These are jarring economic times, but that's OK. We Americans are an adaptable bunch.
We've tightened our belts during the downturn, but that's no reason to miss out on the gift-giving cheer this holiday season.
A gift from the kitchen is more special than any gift you can purchase, so why not put on your apron, roll up your sleeves and turn your kitchen into a workshop for some sweet treats?
We've put together simple recipes with uncomplicated ingredients that are as easy to do for the giver as they are for the recipient to make.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when putting together dry mixes:
Any kind of jar will do, but wide-mouth canning jars work best.
Blend the flour, baking powder and soda or salt in a bowl before adding to the jar.
Pack ingredients in as tightly as possible. Place the ingredients in the jar and press down with a utensil with a fairly wide, flat bottom so the ingredients lose some volume and the ingredients fit in the jar.
Careful packing is key, but if you can't get all the ingredients into the jar, put them in a zip-close bag and attach them to the jar as if they're part of the decoration.
The layers will stand out most if you pack the highly contrasting items next to each other.
White sugar will seep down, so it is better to put white sugar below other ingredients. All-purpose flour and cocoa also have the same seeping problem.
Include a card listing the recipe's ingredients and baking/cooking instructions, and another card with the entire recipe.
Start with fresh ingredients. That way, the person receiving the gift can wait a few months to use them. These mixes, if stored in a dry and dark place, should last six months or longer.
If the mix contains nuts, it should be used sooner, ideally within three months.
We've assembled a slew of recipes. Each has two sets of instructions. The "Jar" instructions are for the giver, and the "Card" instructions are for the recipient and should be attached to the gift jar.
Clip the entire recipe and include it with your filled gift jar.
Use the "For jar" ingredient list to fill the jar.
Write the name of the recipe, the "For card" ingredients and the "Card instructions" on a card and attach it to the jar neck with ribbon or to the body of the jar with colored string.
Use the "Jar instructions" to layer the ingredients.
To decorate, use scissors to cut a 9-inch-diameter circle from calico. Place over lid and secure with a rubber band. Tie on a raffia or ribbon bow to cover the rubber band.
You don't need any special equipment. Putting gift mixes together can be as simple as putting all the ingredients in a resealable bag and adding a card with instructions.
4 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup each dried raisins, cranberries and pitted dates
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup oil or melted butter
1/2 cup honey or pure maple syrup
Jar instructions: Layer oatmeal, wheat germ, coconut and nuts in a 2-quart jar. Place dried fruit in a plastic bag. Place bag of dried fruit on top. Close lid. Include instructions for baking.
Card instructions: Heat oven to 300 degrees.
Line two baking sheets with rims with parchment paper.
Measure honey, oil and vanilla. Whisk. Pour over dry ingredients and mix until dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened. Use your hands if necessary. Pour onto baking sheets and bake 40 minutes or until cereal is evenly toasted. Halfway through baking, stir cereal and put bottom pan on top rack and top pan on bottom rack.
Remove granola from oven, allow to cool, then add dried fruit. Store in airtight container. Makes about 7 cups.
> Truly Gooey Chocolate and Walnut Cookies
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 1/2 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
3 1/2 ounces white chocolate, chopped
3 1/2 ounces walnuts
9 ounces (70 percent cocoa solids) chocolate
2 large free-range eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
Jar instructions: In pint jar, layer flour, baking powder, sugar, milk and white chocolates and walnuts. Attach the 9 ounces of chocolate to jar.
Card instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Put contents of jar into a medium bowl. Melt the 9 ounces of chocolate and set aside. Whisk the eggs and yolk. Add to the dry ingredients. Add melted chocolate a little at a time. Stir to combine. Spoon heaping tablespoons of mixture onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes. No longer.
Note: These cookies won't spread during baking, so shape and flatten with your hands if desired. Makes 16 cookies.
Adapted from "Green & Blacks Organic Ultimate Chocolate Recipes: The New Collection," edited by Micah Carr-Hill (Kyle Books, $24.95). We substituted walnuts for the hazelnuts and used whatever chocolate was handy in the pantry.
> Brussels-Style Oat Crisps Filled with Chocolate
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 large egg
For the filling
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Jar instructions: Place sugar and salt in a plastic bag. Put flour, baking soda and oatmeal in a 1-quart jar. Put the sugar/salt bag in jar. Put 4-ounces of chocolate chips plus the 4 ounces of semisweet chocolate for the filling in a bag and place this in jar. Close lid. Include instructions.
Card instructions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in the saucepan and let cool for two minutes. In the same pan, beat in egg and the sugar and salt mix. Add the ingredients from the jar and stir until distributed. Drop by 1/2 teaspoon on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake seven to nine minutes, until centers are golden and fully cooked. Don't underbake the cookies.
For the filling, melt chocolate and vegetable oil. Cool until of spreading consistency, about five minutes. Spread on back of one cookie. Top with another cookie.
Makes about 50 sandwich cookies. Adapted from "Baking Unplugged," by Nicole Rees (Wiley, $29.95).
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup toffee pieces or butterscotch-flavor chips
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Jar instructions: In a quart jar, layer brown sugar, chocolate pieces, flour, baking powder, salt, nuts and toffee pieces. Fasten lid. Include instructions.
Card instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking pan. In a bowl, combine 1/4 cup melted butter, two slightly beaten eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in contents of the jar. Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until set and golden brown and edges begin to pull away.
Makes 16 bars.
> Maida Hatter's Brownie Crisps
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces dark chocolate (85 percent cocoa solids), chopped
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup walnut pieces, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 large free-range egg
Jar instructions: Put flour and salt in the bottom of a pint jar. Place chocolate, coffee granules and sugar in a baggie and place on top of flour. Place walnuts in separate bag and place in jar. Seal jar. Include baking instructions.
Card instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, allowing it to sizzle and get really hot. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, chocolate, and coffee granules. Add the egg and vanilla, then the flour/salt mixture from the jar. Pour into a 15-by-10-inch greased baking pan, smooth top. Sprinkle with walnuts. Bake for 15 minutes.
Makes about 30. Adapted from "Green & Blacks Organic Ultimate Chocolate Recipes: The New Collection."