Homemade Holiday Giving

It’s the season for giving, and what could be a better gift than something you made?  It’s something unique, and most importantly, it is made with love.  Everyone appreciates getting something that is handcrafted.  A gift from your kitchen can be as simple as some smoked or spiced nuts, or it can be as elaborate as giving a special friend a certificate entitling them to a special meal at your place.

In the spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas (but don’t try to put this list to music), here are some ideas you can make.  I’ve included links to my recipes, but it’s your own creativity that will make your homemade treats into the most special holiday gift.
1.  Loaf of Sourdough Bread.  Folks love getting a fresh loaf of bread any time of year, but during the holidays, a nice baguette makes an especially nice gift.

It can be sliced and served with cheeses and meats on a party tray, used for impromptu sandwiches, or toasted and turned into tasty crostini.

If you don’t have a sourdough starter (and you should get one), don’t worry, just make a sponge with some baking yeast and let it sit overnight with equal parts flour and water.  The long, cool rest will produce a fine loaf to rival your favorite bakery.  And you made it yourself!  Make a bunch of loaves and jump start your baking tradition into the New Year!

2.    Homemade Hot Sauce.  OK, it’s too late to start a fermented hot sauce to give this year, but here are a couple other recipes of mine that you can make in short order:
3.  Homemade Soap.  Homemade soap makes a great gift, and it can be made in an afternoon.  You’ll probably need to order some lye on line.  Then choose the oils you like: olive, palm, coconut, avocado, cocoa butter, beeswax, and beef tallow all make great soap.  About five pounds is enough to make 24 bars.  Use the lye calculator from Mystic Mountain Sage, and while you’re there pick up a soap mold and some fragrance oils.  I like a little luffa dust in the soap, too.

Try my Belgian Chocolate soap; it smells good enough to eat (but don’t do that!)

4.  Pickles.  Hopefully you have a pantry full of canned produce from a bountiful Summer garden, but if not, there are many things you can pickle now.  Find a great recipe, and can up some love to give to a party host or an appreciative friend.

 

A quick refrigerator pickle can be made by preparing your ingredient to be pickled (for example, cucumber slices, roasted beet slices, hot peppers, pearl onions, beans, etc.).  Place the prepped produce in a large stainless steel bowl.  Next, make a mixture of half vinegar (use some good tasting vinegar, like white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar) and half water.  Add salt, a few black peppercorns, some smashed cloves of garlic, and fresh herbs of your choice.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then pour it over the bowl of prepped vegetables.  Let it cool, and then place the bowl in the refrigerator.
A great item to make like this is pickled cherry peppers which may then be cored and stuffed with rolled up mozzarella and prosciutto or canned tuna.

5.  Bottle of Nocino.  At Christmastime, a bottle of vintage Nocino is a treasured gift.  It’s a perfect night cap or even goes well with some of those Christmas cookies.
If you forgot to make Nocino, you still have time to make some Limoncello.  Put the zest of 10 washed lemons into a liter of pure alcohol (Everclear).  When the lemon zest is as crisp as a potato chip, strain off the alcohol.  To between one and one and one half liter of water (depending on how strong you want the Limoncello to be) add 800 grams of sugar.  Heat to dissolve the sugar, cool, and mix with the lemon infused alcohol.  Bottle for gifts (save some for yourself).  Make extra if you want.
6.  Sauerkraut.  There is just enough time to make homemade sauerkraut, but you better get started soon.  Sauerkraut with roast pork is a New Year’s Day tradition in Pennsylvania Dutch country.  Anyone who observes this tradition will be grateful that you have saved them from supermarket kraut.

 

Give a gift of kraut right from your crock (or bucket).  Put it in a nice container, or blend with some caraway seeds or juniper berries to make some variations to give.
7.  Homemade Sausages.  When I make sausage, I typically make several kinds at once.  I figure while I am grinding meat, preparing casings, and getting my stuffer out, it only makes sense to make the most of it.  The result is a lot of sausage!  I like to freeze packages of 3-4 links.  A great weeknight dinner can be made from one of those packages, or a really nice mixed grill can be made with a few types of sausage, and maybe even some bacon, ribs or other meats.  This goes perfectly as garnishes for your sauerkraut, too.
Give your friends a few types of sausage to enjoy.  If you have a favorite recipe which includes your sausage, add it to your gift card.
8.  Tamales.  Tamales can be made ahead and they store really well.  You can even freeze them.  Make a big batch of tamales; enough for you and some to share.  Open someone’s eyes to the taste of freshly made corn masa.  People will tell you how they love tamales, and then they will taste yours and know it is something special, hand-made from scratch.
A dozen homemade tamale and some homemade salsa is a fantastic homemade gift.
9.    Special Homebrewed Beer.  I’ve been doing a lot of special brewing projects, and am really proud of the results.  Good homebrewed beer is always appreciated by craft beer enthusiasts.  I like to keep my beer is five gallon kegs, but sometimes bottle beers to enter in competitions or for special occasions.  Beer for gifts goes in a bomber bottle or a reusable growler.  Make a nice label so they know what it is and how best to enjoy it.

 

10. Jar of Backyard Honey.  If you’re a beekeeper, you probably already give some of your precious honey to special friends.  Hopefully you had a great harvest this summer, too.  Most people love honey, but when they taste special honey, they know it is something really special.  I think that a lot of the typical honey we would get at a supermarket is blended.  When you have your own bees, it is possible to separate the frames of honey according to its characteristics.  For example, our bees produce the lightest and most floral honey early in the season. The mid-season honey is a little darker and tastes herbal.  Late honey is darker still and tastes almost woody to me.  Each is great honey, but if they are blended, the distinctive flavors are muted.  We extract our honey to keep these flavors separated and allow the unique character to shine through.

 

Comb honey also makes a very special gift.  We sometimes produce comb honey by setting frames on the honey supers with a very thin foundation.  I then use a square metal cutter to cut pieces that fit perfectly into a plastic clamshell container.  I love little pieces of comb honey server on brie with toasted pine nuts on a piece of sourdough bread.

11. Take them a dinner.  Those of us who love to cook know many people who appreciate great food, but they derive no pleasure from making it themselves.  Give these people a dinner that they can simply heat and enjoy at their convenience.  I find that pasta is a good idea for a meal gift.  You can give a container of your homemade Bolognese sauce along with a package of good pasta.  Likewise, baked pasta dishes can be prepared ahead and frozen.  I like to make foil pans of Pasta Gina or Stuffed Shells, cover and freeze.  Enchiladas also work well like this.  Write the cooking instructions on the cover or attach a small label with the directions.  Usually, the directions are as simple as preheat the oven to 350F and bake the pan of food straight from the freezer until it is heated through, remove the cover and serve when it gets browned.  Make sure you don’t have any plastic in there if it’s going in the oven.

 

 

12.Treat them to dinner!  We love our friends, and dinners together are the best times of all.  No matter how busy our daily lives become, we must make time for friends.  Invite them to dinner or give them a certificate entitling them to a spontaneous meal at your place. Make something very special.  It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.  You don’t need to go to a lot of trouble.  It just needs to be good.  Tasty food makes a wonderful backdrop to friendly laughter and storytelling.
The gift of friendship is the most special.
Peace To All!

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