Let me begin by saying that food, really good food made with quality ingredients and lots of love, is the best gift you can give, hands down, any time of the year. I didn’t always feel this way.
There was a time in my life when I felt like food gifts were cop-out gifts…something you did because you didn’t want to take the time to think of anything else. To be honest, we all probably have, at certain times in our lives, received a food gift from someone that we just toss to the side, or worse, in the garbage, and for no other reason than it just really doesn’t taste good. You may have tried it once and no matter how much you wanted it to be good, it just wasn’t. What’s worse, when it doesn’t taste good, you’re too nice to tell the giver that it wasn’t good. So what do you do if you’re that giver? You assume they like it and you keep giving it, year after year.
If you give the gift of food, run your food product by several taste testers who you can genuinely trust to give you an honest opinion. You want your gift to be the one that your recipients look forward to, better yet, can’t wait to get their hands on year after year. Even better, change it up every once in a while. I have one food gift that I give every year to a colleague – a pan of fudge. But for my other friends, I try to come up with something new, or at the very least, a new twist on what I’ve given in the past.
This year, I made hot chocolate kits for my friends at work. Each kit included a package of homemade hot cocoa mix, a package of mini homemade vanilla bean marshmallows, a tin of Pirouline cookies, and peppermint stir sticks. This is the perfect type of gift for a person who is short on time because you don’t have to be crazy, like me, and make the marshmallows yourself. Just buy a bag of mini marshmallows and divide them up and package them in cellophane bags. If you want to add another special touch, you can always find a special mug that you think your recipient would like. You might also try tossing in a cellophane bag full of peppermint patties and tell the recipient to toss a peppermint patty into the cocoa for a homemade peppermint hot cocoa…delicious! For some reason, I didn’t take pictures of the kits or the cocoa making process, but I do have one bad picture of the mix in a mason jar...
Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix
2 c. nonfat dry milk powder
3/4 c. sugar (you can use granulated OR confectioners — the latter will yield a creamier cocoa)
1/2 c. Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder
1/2 c. mini semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. extra rich powdered nondairy creamer
1/8 tsp. salt
1. Measure all of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk them until they are evenly blended.
2. Store the mix in a tightly covered container at room temperature until you’re ready to package it. Makes about 4 c. of mix.
3. Package in cellophane bags, mason jars, or any container with a hinged lid or wide mouth that makes it easy to spoon mix from. Helpful hint: check your local dollar store. I found tons of cute containers, and for $1 each, how can you go wrong?
I also made pans of the best cinnamon rolls you will EVER taste, but I can’t take too much credit for them or claim the recipe as my own. These are a Pioneer Woman recipe and are available here. The only change I made to her recipe was using real maple syrup instead of maple extract…and I didn’t use quite as much butter as she did in the filling. I!!! have a good friend whose family makes maple syrup, so I always have one (or more) gorgeous containers of this perfect syrup waiting to be used. The icing for these cinnamon rolls begged for the real stuff! As always, when you have the real “good” stuff, use it!!
The food you make for family and friends is always a gift. On Christmas day, we began our day with a breakfast pizza topped with eggs, cheese, and bacon. For dinner, we ate slow roasted beef, brussels sprouts with cranberries and bacon (I’ll post the recipe this week), green beans with garlic and almonds, and mashed potatoes. For dessert, we had a selection…cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, and a pie (we cheated on this one…thanks Sara Lee).
I really believe that food gifts are the best gifts can give…especially if you love cooking and baking. If you love doing it, it shows in the food. But isn’t life, in general, like that? If you truly love what you do, it shows. This applies to gift giving as well. If cooking and baking aren’t your thing, find a signature gift or method that does work within something you love. We tend to focus most of our gift giving attention on the holidays, but there are so many other gift giving occasions that pop up throughout the year. When you make your gift personal and a reflection of your time and love, you can’t help but give something that the recipient will love.