Deck the halls with edible holiday gifts
Last week the Cancer Support Community invited me to speak to a group of their members about edible holiday gifts. Not the kind you buy at kiosks that appear in the mall after Thanksgiving, but gifts you can make in your own kitchen. For those of you who are experts at canning and preserving, this is an easy assignment – add a pretty fabric cover or ribbon to top the jars of your delicious creations. For those of us who may be intimidated by all the boiling involved in making jams and jellies, there are a few other options.
One of the simplest gifts is an herbal infused vinegar (at the center in the photo). Start with a slender-necked bottle with an attached ceramic lever-stopper or a reusable cork. Rinse everything with boiling water and make sure none of the elements that touch the vinegar are made of metal. Select your herbs and rinse them thoroughly; set them to dry on a piece of paper towel and pick out any imperfect leaves.
Your choice of herbs can include rosemary, lavender, thyme, parsley, sage or tarragon. You can also add whole peppercorns or cloves, depending upon the flavor profile you’re creating. Avoid dried or ground herbs, as they’ll cloud the vinegar. Choose high quality vinegar with at least five percent acidity.
White wine, rice wine or apple cider vinegars have a slight hint of color and will allow the spices to be clearly seen. Red wine vinegar has a robust flavor, but the added sprigs don’t show up as well.
Once you have the ingredients, simply place the herbs in the bottle, using a bamboo skewer if they need some prodding to find their way in. Pour the vinegar over the herbs and seal the jar. Place it in a spot protected from sunlight until you’re ready to wrap it up in a bow. If you want to add to the gift, consider pairing the vinegar with a small bottle of special olive oil, a set of cruets or carved wooden salad tongs.
The jar on the left in the photo can be transformed into a simple side dish or become the basis of a hearty meal. A sterilized bottle is layered with brown lentils, green split peas, red lentils and converted brown rice. The key to the combination is that all the ingredients have the same cooking time: about 25 to 30 minutes. What you can’t see in the photo is the plastic-wrapped packet of seasonings tucked under the lid.
In the recipe below are instructions for filling the jar as well as text for a recipe card to accompany the gift. This could be wrapped in a dishtowel or packaged with a pretty ladle or soup bowls. If the recipients are a family of meat eaters, you could add an air-cured sausage or smoked ham that doesn’t require refrigeration.
A third gift idea is in the jar on the right: chocolate chip oatmeal cookie mix. This is the trickiest to assemble because you have to juggle the size of the ingredients (e.g., flour will find its way down through the chips) and the sequence of adding each of them to the batter (oatmeal is last so it’s folded into the batter, not beaten into dust).
To make this gift easier for the recipient, the layers are placed in the reverse order of use, with the oatmeal and chips at the bottom. And, to keep things organized, a circle of wax paper is inserted between the chips and the flour, and between the flour and sugar. One way to shorten the list of items the baker has to find in their kitchen, the leavening is already mixed into the flour and vanilla sugar has replaced granulated sugar. The recipe card lists only eggs and shortening to combine with the mix to make these cookies.
Wrap this one with a rolled silpat (a reusable silicone baking mat that replaces parchment paper), holiday-themed oven mitts or a decorative cookie tin. Or, you could include some cookies you’ve already made as an enticing advertisement for what’s in the jar. Happy gifting.
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix in a Jar
2 C rolled oats
1 C chocolate chips
1 1/3 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt (optional)
2/3 C brown sugar
2/3 C vanilla sugar
Sterilize a mason jar and dry thoroughly. Pour the oats into the jar and tamp down with a spatula. Layer the chips on the oats, spreading them evenly. Place a circle of wax paper over the chips. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the mixture on the wax paper, taking care not to let the flour drift into the chips. Place a circle of wax paper over the flour. Pack the brown sugar on the paper, extending to the sides of the jar. Add the vanilla sugar, taking care not to let it drift past the brown sugar. Place a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper over the sugar and tightly seal the jar. Decorate with a holiday bowl and tie on a recipe card.
Recipe Card for Cookies
1/2 C shortening
1 jar oatmeal chocolate chip cookie mix
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a mixing bowl beat the shortening and eggs until creamy. Open the jar and remove the first layer (vanilla sugar and brown sugar). Add the sugars to the bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the next layer (flour and leavening) to the bowl and beat until combined. Add the chocolate chips and oatmeal to the bowl. Stir with a spatula until incorporated. Drop dough in rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet. Cook until lightly browned, about 10 to 13 minutes. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight contained.
Lentils and Rice Mix in a Jar
1 C green split peas
1 C red lentils
1 C brown lentils
1 C converted rice
1 T parsley
1 t thyme
1 t basil
1 t salt (optional)
1/2 t pepper
1/2 t red pepper flakes
Sterilize a mason jar and dry thoroughly. Pour in the split peas and shake the jar to settle them into a firm layer. Add the red lentils and tamp down with a spoon or spatula. Do the same with the brown lentils and the rice. Combine the herbs and wrap with plastic wrap into a small packet. Place the seasoning packet on the rice and seal the jar. Add a decorative bow and tie on the recipe card.
Recipe Card for Lentils
1 T olive oil
1 chopped onion
3 minced garlic cloves
6 C broth
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Open the jar and remove the seasoning packet; set aside. Pour the rice into the pot and stir until coated. Add the contents of the seasoning packet. Pour in 1 C of the broth and stir to collect any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the lentils and add remaining broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.