These can be made in minutes!
Relax. Time is tight just about now, but we still want to treat our family and friends with delights from our kitchen, especially morsels we create once a year. Cookies and breads top the list of holiday offerings. I know in our family, we have recipes everyone craves and expects. I think about the sour cream coffee cake my mother made for us all to enjoy for Christmas breakfast. It was a lot of work. But I also think about the lovely jars of marmalade, applesauce, and pickles she prepared all year and decorated in mere moments for the holidays. Smart.
The best tip? Make whatever you can ahead!
Her example was that these gifts don’t need to be so time consuming they wear you out. She made the canned goods well ahead of time during the harvest season, and the coffee cakes a month before for a little rest in the freezer. There are a number of easy treats you can make in minutes that can round out your repertoire, but they are still special, and it you make them with someone you love, it’s not even work.
The most time consuming part of the process might well be finding your containers for giving, and in a pinch, canning jars will work for them all!
Vanilla extract from your kitchen is a special gift that will be remembered all year. Chocolate dipped dried and candied fruit take minutes to make, and while spiced nuts take a bit more time, all three can easily be accomplished in one afternoon, leaving lots of time to listen to music and fuss with labels and bows! If you like, take the time to write out the recipe on a little card to include so they can recreate the treat.
Make an afternoon if it. Kick everyone out of the house if they are not helpers. Put on some music, brew some tea, and relax lean into a nice respite in a hectic time, a gift to yourself.
Glazed Spiced Nuts
Use whatever nuts you love! You can add more or less cayenne in this recipe, and more brown sugar if you like things a little sweeter. I’ve used tamari because it does not contain gluten, but if that is not an issue you can also use any regular soy sauce. The freshly ground rosemary makes a difference.
- 4 cups mixed nuts, unsalted
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. sweet paprika
- 1 tbsp. finely minced fresh rosemary, plus stems
- ¼ tsp. cayenne, or maybe more
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp. Worcester sauce
- 1 tbsp. low-sodium tamari
Line a baking sheet with parchment sprayed with oil and set aside. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. You are ready!
In a large, dry skillet, over medium high heat, toast the nuts for around five minutes if they are raw, keeping them moving. Don’t walk away from these! You will know when they are ready when they start to perfume the air and you see some brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Wipe out the pan in case there are browned bits of nut skins. Immediately, add the olive oil, cumin, paprika, rosemary (along with the reserved stems), and cayenne and let the herbs infuse in the hot pan. Set aside for 15 minutes or so, no hurry, you’ll get back to it soon enough. Remember, this is your chill time.
Add the brown sugar, Worcester sauce, and tamari and mix well. Fish out the rosemary stems and add the reserved nuts, mix well, and pour out onto the baking pans. Spread this single layer, sprinkle with coarse salt and a few grinds of pepper, and place in the middle rack of your oven.
Bake for 7 minutes, stir them up, then return to the oven for another five minutes or so. They will probably take longer, but it depends on the heat of your oven. Keep an eye on them. You will notice the liquid has thickened and is starting to bubble. Remove from the oven and let cool.
When the nuts have cooled a little, use a thin spatula to break them apart, and do this again before they are completely cooled to avoid clumping. Place in jars or cellophane bags and pretty them up for gift giving. These freeze nicely, so you can make them weeks in advance. I freeze them so I won’t eat them all! You can also mix them with dried fruits and chocolate chips for a trail mix type of snack.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
The fastest gift to make for giving is homemade vanilla, and it happens to be the one that is most appreciated and remembered. I give everyone in my family, and quite a few friends, a fresh bottle every Christmas, and they all look forward to it.
In the time it takes to fill your bottles with spirits and tuck in the beans, you are done. Although still pricy, homemade extract is far less expensive and more delicious than store bought, have you priced good vanilla recently?
You can use vodka for an unaltered vanilla flavor, bourbon, for a deeper flavor, or dark rum for a very pronounced rum/vanilla accent. For every-day use I prefer the vodka, but make the others for different cooking experiences.
Although this is quick and simple, it needs time to work, and that means patience. Don’t even think about using it for months.
The technique: In a one-quart canning jar run through the dishwasher, place 15 fresh vanilla beans, slit along its length to release the millions of little black seeds. Place the split beans in the jar, and fill with the spirits. That’s it if it is done ahead of time.
Cover, shake, and set aside in a dark place to let it work. I shake it now and then, and occasionally open up to take a whiff to see how it is gestating, and enjoy the perfume. When ready, break down into smaller bottles for ease of use, tucking a few beans in each.
At Christmastime when I am making these for gifts, I fill smaller bottles directly, adding the beans according to size, usually two or three, split lengthwise in half, depending on the size of your bottle. For an 8-oz bottle, use 4 split beans.
Purchased jars are nice, but I also use some I saved that originally contained hot sauce, or even soy sauce because it holds a lot. A canning jar works great too! Add a little label and perhaps a pretty bow, and you are all set!
This is not the time to buy your beans one at a time at the speciality store, no savings there! I buy my vanilla beans online, usually 25 to 40 to a bundle, and they are quite reasonably priced. I prefer Tahitian, but the Madagascar and Mexican are lovely too. Just make sure you use a reputable company and the beans are nice and plump.
Buy less expensive spirits; no top shelf vodka here!
When the vanilla is all used up, dry out the pod and tuck in a small container of sugar to add flavor and fragrance. Use this on cookies, toast, desserts, and fresh fruit.
Chocolate Dipped Dried Fruit
You can make this recipe entirely in 15 minutes! I have made these for many years, and now they are a holiday tradition in our family, almost like they’ve always been there. It doesn’t take long to establish this! It’s really fun to do with kids too.
They look beautiful on a platter for a party, or packed in a tin lined with parchment paper. Use whatever dried fruit you love. Favorites are dried apricots, figs, candied ginger, and candied orange peel. By the way, this is a great dip for fresh fruit as well: think chocolate-dipped strawberries when they are in season, cherries, pear slices, etc., so keep this in mind for next summer.
* 10 ounces fair trade dark chocolate baking chips (or milk, semi-sweet, or white)
* Your choice of dried apricots, figs, candied ginger, or candied orange peel, or other favorite dried fruit
Place roughly 2/3 of the chips in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water. Don’t let the bowl touch the water. Melt the chocolate, whisking gently, and when it is just about melted remove the bowl from the heat and add the rest of the chocolate, stirring gently until no lumps of chocolate remain. This will cool and temper the chocolate.
You can also do this in the microwave. Place two-thirds of the chips in your bowl and power for 10-second intervals until the chocolate is melted. Add the rest of the chocolate and stir until all lumps are gone.
Dip your fruit in the chocolate, leaving about a third of it exposed. You can use your fingers or tongs. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and place in the refrigerator just until set. After it is set, keep at room temperature in a cool place. Remove to a platter or packaging box.
You can use whatever chocolate you love. I prefer fair trade dark chocolate, but semi-sweet, milk, or white work well too. Some recipes call for adding a bit of oil to the chocolate to make it less stiff when dried, but I don’t bother with this step and find the texture of the chocolate to be fine for this purpose.
Other delights for gifting (that might take a tad longer):
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