CARTHAGE, Mo. —
You can't beat a homemade gift, especially when it's the gift of food. (Unless the gift is a greenhouse, a dishwasher or plane tickets to anywhere. There are a handful of exceptions.) This year, make gifts out of love.
Whether it's because you have a lucky recipient in mind or just enjoy experiencing the sheer joy that comes from making and sharing yummy things, make your gifts special by stepping outside the candy box. There are healthier and more unique options. Not that there's anything wrong with cookies and candy -- I graciously accept all gifts of food.
The only thing homemade gifts lack is the shine and sparkle of packaging. So grab ribbon, fancy paper, glitter and your glue stick, and make it happen. Cover empty foil and plastic wrap boxes with festive paper, and stack them with cookies and other goodies. Do the same thing with Pringles cans. I'll be using my child's labor to make my wrapping paper this year: All I need is a roll of brown paper, a star stamp and her tiny fingers.
Make a fun kit by packaging ideas in cute boxes with lots of shredded paper. So polished, personal and fun. Here are some unique gift ideas to get you started:
Ice cream sundae: Include jars of caramel and chocolate sauce, cones, waffle bowls and tiny bags of nuts, chocolate chips, toasted coconut and tons of sprinkles.
Cupcakes: Include a variety of baking cups, a handful of recipes, a frosting spatula, a couple of tubes of frosting and a good selection of sprinkles.
S'mores: Class it up by including skewers, dark chocolate, shortbread cookies and homemade or gourmet marshmallows.
Grilling: Include homemade or gourmet barbecue sauce and rubs. Add a basting brush or skewers.
Martini: Include a lemon, a jar of olives, a martini shaker and tiny bottles of vodka, gin and vermouth.
Mulled wine: Include a bottle of wine, a bag of mulling spice and an orange studded with cloves.
Hot chocolate on a stick: Include a few bags of chocolate on a stick (recipe below) with directions, small bags of marshmallows and peppermint sticks.
Make a rustic, dainty rosemary wreath. It will bring a warm winter scent to anyone who breezes by. I simply snipped off a handful of rosemary from my own plant and used twine to tie it into form. I cut and bent a coat hanger to spell the word JOY, then strapped the rosemary to the wire. So pretty.
Don't overlook layering ingredients in a jar. This idea is timeless. Layer beans and include a spice packet and instructions for seven-bean soup. Layer ingredients for whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies or pancakes, and tie on a recipe with twine. Use a bottle with a wide mouth and include ingredients and a recipe for bread. Bread in a bottle. Brilliant.
Make homemade extracts for the bakers in your life. They take a few months before they're ready to use, but a true baker will understand having to wait to use your precious gift. Tie a tag on the bottle with the date indicating when it will be fully steeped. To make vanilla extract, simply slice a few vanilla beans lengthwise, pop them into a bottle or jar and fill with vodka. Make lemon or orange extract by adding the zest of one of the aforementioned fruits, as well as a teaspoon of sugar to 1/2 cup vodka. The alcohol pulls the flavor out of whatever you add to the jar. Give your extracts a shake every day, and they'll be ready to use in about three months.
Making homemade infused liquors is easy and impressive when poured into pretty little bottles. Fill a bottle with fresh cranberries and a peeled lime rind. Add about 1 tablespoon of sugar, then fill the bottle with vodka and shake to mix. For those with a sweet tooth, add bright candies such as Skittles, Lemonheads or Red Hots to vodka. The alcohol turns the same vibrant color as the candies. Herbs, fruits and even strips of cooked bacon can be added to vodka to make a festive, unique gift. Most infused vodka only takes a few days to be ready, and it makes such a pretty presentation.
If all else fails, whip up a big batch of homemade granola, flavored popcorn and some biscotti. Package the granola in cute jars, the popcorn in little bags with pretty ribbons, and pop a few biscotti in a mug with a small bag of coffee. Instant, homemade love.
Try some of these recipes as gifts. Their recipients will be provided with a pleasant surprise.
Maple bacon popcorn
5 cups popped popcorn
1/2 cup toasted pecans
4 strips cooked bacon, crumbled into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
In a large bowl, combine popcorn, pecans and bacon. In a heavy saucepan, combine butter, maple syrup and salt, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once butter is melted, increase heat to high and boil without stirring for 12 to 15 minutes, or until mixture reaches 280 degrees on a candy thermometer and is golden dark brown but not burnt. Quickly pour on popcorn mixture and stir with a greased spoon. Spread mixture in a single layer on a foil-lined, greased baking sheet and let cool.
Hot chocolate on a stick
8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
8 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
15 to 20 marshmallows
15 to 20 lollipop sticks
Sift the cocoa powder, powdered sugar and salt together. In a double boiler, melt the milk and dark chocolate together until smooth. Stir the cocoa and powdered sugar mixture into your melted chocolate. Pour or scoop the melted chocolate mixture into a pastry bag or a zip-close bag with the corner snipped off. Line a mini cupcake tin with liners and fill each to just below the brim. Next, skewer marshmallows onto lollipop sticks, leaving a 1/2 inch of stick poking out. Stick the lollipop sticks into the chocolate molds. Let sit for a few hours to harden. Remove the chocolates, peel off the liners and wrap in little bags. Tie directions on each stick with ribbon.
Directions: For your hot chocolate on a stick kits, heat 8 ounces of milk in your favorite mug. Place hot chocolate lollipop in hot milk and let sit for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove lollipop stick and stir with a spoon until all the chocolate is melted.
Adapted from thedessertspot.com
Homemade Bailey's Irish Cream
1 cup Irish whiskey
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee
Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree on high speed for 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to an airtight container or glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Shake well before using.
Pumpkin gingerbread biscotti
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup oat flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 large eggs
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
2 tablespoons pumpkin butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
3/4 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Use your hands to crumble up the brown sugar to break down the large clumps, if needed. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated. Mix in pecans and dried cranberries (or desired mix-ins). Form the dough into two mounds and roll out each mound into a 2-by-12-inch log on a lightly floured surface. Place both mounds a few inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake both logs at 350 for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove logs from the oven and allow to cool. Cut logs on a diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Lay the pieces down on their sides and bake at 275 degrees for 8 minutes. Flip biscotti over and bake for another 8 minutes. Allow the biscotti to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Have questions? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.