Love to cook? Hate dealing with the long lines and crowds at the mall? Make and send gifts from the heart (and your kitchen) this holiday season. I'll start with the recipes, then follow with some tips and instructions for packing and mailing the goodies.
These tasty munchies are almost a staple at holiday time or whenever people gather for a party or to watch a game. So make a big batch and keep some for yourself. They can be stored in an airtight container for about two months, so they're perfect for mailing.
Hot & Spicy Pecans
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- 2 egg whites
- 1 pound pecan halves
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
- In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and all the spices. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are frothy and loose. Add the nuts and toss to coat.
- Sprinkle the spiced sugar over the egg white-coated nuts and toss gently using a rubber spatula. Make sure that the nuts are completely coated with the spice mixture. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- Place in the oven and bake for a total of 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. After 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 300°F for the final 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Break into individual pieces.
I know all you grillers out there are always looking for a different dry rub to try. Don't save this one just for steaks; it works well on pork and chicken, too. For anyone on a salt-free diet, this rub's for you. If salt is desired, sprinkle your salt before grilling. Again, this is easy to package and send, plus it keeps well.
Spicy Peppercorn Rub
- 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 3 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 3 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- Place all ingredients in a self-sealing plastic bag. Put a kitchen towel over the bag. With a meat mallet or rolling pin, coarsely crush the spices.
- To use, rub the desired amount all over the meat before grilling. If you're not using the rub right away, store in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 months.
Time for some sweets! You can find this delicious candy in specialty shops or in catalogs for a pretty penny, but you can make it yourself at home for a fraction of the cost. It makes a great gift for anyone on your gift list who loves butterscotch and chocolate. You will need a candy thermometer for this recipe.
Butternut Toffee Crunch
- 1-3/4 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
- 2 cups pecans or walnuts (8 ounces), lightly toasted and finely chopped
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
- In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in the butter.
- Set a candy thermometer in place and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes or until temperature reaches 300°F (hard crack stage).
- Meanwhile, lightly grease a 15-1/2 by 10-1/2-inch jellyroll pan. Remove the saucepan from heat. Reserving 1/3 cup of the chopped nuts, stir remaining nuts into the hot syrup. Immediately pour mixture into the prepared jellyroll pan. Working quickly, spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Cool candy completely in the pan on a wire rack.
- To prepare the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolates with the shortening in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until smooth. Remove saucepan from heat and cool slightly.
- Lift out candy in one piece and place on a cutting board. With a metal spatula, spread warm chocolate evenly over candy, then sprinkle with reserved nuts. Let stand until chocolate sets (about 1 hour).
- With a knife, break toffee crunch into serving-size pieces. Store in a tightly covered container with waxed paper between layers.
Chocolate lovers, you didn't think I would leave you out, did you? After all, what better time to indulge a little than during the holidays? Your chocolate-addicted family and friends will love these cookies, too. When it comes to mailing these, it couldn't be easier – biscotti are sturdy and travel well. Save a few for yourself and savor them with a mug of freshly brewed coffee (dunking is encouraged) or a glass of cold milk.
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
- 1-1/3 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 squares (2 ounces) semisweet chocolate, melted
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso-coffee powder
- 1 teaspoon hot water
- 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate mini chips
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a large cookie sheet.
- In a large bowl combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, and set aside. In another large bowl, with pedestal or hand mixer at medium speed, beat butter and sugar until creamy. Reduce speed to low. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add melted chocolate. Beat until well combined.
- In a cup, dissolve espresso-coffee powder in hot water, then beat into chocolate mixture.
- Gradually add flour mixture and beat just until blended. With your hands, knead in chocolate chips until combined.
- On a floured surface, with floured hands, divide the dough in half. Shape each piece of dough into a 12-by 3-inch log. With a pastry brush, brush off excess flour. Place logs 3 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake 30 minutes. Cool logs on cookie sheet on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
- Transfer one log to a cutting board. With a serrated knife, cut log crosswise diagonally into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Repeat with remaining log. Place the slices, cut side down, on the same cookie sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes to dry the biscotti. With a wide spatula, transfer the biscotti to wire racks to cool completely. They will harden as they cool.
Packing and Shipping
Certain types of cookies travel better than others. Bar, drop and firm (like the biscotti) cookies usually ship without damage. Avoid sending thin, fragile ones that are likely to turn into crumbs while in transit.
Cookies can be wrapped individually, or back-to-back, in plastic wrap. For some extra coverage, add aluminum foil. The spiced nuts should travel well in a seal-top plastic bag. Put an adhesive label on the front that identifies the contents. Most stores carry a good assortment of plastic containers that come in every conceivable size. If using a decorative tin, make sure that any extra space in the tin is filled with bubble wrap so the contents do not get bounced around. A small container with a snug snap-on lid would be just right for the Peppercorn Rub. Not only will it keep the contents fresh, but it's a gift in its own right and can be reused.
You might want to use a festive holiday tin for the Butternut Toffee. Start with a layer of bubble wrap in the bottom, then a layer of toffee (place the pieces as close together as possible). Repeat layers and finish with a layer of crumpled waxed paper before putting on the lid. Test to make sure the contents are snugly packed. There should be no movement inside when you shake the tin. Whatever you're sending, be sure to include a copy of the recipe.
Shipping boxes will be bounced around, so use a sturdy cardboard box. If you plan on shipping by US Postal Service, use one of their free boxes. You can have the mail carrier pick up your package at no charge when you pay for and print out the postage label at home. (See www.usps.com/ship/welcome.htm.)
The cut-off dates for Priority Mail (2 to 3 days) and other services varies year to year. If you prefer quicker delivery, check out Priority Mail Express. You can check their website (above) for deadlines and more information.
Whatever kind of box you use, line the bottom with a generous layer of filler, such as bubble wrap, foam peanuts, or crumpled waxed paper or newspaper. Popped corn is an eco-friendly alternative. Place the tins or plastic containers in the box and surround with more filler, and finish with more filler to prevent the contents from moving around. Test by shaking it around before you tape it up.
Tape not only the top of the box, but the base as well. Use self-adhesive labels. Print the recipient's name and address on one label, and your name and address on another. Mark the box "Fragile" and "Perishable," or ask that this be done if you're mailing it at the post office.
Don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back for taking the time to share your homemade goodies with loved ones. You might even double some of the recipes and take a surprise gift or two to that single mom or neighbor who has had a tough year, or the friend who might be short on money this Christmas. Spread the good cheer. You never know when, or how, it will come back to you.