Monday, December 5, 2011

Hints for Homemade Treats

My homemade gifts are always of the consumable variety. Doubtless there are people who make lovely ornaments, wreaths, or handpainted plates but glue guns, stencils and anything involving silk flowers or wired ribbon make me hyperventilate and break out in hives. I avoid craft stores like the plague. My creativity is culinary, and I love to spread it around during the holiday season. Food gifts work; they are economical (assuming you don't douse everything with shaved truffles, which I don't), personal, and best of all, not permanent--like the tiered cake plate adorned with your nephew's face or the purple and gold wreath that prevents your door from shutting properly.....
Here are two categories of food gifts that are always a hit, with some general tips on successful execution....


From Martha Stewart to the Cookie Monster, everyone loves cookies.  There are literally hundreds of recipes to choose from. Check out Philly Mag's collection of recipes by local chefs,, the back of the chocolate chip bag, or the top of the oatmeal canister for ideas. No matter the recipe, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Always use baking parchment. Cookies never stick to it and it eliminates scrubbing.
  • Always have waxed paper in the house. When you make a batch of dough, separate it into 8 inch long, 1-1/2 to 2 inch in diameter logs which you can wrap in waxed paper and store in the fridge (for a week) or the freezer (for a month or more). When you need some cookies, simply slice off the number required, bake them and voila--perfect, freshly-made treats. This is great for gift-giving, but also for general consumption--nothing's better than a right-out-of-the-oven cookie, but you may not want 4 dozen of them sitting on your counter. With the dough log approach, you have great quantity control.
  • Use cello bags tied with ribbon for economical, attractive presentation.
  • Choose a basic recipe that offers variety. Make a double or triple batch chocolate chip dough, but before adding the chips, separate the dough into a few different bowls. Add chocolate chips to one, white chips and macadamia nuts to another, dried cherries or raisins to another, 1/2 cup of strong coffee and a few tablespoons of Kalhua to another. This also works with oatmeal cookies--mix some dough with raisins, some with chocolate chips, some with chopped apricots, others with cashews. Also with basic butter cookies--make some vanilla, some lemon, some coconut, some chocolate. This way, you will only have made one type of dough, but a produced a significant variety of cookies.
More of a cook than a baker?  Deliver dinner...Just don't give the bacon infused clam chowder to your Kosher-keeping neighbor or beef chili to your vegan hairdresser.

Keep these tips in mind:
  • Always use disposable containers--unless the dish/pan is part of the gift. Aluminum baking dishes, disposableTupperwares, or even giant Ziploc bags work just fine. It sort of undermines the gesture if the grateful recipient has to deal with the hassle of returning your soup tureen long after enjoying your minestrone.
  • Choose something that has shelf-life. Your creation should be an item that can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, or is freezer-friendly. Avoid souffles and sushi.
  • Affix heating/serving instructions to the dish--better yet, write it in Sharpie marker directly on the foil or container.
Speaking of dinner, we can't help but chuckle at this one: Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents saying Grace at Robert DiNiro's dining room table.
Watch this space for more ideas, tips and recipes for homemade gifts in the run up to Christmas.

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