For the past few years I’ve been giving edible homemade gifts to my friends and family for Christmas. Maybe it’s the economy or maybe it’s the new focus on fresh, healthy food, but it’s probably mostly because I love being in the kitchen and cooking for people.
I usually do two different kinds of edible gifts: one for coworkers, neighbors and friends in Charlotte that are to eat immediately and another collection of long lasting or preserved items that I can schlep up to my hometown in Virginia or mail to my best friend in Philadelphia.
One problem I’ve encountered is how to package the goodies once I’ve concocted them. For the baked goods and candy for local friends, I found these decorative boxes made out of light cardboard at Hobby Lobby. They come flat in sets of three or four, and you just have to fold them open. Add a layer of festive plastic wrap, parchment or tissue paper, stack the sweets inside, close the lid and add a ribbon. Voila! Instant yummy present.
One of my favorite things to make is this awesome Salty Chocolate-Pecan Candy that was in Southern Living a few years back. It is super easy, looks dramatic and tastes amazing. I sometimes add some pomegranate seeds while the chocolate is still warm for even more color and taste. Sea salt, pecans and pomegranates with chocolate? Who knew?
The long lasting edible gifts take a bit longer, so I usually try and start on them weeks before Christmas. Last year I made homemade limoncello, and that needs a good two and a half to three months before it’s ready. It’s pretty simple though. Peel the yellow skin off about 15 lemons in long strips, being careful to avoid the white pith (also, now would be a good time to whip up some lemonade with the leftover lemons). Pour two 750ml bottles of vodka over the peels in a large container, cover it up, put it in a cool, dark place and forget about it for 40 days. At that point, boil about three and a half cups of water and sugar together to make a simple syrup. Strain the lemon peels from the vodka, add the simple syrup and fuhgettaboutit for another 40 days. After that: sunshine in a bottle and a great gift. I bought pretty little glass bottles from a craft store in funky shapes, which made the presentation even better.
I made this cranberry chutney from O Magazine one year, and it’s so bright and colorful that it looks great in a plain glass jar. And even though summer fruit is long gone, you can still make jams or jellies with frozen fruit. I’ve done strawberry with great results, but Alton Brown has a fancier version called Spiced Blueberry Jammin’ I’m going to try this year.
Another easy idea is to make your own spice rub. You know those silver tubs at Williams Sonoma that go for around $12? You can totally make your own for a lot less money. Just start experimenting with herbs you have on hand until you come up with something fabulous. If you need inspiration, Martha Stewart has a basic recipe with some variations here. For packaging, I took some herb containers with screw tops that were nearly empty, dumped them (when was the last time you used marjoram anyway?) and soaked them in hot water until I could peel off the labels. Small glass jars that held stuff like baby food or artichokes could also be used, but make sure you wash them really well. For labels, I whipped out a sheet of blank address labels, printed the name of the spice rub on them and stuck them on the jars.
I arrange all of my edible treats in pretty baskets I find at dollar stores or craft shops. To tie it all together, I add little recipe books that I make on my computer with ideas on what to do with the contents.
I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. What are you making this holiday season?