Berger cookies, Mouth Party treats, and more tasty edibles
Published: November 14, 2012
No matter how ridiculously hard it might be to shop for some of the folks on your holiday list, I guarantee one thing: Every single one of them eats. As in food. Multiple times each day. So edible gifts are definitely a good way to go—and not just for impossible-to-buy-for-for-whatever-reason friends and family. Homemade edibles, or even a selection of locally produced treats, can make for fast, festive, and frugal holiday gifts.
There are two ways to give the gift of holiday comestibles. For those who cook, there are all kinds of homemade options, ranging from traditional (cookies) to hardcore DIY (jars of that seriously crazy hot sauce you perfected this past pepper season, say, or handmade chevre from your backyard goat). For those who don’t cook —or who do, but run short on time—there are fantastically delicious, locally produced foods that make great gifts. Best of all, shopping for these can be as easy as stopping by a grocery store. And the more local the market, the better the selection of obscure regional goodies. Graul’s and Eddie’s markets are always reliable stops for on-the-way-to-the-party gift purchases.
Old school Baltimoreans who are somehow forced, presumably at gunpoint, to spend their homesick holidays far from the Land of Hon might appreciate airmailed gifts of hometown foods like Old Bay seasoning, Utz’s Crab Chips, or Berger cookies. Or perhaps send ingredients for crafting your own traditional Baltimore goodies. My friend Aliza recently mentioned a superb idea that I’m totally stealing: a “coddie kit,” with saltines, mustard, potatoes, Old Bay, and some salt cod (which ships well, since it’s dried—Italian specialty markets like Trinacria carry it). If you don’t have to mail it, why not throw in a sixer of the newly revived National Premium beer to go with?
Me, I’d be delighted with a gift of some decadent Mouth Party caramel sauce, made in Parkville (mouthpartycaramel.com), and maybe some local, organic ice cream to pour it over—the rich, high-butterfat flavors from Prigel Family Creamery would do nicely (prigelfamilycreamery.com), and you can say “hi” to the cows that made the milk while you’re there. Other people I know simply stroll through the farmers market and buy a gift selection from the myriad offerings. It can be helpful to think in terms of a theme, like maybe a breakfast basket: How about a pound of Zeke’s coffee, a loaf of artisanal bread from Atwater’s bakery, and something yummy, like cardamom-apricot jam from Curtis Bay-based Infused Spreads (infusedspreads.com)? That’s an update over the usual wine-and-cheese gift basket, which is kind of hobbled if you’re trying to buy locally.
It can be just as local, a lot of fun, and a big money-saver to do homemade food gifts. I have friends who actually give the equivalent of the homemade cheese-from-your-own-goat gift, which, in my view, can become a dangerous game of foodie one-upsmanship. (“Oh yeah? My gift to you this year is homegrown cabbage lacto-fermented into sauerkraut using my own breast milk.”) So we don’t want to go there. But simple, hand-wrought treats can be a really meaningful and even intimate holiday give. Plus you get to eat some your own self—it’s a beautiful system, really.
If you don’t have a signature badass homemade thang ready to roll, a world of possibilities awaits. The first step is to decide whether you wanna go sweet or savory. Sweet can be simple: Christmas cookies, a couple dozen, in a tin; or an assortment of different kinds, wrapped in fancy cellophane and ribbons (which you can find in craft stores); or fudge, which is mad easy to make. Harder projects might include homemade salted caramels (I can’t go there, for danger of eating them all myself) or homemade jam. December is prime citrus time, and homemade marmalade looks beautiful, is reasonably low-stress to make, and doesn’t require formal canning so long as it’s kept in the fridge. There are several great marmalade recipes at coconutandlime.com, Rachel Rappaport’s Baltimore-based food blog.
Savory gifts can be even easier to make at home. Think citrus-spiked or roasted olives, tucked into Mason jars; cheese straws (slice frozen puff pastry, sprinkle with Parmesan, bake); decadent, betcha-can’t-eat-just-one spiced nuts. Seriously, if you can microwave popcorn, you can make this stuff. Speaking of which, I know a woman who plans on giving homemade caramel popcorn studded with salted peanuts this holiday season. Not only does this neatly combine sweet and savory, it also wipes out almost her entire gift list in a couple hours worth of stirring, cooling, pouring into cellophane bags, and tying ribbon.
Just try not to eat too much, yourself. Merry merry.
Sweet-and-Sassy Cocktail Nuts
2 bags or 3 cans fancy, salted mixed nuts, about 20 to 24 ounces
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (smoked chili powder is ideal, but regular will do)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg white
Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil two rimmed cookie sheets or 9-by-12 baking pans. In a large bowl, beat the egg white with a wire whisk until it’s foamy and there’s no liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Add spices and sugar and beat until well combined. Stir in nuts using a rubber spatula. Spread in pans and bake 10 minutes; remove from oven, stir nuts around, return to oven (rotating pans between top and bottom racks). Bake 10-15 minutes more, until coating on nuts is golden brown and looks dry. Let nuts rest in the pans until completely cool. Break up any big clumps and place spiced nuts in airtight containers (jars, tins, Ziploc bags).
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