I like to give food as gifts. Homemade gifts are automatically special, just by virtue of the fact that someone personally took the time to make them. Edible homemade gifts have the added benefit of being consumable, so they don't take up space in someone's home for very long. And they can be unique - unlike anything a person can buy at a store.
My hangup is that I cannot bring myself to give a friend something unhealthful. I do realize, however, that edible gifts are supposed to be fun. "Oh Bonnie, thank you for the cute little jar of psyllium husk fiber! You shouldn't have!" - just doesn't cut it.
So here are three kitchen-tested recipes for treats that really find the sweet spot for homemade gifts: uniquely yummy; not too expensive or time-consuming to make; relatively healthful; and no animal products. If you are vegan, you can bestow these delicious treats upon fellow plant-eaters and carnivores alike without apology. If you do not (yet) number yourself among the vegan but have family members who do, make these treats for them, and they will bless you for your thoughtfulness.
As it turns out, all three recipes include seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds. I wasn't aiming for that theme, but I admit that I find edible seeds irresistible. I hope you like them, too. These recipes can easily be doubled for more gifting.
Sweet and Spicy Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Makes 2 cups
1 tablespoon avocado or other neutral-flavored oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons tamari
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼-½ teaspoon ground cayenne, chipotle or other hot pepper
2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to coat pumpkin seeds. Spread seeds on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Roast in 300o oven for 20 minutes. Allow seeds to cool. Some seeds will stick together like granola clusters-no need to break them apart. Store in airtight jars or containers at room temperature for a week or refrigerate for longer storage. (Adapted from Naturally Nourished by Sarah Britton)
Chocolate-covered Trail Mix
Makes 7 cups
1 10-ounce bag dairy-free chocolate chips such as Chocolate Dream by Sunspire
4 cups trail mix (your favorite combination of seeds, nuts and dried fruit - no chocolate)
Melt chocolate chips by placing them in a small pan inside a larger pan of hot water; heat the larger pan on the stove until the chocolate chips melt, stirring them occasionally with a wooden spoon. Remove small pan from water and stir trail mix into the melted chocolate. Spread chocolate-covered trail mix onto parchment-paper lined baking sheet, using a rubber scraper to get all the melted chocolate out of the pan. If you're using an unsalted trail mix, you could sprinkle a bit of coarse salt over the mixture. Refrigerate until set - 10 to 20 minutes. Break into pieces and store in airtight container. Freeze for longer storage.
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A few notes about the third recipe: The original version calls for brown rice syrup. I did not find that item locally, so I made test batches using molasses, maple syrup and sorghum. (That day I ate nothing but seed brittle. I'm not kidding.) Blackstrap molasses makes a brittle that is very dark and has a strong, distinctive molasses tang, which I like. Light molasses has a pleasant and less assertive flavor. The maple syrup version is so mild that it is almost bland, and it doesn't hold together as well; I don't recommend it. Sorghum is similar to light molasses and was our favorite in my family.
This recipe is also from my friend Julie Guenard. She likes to use dried cherries or apple juice-sweetened dried cranberries for the fruit "because it adds a wonderful sharpness" to the brittle. If the cherries or cranberries are really large, she might chop them, but most of the time, she said, "I just throw them in." Julie said a nice way to present this treat is wrapped in parchment paper and tied with a piece of decorative twine.
2 tablespoons coconut oil
½ cup light molasses, sorghum, or blackstrap molasses
1¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup sesame seeds
½ cup dried fruit, such as craisins, raisins or cherries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Warm coconut oil gently in a pan, add molasses or sorghum, and stir to mix completely. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl and add the warm molasses. Spread mixture onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove tray from oven. When completely cool, break the brittle into pieces and store in an airtight container. Refrigerate for longer storage and to increase crunchiness. (Adapted from "My New Roots" by Sarah Britton.)
Bonnie Ambrosi lives in Duluth and is an organizer of The Vegan Cookbook Club which meets at 11:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Mount Royal Branch Library. Contact Ambrosi at firstname.lastname@example.org.