Give the Gift of Goodies

Choosing holiday gifts for family is hard enough, never mind finding personal and affordable ways to wish co-workers, teachers and neighbors the best of the season.

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ANNMARIE TIMMINS (For The Associated Press)

Choosing holiday gifts for family is hard enough, never mind finding personal and affordable ways to wish co-workers, teachers and neighbors the best of the season.

But with a little planning and time in the kitchen, holiday gift giving need not be a nuisance. And it can be delicious.

For example, a pretty jar of homemade spiced nuts or hot fudge sundae topping come together quickly and for less money than a basket of scented candles or another bottle of wine. There are other benefits, too.

"If you can spend a day at home with your kids cooking in the kitchen, that is a little more meaningful - for the kids and the person who is receiving the gift," says Deanna Cook, director of creative development for FamilyFun magazine.

Making edible gifts work means devising a strategy now, not a week before Christmas.

Experts advise breaking this into two parts: Decide what you're making, then decide how you'll package it. And do both early. You don't want to leave finding hard-to-get ingredients to the last minute. Ditto for packaging.



Jennifer Aaronson, food editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., suggests making just one or two items, especially if you are new to giving edible gifts. "Don't try to give 52 different things," she says.

Choose something easily made in large quantities, such as candied bark, dessert toppings or gingerbread cookies.

Aaronson says her husband's specialty is homemade cocktail onions. "He makes a really large batch and divvies it up."

Also, consider foods that will last at least a few weeks, preferably without refrigeration. This is easier for you (no need to rush the gift out or make it at the last minute) and the recipient, who may not want to eat it immediately.

Aaronson loved a simple cinnamon sugar mix she received from a co-worker. The gift tag read, "Have a sweet holiday."

"It was so simple and so cute," she says. Another option would be to present the same gift with a cookie recipe (perhaps even a cookie cutter) that stars the cinnamon sugar mix.

Cook and her daughters, ages 7 and 10, start choosing recipes and making a shopping list of ingredients and packaging options right after Thanksgiving. That allows time to test the recipe and their container choice to make sure both work.



When it comes to packaging edible gifts, think beyond the obvious cookie tin or plastic wrap.

"There are so many container options and so many more stationery stores now, you can really go crazy," says Tracey Seaman, test kitchen director for Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine.

Search online or at craft stores, she says, and you'll find loads of paper choices, such as Chinese food containers or seasonal card stock. Cellophane (clear, colored or decorated with holiday images) is another great choice.

When Seaman's crew at the magazine made caramel pretzel turtles for the December/January issue, they presented them in cones made out of heavy card stock. And they would look equally nice bagged in festive cellophane and tied with ribbon.

Another option are the plain white boxes (some have windows in the tops) sold in varying sizes at candy and baking supply stores. Cook likes those because her kids can decorate them with drawings or messages.

Alternatively, Aaronson likes presenting those pastry boxes tied with a combination of ribbon, wide and thin in complementing colors. "It looks quite modern," she says. "And it's simple and inexpensive."

For heavier duty containers, there are any number of glass and plastic options. Spiced nuts look lovely in an old-fashioned canning jar tied with a ribbon.

Seaman has presented homemade nut butter and a loaf of bread together by placing the jarred nut butter inside a hollowed out section of the bread. To serve, the butter can be emptied into the bread hollow and enjoyed together.

"So much of (the gift) is the container," says Cook, who has given pancake and biscuit mixes in fun jars. "Start early and make sure you are able to buy 20 of them."

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