December 22, 2012

Homemade Food Gifts for the Holidays (Including a Homemade Granola Recipe!)

Which sounds better?

Option A: Searching maddeningly for a parking spot at the mall or big-box store, fighting crowds, standing in lines, and feeling slightly heavy in your heart because you know the last-minute gifts you’re buying are kind of weaksauce and impersonal. (Note: Weaksauce is too a word.)

Option B: Making yourself a mug of hot tea or cider, putting on some holiday tunes, and busying yourself in a warm, lovely smelling kitchen making homemade food gifts for loved ones using wholesome ingredients—and putting your heart into the process.

Three cheers for Option B!

This year, I decided to amp up my efforts in making homemade gifts. It’s one of those things I think about every year, and then, as happens too easily, time gets away from me, and I panic and go buy something. (And have you noticed that when you’re buying something for someone last-minute, and you’re not sure they’re really going to like it—or, worse yet, they’re going to know you were out buying it last-minute and didn’t put much thought into it—you buy twice as much as you should because of guilt? What a terrible cycle!)

I was thinking of making some holiday breads or cookies to give as gifts this year, but then I was inspired by the homemade granola recipe I read in Robin Mather’s fantastic book The Feast Nearby. I pictured putting the granola in mason jars with cute holiday-themed fabrics adorning the tops. So this morning, I dug in. Here’s the recipe for the granola I ended up making, which is adapted from the recipe in Mather’s book.

Ingredients:

10 cups organic whole oats
1/3 cup hemp hearts (raw, hulled hemp seeds)
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
1/4 cup chopped raisins
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup roasted (or toasted) chopped walnuts
1/2 cup roasted (or toasted) chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup local honey
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (don’t use Mrs. Butterworth’s, etc., which includes corn syrup from genetically modified corn—yuck)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp course-ground sea salt

Instructions:

Spread oats out in two deep-dish baking pans and put into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Add to a large bowl when done.

Two pans of whole oats ready for oven roasting

Toast nuts in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop, stirring frequently, or roast them in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Chop nuts and add them to the bowl with the oats.

Add all remaining ingredients to bowl and stir well. 

Stirring a bowl of homemade granola

Let cool and then funnel into mason jars. Decorate with fabric and twine, hemp rope, or ribbon. (A big thanks to Quiltwork Patches in downtown Corvallis for the great customer service and adorable fabrics.)

Jar of homemade granola with holiday fabric decoration

Somewhere between stirring everything together and decorating the jars, pour yourself a bowl of this granola, douse with milk, and EAT. (What is cooking without sampling? Less fun, that's what.) This stuff is really, really good.  

Homemade granola with milk and spoon in orange bowl

Variations:

The ingredients I used in this granola recipe are largely a result of what I had on hand (which is what shapes every recipe I make—I don’t love running out to the store for things). Definitely experiment. Try different types of nuts and dried fruits, leave out the coconut if you wish (not a bad idea if we’re shooting for local ingredients), try sunflower seeds instead of hemp seeds, etc. Throw in a handful of chocolate chips if you’re giving the granola to a chocolate lover. As long as you have the oats and a sweetener, the rest is fair game for experimentation.

If granola isn’t your thing, other homemade holiday food gifts could include homemade crackers (I made this recipe for savory, sweet crackers with almond flour the other day, and it was out of this world), cookies, pumpkin bread, carrot bread, fudge, or preserves. If you have a winter farmers market in your area—or a co-op that sells goods from local farmers—grab some local nuts or other available goodies to bag or jar up, and decorate those as well. I have extra blackberry jam, grape jam, pear sauce, and bread-and-butter pickles on hand that I made over the summer, and I decided to decorate those and give some jars to family and friends, too. 

Decorated jars of granola, jam, and pickles to give as holiday gifts

Cooking necessarily involves one’s time, one’s hands, one’s care. No two batches of anything are going to turn out exactly the same—meaning the giver of the gift is all tied up in what he or she creates. And whomever you give your made-from-scratch gifts to will know that—and appreciate it.  

December 16, 2012

Quick Holiday Dessert Recipe: “Berry, Spice and All Things Nice” Crisp

If you’re looking for a quick holiday dessert—or just something to do with the frozen berries in your freezer—a crisp is the perfect answer. I grew up eating blueberry crisp at pretty much every family gathering we ever had, and then, later in life, discovered you can make a crisp with way more than just blueberries. You can practically make one out of anything (as the title indicates, though, they must be nice things).

I wanted to “holidify” (as in, make more holiday-ish) the traditional crisp recipe, so, naturally, I added cranberries and cinnamon. Perfection. (By the way, check out this cool article on sustainably grown cranberries in the Pacific Northwest.) If you don’t have these types of berries on hand, experiment. I think this would be wonderful with peaches. Or blackberries. Or both.

This recipe only takes about 10 minutes of prep time. And if you were to score the amazingness of foods based on the ratio of prep time minutes with end-product-deliciousness points, this crisp would score very well.

(Note: Please excuse the imperfections of how this looks. The berry gooeyness could simply NOT be contained by the buttery, sugary crisp topping. Not a bad problem, really. Unless you’re looking solely for photogenic qualities in a dessert.)

A quick holiday dessert of berry crisp cooling in pan

Before we dive into the recipe, here’s a “think local” tip: Pick no-spray blueberries, strawberries, and other berries locally while they’re in season, and freeze in batches (go to pickyourown.org to find a farm near you). Then, they’ll always be handy when you need to whip up a quick dessert.

Ingredients for berry mixture:

2 cups frozen, picked-local strawberries (let thaw at room temp for a few hours if you can)
1¼ cups frozen, picked-local blueberries
3/4 cup fresh cranberries
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
2 tbsp organic corn starch

Ingredients for topping:

1/3 cup organic brown sugar
1/3 cup unbleached organic flour
3/4 cup whole organic oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 chopped, local walnuts
Pinch of salt
5 tbsp organic butter from pastured cows

Instructions:

Grease a glass baking dish with butter (I used a 9-inch-by-9-inch dish). Stir all ingredients for berry mixture together in a bowl. Add to baking dish.

In a separate bowl mix all topping ingredients with a pastry cutter (or a fork, if you don’t have one) until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Evenly spread topping mixture over berry mixture. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. Serve warm and eat happily.