hostess gifts

Christmas Food Gifts 2013

Pics are shot by fools like me, but only God can make a frosty tree

 This year my husband complained that we were giving his co-workers granola "again." As if anyone could ever have too much granola! If you haven't yet overtaxed everyone's granola tolerance, link to past granola recipe posts here and here. As I reminded him, the one time I skipped the granola, a recipient wailed, "No granola this year?"

Fear not. Under the general rubric of do-unto-others, I am giving out granola again, this time with some freeze-dried blueberries added as the fruit.

If you won't eat it, I will

The piano teacher is getting our plate of homemade Christmas cookies and my husband's fudge:

At Christmas all my UrbanFarmJunkie ways are in abeyance, as I wrap things in cellophane and add gel paste food coloring to icing. The trick to the sugar cookies is to use almond extract instead of vanilla in the frosting. So much better!

I've tried a few sugar cookie recipes and now use only Megan's recipe:

Megan's Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
4 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and milk and vanilla. Mix well. Sift dry ingredients together and mix into butter mixture until combined. Refrigerate dough 1 hour. (I usually divide the dough into four portions, so I can roll out one portion at a time without all the dough getting warm.) Roll out a portion to 1/4" thick. Cut out cookies. Bake at 350F 10 minutes and cool on racks.

If you don't have time to frost that day, just freeze the baked cookies until convenient (don't freeze the unbaked dough--I found it caused the cookies to spread when baking). I then make an icing of 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/4-1/2 tsp almond extract and a Tbsp or two of milk. For colored icing, I add a dab of gel paste food coloring.

I saw on Twitter yesterday that 30% of Americans try to avoid gluten. If you still have friends and family in the 70%, and they're trying to avoid sugar instead, why not give them a loaf of your homemade artisan bread? I've posted my attempts here.

No time or equipment to become a wannabe artisan baker? Then go for ye olde quick bread favorite: banana bread. This one goes out to our swim carpool buddies. In case you don't already have a favorite recipe, here's my variation on an old Cooking Light one (i.e., with the fat added back in):

Banana Bread

2 large or 3 small very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar (scant)
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour (okay to substitute up to 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup chopped pecans or 1/8 cup flaxseeds, optional (meaning, my kids don't want them)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a standard loaf pan. With a mixer, combine bananas through eggs. Sift dry ingredients together and then stir into banana mixture until just blended. Transfer batter to pan.

Bake 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on wire rack. Then remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

***Word to the wise: don't try to wrap or store it when it's still warm. It'll get soggy. You can pre-slice this bread and freeze it, so folks can eat it a slice at a time, though when I mentioned this to the carpool buddies, they looked sheepish and said they ate the whole thing at one sitting.***

There's a banana bread in there somewhere

Happy holidays to all! I won't be posting on Christmas Day, but look for me the week after because I just read a fascinating book on food safety. Plus, it'll be time to think of our New Year's Food Resolutions for 2014!

The Gift of Granola

The finished product!

My kids are processed breakfast cereal freaks. I knew I shouldn't have taken that leap from baby oatmeal to "finger food" Cheerios because my kids never went back. They now physically gag if I serve oatmeal. Breakfast cereals may be convenient, but they're also often made of who-knows-what (see my post on adulterated honey) and cost an arm and a leg. The current household favorite: Heritage Bites from Nature's Path. Yes, it's de-li-cious and organic and high in fiber, but I only ever buy it on sale because it comes in diminutive boxes meant to keep the price under, say, the cost of repairing your roof or giving your dog a few rounds of chemo.

Thank heavens for homemade granola. Crunchy like processed cereals but with ingredients I can control and a price I can stomach. Granola also doubles as a great food gift for Christmas or hostesses. Nobody doesn't like it, and it's easy to make gluten-free or nut-free or dairy-free versions for your more allergic acquaintances. I've pointed you toward Deborah Madison's recipe before, the typical one made in our house, but this Christmas I've laid hold of Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day cookbook and have decided to give out a version "inspired by"combining her recipe with Deborah Madison's. Meaning, I'll try the coconut, walnut, currant combo she suggests but substitute local honey for the more distant, more expensive maple syrup and oil for the butter.

To wit:
2011 Christmas Granola

6 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup shredded coconut
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup honey
grated zest of two oranges (optional)

Toss all together and spread over two rimmed cookie sheets. Bake at 300F for about 30-35 minutes, rotating the pans between the upper and lower rack every 10-12 minutes. Let cool. Add 1 cup currants and toss. Store in an airtight container or divvy up and give out as gifts!

Compare the homemade recipe to that of Quaker Oats Granola:

Ingredients

WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED OATS, WHOLE GRAIN ROLLED WHEAT, BROWN SUGAR, RAISINS, BROWN CRISP RICE (WHOLE GRAIN BROWN RICE, SUGAR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, SALT), CORN FLAKES (CORN, SUGAR, SALT, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, CORN SYRUP), INULIN, PUFFED RICE, WHEY, GLYCERIN, CANOLA OIL, ALMONDS, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, HONEY, DRIED COCONUT, SALT, NATURAL FLAVOR, SUNFLOWER OIL, CINNAMON, SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL MIXED TOCOPHEROLS (ADDED TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS).

Hmm...(1) Corn flakes. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't these a much cheaper cereal that I haven't bought in decades? Not to mention, I'm pretty anti- agroindustrial corn, since it's just about always genetically modified and low in nutritional value. (2) Inulin. A sweetish, fiber-y carb filler/stretcher. (3) Glycerin. Sweetener, filler, thickening agent. (4) Natural flavor. Uh-huh. (5) Soy lecithin. An emulsifier that keeps ingredients from separating. (6) Natural mixed tocopherols. Preservatives. But at least some people take them as supplements.

Not so bad, really, for a processed food. But I guarantee you, if you make/give your own granola, it won't be around long enough to require preservatives!