By Chef Renee Morgan
Well, it’s that time of year again and I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m already way behind on this whole Christmas shopping, gift-giving thing. I suppose it’s my own fault. I mean, I don’t really dig the whole “Black Friday” combat shopping thing. Plus, it seems like the deals are really not all that good anyway. Certainly, not good enough for me to drag myself out of bed at some ungodly hour, waste the better part of a tank of gas and stand in some line in the cold and dark, all to “save” a couple of bucks on something I didn’t really need to begin with. Can I get an amen?
Maybe it’s the economy, or my distain for tug of war over the last ugly sweater because I desperately need a gift for Aunt Suzy syndrome, but I guess with each passing year I feel more and more like I want the holidays to be made wonderfully special by the experiences I share with my family and friends, as well as, the unique and thoughtful gifts.
In recent years, it seems like homemade gifts have become more popular. I have always favored them. I think homemade gifts show creativity and a care for the recipient that is unequalled, not that I haven’t given and received some awfully nice store-brought presents, too. A couple of weeks ago, I offered some suggestions of food gifts that I have found to be particularly well received. I plan to do quite a few of the homemade food variety gifts for the folks on my list this year. So I thought I’d share a few more food gift ideas with you.
One such idea centers around food swaps. A good, old-fashioned cookie swap is always welcome and in vogue. All kinds of goodies can be swapped — cookies, dessert bars, fudge all dressed up in a pretty tin, dessert, cookie and soup mixtures in a jar with beautiful ribbons and a little card, or even a supper swap. Swaps work especially well with groups like your Sunday School class, your co-workers, the gals at Yoga or the other couples on your block.
Here’s how it works. Let’s say you want to do a cookie exchange. Simply pick your date and send, phone, email or smoke signal your invitations. In your invitation, ask everyone to bring one special kind of homemade cookie. Make sure you let your guests know that this is about homemade gifts, no store bought treats allowed.
Be sure to specify how many dozen cookies you want each person to bring. For example, if you have six people participating, each person should bring six dozen cookies. They should be packaged in groups of one dozen each. I like to present them in a muffin tin wrapped in colored cellophane or maybe one of those cute Chinese take-out containers from The Container Store. It’s also a nice touch for everyone to include copies of the recipe or a fun story about the cookie.
Now, the swap is not just about exchanging cookies. It’s about enjoying one another’s company. You could plan your swap for a happy hour or plan a salad pot-luck. Everyone could bring extra cookies if y’all can’t resist sampling. Viola! Dessert for the party! One year, I had a brunch for my cookie swap, complete with mimosas, bloody marys, coffee cakes and quiche. That one went over great!
Now, a supper swap works a little differently and it works any time of year, as well as the holidays. I know people who do this all year as a co-op. For this one, it’s important to pick a recipe that can easily be doubled or tripled. Let’s say you have four people in your family and you are swapping with two other families who also have four members. That means you need to make one meal for 12 people. Then, divide and package it for three families. You keep one meal and trade the other two. It’s nice to include a main dish, veggie, starch and dessert. I really like to do casseroles because they can be put away in the freezer for a time when a quick dinner is needed and time is short. Be sure to include the recipe, re-heating instructions and perhaps serving suggestions.
The easiest of all is the Cookie in a Jar swap. Instead of making the cookies, bars, brownies or whatever, you simply layer each ingredient, gently tapping the jar after each addition to settle the layer before adding the next. The trick here is to find the right size jar to fit the amount of product in your recipe. I have shared a couple of recipes below that work well for a Cookie in a Jar.
They all fit a standard 1-quart canning jar or any container that holds four cups. Be sure to include the recipe and baking instructions. This project is a fun one to do with children to give as gifts. They feel so proud when they can give their teacher something they made themselves. Just try to keep them from shaking the jar up!
I hope some of these ideas are useful as you prepare for a wonderful holiday season.
Chippers in a Jar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
Stir together flour and baking soda in a small bowl. Layer in a 1-quart glass jar or canister the following ingredients: granulated sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, oats, flour mixture and peanut butter chips. Tap jar gently on a counter to settle each layer before adding the next. Cover the jar and attach baking instructions.
Use within one month. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Empty contents of jar into a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup softened butter. 1 slightly beaten egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir until combined. Drop dough by heaping teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to wire racks and cool.
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup snipped dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Stir together flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Layer in a 1-quart glass jar or canister the following ingredients: brown sugar, granulated sugar, cranberries, flour mixture, and walnuts. tap jar gently on the counter to settle each layer before adding the next. Cover the jar and attach baking instructions.
Use within one month. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Empty the contents of the jar into a large mixing bowl, and stir together. Combine 1 slightly beaten egg and 2 tablespoons orange juice in a small bowl. Add to jar contents. Stir until combined. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to wire racks and cool.