Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Minute Gifts from Your Kitchen - There's Still Time!

If your Christmas to-do list isn't to-done and baking is one thing that isn't checked off, there's still time to bake without taking up a whole day or creating a big mess in your kitchen. 

For many of us, working every day leading up to Christmas leaves NO TIME to get it all done.  The "wouldn't it be nice" items on the list fall to the wayside with the mental note to plan better next year.  My gingerbread house is one of those list items.  I had grand plans of creating a small but exquisite gingerbread house and now, if it's going to happen at all, I have to do it during three free hours Thursday morning, and I don't like that kind of pressure!  We'll see.  I'd love to do it.  I just wish that the slower schedule the week following Christmas would loan me a day or two this week when the extra time would come in handy!  I'm now thinking that the walls of my gingerbread house will be made with the new gingerbread-flavored graham crackers.  After all, my deal is the decorating. I just need a background for the elaborate design!

There is, however, still time to get some baking done.  Last night I made three batches of dough, and they will become cookies in a snap over the next couple of days.  Believe it or not, I made snickerdoodle, sugar, and peanut butter doughs all in a matter of 10 minutes.  I wrapped them up and put them in the fridge and clean up took 5 minutes.  How did I do it?  I used pouches.  Pouches of cookie mixes -- Betty Crocker -- and last night I was grateful to invite Betty into my kitchen to help me out.  Using these basic doughs, I will put together a platter of a variety of cookies.  Half of the peanut butter will be rolled into balls, coated in coarse sugar, and once baked, plugged with a Hershey kiss.  The rest will be pressed with a fork to make the classic criss-cross pattern, no kisses.  The sugar cookie batter will be divided up:  some will be rolled and cut out, some will be formed into thumb-print cookies, more will be tinted red and roped into candy cane cookies.  The snickerdoodle dough will be rolled in cinnamon sugar.  I can take a little bit of each and on one cookie sheet bake three kinds of cookies for a quick gift for a friend. 

Mixes also come in handy for mini-loaves of quick bread.  Gingerbread, banana nut, or pound cakes are great in little loaves.  You can find decorative loaf pans for next-to-nothing in kitchen stores, or you can grab foil loaf pans in the grocery store.  One mix could make a bunch of mini-loaves.  Buy a roll of cellophane and some wired ribbon, and you can dress these up to be beautifully gifting-worthy!

There are even mixes for quick fudge using Carnation canned milk.  There's an easy recipe using chocolate chips and marshmallow fluff.  There's so much you can do quickly that will mean more to the recipient than something purchased.  A gift from your kitchen means you cared enough to make something special for someone.  I know it always means alot to me when I get such a gift. 

Another short-cut I used one year was to make my own apple jelly and present it in pretty glass jars - I used a good quality apple juice as the foundation for a recipe I found in an old cookbook.  I cut jelly-making time in thirds by starting out with ready-to-go juice.

I still want to make gingerbread men to  hang on my little kitchen tree.  It's decorated with metal cookie cutters and gingerbread men every year, though this morning the tree is till naked in my kitchen!  Because I'm running out of time, I'm going to make my gingerbread men out of a roll of gingerbread dough or convert a gingerbread mix into cookies (directions on side of box).  They are for decoration, and I'm just going for the affect, so I'm taking the easy way out (especially after burning out the motor of my mixer one year, trying to put together that heavy batter!).

If you still want to give gifts from your kitchen, don't abandon the plan.  Modify.  You can do it, and it'll be great!

Merry simple Christmas, my friends!

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