This time of year, smart folks stress the “giving” part of the holidays over the “getting,” but if you’re the one in your family who carries the burden of checking off names on the gift list, “giving” can become a bit stressful. It’s usually easier to find that just right thing for our loved ones, but what about your children’s teachers, neighbors, and the people you want to do a little something for but never know what they want or need? Easy. Give them food. Everyone eats, and everyone loves a special treat. Even better? Make it yourself.
One of my favorite gifts every year arrives a few days before Christmas. A soft knock on my door late in the afternoon means that my sweet neighbors down the street have stopped by with their present. It’s usually some kind of nut enrobed in some type of chocolate. They are not that many pieces, and they’re resting in a plain clear plastic bag with a short piece of red or green ribbon tied in a simple bow around its neck. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s perfect, delicious, and thoughtful, made by the whole family in the kitchen working assembly-line style.
When you share the fruits of your labor with someone, it means so much more than anything you could have bought. When dealing with edibles, it probably tastes fresher and better too. And you don’t have to spend a fortune, be crafty, or even be that much of a cook to whip up something yummy that anyone would appreciate getting. Try these three recipes—one savory and two sweet—that are quick, inexpensive, and easy enough to let you get the kids involved.
BLACKBERRY BARBECUE SAUCE
(makes enough for 3, 8-ounce mason jars)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup onions
2 cups blackberries (frozen work fine)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt to taste
In a heavy-bottomed saucepot, sauté the onions until soft. Add the blackberries and cook down on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Add the ketchup, cider vinegar, garlic power, and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Cut the heat down and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes on low heat. Add the balsamic vinegar and pepper flakes and simmer about 10 minutes more. If you want it smooth, use an immersion blender or transfer it to a regular blender. I like it a bit chunky.
(makes enough for 5 or 6 small gifts)
8, 4-ounce white chocolate bars
1 1/2 cups dried cherries
1 1/2 cups pistachios (shelled)
Break up the white chocolate bars and in a large double boiler, melt them slowly, stirring often. Be very careful not to let any water get into your melting chocolate or it will seize up. Once the chocolate is completely melted, pour it onto a parchment- or wax-paper-lined sheet pan. NOTE: Wipe the bottom of the pot off before pouring to make sure no water drips into the chocolate as you pour it. Use a spatula to spread it out in an even layer on the pan. Drop the cherries and pistachios onto the melted chocolate and, if needed, push them down into the chocolate a bit with your fingers. Place in the refrigerator to harden (about an hour or so). Once it is set up, use your hands or a large knife to break it into pieces. If you’re using your hands, work fast—their heat will begin to melt the chocolate. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to give them away!
(makes enough for 4 small gifts)
6, 4-ounce bittersweet chocolate bars
2 cups roasted and salted almonds
1 teaspoon lavender-infused salt (optional; you can use regular sea salt if you can’t find this cool stuff!)
Use a large double boiler over medium heat to melt the chocolate bars once you’ve broken them into pieces. Watch it carefully and stir it to help speed up the melting process. Do NOT get any water into your chocolate or it will become a sticky, separated mess! Once the chocolate is melted, add the almonds to the pot and stir to make sure they’re all completely coated. Pour the mixture out onto a sheet pan lined with wax or parchment paper and use a spoon to spread it out and make sure none of the almonds stay clumped together. Quickly, sprinkle the salt over it all, distributing evenly. Place in the refrigerator to set up, and when it has, break or cut it into snack-sized pieces. Now you’re ready to pack them up and share the love! Or, if you’re keeping then for a bit, put them in ziplock bags or some other sealable container and place in the fridge or in a cool, dry place.
Internet to the Rescue: Just don’t have the time to make anything yourself? Food (and drink!) still makes a great gift, and there are a ton of great Southern companies making delicious things to share with everyone on your list. Check out the wares of these Alabama-based businesses that you can order right off their websites: Hot Damn Jelly Co. (hotdamnjelly.com), Piper & Leaf Tea (piperandleaf.com) and Momma G’s Cookies (gmommas.com).