Simple Holiday Gifts

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Happy Days-After-The-Holidays! Did you survive?

We had a nice relaxing Christmas and stayed close to home, visiting family that lives in our town. I took a different approach with some gift giving this year, and made some homemade gifts, which I wanted to share with you.

I always do some holiday baking, and make a few different kinds of cookies for gifting to friends and family members that we will see during the time around Christmas. This year, I had a little extra time on my hands and decided to make some biscotti for our neighbors as well. I kept this very simple by placing about half a dozen biscotti cookies on a holiday themed paper plate and sealing the plate within a gallon size freezer bag. It wasn’t a super pretty presentation, but it was practical and inexpensive, and the neighbors were thankful for the little gift. I stuck to about a half dozen per family as I know that families are typically inundated with holiday treats this time of year, so it was just a small sampling, not an overwhelming amount. I also chose to gift biscotti because they aren’t super sweet and can even be enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea. I kept the flavors neutral by making one batch with orange zest and another with lemon zest. They were tasty but not overpowering.

Citrus Zested Biscotti

adapted from The Kitchn
Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1/4 cup mild olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon or orange zest

Instructions

  1. Prep: Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients: In a stand mixer, mix the olive oil and sugar on medium speed until blended. Switch the machine to low, and add the vanilla extract, almond extract, and eggs, and continue to mix until well blended.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients: In small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture and mix until blended. Add in the citrus zest and mix until distributed throughout dough. The dough will be sticky.
  4. Shape into logs: Using a spatula, give the mixture a final stir to be sure that everything is incorporated from the bottom of the bowl and well blended. Scoop out roughly half the dough and place it in a rough log shape lengthwise on the cookie sheet, leaving enough room next to it for the second log of dough. Dampen your hands and quickly shape the dough into a long, thin log, about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  5. Par-bake the logs: Place the logs of biscotti in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the dough is just cooked through and very lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the oven down to 275°F.
  6. Cut into cookies: Carefully pick up a log (or use two spatulas) and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp, thin, preferably serrated knife, cut the log into 1/2-inch slices. Repeat with the second log.
  7. Bake until lightly browned: Return the slices to the baking sheet, arranging them cut side down. Bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
  8. Cool and store: Cool biscotti on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks or freeze for several months.

Some other homemade gifts I made this year included jars of biscotti mixes for the family members we would see. I took a recipe I had found on Pinterest from Girl Versus Dough, and my son and I whipped up these biscotti mixes on a rainy afternoon. Good project for the kiddos to help with, as he had fun using my canning funnel to put my pre-measured ingredients into the jars, and then gently pound the jars to level the ingredients.

It took only about a half an hour to make five jars of mix. I crumpled up waxed paper to place in the space at the top of the jars so that there wasn’t too much room for the ingredients to shift around and the pretty layers to get messed up. Then, I used 3×5″ photo paper to print the additional ingredients and baking instructions on, and punched a hole in the corner and tied the card to the jar with kitchen twine, ending in a bow. It was a cute gift that the recipients can make sometime down the road when the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over. My dairy-free BFF appreciated that there was no dairy in this biscotti recipe, also!

Cranberry Crunch Biscotti

adapted from Girl Versus Dough

Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

For the gift jars:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup dried cherries or cranberries
For the recipe:
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Zest of 1 small lemon

Instructions:

  1. To make the gift jar: In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt. Add mixture to a large (at least 1 quart) mason jar. Top with cornmeal, sugar, then dried cranberries. Seal jar and gift to a friend with recipe instructions.
  2. To make the biscotti: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Pour all ingredients from mason jar into a large bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk eggs, oil and lemon zest until combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients; stir thoroughly to combine.
  4. Shape and pat dough into a roughly 14-by-4-inch log on prepared baking sheet. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown and set. Cool completely.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Use a serrated knife to slice log diagonally into ½-inch slices. Place biscotti cut-side down on parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced at least a ½-inch apart. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheet and flipping biscotti over halfway through, until biscotti are golden around the edges. Cool completely.

 

I had just enough of the cornmeal and other ingredients to make my household a ‘base’ recipe of the jarred biscotti mix. I had used all the cranberries for the other mixes, but when I do make this for us, I plan to add some more dried berries and pistachios to ours, as the original recipe had intended.

My mother in law is diabetic, and wouldn’t be able to eat biscotti or holiday cookies. I decided to come up with an idea for another jarred gift that I could give her in lieu. Enter Definitely Not Martha‘s recipe for lentil soup mixes. I used her variation ideas to make one southwest flavored soup mix and one Italian flavored soup mix. I had just enough lentils to make a small batch of soup for our household for dinner one night, and it was really tasty! I’ll now be adding lentil soup to our regular dinner rotation.

Southwest Lentil Soup in a Jar

adapted from Definitely Not Martha

(this will perfectly fill a 500 mL mason jar)

6 oz green lentils
3 tablespoons dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 oz red lentils

Include a card tied to the jar or a label that reads:

“Southwest Lentil Soup. Add contents of jar and six jars of water to a pot and simmer 30 minutes”.

Italian Lentil Soup in a Jar

adapted from Definitely Not Martha

(this will perfectly fill a 500 mL mason jar)

6 oz green lentils
3 tablespoons dried minced onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon italian seasoning or a mixture of rosemary, thyme and basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 oz red lentils

Include a card tied to the jar or a label that reads:

“Italian Lentil Soup. Add contents of jar and six jars of water to a pot and simmer 30 minutes”.

Finally, the gift I was most excited to make was crema di limoncello. For our tenth anniversary this past September, my husband took me to dinner at this wonderful Italian bistro in downtown Portland. When he made the reservation he apparently dropped that it was our anniversary, so after dinner the waitress presented us with two icy glasses of crema di limoncello, on the house. I’d never tasted anything like it–it was smooth, creamy, sweet, and absolutely delicious. It’s also made with Everclear, a 151-proof grain alcohol, so it’ll knock you on your butt if you have too much (we joke that it’s a “hire an Uber” drink). When I find something that amazing, I usually research it and find out if it’s possible to duplicate, and came across several recipes to make a variation that seemed similar to what the restaurant served. In November, I had the bright idea to make a large batch of this and bottle it in smaller portions as Christmas gifts, so I set out preparing to do so. In my research, I’d found that the longer you can allow the lemon peels to infuse into the alcohol, the better the flavor, so I purchased the Everclear and lemons and set to work before Thanksgiving. I used mason jars to hold my concoction, and stored it in my kitchen until the week leading up to Christmas, where I used milk, cream, and vanilla beans to create the final product. The recipe I used was adapted from Simply Recipes, and the only real change I made was extending the time I’d soaked the lemon peels. The final product was aahhhhmazing. Because I’d made such a big batch, we have some leftover for ourselves, and we’ll be enjoying this for some time to come.

Crema di Limoncello

adapted from Simply Recipes

Yield: Makes a little more than 3 quarts.

Ingredients

10 lemons
1 (750-ml) bottle Everclear (a quality vodka will do if you can’t find it)
8 cups  whole milk
5 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds and pod

Additional Supplies you will need:
cheesecloth
bottles

Method

1. Zest the lemons using a lemon zester or peel them using a sharp paring knife. Make sure that you do not include the white pith into your peels, or at least ensure that your peels do not have very much of the pith as it will make your limoncello bitter.  Place the zest and the Everclear in containers and allow to infuse in a dark, cool place for a month.

After the infusion time has passed strain the liquid through the cheesecloth into a very large glass, stainless steel, or ceramic bowl.

2. In a large stockpot, warm the milk, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until dissolved.

Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature (this will take a few hours). Discard the vanilla bean and strain the mixture through the cheesecloth.

3. Combine the Everclear infusion with the sweet milk and stir together. Pass through a colander lined with cheesecloth to catch any solids. Funnel into bottles and store in the freezer.

Be sure to leave room in the bottles for the mixture to expand if it freezes to avoid an explosion. Use within six months. Serve small amounts in chilled glasses.

I hope my homemade holiday foodie gifts have given you some ideas of simple things you can present your friends and family at your next gift-giving opportunity!