Heartfelt Holiday Gifts from the Kitchen

By Judith H. Dern

Healthnotes Newswire (December 3, 2009)—Let visions of sugarplums inspire your gift giving. Homemade gifts best capture the season’s spirit of sharing, so this year, head for the kitchen. Easily made, edible gifts are always welcome—with no worries about sizes or colors to exchange. Invite kids to join the fun of preparing homemade treats, too. Decorate all your presents with festive paper, bright ribbons, and handmade gift tags.

Make easy, edible gifts to please family and friends

Gather ingredients and set aside an afternoon to make homemade treats. Cooking up a big batch will give you plenty to divide for gift giving. “I always encourage my kids to help make gifts for teachers and neighbors,” says Ann Freebing of Memphis, TN. “They measure and stir while they learn the double pleasures of making and sharing.” Choose sweet or savory from the recipes below and have fun.

Go nuts

Honey Glazed Nuts: Make these for your favorite nibblers using whole almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, or walnuts, or a mixture.

To make nuts: Spread 8 cups (1 kg) of nuts over a jelly roll pan and toast at 350°F (177°C) until golden, about 10 minutes, turning after 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. In large bowl, combine 3/4 cup sugar (150 g) with 1 1/2 tablespoons (27 g) coarse salt and set aside. In a large frying pan over high heat, combine 1 tablespoon (18 g) brown sugar, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) water, 2 tablespoons (30 ml) honey, and 2 tablespoons (30 ml) walnut or canola oil; stir until mixture boils and immediately add nuts, stirring quickly to coat them completely (about 2 minutes). Toss glazed nuts in the sugar/salt mixture and spread again onto jelly roll pan to cool. Pack in airtight containers. Makes 8 cups (1 kg).

Honey Spiced Nuts: Use the amount of nuts above, adding a mixture of 2 teaspoons (5 g) cinnamon, 1 teaspoon (2 g) ground cloves, and 1 teaspoon (2 g) allspice to sugar and salt; follow the rest of the above recipe.

Serve up some sweet treats

Ginger Pear Preserves: Present friends with a jar as a scrumptious pancake or waffle topping.

To make preserves: Peel and core 6 pounds (3 kg) firm ripe Bartlett or D’Anjou pears, chop coarsely, and place in heavy, large stockpot. Add 1 cup (250 ml) water, around 3 to 4 cups (600 to 800 g) sugar, 8 ounces (227 g) chopped candied ginger, and 1 package low-sugar pectin. Cook according to directions on pectin package; ladle into clean, hot prepared canning jars or specialty glass jars and seal. Makes about 12 cups (3 L). Other fun ideas include granola, cookies, or a special holiday bread such as a challah or date nut bread.

Try these special savories

Fresh Tomato Jam: Take advantage of the winter bounty of fresh Florida tomatoes and tantalize a friend’s taste buds.

To make jam: Blanch, peel, seed, and dice eight (8 ounces [227 g] each) fully ripened fresh Florida tomatoes. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, cook tomatoes; stirring frequently as the moisture evaporates. Gradually add 1 cup (200 g) brown sugar, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Cook over low heat and reduce to jam consistency, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and spoon into hot prepared canning jars. Makes about 4 cups (995 ml).

Personalize the jam’s flavor for friends by adding one of the following seasonings: 1 teaspoon (5 ml) Tabasco or other hot sauce, 1 teaspoon (2 g) ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon (1 g) ground cumin, 4 teaspoons (20 ml) balsamic vinegar, 4 to 6 teaspoons (8 to 12 g) finely chopped jalapeno, 1 teaspoon (2 g) grated orange peel, or 1 teaspoon (2 g) dried rosemary.

Herb-Infused Olive Oil or Raspberry Vinegar: Add fresh herbs such as tarragon and thyme to olive oil, or add 2 cups (246 g) fresh raspberries to 1 quart (951 ml) white vinegar. Store one to two weeks so flavors blend; strain, and fill decorative bottles with lids, adding new herb sprigs and berries to gift bottles.

Judith Dern is a veteran of national consumer public relations agency programs for both commodity board food products and branded manufactured foods. She is coauthor of The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Fields, Farms and Oceans (2004, New Society Publishers). Her articles have appeared in publications such as Relish, Cooking Light, Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Northwest Palate, and Woman’s Day Special Interest Christmas Publications. She has also served as copywriter and ghostwriter on several cookbooks and has written on food for regional and national organizations. A member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), she was awarded the Harry A. Bell Grant for Food Writers in 2003.

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