Friday, December 19, 2008

GIFTS! (Easy, last minute food gifts for everybody on your list!) BONUS: A Craft

Greetings! I've been busy busy busy in the kitchen and want to share these simple ideas for last minute edible giftables. These recipes are easy and quick, so don't fear if your list isn't quite checked off yet.

I know I promised you goat cheese, and it really will be coming, but this post is long enough just covering the tasty giftables I want to share, so it will have to wait until next time. Ok, here's one little picture to stimulate your taste buds for cheese-

That said, SPOILER ALERT. IF you are in my close family, read NO FURTHER if you are interested in your gifts being SECRET, at least in part.(VANESSA, THIS MEANS YOU.)

Ok, so here goes.

I have spent way too much time these last weeks in the kitchen PRESERVING. In all forms. Canning, pickling, and others. What I've discovered is that preservation is a cheap and easy way to create homemade, delicious, healthy gifts for your family and friends. These also make great hostess gifts, or small gifts to have on hand when an unexpected visitor arrives.

Each of these recipes requires you to can the products if you want them to be shelf-stable. If you don't want them to be shelf-stable, you can skip the canning steps, store the product in the fridge, and use within a month or so. Properly canned, both of these recipes should last at least a year on the shelf out of the way of light and heat.

(REMEMBER, ALWAYS store home-canned goods with the rings OFF. If the lid pops up it is a sign that air has entered the container and that food is probably not safe to eat. If you store jars with the rings on, you won't know if the lid pops up. You don't want botulism, do you?)

Should you choose to preserve your foods, Ball has a great guide to pressure canning and using a water bath. I personally prefer to use the water bath, but that's only because I don't have a pressure cooker. Yet. (Christmas is yet to come...)

So, onto the recipes.

Crock Pot Apple Butter

When I want to make something for the first time that doesn't require exact measurements like baking, I tend to look at a bunch of different recipes online to see how different people approach a dish before deciding on some final version by me. That was the case with this apple butter. It's actually an easy flexible recipe that is pretty fool-proof. And waking up to the smell of apples and cinnamon filling your house is pretty darn nice on a cold winter morning. (It's like a gift for YOU!)

Into your slow cooker, throw

approximately 4 lbs. apples of varying types

Often those big totes have around 4 lbs. Here I've doubled the recipe and used Granny Smith and Braeburn varieties.

peeled (if you're a good food blogger you should cover these in lemon juice so they don't brown, but I'm not.)

cored (THIS is what melon ballers are REALLY for)


then add
3-4 tbsp. cinnamon (eyeball it, and use GOOD cinnamon. it's worth it.)

1 tbsp. freshly ground nutmeg (really)
1 tbsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. allspice
1 tbsp. vanilla

2/3 c. sugar
1 c. apple cider

Cook overnight (about 8 hours. 10 for me :)) on high after stirring. When it's done, it will look like this and your home will smell absolutely AMAZING.

If you are a stickler for perfectly smooth apple butter, run this through the blender or food processor. If you're like me and you like it a little chunky, just use your potato masher to get the texture you want. If your final product seems to have too much liquid, you can run the slow cooker on high with the lid off for about an hour.

Then, can away. Here's a quick run-through of my method...
These jars and lids have been sanitized in the boiling water for a few minutes and are now drying.

Fill the jars just below the lid (NOT touching) being sure to wipe off the mouth of the jar before putting on the lid and putting on the ring till just snug, not too tight.

Then I process them in boiling water for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes is up, put the jars out on the counter to cool. As they cool, you should hear them go "plink". This is the lid snapping down and tells you that they have been successfully preserved. After the jars have cooled for a few hours, be sure that each lid has popped down by pressing on the top. If it snaps down when you push, that means the canning didn't work. Do not despair! These jars just need to be kept in the fridge and eaten within a few weeks. Remove the rings from all the jars that canned properly and put them into storage.

YUM. This stuff is so amazingly good. It is fruity without being too sweet. I cannot describe how fantastic this is with bacon. ::drool::
(FYI, you might think you could do other fruit butters just as easily, but be cautious and do your research. For some reason you can't do pumpkin butter at home, which I never would have guessed. Preservation is great so long as you're not making somebody sick.)

Pickled Green Beans

This recipe would work easily with asparagus, but green beans are cheaper.

I made a variation of this ratio from a valuable resource, (It takes a lot more wading than some other websites, but there are lots of good recipes to be found there.)

Shove into a jar-

2 lbs. green beans, each end snapped off
1-2 cloves cracked garlic
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (if you like it hot)
1 tsp. dill
1 tbsp. pickling spice

In the mean time, bring to a boil

2 1/2 c. water
2 1/2 c. vinegar
1/4 c. salt

Pour the vinegar mixture into each jar. Lid the jars and process like the apple butter. Easy.

Next, a quick talk about preserved lemons.

Preserved Lemons

These are popular in middle eastern cuisine, though they're hard to find on the shelves in the U.S.. I heard of them on The Splendid Table (who could resist salty lemons?!) and thought a couple members of my family (and I) would like to give them a try. (This site was a guiding resource.)

Start by quartering the lemons, but not entirely. Leave them intact at the bottom 1/4 inch or so. Remove any remaining stem and the top 1/4 inch of the lemon peel.

Pour some kosher salt into the bottom of a jar. Salt the lemons all over, inside and outside the slices you've made. Shove them into the jar, putting a layer of salt between each lemon. I threw some whole all-spice berries to one jar, because I had them around. Any whole spice would be interesting.

Leave these at room temperature (out of light and heat) for at least three weeks. Most people don't like to use the flesh and only use the rind, but no matter what you use for recipes, be sure to rinse the lemons before preparing them. These do not need to be boiled like the other canned products. The preservation only comes from the salt. (Here is one delicious looking recipe if you want a reason to try these lemons.)

Finally, the promised non-edible craft. These are easy, inexpensive gifts that I love to have made up any time, but especially Christmas time.

Run to your local Goodwill. I guarantee there are a few sets of teacups and saucers just sitting there, matching and adorable, that are just begging to be used. (I found these super-cute party trays with cups. They are so detailed and delicate. I think they are milk glass, and every tray is different.)

Look around your house. You've got half burned candles whose wicks are too short to burn, right? Me too.

Well, buy those teacups and saucers.

Pour those old candles into a big bowl and melt them in a double boiler. Remove the wicks. Put a new wick into the bottom of each teacup and fill with your old wax. Give as a pretty gift.

Green and adorable.

Ok kids, have a fantastic holiday and stay safe!


Joelen said...

What fabulous gifts in store! Your recipients will love them (because I know I would) :)

Maggie said...

Pickles? Done! Apple butter? Done! And I also added orange marmalade and lemon curd to the mix...mmm! Thanks again for sharing!

Breonna said...

All those are delicious recipes and best for gift... I'll try to make them...

Maggie said...

I am making that apple butter again right now - just got everything in and flipped on the crock pot! Thanks for such a great recipe - everyone agreed it was a hit last year!

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