Finding the perfect holiday gift doesn’t have to depend on grabbing a doorbuster sale or an Internet deal. Often, the best gifts are those handmade from your kitchen.
The tradition of baking and gifting cookies may be the first culinary gift that comes to mind, but I urge you to think beyond the cookie jar. Get creative. Bake tea breads or muffins using seasonal flavors as pumpkin, cranberry or dates. More experienced bakers can bake fruit stollens or cakes; both are a welcome change from the usual holiday cookie box.
I'm a fan of cheese, gourmet mixes and sauces. Consider making a flavored cheese or create your own spice rubs for steaks or barbecue, then package your culinary gift in a decorative jar/container. Remember to tag what the food gift is and include a recipe or serving suggestion before tucking it in a basket or gift bag.
Before doing any holiday cooking and heading off to the store to buy your ingredients, check the pantry. Use the items you have on hand. Perhaps you have a few cans of pumpkin or fresh cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving.
Now is the time to inventory your spices. You might have the makings for a great seasoning rub just waiting to be mixed and gifted. Check your supplies first, then shop. This tip that could prevent you from over buying ingredients you may have forgotten you already have, which in turn will save a few holiday dollars.
Assembling a collection of family heirloom recipes is another gift to consider. You'll be happy to have them one day.
“ I’ve lost a lot of recipes through the years,” said Pat Insalaco of Oakville. “ We just didn’t take the time to write them down. I wish I knew how my grandmother made her pierogi dough. I would give anything to have that recipe.”
Self-published cookbooks become family treasures as Hard Rock Café manager Chad Grimm can attest. A few years back his family collected recipes and created a cookbook that was given as Christmas gifts. “That cookbook has the best recipes. I always cook from it,” said Grimm, of St. Louis, who considers his family’s rural recipes a vital element in the preservation of his heritage.
The holidays are the perfect time to solicit those cherish old recipes. Ask family members to write down their favorite recipes and email them back. With self-publishing software it’s easy to make a booklet of recipes to gift before the holidays are past.
Celebrate the season with homemade gifts you can savor. And don’t forget to include the recipes. It’s the only way to ensure the tastes of Christmas present will be carried on to Christmases yet to come. The following recipes are from my holiday classes presented at St Louis Community College and Dierberg's School of Cooking.
Black & White Sesame Seed Lovash
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 1 cup warm water
- 5 cups flour
- 1 pkg. dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup EACH black and white sesame seeds
In a large mixing bowl combine butter, water and one cup of the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Stir in enough flour to make a stiff dough. Turn dough out on a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Place in a lightly greased bowl and allow dough to rise for 20 minutes. Punch down and divide dough in 12 ñ14 pieces. Spread sesame seeds on work surface. Roll each piece of dough over seeds; rolling dough out as thin as possible. Place on ungreased baking sheets and bake on the lowest oven rack at 400 degrees for 8 in 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and cool lovash on wire racks.
Gifting notes: Gift alone packaged in clear bags tied with a ribbon or pair with a cheese ball or spread.
Curried Chutney Spread
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped Major Grey style chutney
- 1 tsp. Curry powder
- 1/4 tsp. mustard
- 1/3 cup finely chopped green onion
- 1/3 cup chopped pecans
- pecans for garnish
Combine cream cheese and chutney in a mixing bowl; blend together until smooth. Add dry mustard, green onions and 1/3-cup pecans. Transfer flavored cheese to a serving dish. Garnish with extra pecans. Makes about 2 cups.
Gifting note: Package in a non-metal container.
Herb Steak Rub
- 1/4 cup cumin
- 1/4 cup garlic powder
- 1teaspon cracked black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons. onion powder
- 1 Tablespoon. dried sage
- 1 Tablespoon. dried basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoon. dry mustard
Mix all the about ingredients together. Package in zip-lock bags or in small jars with a tight fitting lid. Makes enough seasoning for 2 – 4 steaks.
Gifting notes: Package in a shaker jar paired with a gift certificate for steaks.
White Christmas Fudge
2 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1 Ta. light corn syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons vanilla
- 1 cup chopped nuts
- 1/3 cup candied red and or green cherries
Combine sugar, sour cream, milk, butter, corn syrup and salt into a 2 qt. saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture reaches a boil. Boil until the soft ball stage has been reached. Remove from the heat and cool to lukewarm, about 110 degrees.
Add vanilla and beat until mixture just begins to lose its gloss and holds its shape. Stir in nuts, vanilla and cherries and turn into a lightly buttered or oiled pan. Chill until set, and then cut into squares. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen pieces.
Gifting note: Cover with clear plastic wrap - package in decorative container or small holiday serving tray that are easily found at dollar stores.
- 1 (12 ounce) package fresh cranberries
- 1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoons. nutmeg
- 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
- 1/2 -1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
In a medium sauce over a high heat combine cranberries, vinegar and sweetener; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a medium low and add in remaining ingredients. Simmer 20 - 25 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Remove form heat and pour into clean jars. Store in refrigerator. Serve poured over baked Brie or cream cheese. Makes about 4 to 6 half pint jars.
Gifting note: Store in a decorative canning jar with serving suggestions.