Saturday, December 29, 2012

Homemade Christmas Gifts

I make homemade Christmas gifts most every year. Sometimes these are edible, sometimes they are wearable, and sometimes they are crafty, and sometimes they are just thoughtful cute trinkets that I think the person would like. This year I decided to go with a theme to my gifts and to make them edible. Since I am from the South, and I'd be traveling to visit friends in the North, I thought it would be cute to make gifts that could be packaged or made in glass jars, or Mason jars.Mason jars are the unsung staples of a Southern kitchen; not only are they used for canning and jellies they are also used for drinking, measuring, and storage. As a bonus they are reusable and recyclable, so they are much friendlier to the environment than paper or plastic packaging.

As I mentioned, I was traveling and I didn't have use of my own kitchen, however I wanted to make edible gifts. I could have baked a bunch of stuff and then shipped them ahead, but I was going to be staying for several weeks so I would have had to bake a month ahead of time which would have rendered my creations hard and brittle by Christmas. So I had to think of what I could do in the confines of a hotel room without an oven or stove.I decided to on 3 wonderfully delicious gifts that are edible and made/packaged in jars yet do not require any cooking. I love NON recipes! NON recipes stands for "No Oven Needed" recipes and I just can't get enough of them sometimes, especially on super hot days or in cases like this where I'm traveling a lot and I'm away from my kitchen. Well, here they are, starting from the easiest one.
Hot Cocoa and Mint-choc Chips with Chocolate-Mint Marshmallow stir sticks
The first gift I made was super easy!! I made hot cocoa with mint-chocolate chips served with chocolate-mint lollipop stir sticks. All I had to do was purchase the items and then assemble, no cooking or prep-work involved. It is a sort of "meet me in the middle" type deal, where I assemble the ingredients and they recipient prepares or cooks them. I know you've all heard of "soup in a jar" and "cookies in a jar", well frankly this is where I got the idea. This easy little concoction makes 2 servings in each jar.

I bought two different kinds of cocoa, a dark chocolate and a milk chocolate. Then I found mini chocolate chips with peppermint swirls, so I had to have those!. I then picked up a bag of Jett Puffed Chocolate Mint Marshmallows and some skewers (I searched for lollipop sticks but that particular grocery store didn't carry them. You could use either one, just remember that skewers have a sharp end.)

Basically I layered a serving of dark chocolate cocoa in the jar, then topped with a layer of chips, then a layer of milk chocolate, and a final topping of chips. As you can see in the picture, the powdered cocoa ended up covering up the layer of chips in the middle, but it'll still taste good :). I thought it would be cute to add a few stir sticks made with a peppermint and chocolate marshmallow, this way the mallow can melt into the hot chocolate as it stirs. Yum! As an aside, I love these particular marshmallows because they aren't as large as normal sized marshmallows yet they aren't tiny either. I placed the jar inside a gift bag and then I taped the stir stick package to the top, along with a cute little instruction tag.
No-Bake Nutella Oatmeal Cookies
The next one took a bit more effort and time, but not by much! I made no-bake oatmeal cookies with nutella. Some of the people I am gifting are allergic to peanuts, some are diabetic, and some have a gluten-free diet so I know that they weren't going to be enjoying all the traditional Christmas cookies that everyone bakes and gives. I can't believe I was able to find a no-bake recipe that could accommodate for all these dietary issues, but I did!! I wanted to make sure their sweet tooth could enjoy the holidays too :) Also, I am in love with this recipe now that I've made it as a gift and I plan on making it for myself as little treats. Can you blame me?

These wholesome little chewy cookies were made with a variation of the recipe from The Vintage Mixer except I used almond butter instead of peanut butter and I used a sucralose sugar-substitute instead of sugar. The final result was deliciously decadent cookies that you can really sink your teeth into and only seem "bad" for you, which is a good thing. I also flattened these out a bit to form jar-sized rounds instead of balls, that way I could stack them neatly in the jar. I was able to fit 6 chewy chocolate cookies into each pint sized jar gift, and I ended up making 4 jars of these. So each individual person with their individual diet limitations were able to get half a dozen scrumptious sweets, handmade for the holidays.
Handmade Christmas: Homemade Lemoncello in a Mason Jar
The last one is a doozy!! I made homemade limoncello! If you've never tasted limoncello, it is a lemon liquor cordial that packs a punch in taste and potency. Sip it, don't shoot it! I had to start this recipe the first day I got into town because it takes a good month to brew. The hardest part was removing the zest from the lemon without getting the pith (the white part) from the skin. It took forever, but that's probably because I had never done it before. Now that I think about it I bet there's a better method out there somewhere, but I just used a paring knife.

I actually caught the episode of Everyday Italian on Food Network which showed this recipe. I was enthralled. I had experienced limoncello at an Italian Bistro as an after dinner cordial and I loved it. I had no idea it could be made like this. All you really need is about a dozen lemons and some 100-proof vodka. 100 proof vodka isn't very easy to find it seems, I had to go to a few stores to get some. You can use regular vodka if you wish, but it will become less potent after the brewing process due to dilution, so just keep that in mind. I altered the recipe from Giada De Laurentiis to use sucralose instead of sugar, and I used a microwave to make the simple syrup instead of a stovetop. After the limoncello had brewed completely I decided to split it up into smaller decorative glass bottles so that each person could have some as a gift. I found the bottles at Pier One. Here's how it looked:
Each person received a nice heavy bag packed with holiday comforts of mint-chocolate hot cocoa for two, chewy nutella cookies, and limoncello. They all were thrilled and none of them every suspected all these nummy gifts were made without a kitchen!
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