During the coming holiday season the two things that seem to be in short supply are time and money. A great solution to both is homemade food gifts. A few minutes in the kitchen can save you hours of shopping in crowded stores plus homemade food gifts can be super cost-effective.
Use what you have. If you don’t already, start saving bottles and jars to repurpose for gift giving. Make sure they are thoroughly cleaned and if there’s any concern dip them in boiling water. Paper or plastic Ziploc bags make great containers as do inexpensive tins and plastic containers. Fancy printed computer or hand written labels provide charm. Ribbon always dresses up gifts.
Consider upping the gift and putting it into a reusable container or add something that helps with preparation (hint: check out a dollar discount store) – drink mix packages in a fancy cup; flavored vinegars and oils in a glass bottle; sauces, jams and jellies in canning jars; pancake mix with a pancake turner; soup mix with a wooden spoon. It’s best to add a note how the gift should be stored (refrigerator, cool dry place, tightly sealed, freezer, etc.) and an expiration date.
Now let’s address the time consideration. Most baked goods do take time. However, except for cookies that require almost constant attention, quick breads, muffins, cakes, etc., take only minutes to mix up. Once they’re in the oven with the timer set, you can go on to other tasks.
It doesn’t have to take a great deal of time to make a great, delicious food gift. Below are some suggestions that can be made in 15 minutes or less.
Fast and Foolproof Fudge
Once everything is mixed, work quickly to get it in the pan before it sets up. After that the only thing to say is yum.
In medium bowl mix 1 pound (3 1/2 cups) confectioners’ sugar and 1/2 cup cocoa powder until well blended. In microwave safe bowl or in small saucepan over medium heat, microwave or cook 1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup milk until boiling; pour into sugar mixture with 1 tablespoon vanilla extract. Stir until completely blended. If desired, stir in 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional). Quickly pour into greased 8 x 8 baking dish. Let set until firm, it will set up faster in refrigerator. Cut into pieces. Makes 16-36 pieces. Store tightly covered up to 1 week.
Marinated Goat Cheese
Amazing how the goat cheese is enhanced and made special with the addition of ingredients that add extra flavor and interest.
Cut 1 log (8 ounces) goat cheese into 4 equal pieces; form into balls, if desired. Pack into wide-necked jar. Cut 1 small red or green jalapeno or chili pepper in half; add halved pepper, 2 strips lemon zest, 2 bay leaves, 1 fresh sprig oregano, 2 peeled cloves garlic and 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds to jar. Pour in enough olive oil to cover cheese. Seal jar; marinate at least 4 hours in refrigerator. Makes 1 jar. Store in refrigerator up to 1 week.
Colorful, crunchy and pretty healthy, this mix doesn’t last long after the first bite.
In very large bowl combine 3 cups bite-size rice square cereal, 3 cups bite-size corn square cereal, 1 cup small pretzel twists or pretzel sticks and 1 cup honey-roasted peanuts; set aside. In large microwave-safe bowl or in medium saucepan over medium-low heat melt 2 packages (12 ounces) white baking pieces or 12 ounces vanilla-flavored candy coating according to package directions. Pour melted coating over cereal mixture. Stir gently to coat. Spread on a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Sprinkle with 1 package (12 ounces) mint-flavored candy-coated milk chocolate pieces (mint M&Ms). Cool and break into pieces. Makes 16 cups. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or in freezer for 1 month.
While the steps are quick, plan on the 3-4 days standing time and a few minutes to finish off. Served cold straight as is or sometimes topped with heavy cream. Be careful, this lemon flavored drink goes down smoothly.
With peeler, peel just skin of 8 medium lemons, avoid white pith if possible. Divide lemon peel between 1 or 2 large glass mason jars; pour in 1 bottle (750-ml) vodka or grain alcohol. Let stand 3 or 4 days shaking every so often. Into large bowl strain vodka; discard zest. In large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 6 cups water and 2 1/2 cups sugar; stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool completely. Add sugar-water mixture to strained vodka. Pour into bottles and tightly close. Makes about 9 cups. Store in freezer or refrigerator up to 6 months.
Mexicali Corn Salsa
Nothing could be easier or tastier for a quick hostess gift. Give with a bag of blue or white tortilla chips.
In medium bowl stir 1 jar (12 ounces) chunky salsa, 1 can (12 ounces) drained whole-kernel corn, 1/4 cup each finely chopped red and green bell pepper, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional) until well combined. Spoon into jars and tightly close. Makes about 3 cups. Store tightly sealed in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
Curried Rice Mix
Flavorful, colorful and great as a side dish with chicken, pork or fish.
In 1 1/2 cup jar or container layer 1 cup long-grain rice, 1 teaspoon granular chicken bouillon or crumbled cube, 2 tablespoons dried minced onion, 1/4 cup raisins and 3/4 teaspoon curry powder. Tightly close lid. Makes 1 jar. Store tightly covered up to 6 months.
Add tag: To make rice: In medium saucepan over high heat, bring 2 1/2 cups water to a boil; stir in rice mix. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender. Makes 6 servings.
Santa’s Delight Peppermint Bark
With only two ingredients,it couldn’t be easier and it says holiday. Wrap in clear cellophane with a bow for a stunning gift.
Line baking pan with waxed paper or parchment paper; set aside. In large microwave-safe bowl or in medium saucepan over medium-low heat melt 1 pound vanilla-flavored candy coating according to package directions. Stir in 3/4 cup crushed candy canes (about 5 ounces total) or crushed striped round peppermint candies (about 5 ounces or 28 candies). If you like, reserve 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top. Pour into prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with saved candy, if desired. Cool and break into pieces. Makes about 1 pound (15 pieces). Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.
Brown Sugar Rosemary Mustard
This mustard goes especially well with pretzels. Cook up some frozen soft pretzels or include some large hard pretzels or a small canned ham in a basket with a jar of the mustard.
In small bowl, stir 1 jar (12 ounces, about 1 1/4 cups) Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 teaspoons crushed dried rosemary until well combined. Spoon into jars; tightly cover. Makes 1 1/4 cups. Store in refrigerator up to 2 months.
Bean Soup Mix
It’s beautiful to look at as it sits on the shelf as a ready to go meal that’s hearty and welcome on a cold night.
In clean glass jar (pint size) layer in order listed 1/3 cup pinto beans, 1/3 cup dried green peas, 1/3 cup black beans, 1/3 cup great northern beans, 1/3 cup kidney beans,1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon paprika,1 tablespoon dried minced onions,1 tablespoon garlic powder,1 tablespoon oregano,1 bay leaf,1 teaspoon rosemary and 1 vegetable bouillon cube. Tightly close lid. Makes 1 pint jar. Store tightly covered up to 6 months.
Add tag: To Make Soup: In large saucepan or Dutch oven place 5 cups water, 1 (14 ounces) can diced tomatoes, unwrapped bouillon cube and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer until beans are tender and soup is thick, about 1 1/2 hours, adding more water as necessary. Remove and discard bay leaf before serving. Season to taste. Makes 4 servings.
You have to forget the idea of calories and consider this rich dark sauce a once-in-a-while indulgence (if it lasts that long). After refrigeration heat to serve.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring 1 cup heavy or whipping cream and 2 tablespoons corn syrup to a boil. Remove from heat; stir in 12 ounces chopped or pieces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate until melted. Stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Pour into jars; cool completely. Cover and refrigerate. Makes 2 cups. Store in refrigerator up to 1 month.
Italian Dressing Mix
Homemade salad dressing allows you to make sure only the best ingredients go in without harmful preservatives and hidden sugars.
In small bowl mix together 2 tablespoons dried oregano, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon garlic salt, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon dried parsley, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1/4 teaspoon celery salt and 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme until well combined. Pour into small jars or plastic bags; seal tightly. Makes about 9 tablespoons. Store tightly covered up to 4 months.
Add tag: To prepare dressing: Whisk together 2/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons dry mix. Makes scant 1 1/4 cups dressing.
Do this now as it takes 2 weeks to develop full flavor. So pretty, tasty and interesting. Use it to take your dishes to a new height.
Rinse and pick over 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh cranberries; with a paring knife or scissor, make an X in skin of each cranberry. Divide among tall (16-32 ounce) bottles. In each bottle add few fresh sprigs thyme. In saucepan over medium-high heat heat 4 cups distilled white vinegar until just steaming; using a funnel fill bottles to top with vinegar. Cool completely. Cover and place in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks, gently shaking every few days to help vinegar to completely infuse. Makes 4-8 bottles. Store tightly sealed up to 2 months.
In this day of just buying stuff, stopping to make something yourself says a special effort was made and it’s a gift from the heart. Plus taking those few minutes to make holiday food gifts are not only thoughtful but save money and time. Everyone appreciates (or at least they should) a heart-warming effort to make something from scratch! Include the kids and teach them a lesson in what’s important in giving gifts – the love, thought and care that went into it. Enjoy!
Betty Bianconi loves food from growing it to cooking. Her career in food includes writing articles for Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, editing cookbooks and as food editor for Woman’s World. She is co-owner of Food Cures U, a cooking school for healthy eating and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. Betty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.