Spreading cheer with festive food
December 13, 2006 12:10 PM   Subscribe

(not cookies) food gifts. I'd like some recipes for not too expensive, not too hard to make, but stunning food gifts that are easy to package and give away for the holidays. Got any gems you'd be willing to share?

This year I am committed to making what is turning out to be a pretty expensive cranberry chutney that I am going to package in french jelly jars and give away as gifts. But for next year, or this year if I am feeling ambitious, I'd like to have some other alternatives. This is a bit of a tall order, so if you have something you love that fits one or the other criteria (easy to make or not too expensive) please share those too.
posted by nnk to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Not easy to transport, but I adore making my persimmon pudding with hard sauce.

Also, homemade peanut brittle or peppermint bark are favorites.

A big hit also was my Bourbon Braised Applesauce. Add more of everything unhealthy, a lot more spices, like clove, and leave the apples sorta chunky in this recipe.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:18 PM on December 13, 2006

I have friends who make jam or fruit pickles or cucumber dill pickles in the summer or early fall, and give those as gifts. They're awesome.

Seconding peanut brittle in a tin.
Teresa Neilsen Hayden has an annual rant about the glory of real fruitcake and the inadequacy of the substitutes we're all used to; recipe link at the bottom of the post.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:39 PM on December 13, 2006

Candied Pecans. Very easy. The only hard part is not eating them all yourself before you can give them away.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:40 PM on December 13, 2006

You can make infused olive oils (add herbs to the oil in the bottle) or better yet, infused vodka. If you're really in a pinch, you can add a jolly rancher or two of your favorite flavor to the vodka and it'll be the color and flavor the next day.
posted by Atom12 at 12:45 PM on December 13, 2006

Two things I've made in the past that have gone over extremely well (and look gorgeous to boot) are scented sugars and infused oils. I'm not sure if this is the kind of idea you're looking for, though, since these aren't baked or cooked. If I want to give any sugar or oil at Christmas I spend the summer and fall collecting pretty glass jars and vintage glass bottles, and I make the sugar and oil in the beginning of December. You can tailor the sugar to the giftee - citrus-based for tea drinkers, vanilla or mint for coffee drinkers, etc. For the oil I mostly use basil, garlic, or cayenne in a good olive oil base. It really looks great and cooks and salad lovers really appreciate it.
posted by iconomy at 12:47 PM on December 13, 2006

This year, I'm making individual-sized pound cakes for my coworkers. The recipe, which I believe came from Real Simple magazine (Dec 2004) makes 6 at a time. They're dead easy.
posted by donajo at 12:47 PM on December 13, 2006

Give them Martha Stewart's spicy nuts.

Seriously though. They don't take a lot of money or wizardry to make and they are delicious and impressive. They're sweet but with a spicy cayenne kick. Addictive.
posted by loiseau at 12:47 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Chocolate truffles.

No, seriously! I just made some last night. Basically, make a ganache (scalded heavy cream mixed into chocolate until the chocolate melts and mixes smoothly). Let it cool, shape it into balls, then coat them in either chocolate powder or a hard chocolate shell. Total active work time - about a half hour. They can be as cheap or expensive as you want, since it all comes down to the cost of the chocolate.

It really helps to have a melon baller to shape them, though, unless you really like getting your hands filthy.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:00 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

I live in the southwest, while most of my family lives in Ohio, so the homemade red chile peanut brittle I sent a couple years ago was a big, exotic hit, and very easy to make.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:13 PM on December 13, 2006

Ditto on Martha's spicy nuts. I made those and included them in a gift basket for the out of town guests to my wedding, and they raved about them. I get requests to make them all the time.

You might also consider peanut brittle (ridiculously easy to make), or some infused sea salts or infused sugars. If you're going to go the sea salt/sugars route, print out a recipe card and tie it to the container with an attractive ribbon. Most folks will appreciate the gesture.
posted by likorish at 1:13 PM on December 13, 2006

What about bourbon balls? Are they too cookie-like? (I have an excellent old family recipe if you're interested.)
posted by Addlepated at 1:30 PM on December 13, 2006

this is coming from someone who doesn't drink . . at all. But one year a friend of mine made some cherry cordial for people as gifts. Her fingers were red for weeks from pitting the cherries.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:39 PM on December 13, 2006

M.C. Lo-Carb!, can you share the recipe? Is it anything like this?
posted by iconomy at 1:47 PM on December 13, 2006

Make peanut butter: peanuts, food processor, blend, salt, done. You can fancy it up a bit by adding a bit of honey or chocolate, or you can use other kinds of nuts.
posted by MsMolly at 1:55 PM on December 13, 2006

I often make fudge, which is ridiculously simple and you can make several batches in an evening. A couple of years ago, my husband made peppermint marshmallows, which were easy but very messy and a nice complement to the fudge. (This recipe doesn't have the peppermint...I think it called for a bit of extract and a bit of food coloring swirled in at the end.) Everyone loved them!
posted by hsoltz at 2:07 PM on December 13, 2006

Response by poster: How great is this! Thank you all! Great ideas and recipes and links.

I looked at today's NYTimes just now and Mark Bittman has an article with video on nut brittle
posted by nnk at 2:25 PM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've made homemade (very alchoholic but delicious) eggnog, put it in mason jars, tied ribbon around them, and sent em out. A few friends and I all made it together so I wasn't left with a bunch of unfinished (and pricey) bottles of booze afterwards.

Today, one of my coworkers gave me 'dessert sushi'. The 'sea weed' wrapping was Fruit by the Foot, the 'rice' was rice-krispy-treat (homemade, so you can mold it; not store bought bars), and the filling was chocolates. They are super cute looking and impressive, and probably not very expensive to make. I beleive she said she saw the idea on a Rachel Ray episode.
posted by Kololo at 2:36 PM on December 13, 2006

Response by poster: I do have some questions, comments and they are strangely, mostlyl alcohol-related --
1.) the Bourbon braised applesauce link didn't work for me and I bet that's interesting

2.) Yes, Addlepated, please share the Bourbon Balls recipe because anytime anybody says (writes) old family recipe -- I am interested and
3.)Ginger-infused Vodka sounds really good to me -- but the question is, how long and more importantly (maybe obvious) peeled or unpeeled -- If nobody knows I am going to experiment and try first with peeled.

and I'll second iconomy in saying that I'd like to see M.C. Lo-Carb!'s red chili peanut brittle recipe.

Thanks again everybody.
posted by nnk at 2:45 PM on December 13, 2006

Man, I want most of the recipes mentioned here: Chile brittle, alcoholic eggnog, cherry cordial, etc.
posted by GaelFC at 3:35 PM on December 13, 2006

Cook's Illustrated has a great spiced nuts recipe my mother made for gifts last year.
posted by MadamM at 6:09 PM on December 13, 2006

Baklava is easy to make (takes maybe an hour or so for a 9x13 pan) and impressive (since it looks much tricker than it is). One or two pans worth will make enough for gifts for 4-8 people easily.
posted by lorimt at 6:09 PM on December 13, 2006

While not exactly *food*, a nice chai tea mix makes a nice gift. I blend cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns, ground cardamom and ginger, and amchoor powder and add enough loose black tea for 4 cups. It's pretty in a tied muslin bag, or you can get those oversized empty tea bags to package it in. I add a card that explains how to simmer and add sweets/milks to taste.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:31 PM on December 13, 2006

Bourbon Braised Applesauce, try two.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:48 PM on December 13, 2006

Caramel popcorn is delicious and easy to make. Some recipes call for corn syrup and brown sugar while others simply use melted caramels. This recipe that adds chocolate looks wonderful.
posted by nelvana at 7:29 PM on December 13, 2006

Response by poster: thanks Ambrosia -- not sure I am going to give that away -- might just keep it for myself!
posted by nnk at 7:36 PM on December 13, 2006

Rumtopf is super-easy but you have to make it several months in advance. It's simply fruit and sugar soaked in rum and after aging for 3 or 4 months, it's absolutely heavenly. (For the first 2 months or so, however, it's vile - don't try to rush this one.) Set up your jars in summer when ripe fruit is luscious and affordable, stick them in a closet until winter and enjoy the fruit and syrup over various holiday desserts. My favorite fruits for rumtopf are raspberries and peaches.
posted by Quietgal at 8:11 PM on December 13, 2006

Whiskey Balls

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons corn syrup
1 lb. vanilla wafer cookies, crushed fine
1 cup quality bourbon
1 cup chopped pecans
powdered sugar

Mix sugar, cocoa, and syrup. Add wafer crumbs, pecans, and whiskey. Let sit in fridge overnight to firm up. The next day, roll in ping pong-sized balls and dip in powdered sugar.

Yields about 4 dozen.

These will keep a good long time in tins both inside and outside the fridge. They definitely pack a wallop, so don't feed a bunch to the babysitter. Enjoy them, and happy holidays!
posted by Addlepated at 8:12 PM on December 13, 2006

No knead bread
Butterfly Bread
I just made the butterfly bread using the no knead bread recipe.
For filling I used butter, brown sugar, cinnamon sugar, sliced almonds & several kinds of dried fruit.
Made the butterfly, put it on a foil covered cookie sheet, covered it with a towel, let it rise for the 2 hours then baked at 325 for 45 minutes.
Technically, it takes a long time, but most of it is just letting the dough sit.
Easy, Impressive, tasty.
The bread is incredible by itself.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:57 PM on December 13, 2006

P.S. I got the link to no knead bread at Not Martha.
I find lots of great things there.
posted by BoscosMom at 11:11 PM on December 13, 2006

Not Martha
posted by BoscosMom at 11:30 PM on December 13, 2006

The eggnog recipe i referred to is in fact an 'old family recipe', just not from my family. I'll see if i can get my friend to write it down!
posted by Kololo at 8:16 AM on December 14, 2006

Rum cake -- my great-aunt used to make and sell them in her grocery store. I've given them to people for Christmas and they always go over very well. Best things about it: 1) Very easy (cake mix!) and 2) Very little alcohol (1 cup total) so it's relatively inexpensive. Here's a link to a recipe.
posted by katemonster at 8:32 AM on December 14, 2006

Response by poster: This is fantastic! There are so many delicious treats here that I am going to make. I wish there was a way to follow-up and find out what the rest of you made from the thread that was new to you, how it turned out and how you liked it. One way or another, here's wishing you much joy and deliciousness.

Happy Holidays!
posted by nnk at 12:30 PM on December 14, 2006

nnk - we're going to attempt Martha's spicy nuts tonight. Because how can one resist Martha's spicy nuts? I know I sure can't.

If you should have access to a sourdough starter, I have an excellent Christmas stöllen recipe posted on my blog (warning: self-link). Everyone who's tried it has raved about it (and some people talk about it all year).
posted by Addlepated at 4:27 PM on December 14, 2006

fyi: I tried Bittman's peanut brittle recipe a few days ago and was a left a bit disappointed. Most other peanut brittle recipes call for some butter and baking soda, which probably lightens up the candy part.

The best tasting gingerbread recipe out there is that one that uses a can of stout from gramercy tavern. Really strong, dense, and gooood.
posted by lester the unlikely at 7:17 AM on December 20, 2006

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