Holiday gifts are such a challenge for crafters. It seems like a no-brainer to make a gift but in the end it’s an expensive, time-consuming, soul-crushing experience. Sobs between sips of heavily-spiked eggnog, fingers crooked and bleeding after hours and hours of work. It’s not worth it. Sorry, family and friends. You’re all lovely people and you deserve great gifts but it’s just not possible.
My mom’s family is diverse and pretty large. I can’t afford to buy the kind of presents that they deserve for each and every one of them and I like to think that, since they are all grown adults, they buy themselves the things that they really want. I try to give everyone the same gift (so it’s equal) which presents another challenge. It’s really difficult to find something that they would all like and use or put in their homes. I refuse to give weird pieces of crap also known as “decorations” or “tchotchkies” because I don’t think I’d like to receive any. We don’t have the same taste and that’s ok, let’s just not pretend that we do.
So I like to gift them with food. Everybody likes to eat and generally everyone cooks or bakes at least enough to get by. Buying food gifts can get expensive (gift baskets, fancy chocolates, liquor) so I try to keep everything DIY. I’ll be the first person to tell you that DIY gifts do not mean free or cheap but when it comes to food, you can keep it relatively inexpensive while staying fun and thoughtful. Besides, DIY gifts are like a present for the gifter as much as they are the giftee. Making gifts is fun and rewarding even when it’s exhausting and all of your hair has fallen out.
Last year I put together these hot chocolate mugs. They were really fun and adorable and probably cost less than $5 for each mug. If you cut the marshmallows as I suggest below (using a biscuit cutter that’s just slightly smaller than the opening of the mug), you’ll be able to sip the cocoa through the marshmallow the way you would with whipped cream. It’ll be like a cloud keeping it hot and yummy. This is my favorite part.
While packaging everything up in this “I thought of you and hope you enjoy a cozy evening courtesy of me!” kind of way is lovely and gifty, the key to this present is the marshmallows. People that have never made marshmallows before think that they are witchcraft. They’ve never given any thought to where marshmallows come from (marshmallow trees?). They will be very impressed with you.
Here’s how to do it!
1. Make your marshmallows. While they’re setting up, put together the hot chocolate mix.
2. Line the mug with one of the little gift bags. Pour in hot chocolate mix to fill about 3/4 of the mug.
3. Now that the marshmallows have set, use the biscuit cutter to cut them into circles. Dust them lightly in confectioners sugar and place two or three over the hot chocolate mix. Close the bag and secure with ribbon.
4. Add a gift tag with instructions for the cocoa mix and maybe even include a recipe in case they want more.
Ta da! Merry Christmas!
Next week, I’ll be sharing a few more quick and inexpensive DIY gifts so stay tuned!
What’s your favorite DIY gift to give? How do you gift food?
* The mugs are the most expensive part of the gift. You can pick up adorable Christmas themed mugs at the dollar store or you can go all out and buy a hand-thrown piece on Etsy. Let your budget be your guide. (I used these CB2 mugs because I loved that they came with a little spoon. I believe they’ve been discontinued but here they are on ebay. $3 per mug! ) But this mug will become your relative’s new hot chocolate mug and when you see them next Christmas they will say, “Every time I drink hot chocolate in that mug I think of you!” Awww! Choose wisely.
I recently received two gorgeous pumpkins in my CSA. I was so excited because I’ve always dreamed of making a pumpkin pie from the real thing instead of opening a can! I’d never done it before because I’d always been nervous about picking the proper kind or messing up the process.
So I turned to one of my most trusted resource when it comes to food: Alton Brown. You can watch the pumpkin pie episode of Good Eats on Amazon instant. Watching Alton go through the process of making pumpkin puree made me feel totally confident (I mean, it’s actually ridiculously simple so no need to worry) and ready to tackle a pie.
It was so delicious that I’ve made a couple and played around with the recipe. Here’s my take on Alton’s pumpkin pie.
Pumpkin Pie from Scratch
6 oz of gingersnaps
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoon ginger
2 oz unsalted butter, melted
16oz pumpkin puree
3/4 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Crust: In a food processor, combine gingersnap cookies, brown sugar, and ginger until cookies are finely chopped. Drizzle in melted butter and pulse to combine. Press into prepared pie pan. Bake on top of a cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes. Cool before filling.
Filling: Bring pumpkin puree to a simmer in a small saucepan for 3 minutes until thick. Add half-and-half, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Return to a simmer then cool for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, yolk, and brown sugar together until creamy and smooth. Add cooled pumpkin mixture. Carefully pour filling into pie crust and bake for 45-50 minutes, the middle will jiggle a little.
I loooved the pure pumpkin taste that came from the real deal. The canned stuff needs so much cinnamon and clove, etc, just to give the illusion that it’s pumpkin. This pie tastes like pumpkin first and spices next which I really life. Besides, the crunchy crust gives a is a zesty companion to the mild filling.
Best of all, the pumpkin puree freezes really well. I’ve already got a few bags ready for Thanksgiving and maybe even Christmas (if I can resist that long!). I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the can again!
What do you think? Have you ever cooked with real pumpkin? What’s your favorite pumpkin pie recipe?
ps. Some pumpkin yarns!
Have you seen this new magazine By Hand? The first issue just came out and wow, I am in love. I read about By Hand before it was published at the Juniper Moon blog a few months ago and I have been eagerly awaiting it’s debut ever since! They were selling some really fantastic fundraiser t-shirts. (I bought one. I mean, how could you not?)
The magazine is not just focused on knitting (although there are patterns!), it is about the whole handmade lifestyle! There are sections on cooking and growing, sewing and embroidery. I am so excited that that this publication exists!
Big kudos to the team. I can’t wait for more! Buy a copy or read a digital version on their website. And buy a cool tee! How can you not?
Have you read By Hand? What do you think?
Sunday Jon’s parents threw a big 4th of July party (although, technically it was Canada Day). They have a huge BBQ every summer and there’s lots of drinks and swimming.
This year I made two berry tarts which are currently my favorite things to bake because they’re simple and easy but they taste delicious and look impressive. And I’d like to share the recipe with you!
yield 8″ pie
Graham cracker crust adapted from this Martha Stewart recipe
10 graham crackers
1/4 c sugar
1/4 t salt
6 T butter, melted
In a food processor, pulse together graham crackers with sugar and salt. Mix in melted butter and press into a pie pan. Bake for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Allow to cool completely.
8oz mascarpone cream
1/4 c sugar
1c heavy cream
Stir together mascarpone with sugar and heavy cream. Pour into cooled crust. Top with berries and allow to set in the refrigerator for an hour before serving.
Next time I plan to use a rectangular tart pan. I’d love to make big berry stripes! I was so serious about the circles of raspberries and blueberries that I almost had my tweezers out! I hope I made Martha proud!
Guess what we did last week! If you guessed that we took a knife skills class, well, you cheated because it’s the title of this post.
Well, we took a knife skills class at The Brooklyn Kitchen. It’s my favorite kitchen store out there and their classes are just fantastic. A lot of passionate people are going there! I’d tried to sign Jon and I up for this class as an anniversary present in February. (I know, romantic.) When I called to inquire about the next class that wasn’t sold out the girl told me this, “Oh, there aren’t any.”
So when they tweeted that they had just posted new classes for May and one of them was this illusive class, I jumped on it. And I can see why this class sells out so quickly! Brendan McDermott, the instructor, is really great. He knows his stuff and is really entertaining. And, obviously, learning how to use a knife properly is essential. It’s more neccessary than you might think in making your food taste better (while remaining severed-body-part-free).
While we were researching some videos as a refresher, Jon came across this great video from Hungry Nation’s Working Class Foodies featuring Brendan and a little bit of what we learned.
Hey there! Hope you all beat the heat! Now that it’s cooled down a bit, I can get back to blogging. In case there’s another freakishly hellish heatwave, here’s a delicious Green Tea ice cream recipe to chill us out.
I’m so excited that we now have an ice cream maker! We’ve always wanted the Kitchen Aid attachment. I think it’s one of the main reasons we bought the mixer in the first place. There is probably no feeling greater than digging into a pint of your own homemade ice cream!
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine half-and-half and heavy cream. Stir occassionally, bring to a simmer, and then remove from heat. Wisk egg yolks in another bowl until light in color. Gradually wisk sugar into the eggs. A little at a time, add small amounts of the cream to the eggs until a third of the cream is added. Then combine the rest of the cream. Return to the saucepan over low heat and stir. The mixture will thicken and coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and pour into a container to cool for thirty minutes before adding vanilla and matcha powder. Refrigerate this for 8 hours. Pour mixture into ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then freeze overnight for desired texture.
AB’s recipe is based on a rich, gourmet-style ice cream. The kind you find in those tiny $5 pints at the bodega across the street. Way more delicious than those bargain ice creams you can actually afford to enjoy.
And, if I may just take a moment to brag, I was lucky enough to meet Alton Brown at a surprise book signing a few weeks ago. I had him sign this Polaroid of us. He wanted to know where I got film these days! 🙂
Have you ever made ice cream? What’s your favorite flavor?