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holiday challenge 2004!

  • w

ok. so last year was the first year i made anything to give for the holidays (not food related, so i won't go into it here) and this year i'm having trouble deciding what food gift to make. can you help make my homemade christmas bright? (or at least my loved ones' christmas bright.)

the gift must:
- be on the inexpensive side (no truffle-laced blah blah blah for me)
- be easy to package and ship
- not require any sterilization/canning
- be able to be made in one big batch at one time
- be sort of unexpected and not super-traditional

i was thinking of:
- cranberry (or other flavored) vinegar (but this requires sterilization, i know)
- peppermint bark (is it too restoration hardware?)
- rosemary salt (would they use it?)

thoughts on these? what other ideas do you have?

[for the record, thanks to the post at life begins at thirty (http://fogcity.blogs.com/jen/2004/11/...) i've looked at the post below but was overwhelmed.
]
thanks!

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. I would suggest cookies, but with a twist... vary the flavours and/or fillings... mango, pina colada, coffee, cinnamon, garam masala, etc. I would suggest you taste some first before haphazardly sending them out, however :).

    9 Replies
    1. re: Curtis
      l
      La Dolce Vita

      Here are my ideas:

      Madeleines, because they are sturdy cookies. Make them in various flavors, such as chocolate, anise, almond, vanilla, etc.

      Biscotti are another sturdy cookie, and keep well.

      Mixes, such as pancake mix or brownie mix, attractively packaged in a container with instructions on how to mix. You put together the flour, dried milk, sugar, baking powder, etc. and your gift recipient adds the wet ingredients.

      1. re: La Dolce Vita
        c
        Caitlin McGrath

        Huh, I don't think of madeleines as sturdy at all. They lose their je ne sais quois very quickly. Biscotti and shortbread are good long-lasting cookie choices.

        Mixes are a good idea; in addition to the above, there's hot chocolate mix and cream scone mix. Homemade granola. Flavored simple syrup for mixing with seltzer.

        1. re: Caitlin McGrath
          l
          La Dolce Vita

          I've used a sponge-cake batter and baked it in madeleine molds. So, they are more like mini-sponge cakes, and therefore not as brittle and prone to shattering as other kinds of cookies.

          I have to admit that I am still searching for the ultimate madeleine. The versions I have tried so far, while good, are just not the image I have of the "Ideal Madeleine". Ah, if only the ghost of Proust would disclose the recipe...

      2. re: Curtis

        it's not unusual but it fits every other requirement- hot fudge sauce. We used to quadruple (or more) the recipe for "Worlds best hot fudge sauce" by Maida Heatter- it's really fantastic. pour it into jelly jars (with straight sides, not sloping inwards). Put in a nice bag or wrap with ribbon. 2 made a great present. To make it unusual you could try to flavor it- maybe some chili powder?

          1. re: Tamar G

            the recipe says it keeps for 1-2 weeks, but it actually lasts months in the fridge.

          2. re: Tamar G
            w
            wow i'm a dog

            do i have to sterilize the jars? i have an odd fear of sterilization.

          3. re: Curtis

            As someone else suggested, my gift to lots of people this year is going to be homemade shortbread. It is so very simple and good, and sturdy too, I hope it will ship well. maybe I'll add nuts to some of the batches, and will try the addition of some almond paste to one batch. Or grated orange rind? or crushed pieces of butter crunch mixed in? I got one of those pans that prints a design on the pieces, will make it seem fancier and more special.

            Another idea which I've never done but think is neat: home made fresh curry powder, with some recipes for using it included.

            1. re: Aimless

              There is a recipe at Epicurious for Gingered Shortbread that is delicious. I just made the recipe for a cookie exchange. Instead of forming it in a springform pan and cutting it into petticoat tails, I rolled it out cut it into stars and after baking I drizzled it with Sharffen Berger 62% chocolate. Yummy!

          4. c
            Caitlin Wheeler

            Not super super cheap but easy and not truffle expensive, either, I'm giving spice rubs and mixes. I bought a lot of the spices in bulk at Kalustyans (www.kalustyans.com) and I bought these adorable aluminum tins, similar to the ones Dean and Deluca sells their spice mixes in, at specialty bottle.com for I think .75 apiece. Also making English Toffee and possibly peppermint bark.

            1. c
              curiousbaker

              I'll ask a related question: I usually do cookie boxes, because I love making cookies, and I usually add jars of jam as well. But I didn't get much canning done this summer, so my supplies are down, and I want to do something different this year. I made peppermint marshmallows for the family last year, and they were a huge hit, so I want to make those again for the friends/co-workers list. I've also been interested in making homemade grenadine (lots of cocktail lovers on the list). These two items have very little in common, besides being pink/red. So I was thinking maybe I would make my baskets on a pink/red theme this year? I'm having a problem coming up with other pink/red items that aren't peppermint, though. I could probably do raspberry lollipops, which might be fun, and I could definitely do something with cranberries (a canned sauce or infuse some vodka or something). Anyone else have other ideas?

              3 Replies
              1. re: curiousbaker

                These are not Christmas red exactly, more chili-powder coloured, but they taste good!

                Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                1. re: curiousbaker

                  you could add a couple of apples- or make caramel apples.

                  add red food coloring to any white cookie or icing recipe

                  1. re: curiousbaker

                    Raspberry vinegar, white chocolate bark with dried cranberries (& pistachios), Candy cane shaped cookies (50% of dough died red), Cheesecake slices put on a stick and covered with white chocolate and decorated w/colored sugar, jimmies...

                  2. s
                    Sunshine Girl

                    I discovered a recipe from "Barefoot Goes to Paris" (newest book by Ina Garten) for Rosemary Roasted Cashews. It's a combination of fresh rosemary, cayenne pepper for a kick, and brown sugar for some sweetness, and a little butter. I made them for Thanksgiving for the family, and people loved them. I might also suggest other roasted nuts - maybe something sweeter? Sugared pecans or something equally as nice?

                    You can find bulk cashews for very reasonable prices at some of the bulk food stores.

                    While I don't have the recipe handy this very second, I will tomorrow and will post then.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Sunshine Girl

                      This sounds wonderful! Perhaps it's the link below? It's from an Epicurious forum board.

                      Link: http://forum.epicurious.com/forums/bo...

                      1. re: Linda W.
                        s
                        Sunshine Girl

                        Yep, that's the one. Really and truly - some of my family members would not stop eating them (even when given other appetizer options like crab dip, kielbasa, etc.). They are pretty addictive, IMHO.

                      2. re: Sunshine Girl

                        Rosemary Cashews- the best!!! Made them for T day as well- everyone wanted recipe

                        1. re: Sunshine Girl

                          I made these over the weekend and they are tasty! The one problem I had was the sugar and salt didn't dissolve when I added the melted butter so when I tossed in the toasted cashews I got cashews with a little seasoning and then clumps of salt and sugar, some which stuck to the cashews and some which stuck to the bowl. Am I missing something? I was considering melting the sugar, salt, and butter in a little saucepan to make a syrup first before adding the cashews. Any advice? Thanks!

                        2. All I can think of is peanut brittle, it hits the first four reqs, but not the last. You don't even need a candy thermometer for it.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: muD

                            Brittle is a good idea. To make it more interesting I make it with different nuts. Cashew, pistacio, and almond brittle have all gotten raves.

                          2. Every year I make three candies and one cracker/cookie thing to send. Let me know if you want the recipes and I'll post them:

                            1. Buttercrunch candy-Everyone loves this. You do need a candy thermometer, but it is super, super easy and very yummy (though full of butter). Lasts forever, transports well, consistently gets rave reviews. It's basically a crunch, buttery candy with ground nuts.

                            2. Southern pecan prailines-More traditional, but very easy to make.

                            3. Peanut brittle-Another poster mentioned this one. Takes longer to cook than buttercrunch (b/c you have to add all the peanuts), but not hard to make.

                            4. Christmas Crackers-Basically saltines covered with melted butter and brown sugar (brought to a boil), milk chocolate, and almonds. Let it all harden and break apart. Super easy, super cheap, and everyone LOVES them. Not exactly upscale cooking, but really, really good.

                            All of these recipes are very easy. I am a novice cook and have been successful with all of these recipes for the past few years.

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: Samantha

                              The Cristmas crackers sound really interesting - I would love to have the recipe. Have you ever tried making it with dark chocolate instead?

                              1. re: Liv Huang

                                Never tried dark chocolate, but it sounds delicious. Here's the recipe:

                                Line a large baking sheet with foil and butter/grease the foil. Lay the saltines in rows, next to each other, avoiding overlapping, if possible. A few overlapping in the corners is okay. Bring to a boil 1 cup brown suger and 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter. Pour sugar mixture immediately over the crackers. Then pour an entire bag of milk chocolate chips over the hot sugar mixture. It will begin to melt, but you can use a spatula to help spread the chocolate. Once the chocolate has melted and is spread fairly evenly, sprinkle with sliced almonds. I freeze the tray for about 20 minutes and then take it out. Peel from the foil and break apart when completely cool/cold.

                                1. re: Samantha
                                  j
                                  jennyantepenultimate

                                  I've made these using butter pretzels (the kind that look like little grids) and whatever bar chocolate I have. (I prefer dark.) Believe me, the caramel retains its heat well enough to melt it. Chocolate chips quality isn't really great in general but the plus to it is that it has more oil to ease meltability.

                                  1. re: Samantha

                                    Thanks! Both the graham and saltine cracker recipes sound yummy! I have both in the cupboard so I will have to make a test batch of each this weekend!

                                  2. re: Liv Huang
                                    c
                                    Caitlin McGrath

                                    I've made the graham cracker version with dark chocolate, and it's delicious. You can use any kind of nuts you like. Salted peanuts are good (but I'm making it with graham crackers, not saltines). Linked is the recipe I've used.

                                    Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                                  3. re: Samantha

                                    Samantha, would love to have the buttercrunch candy and the southern pecan praline recipes. I couldn't get enough of the pralines when we visited New Orleans. I make a variation of your Christmas cracker recipe using honey graham crackers. You boil the granulated sugar and butter for two minutes and then pour the mixture over the graham crackers that have been lined up on an aluminum foil cookie sheet. After you cover the grahams you sprinkle liberally with sliced almonds and bake in 350 oven for 15 minutes or until bubbly and golden. Cool and break into pieces. They are so good.

                                    1. re: Neta

                                      That sounds yummy. Will definitely have to try that variation.

                                      I'll post the buttercrunch and souther prailine recipes when I get home tonight. Don't know those recipes off the top of my head.

                                      1. re: Samantha

                                        I've doubled both of these candies, but once tripled buttercrunch and it was a big mess, so I don't recommend it. :)

                                        Southern Pralines:

                                        1 cup pecans
                                        1/4 cup heavy cream
                                        1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
                                        1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1/2 pound) light brown sugar
                                        1 teaspoon vanilla extract

                                        Lay wax paper and butter/grease.

                                        Over hight heat, cook cream, butter, and brown sugar to 240 degrees. Cook in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and use a candy thermometer for the temperature. Once the mixture hits 240, remove from the heat and let sit for 15 seconds. Stir in vanilla and pecans, stirring until the candy looks creamy and begins to thicken-about 10 seconds or so. Drop by spoonfuls onto the wax paper. Let harden before removing and/or eating.

                                        Buttercrunch:

                                        1/2 pound butter
                                        1 cup sugar
                                        2 tablespoons water
                                        1 teaspoon vanilla
                                        1 tablespoon light (Karo's) corn syrup
                                        1 cup finely chopped (I grind them) nuts

                                        Lay wax paper on counter and butter/grease. Cook everything in heavy bottomed pan to 290 using good candy thermometer. Do not undercook or candy will be too soft. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. Pour on wax paper and let fully cool. Break into pieces. This stuff is addictive. Enjoy!

                                        1. re: Samantha

                                          Thank you. I'm going to try them this weekend. They sound delicious.

                                          1. re: Neta

                                            No problem. And one more thing-to prevent boil over when you are cooking the candy, grease the top 1/2 inch of the pot with butter. I just run a stick of butter around the top edge before I start cooking.

                                            Good luck and let us know how everything turns out!

                                            1. re: Samantha

                                              Thanks again and I will.

                                  4. If you have an inexpensive source for good pecans (which we have, outside our back door), you could try roasting them in a butter/chili powder mixture (clarify the butter!) or glazing them (sugar/cinnamon/orange peel, etc.). Easy recipes abound; I'll share the one that I usually use if you like. Everyone seems to love them. The only problem is, it's hard to find a recipe for more than 2-3 cups at a time so you do have to double the recipe to make a large batch. If you do that, you'll have to watch the nuts even more closely than usual to be sure they are evenly coated and roasted.

                                    1. What about a "poppycock" type mixture - popcorn, caramel, nuts, etc.