Here we are with only a day and a half left before the big day. Ramona, ever the organised christmas elf has everything done and is now enjoying playing online scrabble and leisurely preparing edibles for Christmas Day lunch. On the other hand I have been stuck between day-job and social functions that have seen me leave virtually all my handmaking until the last minute. All I can say is thank god for that November trip to Japan so at least some peeps already have their OS christmas booty sorted! If you have found yourself in a similar situation to me here are some hot tips for last minute hand made gifts that may save both your bacon your sanity - let's face it do you really want to make a midnight run to your local mega mall . Today I'm handing over a selection of home baked gift ideas, tomorrow will be some last minute customising options... saddle up people! There are two things that couldn't be easier to make in big batches and which are always welcome - gingerbread and shortbread. There are about a million versions of recipes for each but i'll give you two simple ones that ive found foolproof   - over the last few years and let's face it when it comes to baking I am a little simple. I've also included Martha Stewart's spicy nuts (a favourite here at hml) which is excellent for dads, brothers or that distant uncle's KK present (unless of course he has an unknown nut allergy in which case you will win worst present of the year - best to check first)... AND a super easy but super delicious granola recipe which is pretty much an all round winner, especially if you team it up with a jar of home stewed fruit like rhubarb, apricots or plums.

GINGERBREAD - one for everyone

125g butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup or if you like it dark treacle
2 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
3 teaspoons ground ginger (I like mine very gingery)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, sifted

Preheat oven to 190 degrees. Place butter and sugar in electric mixer and beat for 8 minutes or until light & creamy. Add golden syrup or treacle, flour, ginger and bicarb soda and beat until a smooth dough forms. Lightly knead dough & wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm. (I like to make my dough the night before and keep it overnight in the fridge) Roll out dough to 5mm thickness and cut into whatever shapes take you're fancy - stars, hearts, reindeer, pineapples...take you're pick.  Place on trays lined with baking paper and bake for 10 minutes or until golden. You can store gingerbread in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks  - not that it will last anywhere near that long because they are very addictive. Depending on the size of your cutter it makes around 24 biscuits. The great thing about this recipe is it's pretty accomodating to customisation - so eel free to embellish with icing if that takes your fancy, or to add some other spices into the mix to individualise the taste. 

SPICY NUTS (OOH ERR)  - one for the lads1 large egg white
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 3/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 1/2 cups mixed nuts  - pecans, cashews, walnuts, and almonds all work well

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Beat egg white until soft and foamy. Combine all remaining ingredients except nuts; whisk into egg white. Stir in pecans until well coated; spread mixture in single layer onto an ungreased baking pan. Bake nuts for 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Using a metal spatula, toss, stir, and separate nuts. Reduce oven to 150 degrees. and return nuts to bake until medium brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven; toss, and stir again. Place baking pan on wire rack to cool don't be alarmed if they seem a little limp they'll crisp up as they cool. Break up any that stick together; You can store your spicy nuts in an airtight container, at room temperature for up to 2 weeks - but like most of these recipies it's highly unlikely they'll last much beyond the boxing day test viewing.

VANILLA AND CINNAMON GRANOLA - one for your up-scale hippy mates
2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole or slivered almonds
1/3 cup whole hazelnuts
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup dried blueberries, cherries or cranberries depending on what you've got in the pantry.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.In a large bowl, toss the oats with the cinnamon and salt. In a medium bowl, stir together the oil, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla. Whisk until completely combined. Pour the honey mixture over the oats mixture and use your hands to combine them: Gather up some of the mixture in each hand and make a fist. Repeat until all of the oats are coated with the honey mixture. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Spread it out evenly, but leave a few clumps here and there for texture. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the almonds over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the granola and return the baking sheet to the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. Let cool completely. Sprinkle the raisins and cherries over the granola and use your hands to transfer it to an airtight container. Delicious.

Clearly there are endless ways you can wrap up your edible presents from glass jars to printed paper cones - personally I like to either fancy up a glass jar with some seasonal ribbon or use a cellophane bag similarly gussied up with a home made gift tag but I encourage you all to go crazy make up your own highly individual delivery system! Yummy food presents are always well recieved and so much better than a last minute dodgy gift voucher or hanky and sock set! BECK

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