Saturday, December 6, 2008

Holiday Baking Bonanza Take A Closer Look

Today’s blog is part two, continuing the theme from the last blog, giving you a little more incentive and insight into holiday baking..

Food, Feasts, Goodies – Holiday Baking Bonanza or Budget Buster; what shall it be? As you glance at the calendar you are aware that the time fast approaches for all kinds of good smells to permeate kitchens and tempt the palates of even the most confirmed dieters. Suddenly ads abound with baking bonanzas. Every item even remotely related to baking is being promoted as an absolute essential ingredient. The supermarkets and discount drugstores are replete with displays and or tables piled high to capitalize on the holiday season’s tradition … HOMEMADE GOODIES!

Americans bake more than 70 million batches of chocolate chip cookies every year, let alone all of the other delicious items. (And I’m sure “they” are going to say that crumbs from 69 million of them were found in Barbara’s kitchen.) Displays of chocolate chips, nuts and other baking items are set up for maximum sales, profits and increased sales with high emphasis on impulse purchases. Become price conscious BEFORE you browse the stores and are delighted to find holiday decorations and tinsel, free recipes, gift suggestions and the most powerful persuader of all – free samples.

Let’s take another look at the pressures of homemade goodies. Do you have the time, budget and energy? Are there some affordable, realistic alternatives that you might take into consideration? YES! And what’s more there is a variety of alternatives among the alternatives! For example; an old fashioned “baking-bee” day or evening where you pool resources and energy with friends makes it go so much faster, easier and in many cases more economical. One thing our family has started doing is having a cookie-dough night. We get together and instead of baking cookies, we make batches of dough. Roll it up in single or double batches; wrap it in plastic wrap and label. We divide up our batches of batches to take home and put them in the freezer. Then instead of taking plates of cookies to our neighbors the dough is delivered for them to decide when to bake – or thaw and eat cookie dough.

Another way is barter. If your time and talents are in areas other than baking, arrange an equitable trade off with one or more friends who enjoy it.

Goodies from scratch are not the only way. Take an extra half-hour to browse and compare – BEFORE buying. There are all kinds of frozen dough and packaged mixes available that can be transformed with Christmas magic.

Of course the most expensive alternative - but still an alternative – is the bakery.

Naturally there must be a side for your preparedness pantry hiding somewhere in here. Of course there is. With the economy going crazy, retailers are offering superb prices on many items, including food products. With your professional price consciousness skills in place, watch for real bargains on any and all items that can be used throughout the rest of the year. For example, all sprinkles, confectioner sugars, decorations that are in red or green can be used for birthdays or other special occasions. Nuts can be super-bonus if you find them on sale. Buy and put them in the refrigerator or freezer in small useable packages. Keep an eye out for any specific items that you can use later and buy several when the price is right.

Pay attention after the holidays when all kinds of holiday candy will be at a 60% - 75% discount. I’ve said it before, red and green M&M’s, or Christmas foil wrapped kisses taste just fine in January and February, especially if they are bargain priced. These can fill your Morale Booster shelf in the pantry – well hidden of course.

Bonus Recipe for Your Holiday Bonanza
Just for the fun of it I have found a wonderfully simple recipe for a homemade No-Salt Seasoning to share. It is one of the things I have done for my family this year. Shop for the ingredients at Big Lots, the Dollar Store or the discount stores to make it even better.

I didn’t have curry and don’t use a lot in my cooking so I left it out. I didn’t use kelp either. I used a small grinder to mince and grind all items that were not small enough to go through a sieve so that the consistency of all ingredients was the same. Instead of tablespoonsful I used cupsful to make a large batch. Adjust and use the spices and seasonings of your choice to make this work. I then packed the seasoning in half-pint jars, and will tie raffia around the top. It took about an hour from start to finish. Of course the kitchen smelled like a witches cauldron full of natural foods for a while, but it was fun and very economical.
No-Salt Seasoning
Mix 1 tablespoon (or equal measurements) each of the following crushed, dried herbs:
kelp, basil, green pepper (I used dehydrated and ground it), curry powder, celery seed, dried onion, parsley, sage, marjoram, green onion (I used chives),
Mix all together and store in a tight fitting jar.

Enjoy! Happy Baking Goods Hunting – or not. And if you brew a batch of no-salt seasoning take a minute to enjoy the aroma.