In just three short weeks, your family will be ripping through presents, and you'll be hoping that they'll like at least one of the things that you've picked out for them.
I often wonder if there will ever be a Christmas that won't involve returns. Is there such a thing?
If you've got a cook on your list, shopping is easy. There's always something new out there to please a culinary enthusiast.
Here are my top five suggestions that I've found while doing my own shopping. They're all new this year, so no worries about duplicates from last year.
1 How many times have you bought a set of cookware, only to use just a few of the pans? It's happened to me many times, and that's why I was so interested in WearEver's new five-piece Pure Living set: a 10-inch frying pan; a 31/2-quart deep, covered skillet/cookpot; and one 3-quart saucepan with a lid. That's all the pieces most people need, so you're not wasting money on unused pieces that take up room in your cabinets. The cookware has an easy-clean, scratch-resistant ceramic coating and comes in two colors: champagne or red. It's ovenproof and can even go in the dishwasher. Price: $59.99 at Amazon.com and WalMart.
2 KitchenAid has always been known for its stand mixers, but this year its mixer will fit in your hand. The new 5-Speed Hand Blender is equipped with interchangeable stainless-steel blade assemblies that make it simple to swap between different types of blades. Blend smoothies, chop nuts, froth cappuccinos, shred vegetables or whisk egg whites. It's compact and doesn't take up much room. It comes in two colors: onyx black and silver. Price: $99.95-$129.99 at www.KitchenAid.com, amazon.com and at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
3 What better way to support local manufacturing and give cookware that lasts a lifetime than by visiting the Lodge cast-iron outlet just minutes away in South Pittsburg? This season, the company has introduced some adorably small cocottes, a French term that translates loosely into Dutch oven, but they're much smaller at only 10 ounces. The cocottes are not only durable with their enamel coating, they're also beautiful and can be easily placed on your serving table alongside your fine serving pieces. The cocottes come in red or black and are good for serving warm appetizers or any other dish that requires a small piece of cookware. Plus these go straight from the oven to the table. Price: $50 for a two-pack at Lodge outlets in South Pittsburg and Sevierville as well as at www.lodgemfg.com.
4 Say goodbye to microwave popcorn -- thank goodness. Remember the days of making it in a popper and how much better it was? Now Waring has brought the popper back. And it's almost as fast as cooking it in the microwave. The new Professional Popcorn Maker pops up to 20 cups of popcorn in just minutes and it's designed to allow steam to release so popcorn stays dry and crunchy. Better yet, it uses less oil than the old popcorn makers, so it makes a more healthful snack. The popcorn addict on your list will love it, but if you also get one for yourself, it will be perfect for making toffee popcorn balls for Christmas gifts from the kitchen. Price: $59.95 at www.williamsonoma.com.
5 As you're doing your chopping and shredding, using the new handy Mini-Prep Plus Processor, you have some new colors in your kitchen thanks to Cuisinart's new color palette for some of its appliances. This small food processor does much of the same chopping jobs as larger processors, but takes up much less space and easily handles the small jobs. You get your pick of color: dark blue, dark green, dark purple, dark red or dark yellow. The colors may be dark, but they'll add a rich touch to your kitchen. It's pretty enough to keep on your counter, but small enough to fit in your cupboard with ease. Price: $39.95 at www.cuisinart.com.
Pie making. If you're planning on baking pies for Christmas, keep in mind there's help on the line if you have any questions. Trouble with your pastry? Need to know how to prebake a crust? Just give the pros at the Crisco Pie Hotline a call for pie-baking advice, recipes and tips to help achieve pie-baking perfection.
Call toll-free: 877- 367-7438 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, through Dec. 22. Happy baking.
Finally, just in time for Christmas ... Martha Pullen seems to know as much about cooking as she does about sewing. She's the host of PBS's "Martha's Sewing Room" and now the author of "Martha Pullen's Southern Family Cookbook," (Adams Media, $26.95), a publication filled with many of her family's favorite recipes, as well as those of her co-author, Suzanne Crocker. The two not only share their recipes, but also many stories from their lives: Pullen as a Southern hostess and Crocker, a native of Guatemala, as a wife, missionary and all-around good cook. Their stories are inspirational, so you may want to spend some time with the book. If you're looking for a colorful side dish to serve with your holiday meal, this is one you'll want to try. "A hit at every luncheon and pot luck I've attended," she wrote.
2 cups green seedless grapes
1 cup red seedless grapes
1 cup dark purple seedless grapes
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 (12-ounce) container whipped topping
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup brown sugar, divided
1 cup toasted pecan pieces
Wash grapes and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, whipped topping, vanilla and 1/2 cup brown sugar; mix well. Stir in grapes. Put in a pretty glass bowl and top with remaining brown sugar and pecans. Cover and let sit in refrigerator overnight. The brown sugar will dissolve and form a crust on top.
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.