Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gift Boxes

This year I really struggled with what to do for teacher/neighbor gifts.  I like to come up with something that the kids can help with and that everybody in the family can contribute to.  I also like to give something that can last and be enjoyed past Christmas.  I feel like people get so many yummy homemade treats this time of year that sometimes they go to waste.
 Last year I did hot cocoa mix and homemade marshmallows and I was really happy with the results.  The kids decorated mugs for their teachers, grandparents got mugs with the kids picture and neighbors got holiday mugs.  I made the marshmallows and everyone helped dip them in chocolate.  The gifts were really well received and many people told us they enjoyed having the cocoa when we were up to our knees in snow during the big February storm.  
But, this year I really struggled coming up with something.  I wanted something that could be done in bulk, but still looked individual.  Wasn't too time consuming, but looked as if it was.  I came up with chocolate and maple fudge, peanut brittle and peppermint cookie pops.  There wasn't a lot of contribution from the kids which I was disappointed about.  They didn't feel much ownership or pride in the gifts, which was obvious when they gave the gifts to their teachers.  I did have them choose one of their salt dough ornaments to include on the gift bag, but it still wasn't enough to instill a lot of pride in the gift.
All recipes were very easy and could be completed in a short amount of time.  My favorite was the maple fudge.  I was lucky enough to have about 3lbs of maple sugar in my pantry (my Dad lives in NY and brings maple products to us on every visit) so this year I decided to try using it to make maple fudge and it was heavenly.  I do the no fail fudge and while I feel like a slight cheater it is a yummy recipe that always works and everyone loves.  The peppermint cookie swirls were a last minute addition, I saw the idea on Paula Deen and they were the perfect topper.    The cookie isn't my favorite, I don't really like peppermint cookies, but they look good.

No Fail Fudge
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 
2/3 cup (5 fl.-oz. can) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk 
2 tablespoons butter or margarine 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
2 cups miniature marshmallows 
1 1/2 cups (9 oz.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels 
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional) 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Line an 8-inch-square baking pan with foil. Combine sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt in medium, heavy-duty saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.  Stir in marshmallows, morsels, nuts and vanilla extract. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until marshmallows are melted. Pour into prepared baking pan; refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. Lift from pan; remove foil. 

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