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Photographed by Steve Buchanan
Like you, I have a lot of holiday shopping to do. Every year my gigantic family alone keeps me on my gift-giving toes, not to mention friends and co-workers and neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, I love giving presents, but I loathe shopping.
This year, I’ve decided to take a step back— way back to the 1950s, to the land of “Leave it to Beaver” and wholesome, homemade gift-giving. Everybody on my list this season is getting something I made myself. These easy recipes won’t cause me much holiday stress, and these goodies will likely mean more to the recipient. It’s a win-win, in my book.
Take garlic confit, for instance. It’s as straightforward as slow-cooking peeled garlic cloves in oil, until they’re soft but not quite falling apart. Garlic confit is basically regular garlic on steroids. It’s sweeter, more flavorful, more succulent and absolutely void of the overbearing acrid taste of garlic-in-the-raw. Consider using it in lieu of raw garlic in just about any recipe. As a bonus, the garlic confit oil is a great flavor-boosting substitute for olive or canola oil.
Another easy but delicious homemade present is preserved lemon. Like garlic confit, preserved lemon takes raw lemon and transforms it into a more complex and more flavorful ingredient. The preserving allows you to cook using the whole fruit— peel and all— which adds a certain x-factor to any dish. Use it wherever a recipe calls for regular lemon, with fish, in dressings— even in cocktails!
I’ve also included a recipe for classic homemade jam. Before you shake and shudder at the thought of making jam, rest assured, raspberry jam is about as easy as it gets. You basically put frozen berries with sugar in a pot on medium heat, set it and forget it. It takes about 10 minutes, and you’ll have jam galore.
Last but not least, there’s the crowd pleaser, chocolate bark. People (and by “people” I mean me) go nuts about “barks.” Peanut bark, chocolate bark, peppermint bark— you name it, people will eat it. This is a no-brainer present because it is so simple to make. Melt the chocolate, pour it out on a tray and sprinkle on goodies. Once it hardens you can crack it, bag it up and give it away. The only problem with chocolate bark, as well as these other homemade gifts, is that your recipients might keep coming back for more!
Binny McNamara most recently cooked at Woodberry Kitchen. In her spare time, she tests recipes for her blog, binnycooks.com.