Gifts from the kitchen bear a personal touch

December 19, 2012 

Shoppers are hitting the stores looking for last-minute Christmas gifts, and home cooks are asking for recipes for quick gifts from the kitchen.

Gifts that a friend or relative take the time to make are special. One of my best friends in Texas makes pumpkin and nut bread loaves for friends and co-workers each year. She makes a box of cookies for each of her bosses. We all look forward to her gifts.

Edible gifts are usually appreciated. A platter of cookies from a friend comes in handy when everyone is hanging out at your house on Christmas. Some of my husband's customers gift him with homemade treats, some of which I serve when we have holiday company. It's most appreciated especially when I don't have to prepare everything.

When my daughter was in elementary school, she and I would make jars of brownie mix and tie a recipe onto the hand-decorated jars. We also made cone-shaped decorating bags filled with ingredients for rich, creamy hot chocolate. These are quick, but welcomed presents.

Another last-minute gift is cakes in a jar. These are safe to do, providing cooks follow a few rules:

n Remember to make sure the cakes are properly sealed in the jars.

n After the cake is cooked, be sure to wipe the sealing edge of the jar clean. Place the lids on and close them tightly with the ring. You should hear a "plinking" sound as the jar cools, meaning that they are sealed. You can also press on the lids after the jars have cooled -- if they are properly sealed, they should not  move at all.

n These cakes will keep for up to a year if they have been properly sealed.

To serve the jar cakes,

simply open the jar and slide knife around the inside of the jar to loosen the cake, and then slide the cake out. Slice and serve alone, with whipped cream or even some ice cream. A 1-pint jar equals about five slices.

Why not step back during this last week before Christmas and make a few gifts with the kids and grandkids? I guarantee that recipients and givers will enjoy the experience.

Mrs. McDonald from Bay St. Louis, Miss., is doing 15-bean soup and called asking what the spice ingredients were.

Cathy Tate wants a bread starter that is fed with instant potatoes.

Betty Schultz needs advice on roasting pecans. A decorative jar of roasted or spiced pecans tied with a pretty bow makes a nice gift, especially to offer guests who come over to watch holiday football games.

Another reader needed a puppy chow recipe -- no, not for the dogs, but for people. Some folks call it "snow." Puppy chow is cute packaged with paw print ribbon in a takeout container or, again, in a decorative jar.

For the bean soup, beans and a seasoning bag go into the jars. Cooks attach a recipe for the liquid and fresh ingredients.

15 BEAN SOUP MIX IN JAR

20 ounces of a mixture of 15 dried beans

For seasoning packet:

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, can omit if you want less heat

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon thyme

1- 1/2 teaspoons of salt or to preference. Could omit salt and let recipient add salt to taste

15-BEAN SOUP

20 ounces of dried beans, rinsed and soaked overnight

12 cups water

1 large onion, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

Juice of 1 lemon

1 (15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes

Seasoning packet

Put rinsed beans in a non-reactive bowl, cover with water and let sit overnight. Next morning, drain beans. Put into stockpot along with remaining ingredients. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium and cook for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and checking to make sure soup has plenty of water. Serves 8.

Spiced pecans can be cooked on top of the stove or in a relatively slow oven. A cast-iron skillet works great for pecans cooked on the stove top. A baking sheet does well for oven baked or roasted pecans. To package for gift-giving, place in an air-tight container.

ROASTED PECANS

1 pound pecan halves

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Salt to taste

Put pecans on baking sheet and place on center rack of oven. Roast at 250 degrees, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 60 minutes. Stir in butter until pecans are coated and butter melted. Return to oven and roast for about 10 more minutes. Salt while pecans are still hot. Store cooled pecans in tightly sealed container. Can be served hot from the oven as an appetizer or topping for salad.

SPICY PECANS

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 cups pecan halves

Heat oven to 300 degrees. In bowl, mix butter, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, salt, garlic powder and chili powder. Stir in pecans and gently toss to coat.

Spread pecans on baking sheet and cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

SPICE NUTS

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup evaporated milk

1 1/2 cups pecans

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix sugar and cinnamon. Stir in evaporated milk. Cook to soft-ball stage. Add pecans and vanilla; stir until hard. Turn out onto waxed paper and separate.

Note: Soft-ball stage can be determined by dropping a small amount of sugar-cinnamon-milk mixture into a glass of cold water. If the mixture readily forms a small ball, then it is ready.

SOUR DOUGH BREAD STARTER

2 cups flour

2 cups water

1 package yeast

1/2 cup instant potatoes

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Dissolve yeast in water and add remaining ingredients. Let sit at room temperature, uncovered for 3 days. Stir 2-3 times a day. Feed after 3 days.

TO FEED: 

1 cup flour

1 cup very warm water

3 tablespoons instant potatoes

3/4 cup sugar

Mix ingredients and add to starter, stirring well. Leave lid off and at room temperature for at least 8 hours. Refrigerate 3-14 days. Use or feed. Always leave at least 1 cup starter.

SOUR DOUGH BREAD

1 cup starter

1/2 cup oil

1 tablespoon salt

1 1/2 cups very warm water

1/2 cup sugar

6 cups flour

Mix ingredients. Let rise for 8 hours in a covered, greased bowl. Knead enough to reduce to original size. Put into 3 greased loaf pans. Let rise until the size you want. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

PUPPY CHOW

1 stick butter

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 large bag milk chocolate bits (I use Nestle's)

8 cups Rice and Corn Chex

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Melt together the butter, peanut butter and chocolate bits in microwave, stirring at 30-second intervals. Should not take more than a minute. Add Rice and Corn Chex and stir to coat.

Put powdered sugar in large brown grocery sack. Add Chex mixture and shake well. Pour into large serving bowl if eating immediately. To give as gifts: Put 1 or 2 cups in a small plastic bag and place inside a takeout container. Also can put mixture in a decorated, air-tight jar.

GINGERBREAD IN A JAR

2 cups brown sugar

2/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup shortening

4 eggs

1/2 cup molasses

3- 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ginger

1- 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

6 pint-size wide-mouth canning jars with lids and rings

In a large bowl, cream sugars and shortening with mixer. Add eggs and mix well. Add molasses and mix well. Place dry ingredients and spices in a large separate bowl and blend. Add creamed ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.

 Place 1 cup of batter into each jar. Wipe batter from rim. Place jars on a baking sheet. Wipe rims well and bake at 325 degrees for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Place hot sterilized seals and rings on hot jars.

BROWNIE CAKES IN A JAR

2 canning jars (wide-mouth)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

1/3 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup water

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup walnuts; chopped fine

Here's one you can start out with; it makes 2 jars.

Every recipe technique is the same, just different ingredients. Sterilize two (1-pint) straight-sided wide-mouth canning jars (specifically made for canning jams and jellies), lids and rings by boiling for 10 minutes. Keep the lids and rings in the hot water until ready to use. Set aside.

In a small bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking soda and cinnamon, if desired. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine butter or margarine, water and cocoa powder; heat and stir until butter or margarine is melted and mixture is well blended. Remove from heat; stir in flour mixture. Add buttermilk, egg and vanilla; beat by hand until smooth. Stir in nuts.

Pour mixture into the prepared canning jars; place jars onto a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a pick inserted deep into each cake comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven, one at a time.

Place a lid, then a ring onto the jars and screw down tightly. Use heavy-duty mitts; the jars are hot. Place jars onto your counter to cool. You'll hear a "plinking" sound.

If you miss the sound, wait until the cakes are cool and press on the lids; they shouldn't move at all. That means they've sealed.

Store cakes in a cool, dark place. They should last up to a year.

If you want to decorate them, place a wad of cotton in the center of each lid, then place a piece of decorative cloth, about 3 inches larger in circumference than the lid, (cut with pinking shears) on top of the cotton. Screw the ring back on (by this time the rings can be removed as the lids should be sealed).

-- Submitted by Waldine Van Geffen

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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