DIY food gifts
Looking for last minute gifts that are extra special and unique? Try making one of the following food gifts that won't break the bank, and yet show you care.
DIY gifts are always a hit!
Make each recipe your own. Choose from a variety of vanilla beans and/or alcohol for the extract recipe & different herbs and syrups for the elixir recipe.
Homemade vanilla extract
It's as easy as pie...
except not, because it's actually easier!
Follow these simple steps to make your own extract and gift to loved ones.
You can use any vanilla bean, but know that each variety will have a different flavor and quality with unique characteristics. Bourbon and Madagascar are common and full bodied while the Tahitian is fruity with floral and Mexican is spicy. Blend different varieties for complexity. And while we're at it, a note about the alcohol. Keep it neutral using vodka OR bourbon, brandy, and rum for a sweeter, caramel flavor. Don't use top-shelf either; inexpensive alcohol works well.
4-6 vanilla beans*
8 ounces alcohol*
Split vanilla beans half lengthwise. You may need to cut into smaller pieces to fit your jar, so cut according to the size of your jar or bottle.
Place vanilla beans in a clean jar or bottle, submerge with alcohol. Cover, shake, and infuse for at least one month. Store in a cool, dry place and shake from time to time.
(option to strain).
Tie a bow around the neck of the bottle and gift away? If you decide to give as a gift, be sure to write the 'use' date.
Makes 1 cup
1/2 cup mint syrup*
1/2 cup honey
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
Put all ingredients into a saucepan over low heat until all ingredients are well-combined. Pour into clean jars or bottles, and store.
*Mint can be substituted for other syrups as well. Explore your pantry or ethnic stores for other syrup ideas. Mint syrup can be purchased at Middle Eastern grocery store.
When gifting, consider pairing the elixir with gin or another spirit, club soda, citrus, and/or ice molds.
Dorayaki, simple and sweet, best enjoyed with a cup of green tea
Lately, I've been exploring various Japanese foods. Looking for breakfast, one recipe in particular one stood out: Dorayaki. It's appeared in cooking shows, and recently featured in Tasting Table, so I began to grow curious: What was all the hype about? It is just a pancake, after all. Right?
Dorayaki is not just any pancake. It's one of the most popular Japanese confections, filled with anko, a sweet adzuki red bean paste, sandwiched between two pancakes.
You heard me. Two pancakes! But they're small.
Typically, the pancakes are quite sweet, so I cut out a lot of the sugar; I don't do well with things that are overly-sweet, especially at breakfast. But if you're looking for the full-on, sweeter pancake made as intended, add the full amount (using 1/2 cup sugar instead) from the recipe below.
To make things interesting, I chose to make three different fillings. It was too difficult to choose just one: I was initially interested in trying the traditional bean paste version, but couldn't say no to a matcha green tea variation as well. It was around this time that I also noticed the abundance of ripe squash sitting on my kitchen counter, and decided to make a butternut squash filling for a third option.
Before you get off your seat to make some tasty sweet cakes, check out this clip from the popular manga-turned-anime-series Doraemon to get the full sense of what it's like to love dorayaki, below.
... and now the recipe: Dorayaki
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp honey
3/4 cup milk*
1-2 tablespoons butter
8 oz filling
*Can use animal or plant-based milk
1. Mix dry all-purpose flour and baking soda in one bowl with a whisk. In a second bowl, whisk together eggs, honey, and milk.
2. Gradually whisk the wet ingredients into the dry.
3. In a nonstick pan, apply a small amount of butter. Ladle in a some of the batter into a circle and repeat. Flip after 2 minutes, or until golden brown, and cook the remaining side for 1-2 minutes. The idea is to make them snack worthy and be consistent in shape and size.
4. Work in batches until the batter is finished.
5. In the middle of one pancake place a dollop of filling in the center. Place another pancake on top and press along the edges to create a seal, enclosing the filling. It's OK if some of the filling seeps out, messy can be good sometimes.
Dorayaki filling recipes
Adzuki bean paste filling:
1 cup adzuki beans
1/8 cup sugar
1. Soak beans overnight or for 8 hours.
2. Drain, rinse, and cover with water. Cook for about 45 minutes or until softened.
3. Puree beans in a food processor.
4. Heat a frying pan and add bean puree with sugar. Cook until all it's dry and there's very little to no moisture.
Matcha cream cheese filling:
1/8 cup honey
2 tbsp matcha green tea
8 oz softened cream cheese
1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients until well-mixed.
Miso pumpkin filling:
2 cups squash, skinned, seeds and guts removed, roughly chopped
1 tbsp yellow miso
1. In a pot, combine squash with enough water to cover. Cook for about 10-15 minutes until soft.
2. Puree squash and add miso.
Still hungry? Check out the miso carrot spread (within the napa cabbage wrap recipe) for another alternative filling.
banana meets sourdough
A coworker recently gave me a sourdough starter, so every week for the past month I've been experimenting with new foods. Every Tuesday, the day we work together, she comes into my office first thing and asks me, "What did you make this week? You should try..."
But these banana muffins have been by far my favorite.
The soft pretzels and cookies I tried turned out Okay: I would have liked to boil the pretzels before baking, but wasn't sure how the sourdough would react. Something to try for the next batch of pretzels, I suppose. And the cookies? Well, they had a softer texture and resembled something more like a scone. Still good, but tasted too, well, healthy. There are times when I want a hearty, grainy cookie, but other times, I want a classic, buttery, sweet cookie that melts in my mouth. This was not that cookie.
This ultimately led to the muffin recipe you'll find below. It is a healthier version of a muffin - one that doesn't weigh you down or add to the 'muffin top' (pun intended). Its soft center and banana goodness are just what your body needs to provide you with proper fuel. Plus, it's loaded with fiber to satiate your hunger, and isn't sweet or oily like many muffins. While it's a healthy version, however, I didn't run into the same problem as with the cookies: This was, in a word, delicious.
Don't take my word for it. Bake them yourself and try one or all. You won't want to share these banana beauties.
Serves 12 medium sized muffins
1 1/4 cup sourdough starter
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup quick cooking oats, 2 tablespoons reserved for garnish
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. five spice powder
1/4 cup raw sugar*
1 cup mashed bananas (about 3 if frozen, then thawed)
1/4 cup safflower oil
*it doesn't have to be raw; use your favorite sugar here
1. At least 12 hours before you with to bake, mix the starter with the flour and allow to rest covered in a warm spot.
2. Preheat oven to 375F. Combine starter blend with oats (except 2 tablespoons), salt, baking soda, baking powder, and five spice.
3. In another small bowl, combine the sugar, bananas, egg, and safflower oil.
4. Gradually add the liquid ingredients into the dry (plus starter) stirring just until combined.
5. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pans (I like to spray oil into the paper cups to allow for easy muffin removal) about 3/4 full. Top with remaining oats and a light sprinkle of salt. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.