Tag Archives | edible gifts

Holiday Berry Jam for Gift Giving

This holiday berry jam combines frozen strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries with fresh cranberries. The result is a bright, flavorful jam that works beautifully for holiday gift bags and baskets.

Four jars of holiday berry jam.

No matter how much jam making I do during the summer season, I almost always find myself a little short on the desirable jams come gift giving time. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have mountains of preserves. But many of them were experimental batches that just don’t work for neighbors and Scott’s coworkers.

Fruit for holiday berry jam.

This year, instead of relying only on pears and apples to make up the shortfall, I headed for the freezer section at the grocery store. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to make giftable jam exclusively with frozen fruit, because I find it almost always ends up with a softer set and a slightly dull flavor.

Ingredients for holiday berry jam in a pot.

But last week, the solution came to me in a flash. Cranberries. Combine frozen berries with a small portion of cranberries and you get perfect jam every time. The cranberries provide both ample pectin and welcome acidity to ensure that the jam sets and tastes terrific. Holiday berry jam is born!

Finished holiday berry jam in the pot.

I made this jam with 24 ounces of raspberries, 12 ounces of strawberries, 12 ounces of blueberries, and 8 ounces of cranberries. You can easily change up the frozen fruit, but maintain the basic ratio of three pounds frozen berries to 8 ounces of cranberries.

Holiday berry jam in an open jar.

The yield on this sucker was just a little bit more than 6 cups. I canned it in four 12 ounce jelly jars because those were the easiest jars to put my hands on. You could also do six half pints or even a dozen 4 ounce jelly jars. Make it work for you.

Oh, and one last thing. If you have an Aldi near you, know that it’s an excellent spot to pick up your frozen fruit. Their prices are awesome and they often have organic options.

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Salted Maple Walnut Granola

This salted maple walnut granola is perfect for gift giving and holiday brunch buffets. Pair it with a jar of homemade jam for your favorite people.

Every year, I try to make something to supplement the holiday gifts of jam that I give to my friends, family and neighbors. Sometimes I make shortbread cookies. Other times, I roll out cracker dough and use a wavy pie cutter to slice them into diamond shapes. Occasionally, I work up a giant batch of my dad’s pancake mix and package it in ziptop bags the way he always did when I was a kid.

This year, I made a giant batch of spiced and salted granola to pair up with the jams and fruit butters I’m sharing this year. Made with walnuts because I bought a giant bag at Costco (so many of my recipe development choices are spurred by what I happened to have in excess), it is nutty, crunchy, and perfect for topping bowls of yogurt and preserves.

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Holiday Giving: Oven Toasted Caramel Corn

jar of caramel corn

Back in the days when we were still allowed to bring homemade treats to school for holiday parties, my mom would make honey butter popcorn. She would pop enough corn to fill a clean brown paper grocery bag, and boil brown sugar, honey, butter, and vanilla extract together.

When it was thick, she’d pour the hot syrup over the popcorn, tossing vigorously with a long handled wooden spoon. The popcorn would also get a generous sprinkling of salt as she stirred the syrup in. As soon as the coated corn wasn’t molten hot, we’d be allowed a few tastes.

popping corn

When it was cooled enough to handle, but not entirely firm, she’d portion it out into plastic sandwich bags and tie them off with the colored ribbon that you could curl with a scissors blade. I was always excited to share that popcorn with my friends at school, thinking it the very best offering possible.

These days, I still think that crisp, sweet popcorn is one of the very best treats around. It’s one of those things that I love to make but only cook up a batch when I know I can move most of it out of the house immediately. My self control wanes when there is caramel corn within reach.

caramel popcorn sheet tray

Last Saturday, some dear friends had their annual holiday party. It’s an event that features a wide array of delicious, sugary, holiday-themed confections and I needed something worthy to add to the spread. After a quick appraisal of my pantry stores and the amount of time left before we needed to leave for the party, caramel popcorn was the winner.

These days, I use an approach that marries how my mom would make hers, with the low heat toasting that Molly Wizenberg wrote about some six years ago. It results in a crisp, deeply caramel-y corn that keeps its texture best if you stash it in jars or zip-top bags the moment it is cool.

top of caramel corn

This popcorn also makes a terrific addition to holiday cookie plates and gift bags. If you’re mailing out treat boxes, a quart bag of this corn bulks out your offering without increasing your shipping costs much. It can also serve as an edible cushion for more fragile baked goods and jars. Pair it with a bag of Eleanor’s roasted Chex Mix, for the pinnacle of sweet and salty.

Before we get to the recipe, a note. There is a suggestion in the very back of Food in Jars that you infuse flaky sea salt with vanilla beans. If you’ve made it and have a jar kicking around, make sure to use it on this popcorn. The subtle hint of vanilla you get from the salt makes a darned fine addition to the popcorn.

Oh, and just one last thing. If you are looking for a good way to make stove top popcorn, may I suggest the Whirley-Pop? It is definitely a unitasker (forgive me, Alton Brown), but I love mine with an unreasonable amount of passion. If you are a popcorn lover looking to break your dependence on the microwave stuff and have a sliver of spare storage space, you should get one.

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Holiday Giving: Pumpkin Seed Brittle

pumpkin seed brittle

I realize it’s Christmas Eve. Chances are, the holiday baking is done and you’ve already hung up your candy making apron for the season. Still, I couldn’t resist sharing one last recipe for pumpkin seed brittle.

It’s a recipe I first made four years ago and it’s slowly become part of our Christmas tradition. When I landed in Portland a week ago, one of my dad’s first questions for me was, “Are you going to make that brittle again this year? Anything I can do to help?”

It’s a recipe I tweaked from Smitten Kitchen, who found her original inspiration from The Wednesday Chef. Luisa adapted her batch from Karen DeMasco. That there’s good recipe bones, I say.

pumpkin seed brittle

You start by toasting 2 cups raw pumpkin seeds until they crackle and pop. Set them aside and let them cool. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and set it near the stove. In a roomy, heavy bottomed pot, melt one stick of butter. When it’s just liquid, add 2 cups granulated white sugar, 1/3 cup corn syrup and 1 1/4 cups water. Stir to combine.

Cook the toffee over medium-high heat until it turns golden brown. On my mom’s stove in her ancient Revere Ware pots, this takes about 25 minutes. Times will vary depending on the width of your pot, their ability to retain heat and the strength of your stove. One way to test it is to drop small bits onto your parchment covered pan. Once they’re cool, taste them and see if they’ve achieved the proper brittle consistency. If not, keep cooking.

When the toffee is a deep golden color, remove the pot from the heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 2 generous teaspoons sea salt. It will foam madly. Keep stirring. Once both are well-integrated, stir in the toasted pumpkin seeds. Pour mixture out onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet and spread using a rubber or silicone scrapper. While it’s still warm, score the brittle into squares using a pizza cutter. When it’s entirely cool (I found that the cold cement floor of my parents’ garage sped the cooling nicely), break into pieces and enjoy.

Just one word of warning here. Don’t use unrefined cane sugar in this recipe. Stick to pure white sugar. If you use sugars with a darker hue, it is VERY hard to tell when the toffee is done cooking. A couple of years ago, I did this and ended up with soggy caramel in place of the brittle. It still tasted good but when it came to texture it was QUITE disappointing.


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Holiday Giving: Homemade Coffee Liqueur

instant espresso

When I was 13 years old, one of my parents’ friends gave them a bottle of homemade coffee liqueur. I remember my dad being particularly pleased with its arrival. His favorite way to eat it was to stream a generous pour over several scoops of vanilla ice cream. Once in a great while, he’d let me have the tiniest taste. I though it was heaven. I’ve always been some of a fiend for sweet, coffee-flavored things.

3/4 cup instant espresso

Last year, Molly posted a recipe for Coffee Vanilla Bean Liqueur and I took note. I never got around to making it then (writing a cookbook means that you don’t get to many of the recipes that look appealing) and this year I was committed to mixing up a batch.

3 cups sugar

Yesterday, I bought a bottle of inexpensive vodka and today, I spent ten minutes putting my batch of coffee liqueur (also known in some circles as Kahlua) together.


I combined 3 cups granulated white sugar with 2 cups water and heated until the sugar was dissolved. Next I added 3/4 cup instant espresso (this is actually an ingredient I try to keep on hand, as it is an easy way to add high quality coffee flavor to a variety of baked goods) and whisked vigorously until it was fully dissolved. Once all the little grains of coffee are gone, remove the pot from the heat.

vanilla beans

I split and scraped 3 vanilla beans (Molly’s original recipe only calls for two, but three fell out of the bag, so I took it as an omen) and stirred the seeds into the sweetened coffee slurry. Finally, I added 3 cups vodka and whisked to combine.

homemade kahlua in the making

I funneled the nascent coffee liqueur into a 1/2 gallon jar, dropped in the vanilla bean pods and capped it. I hear it needs to sit for at least three weeks, though four to six is even better. I’ll be away for Christmas, but hope to crack the jar for a few friends on New Year’s Eve, which means I’ve just squeaked under the wire as far as starting the batch goes.

If you’re feeling like it’s too late to make something like this for holiday giving, I firmly believe that there’s nothing wrong with giving someone a jar of homemade liqueur that has a note, instructing them not to open it until the first or second week of January. Think of it as a holiday season extension. Who wouldn’t like that?

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Holiday Giving: Burnt Sugar Toffee with Chocolate and Toasted Walnuts

This deeply caramelized burnt sugar toffee is finished with a sheet of melted chocolate and toasted walnuts. It’s perfect for holiday gift baskets and cookie exchanges.

I started out life totally indifferent to chocolate. For my first ten years, I’d eat it when it was offered, but always preferred sweets that were based on vanilla, fruit or toffee flavors. Pecan was my favorite ice cream flavor, and when Eleanor’s platter of holiday treats arrived each year, the first candies I went for were the homemade caramels.


I did eventually come around to chocolate’s many charms, but I’ve still got a soft spot for caramels and toffee-based candies. In past years I’ve made those graham cracker toffees and pepita brittle. Last week, after having the page bookmarked for years now, I made this skillet toffee.

burnt sugar toffee

I made just a couple changes to the original recipe. I swapped in toasted walnuts for the almonds and I cooked it just a bit longer than called for. As I’ve aged, I’ve found that I like my candy to have an edge. I want sweets to have complexity and so when I cooked the butter and sugar together, I took it to the brink of of being burnt. It’s sweet and sharp and utterly entrancing. It’s one I plan on making for many years to come.

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