Non-Christmassy items for Christmas hamper gifts
November 20, 2008 6:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some ideas, recommendations & recipes I can use to make up some Christmas hampers for presents this year. As much home made stuff as possible & I'd like to try & avoid overtly Christmassy things. Things that can be used in January & beyond.

My girlfriend & I love to cook and we've decided, in proper credit crunch fashion, to make up a few hampers and individual items for close family & bunch of friends that we're visiting over the holidays.

I've got a few ideas from these previous threads.

Prepared items and ingredient packs with a recipe are where we want to go. Currently, chilli jam, fig jam, a Kerelan fish chutney & a buckwheat pancake mix with (quality) maple syrup are on the list.

We want to do most of the prep from next weekend onward but really want the items to be used after the Christmas gorging season is done and forgotten so preserves, pickles, chutneys, flavoured things (everything from sugar to vodka) are all good, as long as they don't need too much maturing time.

Bonus points for recipes in grammes or ounces rather than cups!
posted by i_cola to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Spiced pecans or other nuts were always a hit in my baskets. Easy and quick, and they keep well. Soup mixes that are layered in bottles look really nice and festive. I added cups/bowls/baking pans/glassware/small appliances to the basket, most of which you can pick up at outlets, garage sales, thrift stores, etc. Old cookbooks from garage sales can usually be had for a quarter, you could make one of the recipes and include the book for friends that cook. Or ethnic cookbooks with the unusual ingredients included, such as garam masala. Coffee theme, martini theme, punch theme, movie night, etc. Even office supplies can work within a theme. Making your own labels is very easy with a pc and printer.
posted by raisingsand at 7:08 AM on November 20, 2008

Had no idea what a hamper was . . . thank you for helping me learn something new today.

I'd go with homemade biscotti. (Sorry, I don't have a recipe)

Maybe you could also put together/make your own teas.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:09 AM on November 20, 2008

Best answer: *pulls up chair and sits down*

First idea:

I don't know if they have these in the UK, but here in the U.S. they have these fancy-pants instant coffee drink mix powders, which were pre-sweetened and had the milk already in. You can make your own by whizzing together instant coffee, powdered milk, and various spices together in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. All the recipient has to do is put a couple spoonfulls of the mix into a mug and add boiling water, and stir. I'd say....about 2-4 oz. each of the coffee and the powdered milk, with a spoonful or so of sugar and a spoonful each of whatever spices you're using. (cinnamon powder and cocoa powder would be one good combo to try.)

Second idea:

Granola breakfast cereal! This basic recipe (which I got from Alton Brown, one of my TV cook gurus) can be adapted and altered, because most granola is pretty free-form anyway --

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup cashews
3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.

In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed.

Third idea:

if you have a favorite quick bread or tea bread recipe, you could just mix up a batch of that, but instead of using a single big loaf pan, seek out little baby-sized loaf pans and divide it among those. Then each hamper gets a wee little tea bread. (Awww!) What's great about these is that a lot of quick breads and tea breads freeze well, so they can eat it now or throw it in the freezer for later.

Fourth idea:

Compound butters. Soften a stick of butter, chop up a good handful of the herbs of your choice, smush the herbs into the butter really well, and then either pack the butter into a crock or form it into a log and put it back in the fridge to chill. (This would work best if you'll know you'll have access to a fridge, obviously, as opposed to something you would be able to send through the mail because it would melt all over the damn place.) These compound butters can be used all kinds of ways -- toss a blob into some steamed vegetables and let it melt through, use as a spread on toast, or even melt a small blob onto a steak.

Fifth idea:

Get conceptual -- make an ice cream dessert kit. Make up batches of dessert sauces (chocolate, caramel, strawberry, etc.) and batches of various candy toppings (crushed-up peanut brittle, chocolate covered nuts, etc.) and hand it over, maybe with a couple nice dessert-sized bowls and spoons, and the idea is that people can get their own ice cream and then go crazy inventing their own sundaes. ("oooh, how about if I put chocolate sauce and crushed-up peanut brittle on my ice cream!")

Sixth idea:

Spice blends. Equal parts dried rosemary, marjoram, basil, bay leaf, and thyme make herbes de provence (some people also would put in a little dried lavendar). Equal parts ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove make a nice baking spice mix. If you live near a place that sells food in bulk, this is easy as pie - even just an ounce of each spice or herb will give you PLENTY, and then you just dump your chosen ingredients together into a bowl, mix it all together well, and then dole it out into fancy little jars.

Seventh idea:

Soup mixes. Package the beans and the seasonings separately, and all the recipient would have to do is add water and a couple commonly-found ingredients (an onion and a carrot, say) and they're set.

One good idea: Tuscan bean soup (I'm adapting the mix from the recipe for Tuscan bean soup I personally use, which is from the Moosewood vegetarian cookbooks). Take a pound of dried pinto beans and a pound of dried cannellini. Mix them together in a bowl; this should give you four or five cups of beans. Each batch you're making gets a cup and a half of dried beans; package them up.

Then for each package of dried beans you've got, make up a little spice packet -- a crushed-up vegetable bouillion cube and a decent-sized spoonful of dried sage.

The recipe instructions you attach to each package: soak the beans overnight and drain. In a soup pot, saute one chopped onion and one chopped carrot in two ounces olive oil, until onion is translucent. Add beans, 4-5 cups water, and contents of spice packet. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour to 90 minutes, until beans are tender (add more water as necessary to keep beans covered). When beans are tender, puree half the soup in a blender (carefully) if desired.

....I'll think of more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:24 AM on November 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: ....See, I knew I'd think of more.

A goofy-fun idea just as an extra, dessert-y item would be a "chocolate salami". Like a salami sausage, it's meant to be sliced and served on crackers or bread, and you can actually have fun making it look like an Italian salami sausage.

The caveat I'm finding is that a lot of recipes call for raw egg or egg yolks, which can be a little dicey health-wise, but I KNOW I've seen one without (I just can't find it). But this gives a good idea of the principle -- melted chocolate and crushed cookies or biscotti, with maybe some dried fruit thrown in and maybe laced with a little liqueur, molded into a log shape and wrapped in plastic wrap to chill. When it's cooled down and has taken on that "sausage" shape, I also unwrapped mine and rubbed powdered sugar on the outside to make it look more like an Italian hard sausage, and then re-wrapped it.

Doesn't quite fit with the "recipes" concept, but making a batch of chocolate salami and dividing it up into about four or so baby sausages would let you tuck one each into a few different hampers, just for fun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:35 AM on November 20, 2008

Best answer: We've been doing this for our friends and family gifts for several years. They go over very well, especially in a season where people find themselves with way too much stuff and needing a yummy easy snack.

Some things that have been popular (sorry, no recipes, but google will find you everything you need here):

* Homemade hot fudge. Use good chocolate. Everyone loves this more than life itself.

* Small loaves of pound cake, wrapped up. Go well with the hot fudge. :-)

* The pancake mix is popular, especially for people with kids. I know you already thought of that, but it's a good one.

* Last year we used Snapfish's calendar maker to make a calendar for everyone out of my pictures. That went over well too. YMMV, depending on if either of you is a photographer. We've also had the kids paint little wooden Christmas ornaments. In general, useful crafts are nice.

* Go local. What's your area known for? I'm in Maine, so we always try to get some blueberries and apples in there. Applesauce from apples we picked, blueberry sauce of jam from blueberries we picked. Fruit and berry jams in general are pretty easy, and don't require a whole lot of special equipment.

* Put some thought into the basket or bowl or container itself. Our most popular choice so far was wooden salad bowls. Try to put the collection in something people can use.

* And If I have one best piece of advice: think about labels well in advance. For years our labels were an afterthought, and poor labeling sort of cheapens the whole look of the thing. Last year we had a friend who's a graphic designer make us a nice logo, have it made into a printing block, and print a pile of little square labels on his little press. You may not have such an incredibly useful friend, but there are many ways to make nice labels. They make a big difference in whether the whole thing comes off as cheap or very nice.

Also, it's never too early to think about next year. :-)

(PS: EmpressCallipygos -- Cholocolate Salami! Awesome. I'm totally using that this year. Thanks!)
posted by rusty at 7:51 AM on November 20, 2008

If you have a pressure canner, you've got a lot of options in canned goods too. Homemade tomato sauce is always good, especially if you can find a great big box of end-of-season tomatoes at a local farmer's market for cheap. We made a canned potato leek soup one year. Open it, add some cream or milk, and heat.

The less work something is, the more likely people are to actually use it. Your gift is sparing someone the effort of making dinner on some frazzled night. We used to make like dried bean soup mix type things, but found that actually making it is more work than most people want out of a convenience food. So maybe keep that in mind too.
posted by rusty at 7:55 AM on November 20, 2008

Response by poster: wow. Some brilliant ideas here already. Thank you!
FYI I'm in the UK (hence the aversion to cups ;-)
posted by i_cola at 8:01 AM on November 20, 2008

Best answer: Salty Caramel Chocolates
posted by spec80 at 8:49 AM on November 20, 2008

Home made dried fruit is good if you have a food dehydrator, pineapple slices seem to go over especially well and they're fast, just open a can and drop them on the trays. If you do apples one of those hand crank apple peeler/slicer/corers is really worth getting and a slicer for other fruits is essential. You can buy these screens to lay over the trays that make removing the dried fruit and clean up easier, and when I say easier, I mean I don't do this without them because it's such a mess if you don't use them. You can also make fruit leather and jerky (good for dog treats if they have a dog.) It might be a fun touch to make little dog treat cookies, there are lots of recipes online and you can find bone, fire hydrant and cat shaped cookie cutters. I've also heard that some dog love dehydrated sweet potato chews but I haven't tried it.
I have an earlier version of this dehydrator and it helps to be able to adjust the temp. on it. I often see these in the thrift shops, usually still in the box and never used.
Chocolate Cherry Mice were a big hit for us last year. Be sure to get the cherries WITH stems.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:27 AM on November 20, 2008

Best answer: Oh, and I got a hot chocolate mix with crushed candy canes in it last year that was really good.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:29 AM on November 20, 2008

Response by poster: Right, now we have some work to do - yay! (And my gf want to know where you found the time to type all that EmpressCallipygos :-)

The chocolate salami recipe without egg sounds like a choc fridge cake variation which I've made recently to great acclaim.

Labels - not a problem as I'm a graphic designer.

Hopefully I won't destroy a kitchen making the salty caramel chocolates...

...thanks all!
posted by i_cola at 1:34 PM on November 20, 2008

re: Caramel - Wear long sleeves, long pants and shoes. Also, have a lot of potholders or kitchen towels handy.
posted by spec80 at 3:19 PM on November 20, 2008

my gf want to know where you found the time to type all that EmpressCallipygos

I type fast when I'm impassioned, and I have rather a bit of downtime sometimes at work....:-)

And, actually, I just found yet another idea -- cake in a jar! No recipe on the page I linked to, as it doesn't look like you need it -- it looks like you just take any basic cake recipe, and then grease a bunch of small straight-sided glass jars (ideally, ones you would use to make preserves) and pour the batter into the jars, and bake until done (probably wouldn't take much time, as the jars are so small). And then you just seal the jars and label them -- and hey presto, it's a tiny cake! In a jar!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 AM on November 21, 2008

I was researching this just this week, i_cola! Here's some neat stuff I found:

- Record bowls (not edible, but could qualify as a container for your edible goodies)

- Oreo bombs

- Chai Tea Mix - Made some last week, and it's really yummy!

- Friendship Tea - AKA Russian Tea, Spiced Tea... I like to have this around during cold/flu season. It's really comforting.

Have fun!
posted by lucyleaf at 7:50 AM on November 22, 2008

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