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With the hustle and bustle that the holidays bring, it is important to find time to relax with friends and family. And these easy yet creative gifts of food let you do just that. Take the maple-rosemary balsamic syrup, for example. Made of balsamic vinegar, fresh rosemary, maple syrup, and spices, this mahogany drizzle takes only an hour to prepare. It's as tasty blended into a salad dressing as it is dribbled over a buttery chunk of Parmesan cheese.

Other yummy ideas include herbes de Provence - a fragrant mix of dried herbs that you simply toss together and pack into a pretty crock. There are also chewy caramels, flecked with dark and white chocolate, and limoncello - a fresh lemon liqueur that is the toast of Italy, and now America.

When you give a homemade goodie, you wrap a little bit of yourself in with every package. And that's what makes it special. As A. A. Milne once said, ''The art of giving presents is to give something which others cannot buy for themselves.''

White and Dark Chocolate Caramels

These chewy rich caramels are a fabulous gift for any sweet tooth. For gift giving, pack the chocolates into a decorative lidded box or a shiny silver cookie tin that you tie with a purple ribbon, then tuck a sprig of pine or holly under the bow. Label accordingly.

Cup unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream, divided
2 cups sugar
Cup light corn syrup
Pinch of coarse salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
Coat an 8-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Stir in 1 cup of the cream and the sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup of cream a little at a time, so that the boiling does not stop. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer, or until, when a drop of caramel is added to a glass of cold water, it forms a hard ball (about 50 minutes). Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan and let cool completely, about 4 hours.

When the caramel is cool, remove the whole block from the pan. Turn it over onto a flat surface. Coat the blade of a large knife with cooking spray and cut the caramel into eight 1-inch-wide strips. Cut each strip into 12 pieces and place the caramels on several foil-lined baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Melt the bittersweet chocolate in a small double boiler. Dip a fork into the chocolate and wave the fork over half of the caramels to form a streaked pattern. Repeat the process with the white chocolate and remaining caramels. When the chocolate has set, wrap each caramel in a piece of wax paper, twisting the ends like a hard candy wrapper. Refrigerate until ready to give or serve. These caramels stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Makes 96 caramels.

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