or spatula, score into cubes and put it in the oven to dry for an hour. Cool for 10 minutes, and store in an airtight container. Serve with champagne or sparkling wine with a twist of lemon for a holiday gift with a twist!

Tea totally

And if your hostess isn’t the cocktail type, these are lovely for tea or coffee. Just omit the bitters and add some other flavoring elements. Honey sugar cubes are perfect for a fancy tea. You can grind up lavender, chamomile or orange peel with the sugar. Vanilla or almond flavored cubes, cinnamon, maple or bourbon would be fabulous for brunch with big pots of coffee. Present them in a gift box with lined with tissue paper or in a mason jar, mug or fancy tea cup. It’s a pretty safe bet no one else will be bringing the same gift!

You’re now armed with a variety of options that let you step away from the sugar cookie. You’ll get points for originality and taste ensuring you’ll be a favored guest who’s invited back next year. (If it’s a party you hate and don’t want to be a repeat guest, by all means avoid these ideas and stick with the supermarket cookie tray.) Now go forth and celebrate the season!

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at

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