Occupy your kitchen this holiday season by making gifts from your pantry

By Dana Zia, The GoLightly Gourmet

“All I ever wanted to do was to make good food accessible to everyone.” Jamie Oliver

Ah the holiday season is upon us. I do love the energy, lights and spirit of the holidays yet the constant pressure to give more gifts than you can afford is the downside. Gifts are such a wonderful way of expressing appreciation and affection but the relentless stress from our consumer driven culture is overwhelming this time of year. I have found the solution though; occupy your kitchen and make gifts from your pantry.

Gift giving can be easy and affordable, just march right in that kitchen and beat the system by turning out delicious gifts that makes your recipient shout with joy! At the very least these delights will fill their tummies with warm happiness. Additionally making these presents at home is a great way to relax and enjoy the season opposed to out in the craziness getting pepper sprayed. (Like the way I laid out your options there?)

The normal trays of cookies are enthusiastically received except for the waist line which is already under assault from the season. I suggest expanding your mind to new culinary horizons in your kitchen this year and prepare some healthier delights. Also if you have a familial recipe that you would like to share that gives the gift an extra special touch, do it. Make sure and write the history of the recipe on the tag to impart the meaning to your recipient.

Package your gift food in containers that add an extra something like Ball jars or old Christmas tins you find at the thrift store. The tag you place on it really brings together the package with bright ribbons and maybe a Christmas ornament. Have fun and enjoy the creative process! Do your part to take back the holidays and occupy your kitchen this to make meaningful and appreciated gifts.

Herbed rice mix
This homemade rice mix is easy to cook and versatile enough to compliment just about any main dish, making it appealing to anyone. It looks especially nice (and keeps well) in a glass jar accompanied by a tag with the following instructions: “For 4 servings, combine 2 1/2 cups of water, 1 cup of rice mix and 1 teaspoon of salt in a medium saucepan and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve hot and steaming.”

1/2 cup of dried mushrooms, chopped fine
1 tablespoon of onion flakes
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
1 tablespoon of dried parsley
1 tablespoons of dried dill
3 cups of basmati or jasmine rice
In a large mixing bowl combine the mushrooms with all the spices and mix well. Add the rice and toss with joy, but not all over the kitchen! Pour the mix into a lovely quart jar and seal tightly. Adorn with ribbons and a tag proclaiming your independence from the stores.

Southwestern four-bean soup in a jar
This recipe is easily doubled and placed in a quart jar.

1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of oregano
1/3 cup of dried black beans
1/3 cup of pinto beans
1/3 cup of dried kidney beans
1/3 cup of dried great northern beans

Get a 2 cup jar and layer the ingredients into the jar starting with the chili powder and ending with the great northern beans. Seal with lid and put this recipe on the tag.
“For a dark and stormy night. Add soup mix to a soup pot with 9 cups of water, 4 cups of broth, and a 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes. Bring to a lively simmer over medium high heat then reduce to a gentle simmer for 1-2 hours till beans are tender. Then add an onion diced, 3 carrots chopped and 3 sticks of celery chopped. Simmer for 1 more hour then season with salt and pepper and serve with lime, cilantro and hot sauce.”

Smokey fruit and nut bark
I couldn’t help myself, I had to get one sweet in here. This nut bark is simply amazing. It makes one pound of satisfaction that can be split 4 ways, if you want to share. If you can’t find smoked salt, use kosher salt instead.
1/2 pound of dry roasted unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup of chopped dried apricots or cherries
1 pound of dark chocolate, chopped
1–2 teaspoons of coarse ground smoked salt
Line a 17-by-11-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the almonds and dried apricots in a medium bowl. To temper the chocolate I use a microwave. (I know but really it is so easy! The stovetop recipe will be on my blog – https://danazia.wordpress.com/) Place three-quarters of the chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe glass or ceramic bowl. Set the microwave at 50 percent power. With the bowl uncovered, heat the chocolate for 1 minute, then stir using a rubber spatula. Repeat heating for 30 seconds and then stirring, until almost all of the chocolate in the bowl is melted, about 4 minutes total. Add the rest of the chocolate and zap for 1 more minute. Take out and stir till all the chocolate is melted. (It is easy to burn in the microwave so be careful!)
Working quickly using a rubber spatula, spread chocolate in an even layer about 1/4 inch thick on parchment. Evenly sprinkle the apricots and almonds over the chocolate, then gently press them in so they stick. Immediately sprinkle salt over the top. Set aside in a cool, dry spot to harden, about 1 hour with a mouse trap to keep the kids out. Break into irregular pieces and share! To turn this into a gift kit, include a bottle of port or brandy.