My husband and I started a new tradition a few years ago. Instead of buying gifts, we make some sort of handmade food gift for all of the members of our family. The first year we made soft caramels, and last year we made batches of smoked sea salt. Labeled and wrapped in lovely packaging like something you'd get at an expensive gourmet stores, our gifts are beginning to be something that our family eagerly looks forward to each year.
From an environmental standpoint, homemade gifts are a win-win. Think of the resources you save by making something that doesn't require fuel to transport it, energy to manufacture it, and materials for packaging it. Gifts from the kitchen can be made with fair-trade and organic ingredients, without using artificial preservatives or fillers, and can be packaged with recycled or recyclable materials.
There is no end to the possible gift ideas. Check cookbooks, food magazines and the Internet for recipes and ideas, but you can also get creative and make up something on your own, like a special recipe or dish that you've become known for (that is, if you want to share it!). Here are some of my favorite ideas:
• Herb blends made of dried herbs (buy them in bulk to save money and so they'll be fresher) for using in salad dressings and marinades
• Cookie or cake mixes, created by layering the dry ingredients in a glass jar
• Soup mixes, created by layering dried beans, spices and other ingredients in a glass jar
• Jarred jams, jellies, pickles, chutney or relish
• Chocolate truffles with different flavored fillings, or other kinds of candy, such as peanut brittle or peppermint bark
• Homemade pimento cheese with homemade crackers
• Mini gingerbread houses (a favorite particularly if you've got kids in the house to help decorate)
• Hot cocoa mix (see my recipe, below)
Heavenly Hot CocoaThis recipe makes a rich, full-bodied cocoa that is great made with water and even better made with milk. If you can, use organic powdered sugar and powdered milk, and organic or fair-trade cocoa and spices in this recipe. Package it in a recycled glass jar tied with a pretty ribbon, and make a handmade label with the serving instructions.
Makes 4 servings.
• 3/4 cup powdered sugar
• 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
• 2 tsp cornstarch
• 3/4 cup powdered milk
• Choose one: 1 tsp cinnamon or 1/8 tsp cayenne or chili powder
• Optional: mini marshmallows or candy canes
- Sift powdered sugar, cocoa and cornstarch into a bowl. Stir in powdered milk and cinnamon or chili powder.
- Pour ingredients into an airight glass jar or other container that will hold at least two cups of dry ingredients. Layer mini marshmallows on top or wrap separately, and tie a candy cane or two to the jar if desired.
- To make cocoa, measure 1/2 cup cocoa mix into a mug. Slowly stir in 1 cup boiling water or very hot milk and stir constantly until powdered mixture dissolves. Serve with a sprinkling of mini marshmallows on top, or an unwrapped candy cane as a stirrer.
Share a food gift idea of your own in the comments below!