One of my favorite traditions during the holidays is making homemade and edible gifts for family and friends. Gifts from the hearth (a/k/a the kitchen) are also gifts from the heart, because they are always made with love. The fun and creativity continue during the packaging process as I like to use a variety of containers, such as old tins from thrift stores, boxes that have been covered in cloth or paper, baskets adorned with garland and berries, and pretty glass bowls or jars. To make them even more festive, I also decorate them with Christmas tissue paper, soft tulle, colored plastic wrap, raffia, silk flowers or fabric remnants, and glitter.
Probably the best part of this holiday tradition is giving away these goodies to unsuspecting recipients. I still remember the sweet little tears that seeped out of a homebound neighbor's eyes when my son and I surprised her with a visit and a decorated tin of Christmas cookies.
The true essence is that we receive so much more than the folks we bestow our creative, homemade treasures on. I think this must be how God feels when he sees how much we appreciate and adore the precious Gift that He gave to us so long ago, found wrapped in swaddling clothing and lying in a manger.
Now wrap yourselves in the smells, sights, and joy of Christmas, while I share some delightful gift recipes that loved ones on your Christmas list will enjoy.
EASY BRAIDED CHRISTMAS BREAD
1 lb. frozen bread dough
1/2 cup candied mixed fruit
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup mincemeat
1 cup confectioners suga
4 tsp. milk
1/8 tsp. cardamom, ground
Thaw frozen dough according to package directions. On a lightly flowered board, pull dough out until it is 12 inches long. Knead the fruit, mincemeat, and nuts into the dough. With a sharp knife, cut dough into 3 ropes, each 12 inches long. Press the 3 ropes together at one end and braid on a greased cookie sheet. Let rise in a warm 90 degree place until double in bulk (about 1½ hours). Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Cool. Combine the sugar, milk, and cardamom and spread glaze over the bread.
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
4 tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
6 tbsp. cocoa
1 ½ cups sugar
4 cups oatmeal
Cream butter with water and vanilla. Add sugar, cocoa, and oatmeal, mixing together well. Roll into 1-inch balls. Add more water if necessary to make the dough stick together. Roll half of the balls in the powdered sugar and coconut, and the other half in the chopped nuts.
CHRISTMAS CHEESE LOG
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
3 tbsp. mayonnaise
1/8 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 drops hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup crisply cooked bacon, crumbled
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tbsp. sliced green onions
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
Combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and hot pepper sauce in a large mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until smooth (1 to 2 minutes). Stir in bacon, cheese and green onions by hand. Cover; refrigerate at least 2 hours. Form cheese mixture into a log shape or cheese ball; roll in pecans to coat. Wrap in plastic food wrap; refrigerate until well chilled (at least 2 hours).
Note: Add to a small basket with gourmet crackers and holiday spreaders for a great gift!
CHRISTMAS CANDY CANE COOKIES
1 cup soft butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 tsp. almond flavoring
Mix above ingredients together thoroughly. Sift together and stir in 2-1/2 cup flour and 1 tsp. salt. Divide dough into halves. Add and blend red food coloring (approximately 1/2 tsp.) into one half of the dough. Roll a ball of white dough (approx 1 tsp.) into a strip about 4-inches long. Repeat with red colored dough. Place strips side by side, press lightly together and twist together like rope. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Curve top down to form handle of a cane. Bake at 375 degrees for about 9 minutes. Remove with spatula while warm and sprinkle with white sugar or crushed peppermint candy.
Tip: Use wax paper with a small amount of powdered sugar to roll candy cane dough on when making the strips and shaping into a cane.
APPLE SPICE POTPOURRI
3 tbsp dried apple slices (see note)
1/2 cup pink and red carnation petals
1/4 cup dried sweet woodruff leaves
2 tbsp crumbled cinnamon or one 3" cinnamon stick
1 whole nutmeg, grated (1 1/2 tsps)
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 tbsp julienne orange peel
3 drops of cinnamon or vanilla scented oil
Note: To dry apples, slice paper thin and place slices in a single layer on a baking sheet in 150 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Mix dried apple slices with remaining ingredients. Store in a tightly covered glass jar.
For simmering potpourri, use a teaspoon potpourri per one cup of water. Place potpourri in water, bring to a boil and simmer on low until the whole house is perfumed; turn off heat. Strain and let dry if you wish to save and reuse the potpourri.
HOMEMADE DOG BISCUITS
Don't forget Fido! These tasty treats can be wrapped in cellophane and tied with a raffia bow for an easy and fun gift.
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup powdered milk
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules
1/3 cup bacon grease
1/2 cup ice water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a medium bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, powdered milk, garlic powder, wheat germ and beef bouillon granules. Stir in the bacon grease and egg. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until dough is wet enough to stick together. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thickness and cut with cookie cutters. Place biscuits 1 inch apart onto an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm. Cool before serving.
Charlene Davis is an experienced and published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, weddings, parenting, spirituality, and food. For more recipes and cooking articles, visit her Busy Moms Recipes blog at busymomsrecipes.blogspot.com or sign up for her free newsletter at www.busymomsrecipes.com