Nov 19, 2010

Updated: Giving Homemade Food for Christmas

Christmas is around the corner, and finding just the right gift for a friend, neighbor, or coworker isn’t always an easy task. So I thought I’d share a few Christmas gift ideas in the event that you’d like to give a gift of homemade food this year, which I think many people appreciate. And given the state of our economy right now, if you’re like me, you may be looking for ways to show that you care without spending a lot of money.

The items below can all be made from recipes on my blog. I’ve chosen these because they are all delicious and can be made with relative ease. Also, once you’ve made one of these items, all you need to do to make it festive is to wrap it in a cellophane bag and tie it with a beautiful holiday ribbon. You can also include a copy of the recipes along with a personal card.

Cinnamon-Roasted Almonds
Caramel Popcorn
Uncle Antone and Aunt Gretta’s Easy Candy Popcorn

White Chocolate Popcorn
Lion House Taffy

Cookies/Cookie Dough
French Swiss Cookies
Aunt Joan’s Toffee Squares
Orange Oatmeal Cookies
Cut-Out Cookies
Frosted Lemon Butter Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Oatmeal Cookies
Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
Ginger Snaps
Date-Filled Cookies
Caramel Pumpkin Cookies
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars

With many of the recipes above, you could give a roll of cookie dough, along with the baking directions, so that the recipient could make these cookies at their leisure, perhaps after the flurry of holiday treats has passed.

Banana Bread
Applesauce Nut Bread
Chocolate Chunk Pumpkin Bread

Corn Bread
Dill Bread
No-Knead Bread
(you could include a small jar of honey or jam with a loaf of this bread)

Or how about a bag of homemade oatmeal pancake mix?
Oatmeal Pancakes

Salad Dressing
I think many people would love a jar of homemade salad dressing for the holidays. It would certainly be a more unusual gift. Also, you could turn these into a larger gift by combining them with other items. For example, you could give the bleu cheese dressing with some beautiful pears. Or you could give a “salad basket” to a friend, including salad dressing, greens, fruit, pine nuts, etc)
Bleu Cheese Salad Dressing
Homespun German Salad Dressing

Granted, you can’t put soup in a cellophane bag very well, but a jar or other decorative container might work. It doesn’t have to be an entire pot of soup. Just enough for a serving or two. The idea is simply to show someone that you are thinking of them. And why not give something that isn’t sweet during the holidays, something that could help make a meal during the sometimes hectic Christmas season?
Butternut Squash Soup
Taco Soup
Carrot Chowder
Easy White Bean Soup
Chicken Chili

Happy Holiday Giving!

Nov 16, 2010

Apricot Sauce

This is one of my mom's tried and true favorites and a great way to make ham a little more special.

1/2 cup apricot jam
3/4 cup bottled apricots, drained and pureed
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dried minced onion

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and heat for 5-7 minutes.

Nov 9, 2010

Kitchen Tip: Making Ice Cream with Fruit

Although summer is long gone this year, I figure that any season can be ice cream season. So I want to share a tip I discovered this year for making ice cream with fruit. The ice cream recipe I usually follow comes from Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book, which instructs you to make a Sweet Cream Base (see below) and then add other ingredients or flavorings. The base is always the same, obviously, but then you add whatever ingredients you want to create the type of flavoring you desire.

Well, I LOVE ice cream made with fresh fruit (peaches, strawberries, raspberries, or whatever), but particular fruits aren't always in season. So what I tried doing this summer was putting the prepared and pre-measured fresh fruit (2 cups of finely chopped fruit) in freezer bags, along with the sugar and lemon juice the recipe calls for. That and a quarter teaspoon of Fruit Fresh. Then I labeled the bags and put them in my freezer. So that way, whenever I want to have fresh peach ice cream, for example, all I have to do is pull a bag of the peach mixture out of the freezer to thaw, make the Sweet Cream Base, combine the two, and pop the mixture in my ice cream freezer. Voila!

So in the example below, I would buy the fresh peaches in season and then put two cups of chopped fresh peaches, 1/2 cup sugar, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and 1/4 teaspoon Fruit Fresh in each freezer bag. Those bags would then go in the freezer. And then when I wanted to make my peach ice cream, I would pull a bag out of the freezer, thaw it, and add it to the Sweet Cream Base. And there you have it. The same principle would work for other ice creams as well, though the amount of sugar may vary depending on the fruit.

Fresh Peach Ice Cream
2 cups ripe peaches that have been peeled and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sweet Cream Base (see below)

Combine the peaches, sugar, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Puree with a hand blender. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours. Prepare the Sweet Cream Base and then combine with the chilled fruit mixture. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according the manufacturer's instructions.

Sweet Cream Base
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk

Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.

Makes 1 generous quart.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I feel like I have a number of peanut butter cookies on this blog already, but this one is too good to not pass along. This cookie is slightly cakey and very peanut buttery, which is what I look for in the perfect peanut butter cookie. This recipe is adapted slightly from My Kitchen Cafe.

1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups smooth or chunky peanut butter
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips (or a combination of peanut butter and chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine the butter and peanut butter and beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy (you can do this with a hand mixer or with an electric mixer). Add the sugars and mix until well combined. Add the eggs and mix for 1-2 minutes. Blend in the milk and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix just briefly. While there are still large spots of flour, add the chocolate chips (or peanut butter chips or both) and mix until the flour is completely mixed in and the mixture is well combined. Let the cookie dough sit for 15 minutes before scooping onto the baking sheets. The dough will firm up as it sits.

When ready to bake, scoop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto silpat or parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving about 1 to 2 inches in between the cookies to allow for spreading as they bake. Bake for 10-11 minutes, taking care not to overbake. Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes after baking before removing them to a cooling rack. This will help them set up and be firm enough to transfer without having them overbake in the oven. The cookies may look slightly underbaked but they will firm up as they cool. Resist the urge to eat them warm as they taste much better cooled.

Makes about 4-5 dozen cookies. Baked cookies can be frozen, and they taste great out of the freezer, especially if they are left to sit at room temperature for a few minutes.

Nov 8, 2010

Buttermilk Syrup

This buttermilk syrup is heavenly! So buttery and sweet! Try it on pancakes, waffles, or French toast. You'll love it! This recipe comes from my friend Angie and her sister-in-law Liza (also my friend).

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large saucepan, combine butter, sugar, buttermilk, and corn syrup and bring to a boil for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add baking soda and vanilla. Mixture will bubble up to at least double in size or more, so make sure you use a saucepan that is large enough.