This week and next, I'm on vacation, but I've got a handful of helpful and savvy kitchen elves pitching in to keep the blog engine running. Today's treat comes from Shannon Henry, a former Post technology writer, who has transferred her talents into the kitchen.
This year, in these times, what I want to give and get most for the holiday is, simply, food. Edible gifts in pretty packages seem just right -- cost-saving, meaningful and most of all, comforting.
My friends this holiday will find jars of an Herbes de Provence blend -- several dried spices mixed together to subtly spice chicken, soup and stews -- in their stockings and mailboxes. Some other favorites I’ve given and received include: sugared cranberries, hot chocolate mix, herb-infused oils and vinegars, granola, spiced nuts, Russian tea, and of course, cookies.
As you’re thinking about making homemade gifts this year, instead of doing it by yourself, consider making them with friends. Choose a friend, a type of gift, and make a big batch of it in one of your kitchens, tying up bags or jars with ribbon. Making food gifts together might become an annual holiday tradition.
I’ve also been to edible gift-making parties, which are lots of useful fun. You choose a gift (such as jars of layered cookie mix), someone buys the ingredients and gets reimbursed, and you put together beautiful gifts in an assembly line. Another type of edible gift party to try goes like this: A host invites a few friends (four people would be good) to each choose a food gift, bring the ingredients for all to make a big batch, and then they meet at one house to make several different presents. So, for example, you’d walk into the Granola kitchen, Tea Mix dining room, and Candied Ginger sun porch, and walk out with lovely gifts for teachers, neighbors and friends.
It’s a communal gift-making party, a time to slow down and talk and create in the midst of the holiday season.
Herbes de Provence
This classic blend hails from the kitchens of French home cooks, who use it creatively and often. Mix with olive oil, salt and pepper, and brush on chicken or pork to be roasted or grilled. Or simply sprinkle in soups, stews, or egg dishes such as omelets and quiche.
1 part dried basil
1 part dried oregano
1 part dried rosemary
2 parts dried thyme
½ part dried lavender
In a large bowl, mix all dried herbs, crushing with your hands slightly. If you want a finer mixture, pulse in a food processor. Pour the mixture into airtight glass jars, label, tie with festive ribbon, and give away! (And keep some for yourself). Experiment with the herbs to find the taste you like best -- fennel, savory and/or chervil could be added. Include a favorite recipe using the blend if you like. Stored at room temperature, the herbs should keep their flavor for about six months.
Bonus ideas: More edible gifts from the Food section
Shannon Henry runs the Web site Cooking With Friends, publishes an e-newsletter and is writing a book about communal cooking with her closest friend from high school, Alison Bermack. She can be reached at Shannon@shannonhenry.com.
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