Giving the gift of deliciousness
November 5, 2009 7:32 AM   Subscribe

In previous years I've made a lot of cookies to give away to friends and family around the holidays. This year I'd like to do something a little different, but still make it a gift of food.

So I've done my holiday-cookie-palooza for the last three years or so, and I'd like to change it up a bit this year. For one, making all of the cookies tends to be a lot of minutiae since it is like 10 different recipes. Also, a lot of people (including yours truly) are trying to eat better, and there are more than enough holiday cookies that will make their way on to our plates throughout the season. I recognize not all of the ideas below are "healthy," per se, but some of them will last a lot longer, are used in small quantities, or are freezable for enjoyment after the holidays.

I'm not ruling out cookies entirely, and I may still make a few favorite batches. I'm not really interested in making the jars of brownie mix/cookie mix or whatever, I feel as if those often go unused.

Some ideas I have rolling around in my head:
-Breads: either a sandwich-type loaf or a sweet fruit bread
-Jams: I have recently learned how to preserve and have successfully made strawberry jam and apple butter. Considering making pumpkin butter, cranberry jams/chutneys or some sort of citrus jam/marmalade as oranges, etc hit their peak.
-Frozen baked goods: fully prepared pies, scones, chocolate chip cookie dough or cinnamon rolls that you would just have to bake.
-Would be awesome but also a lot of work: homemade bacon

So I'm wondering what you would personally like to receive in a holiday-themed gift basket of food? Have you ever done anything like this or received one from a friend? Ideas on clever packaging are also welcome.
posted by sararah to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Frozen baked goods would excite me a lot more than the other 4 options you listed.
posted by Perplexity at 7:37 AM on November 5, 2009

My mom often gives out jars of spiced pecans. Always a hit. Of course, you need to be mindful of allergies, but that should be easy enough.
posted by sunshinesky at 7:38 AM on November 5, 2009

We did homemade vanilla as gifts last year and got rave reviews!! Mid range vodka, whole vanilla beans (we got good ones) bought on-line and cute, bottles with stoppers and hand-made labels. Fill bottles, stick in a bean, let it sit in a dark closet for 4-6 weeks, tie a bow and you're done!! Everyone loved it and all they need to do is refill with more vodka as they use it. The bean will last for years. You can also experiment with some different kinds of elixirs, rum, etc.
posted by pearlybob at 7:39 AM on November 5, 2009 [10 favorites]

Pick up a copy of the book Food For Friends: Homemade Gifts for Every Season. They have a decent selection of recipes of different gift items -- some sections are on jams, cookies, and breads, but they also have sections on pickles, liqueurs, breakfast-y items, and hors-d'ouervesy hostess gifts.

They also have suggestions sprinkled throughout for presentation, gift basket ideas, and the like. (One year, I followed their suggestion of a jar of their chai spice mix paired with a box of tea, with a little card describing how to make chai; that went over very well.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:42 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jam is always welcome! Especially fun mixes that you can't find in the grocery store.

Homemade salsa is something that I never get tired of, and it can be used not only for chip dipping but also for marinades and cooking. Maybe if you made salsa you could also make homemade chips or tortillas and give both together. Mango salsa is a personal favorite.

Pasta sauce could be good too, again you could pair it with some fun pasta and make a gift basket out of it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:44 AM on November 5, 2009

Forgot to add: the chai spice mix from FOOD FOR FRIENDS couldn't be easier -- get different quantities of different whole spices, crack some of 'em with a rolling pin, mix 'em up in a bowl and dump 'em in a jar. If you live anywhere where you can get spices in bulk, you can make a huge jar of the stuff for pennies. (Making chai itself using the mix is similarly easy -- steep hot milk with a tablespoon or so of the mix, add to tea. Voila.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:46 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oohh, do the jams and jellies! You can get those itty bitty jars and make three or four different types, and throw in a nice loaf of bread or some scones and maybe a pot of creme fraiche. Delicious! Put it all inside a nice carryout box wrapped with a ribbon. Love it!
posted by banannafish at 8:02 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

This may not be in the same ballpark, and you could probably use some more time, but limoncello is dead easy to make and pretty awesome. It's tasty on its own, or you can use it as a mixer or a fancy dessert topping.

Of course, you also have to deal with the liquor clerk asking, "Are you SURE you don't want a smaller bottle of Everclear?" but that's kind of the fun part ;)
posted by Madamina at 8:08 AM on November 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

You could do savory baked goods like these buckwheat cheese straws, these zatar-flavored whole wheat crackers, or these rosemary and parmesan crackers. You could make them a little further ahead of time than homemade yeast bread and, depending on the flavors you're working with, you could pair up a couple types of cracker with a jar of jam or preserves.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:13 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

From experience I know that giving frozen unbaked or baked goods can be tricky. Things can thaw. Or there could be no room in your friends' freezer because of their own Christmas gift production line.

How about vegan cupcakes? Semi-healthful and not something most people make at home.

A box of homemade fudge varieties is always a big hit. Pralines, caramels.... Not healthful, but popular.

Homemade potato chips? Probably not a good idea, without kitchen elves to help.

I agree with you about mixes going unused.

If you give a special bread, give also a stick of the best butter you can buy locally.
posted by sevenstars at 8:21 AM on November 5, 2009

My Mom's Christmas gift baskets usually consist of the basket, a couple of nice cloth napkins to line it, a jar or two of jam, a loaf of a Honey and Spice bread, some banana and/or pumpkin muffins, and a small assortment of cookies. If she's feeling particularly motivated, she's been known to make buttery caramels, fudge, or other easy candies to tuck in as well. Her baskets are well loved and eagerly anticipated.
posted by onhazier at 8:23 AM on November 5, 2009

I have made berry-infused vodkas in the past, and they are always a welcome gift. It's so easy. I used a Costco bag of frozen berries, put them in a giant jar of vodka with about a cup of sugar, and waited about two weeks. I bought cute bottles and wrapped them with ribbon. Super easy!
posted by beckydancer at 8:36 AM on November 5, 2009

Order a big box of amazing fresh fruit or two and make gift baskets; or:

Make marzipan candies. Little sculptures made almost entirely of almonds (plus sugar)! Very personal, very cool, probably fussy and a little difficult. My own project has only progressed to the 5-year-old tube of almond paste in the cabinet stage, unfortunately, but I still think it's a cool idea.
posted by amtho at 8:40 AM on November 5, 2009

I'm thinking about doing homemade mustard, pears preserved in bourbon, and/or caramel vanilla bourbon sauce.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:57 AM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Spiced nuts are generally well received and the best part is that there are infinite ways to package them for gift giving.
posted by quarterframer at 8:58 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking about the basket thing, too, with jams, biscotti or scones, and maybe tiny coffee samples. I can't find a good, cheap source for baskets, though! Anyone have suggestions?
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:04 AM on November 5, 2009

Last year my boss gave us jars of spiced tea and man oh man, was it yummy or what?! I got two! ;)

@runningwithscissors: The dollar store usually has some great ones for only a buck. Not Family Dollar but the actual Dollar store.
posted by magnoliasouth at 9:40 AM on November 5, 2009

Oops, forgot to give you some recipes for them.

There is one here and another one here.

Worth noting is that she also added red hots in the mix too. It gave it a festive look. Not too many, but just a few. They were great!
posted by magnoliasouth at 9:47 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Find a great recipe for fruit cake. My grandma made one that was unbelievably delicious.
posted by torquemaniac at 9:49 AM on November 5, 2009

Candied bacon would be unique; if someone made me candied bacon, I would be delighted. I would also be delighted to receive ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls, and, really, anything on your list. A friend made me some wine (blush zinfandel?) jelly, which was really pretty, and delicious. May I be on your holiday list?
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

p.s. googling recipes that include bacon, when I'm hungry, not a good plan.
posted by theora55 at 10:16 AM on November 5, 2009

Homemade bacon? I'm not a bacon freak by any stretch but if someone made me homemade bacon? That's love.
Idea for packaging: take a picture of some pigs, give them names, and then put the pig's name and photo on a gift card. Done.
posted by cocoagirl at 10:17 AM on November 5, 2009

Response by poster: Great ideas so far. I hadn't really thought of flavored liquors before!

EmpressCallipygos - I will probably nab a used copy of that book since it seems like you can get it for under $5 (including shipping!) used on Amazon.

theora55 - depending on the ship-a-bility of some of these items, some lucky Mefite may be the recipient of a few if we do the MeFi Secret Quonsar again! :)
posted by sararah at 10:38 AM on November 5, 2009

I look forward to my best friend's peppermint bark every year. So much so that I have been known to hide it from my children when it arrives. *ahem* She won't give me the recipe but I've seen a bunch online and if you use good quality dark chocolate I don't think you can go wrong.
posted by cooker girl at 10:47 AM on November 5, 2009

It's too late for this year I think, but I make red wine vinegar and put it in fancy little bottles. I understand homemade is better than the kind you can get in a store.

You can also do interesting variations like champagne vinegar and various other sorts.

It does take a while (several months), but it's dead easy and it's nice having fresh vinegar around all the time.
posted by ZeroDivides at 10:53 AM on November 5, 2009

On the sugary end, I'm planning something like this (adorable) hot-cocoa mix. In the past I've made homemade spiced sugars.

If you're hoping for something less sugary and non-alcoholic, my favorite ideas have been bags of pilaf mix (rice, seasonings, dried mushrooms/veg), and jars of homemade ketchup. I yearn to try the ketchup, but it sounds complicated, and I haven't test-driven the recipes enough. Like your cookie issue, I would start running into the problem that there are too many varieties to try (hearty traditional ketchup? spicy chipotle ketchup? fennel ketchup? no-mato ketchup?) I have received salsa and spaghetti sauce from friends who had gardens and canned over the summer, and that was pretty awesome.
posted by aimedwander at 10:53 AM on November 5, 2009

We made vanilla extract and vanilla sugar last year. It was fun and easy and turned out really well. Vanilla beans are available in bulk on ebay. Dukkah is also a good gift - light for posting and delicious.

Personally I would be deeply suspicious of homemade bacon, and I am speaking as a fan of good bacon. I've thought about trying to make it myself but am even suspicious of ME and probably would end up not eating it. So am loathe to even try.
posted by slightlybewildered at 11:44 AM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I once received homemade caramel sauce (like for on ice cream), which was lovely.
posted by lakeroon at 11:48 AM on November 5, 2009

Homeade truffles! They are actually really fun and easy to make, and I'm not whiz in the kitchen. I've done this a few times and it's a huge hit. You can basically make the ganache (inside part of the truffle) by melting chocolate (I've used chocolate chips before) with heavy cream, freezing it, and then rolling it in coconut, dark coco powder, almonds, etc. You can then put it in fun boxes with tissue paper and it looks fancy. And you can leave them unrefrigerated for awhile too.
posted by Rocket26 at 12:20 PM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I didn't see you were trying to make something on the healthier side. You actually can make truffles vegan, though I've never tried this.
posted by Rocket26 at 12:22 PM on November 5, 2009

posted by bunny hugger at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2009

Response by poster: Oh, I'm not trying to be super healthy by any means, just give things that maybe tend towards the usable over the long term and not a zillion cookies type of thing. I just have a few diabetic/health aware friends and I'm thinking about some alternatives for them especially.

Another suggestion from a Mefite over chat: homemade beef jerky or frozen pizza dough + homemade marinara.
posted by sararah at 12:41 PM on November 5, 2009

you might find this question i asked a couple years ago helpful
posted by nadawi at 12:53 PM on November 5, 2009

Cranberry orange infused vodka and roasted pineapple infused rum are my two favorite infused liquors I've made. Start them now, though.
posted by purenitrous at 12:58 PM on November 5, 2009

Can I be your friend? You sound so nice and generous and thoughtful, and your friends are clearly so lucky to have you in their lives.
posted by Capri at 2:54 PM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am planning on making a giant batch of garam masala and putting them in 1/2 pint canning jars. I'll probably make some sort of label with a recipe* I make often with it. The recipe for the spice mixture I use is from here, but there are so many variations you can choose one that sounds right for you.

*plain yogurt, juice from a lemon, chopped garlic, ginger, habanero (as much of each as you'd like), salt, tablespoon or so of the garam masala in a gallon bag with a package of boneless skinless chicken thighs. Marinate anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. Grill. Enjoy.

Also great as part of a rub for pulled pork or tri-tip.

posted by waitangi at 3:15 PM on November 5, 2009

One year I made homemade soup mixes and put them in quart canning jars with ribbons around the lids. There were quite a few different kinds - french onion, 12 bean, noodle, etc. Everyone loved these. I attached a tag that said how much to mix up for one cup at a time or how much the whole jar would make and whether they needed to add anything else.
posted by garnetgirl at 3:22 PM on November 5, 2009

I've spoken the words "tastes like Christmas" in reference to rosemary, and I'm a fan of rosemary-infused vinegar (white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar).
posted by RobinFiveWords at 3:49 PM on November 5, 2009

In RobinFiveWords' vein, Ina Garten (a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa)'s Rosemary Cashews rule, and couldn't be simpler. I've never given them as gifts, but whenever I take them to Christmas dinner parties I become very popular fast and end up being forced to give up the recipe by the end of the night to everyone there. I don't know how long they'd keep--they're best warm--but...
posted by ifjuly at 9:32 PM on November 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Cheese. I would cry with joy if ever presented with homemade cheese.
posted by emeiji at 9:36 PM on November 5, 2009

It would probably require investment in a dehydrator, but what about making packages of dried apples or other dried fruits?
posted by pril at 10:09 AM on November 7, 2009

« Older Blue air in, Brown air out   |   Is there an application that will map all my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.