Thursday, December 9, 2010

DIY Holiday Gifts

I'm going to get better about posting on a daily basis (do you hear that sound?  It sounds like toddlers plotting to destroy a plan.  You will not prevail, ankle-biters!) and I will attempt to provide you all with my take on the easiest, least expensive, and most useful holiday presents that you can make.

My mama started a rule two years ago that all Christmas presents exchanged between family members have to be either homemade or bought at a second hand store.  LOVE THIS.  It forces you to be creative, it is eco-friendly, and I think it makes every gift so much more meaningful.  And do you really need 5 gift bags full of crap that you will probably just re-gift anyway?

The gifts these last few years have been some of my favorite things.  My sister made me a gorgeous vase out of a cheap glass one she found at the Dollar Store, with reeds and shells from the beach in front of her house hot-glued on, and a matching candle holder.  My other sister who is incredibly artistically talented made us all handmade felt ornaments with our initials stitched on, that are so gorgeous I leave them up around the house all year long.  

So if you would like to start a tradition like this, or even just incorporate more handmade, heartfelt goods in your gifts, this is a good place to start.

The Best Cranberry Chutney, Ever.
One year at Thanksgiving I got drafted by my mom to make cranberry sauce.  Ugh - right???  The stuff in the can is always so much better.  Imagine my surprise when this came out so stinkin' good I was eating spoonfuls of it right out of the pot.  I experimented with a couple different recipes for sauce, then came across one for chutney - which is a little sweet and a little savory.  It was so good I finally bit the bullet and taught myself how to can things so I could have some on hand all year - then reluctantly gave out a few to relatives for Christmas presents.  Now I am officially the Chutney Lady - almost every holiday card I get has a scribble on the bottom asking for a jar :-/
So here's the loose sketch of how to make it.  I never measure the spices, and it comes out a bit different every time, which is kind of cool.  Pulling out a jar of this in the middle of summer and putting it alongside some grilled pork loin or chicken is heavenly.

Your ratio is going to be 1 cup of water : 1 cup of brown sugar : 2 cups of fresh cranberries.  I made a huge batch of this last night and tripled it.  
In a big saucepan heat the water with the brown sugar.  When it comes to a boil, add the cranberries and when you hear them start popping lower the heat just a little.  Add about 2 Tb of apple cider vinegar, a few good shakes of cinnamon, ginger, and ground cloves.  Then take two clementines and zest the skin into the chutney.  You will need to progressively turn down the heat to make sure the pan doesn't overflow.  To mine I also add 1 very small shake of cayenne and a few grinds of black pepper.  Keep stirring until the sauce gets thicker and has reduced, about 20 mins.  If you wanted this to be a molded sauce (i.e. "Fancy Pants Chutney") cook it longer.  Basically the longer you cook it the harder it sets.  As soon as you turn the heat off pour it into whatever serving vessel you're using, or can it.  Tie the jar with some raffia and a gift tag, receive praise for your culinary fabulous-ness, etc.

*Stock photo - my camera needs batteries*

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