Tag Archives | gifts in jars

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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Honey-Sweetened Chestnut Butter

honey-sweetened chestnut butter

The first fall that my family lived in Portland was magical. We were escapees from Southern California and everything about the changing leaves, chilly nights, and morning frost was novel and thrilling to me. I was also innocently astonished by the new varieties of edible bounty around us.

Across the driveway, Mrs. Gosling grew raspberries and a wild herb garden. On the other side, Jan and Guy had pumpkins, beans, and apples on their tiny city plot. We had had plums and guava trees in Los Angeles, but the food of the Pacific Northwest felt sturdy and sustaining.

one and a half pounds chestnuts

One day, we discovered a clutch of chestnut trees on the lawn of a high school (ultimately, the very school I’d end up attending years later). My parents, caught up in my excitement over the idea of roasted chestnuts (Christmas songs made them sound so romantic), let me fill a partially closed umbrella with my haul (we had yet to learn that true Portlanders never use umbrellas).

We brought them home, gave them a cursory rinse and piled them onto a baking sheet. Never having had anything to do with chestnuts, we had no idea that there were multiple varieties or that you needed to make a little cut in the shell to prevent them from exploding once heated. It was, after all, in the days before we had the internet to help us with such research.

peeled chestnuts

Soon enough, the kitchen filled with smoke and the chestnuts began to explode in the oven. The inside of the oven ended up covered with a sticky, green nutmeat (turns out that these were the non-edible horse chestnuts) that had to be scraped off with an old butter knife. Our time as chestnut eaters was over before it got a chance to begin.

It was a good 20 years before I tried chestnuts again.

chestnut butter in the blender

In recent years, I’ve returned to the chestnut. Wiser and armed with better information, I’ve found that as long as you have the edible variety, those hard shells contain flesh that is sweet, tender, and has a texture much like the bean paste you find inside many Chinese buns and baked goods.

There are a number of classical applications for chestnuts, including soups, stuffings, puddings, and roasted whole for snacking. Less common, but my favorite, is a chestnut spread. I tried a version made by Bonne Maman a few years back and was totally smitten. I’ve bought it occasionally since then, but it’s long been on my list of things to make at home. This was the week!

chestnut butter

This time of year, a number of grocery stores and farmers’ markets carry chestnuts. If you  have the option, sort through them and select nuts that are firm, heavy, and that don’t feel like the nutmeat is rattling around inside the shell. Unlike most other nuts, which seem to last forever in their shells at room temperature, chestnuts are highly perishable and need to be stored in the fridge. If the chestnuts are pre-packaged, make sure to get a few more than you’ll need, to compensate for the few that will inevitably be moldy inside.

To prepare the chestnuts to make this spread, you cut an ‘x’ into the shell and then boil them for 20-25 minutes, until the spot where you cut begins opens up on its own. Once the time is up, you drain them and run them under cold water to stop the cooking. Then you peel. Peeling chestnuts can be a time consuming task, because there’s both a hard outer shell and a papery skin that need to be removed. But it’s that kind of pleasing, mindless work that goes well with a good podcast.

chestnut butter, above

When you make this spread, you have to be diligent and puree until it is intensely smooth. I made mine in the Vitamix, because I knew it would eventually give me the texture I wanted, but there was a lot of starting, stopping, and scraping involved. It also needs a goodly amount of water, adding in small increments, to achieve silkiness. I imagine it would also work using a food processor or even an immersion blender, though I did not try it this time around.

Like so many nut butters, this one is good smeared on toast or crackers. It’s also a nice filling for small shortbread cookies or as an addition to a platter of cheeses (I was talking to Madame Fromage earlier today and she suggested pairing with the goat cheese called Robiola. It’s wrapped in chestnut leaves, so they’d compliment each other beautifully). It’s also a wonderful homemade holiday gift for chestnut lovers, as it’s unusual, seasonal, and delicious.

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Gifts in Jars From the Archives

jam and bread

December is here and that means that it’s time of year when a home cook’s fancy to turn to baking and roasting up items to give as gifts. In the coming days, I’ll be posting a few new recipes to get your wheels turning, but until then, I thought it might be nice to feature some of the giftables I’ve posted in the past.

Jams

pear cinnamon jam

While there aren’t many jammable fruits left out there this time of year, there are still pears. And they are one of my favorites things to preserve. The archives speak for themselves. Pear Vanilla Jam. Pear Cinnamon Jam. Red Pear with Lavender. Pear Chutney with Dried Cherries and Ginger. Just know that this time of year, the pears have thicker skins than they do is early fall, so they may need to be peeled.

And if pears aren’t your bag, there’s always Apple-Cranberry Jam. It’s bright ruby color makes it feel festive and it is lovely for breakfast or paired with runny cheeses on an appetizer plate.

Snacks and Munchables

chex mix in jars

Roasted Chex Mix. It’s a blast straight out of my personal past and it so, so good. People go crazy for it. For snack that’s a little sweet and spicy, try these Rosemary Maple-Glazed Nuts.

If you need something to pair with a little jar of jam, bake up a batch of these easy crackers. They come together in minutes and are perfect to have in the pantry around the holidays to finish off a spread of starters.

Baked Goods

cocoa hazelnut granola

Cocoa Hazelnut Granola. It’s a must for the chocolate lover in your life. If you’ve someone on your list whole likes an easy baking project, this Cranberry Orange Scone Mix is just the thing. For best results, put a little piece of plastic wrap in between the dry ingredients and the orange sugar.

These mini Cranberry Bread Loaves are nice if you’re putting together an assortment of treats and want to add a quick bread. And no one ever says no to a batch of Whole Grain Pancake Mix. Pair it with a jar of jam or a small bottle of maple syrup for a holiday morning breakfast kit.

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Gift in a Jar: Handmade Spice Blends

mixed pickling blend

Back in the summer, I went through a period during which I made approximately seven pints of dill pickles a night for at least a week (I now have a lot of pickles in my coat closet). While I worked my way through at least a bushel of pickling cukes, instead of opening up each individual container of spice for every batch, I’d mix up a spice blend and add a couple of teaspoons of the mix to each jar prior to packing the cucumbers in.

pickling blend in layers

During that pickling frenzy, I toyed with the idea of mixing up a extra-large batch of this spice blend and selling it in a little Etsy shop. While I never followed through with that thought, homemade spice blends do make excellent gifts for the right person. The following measurements fill a half-pint jar: 4 tablespoons dill seed, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes and 1 tablespoon mustard seeds. Two teaspoons of this blend can be substituted for the spices in this recipe (everything else stays the same).

bbq rub

If you’re not making gifts for canners (I realize that not everyone is as crazy for home preserving as I am), but you like the idea of a handmade spice blend, how about a barbecue rub? I mixed this one up for a 4th of July cookout last summer and used it on a nice, big brisket (that was a good food day!).

This rub comes from Elizabeth Karmel’s terrific book, Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill. It’s called the Barbecue Circuit Rub and the recipe is after the jump. However, if that one doesn’t look good to you, definitely check out her book, there are more than 20 rub recipes in there, so you’re sure to find the right one for your bbq lover.

Ty's spice blends

These spice blends were a most thoughtful wedding gift from Ty (my friend Shay’s mom). She makes all manner of these blends from the herbs she grows in her backyard (Ty was also the source of that 2-gallon bag of basil I got last summer). For those of you who like to think ahead, consider planting an expanded herb garden next summer and harvest the herbs for holiday giving.

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Gift in a Jar: Rosemary Maple-Glazed Nuts

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Here’s another simple little edible gift, that can easily be packaged up in jars and distributed to your friends and family for the holidays. This recipe is inspired by a sweet and spicy nut mix that my friend AnnElise was once famous for in our circle of acquaintances. It was her favorite thing to bring to parties and potlucks, and I would always make sure to station myself by the bowl as soon as she walked in the door. Then AnnElise up and moved to Ohio and I lost my spiced nut source. After suffering through months of cravings, I pulled myself together and made my own.

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This particular glazed nut recipe isn’t too sweet, but I think balances the forces of sweet, spicy and herb-y (from the rosemary) nicely. I can’t stop eating it and that’s always a good sign.

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It’s a quick little thing to mix up (I managed to make it on Wednesday night, after getting home from work right around 9:30 p.m.) and the active time is less than ten minutes. In one pot, melt together butter, maple syrup, a tiny scoop of cayenne and a couple palmfuls of dried rosemary.

In another larger pot (Dutch ovens work nicely here) or skillet, toast the raw nuts until they develop deep brown speckles (turn them constantly and watch like a hawk, nuts burn fast). When the nuts are sufficiently toasted, pour the butter/maple syrup mixture over top and toss to coat. Then spread the nuts out on silpat or parchment lined, rimmed cookie sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

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The minute you take the nuts out of the oven, sprinkle a couple of pinches of crunchy salt (kosher, sea or flaky Maldon work best) over the top, so that it adheres. Once the nuts are cool, pack into jars or bags. Careful that you don’t nab a handful or two each time you pass the pan, as soon you’ll realize that you don’t have enough for all the gifts you’d planned. Not that I did anything like that. Nope. Not me.

Official recipe after the jump.

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Gift in a Jar: Homemade Crackers

crackers on a shelf

Last Saturday, Scott and I did a cooking demo at Foster’s Homewares in Old City Philadelphia. We’ve been doing these for nearly two full years now, a live version of Fork You, our online cooking show. We made a small array of nibbly little appetizers, things that would be perfect to serve at a holiday party or to bring with you to some seasonal potluck. They were also all virtuously cheap.

On the menu was a caramelized onion and thyme jam (served on some baguette toasts), a warm cranberry-orange compote that I poured over a log of goat cheese and some homemade crackers that we used to eat the cranberries and cheese. The results were delicious and those that had braved the snow happily ate up all that we made.

baked crackers

As I was planning out those recipes, I kept thinking that bringing the homemade cracker recipe to this blog wasn’t an entirely bad idea. You see, as delicious as it is to give someone a jar of homemade jam or chutney for the holidays, sometimes you want to bring balance to the offering with a nice, easy vehicle for your handmade spread. If you’re really feeling generous, you can also include a nice round or wedge of cheese that will pair nicely with the jam (feel free to copy me and get yourself a log of nice, mild chevre. It goes with just about any sweet preserve).

The other thing about homemade crackers is that they impress people to no end. Give them jam and they’re happy, but tell them you made the crackers and their jaws just drop. I took a platter of these crackers to a party on Saturday night and when I told people that they were a product of my kitchen, they were floored. It was as if I had demonstrated an ability to fly that simply required some speedy arm flapping.

pint of crackers

If you have enough spares, feel free to package the crackers in jars for gifting. A wide mouth quart jar of crackers (perhaps with the recipe tucked inside, so that they can replenish the stash when they’re all gone) paired with a jar of homemade spread would be such a treat.

If your holiday gift fund doesn’t stretch to cover another dozen jars, another nice way to package the crackers is to put them in a zip top bag that you then tuck into a small-ish brown paper bag. The plastic bag keeps the air out and the paper one maintains the rustic, homemade look. If you have kids, you can give them the project of decorating the paper bags (prior to putting the crackers in them), so that they’re all colorful and unique.

The recipe for the crackers is after the jump. Enjoy!

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