(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
Easter baskets aren't just for kids. Those that include even just a single homemade touch make wonderful hostess gifts for a holiday brunch or dinner. Additions that are homey, from the heart and much appreciated, but they also help the Easter bunny keep his finances in order by usually costing much less than purchased filled baskets. Time can be saved, too, when you concentrate on strategic shortcut strategies, like those that produce treats, such as a variety of quick-to-prepare ham glazes or jelly beans that release fun flavors when "brewing" with fruity loose-leaf teas.
Food preparation can be delicious, yet simple, nutritious and inexpensive, too, as the following sensations prove. They take just 10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare. The gift foods are tasty proof everyone has time for cooking and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness - including prepping with your kidlets - that goes along with it! Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since there are no right or wrong amounts. These are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations, so whatever you choose to use can't help but draw "wows," as well as making your Easter easier.
Sassy Spring Mix
The combinations of "spring mixes" in markets often contain just blends of greens. Sometimes they are conveniently packaged and other times you pick them from the bins yourself, also under the titles of mesclun or field greens. Originally, though, spring mixes often had a bit more spring in their step, such as including fresh herbs and edible flowers, especially dandelions that are grown for sale as culinary products. Consider an economical large wood salad bowl as your "basket" and fill it with a spring mix jazzed up with your inclusion of just such items, like chopped seasonal herbs such as mint, tarragon, chervil and parsley. Wrap it up tightly along with a dry spice mix you create to be mixed with miniature bottles of oil and vinegar you include for a custom dressing. Get greens just before needed and have your host refrigerate them promptly.
Fill a basket with everything mint: tea, bouquets of the fresh herb, jelly --- even exotic mints, gums and herbal pillow or room sprays.
Ham it Up
Prepare and tightly bottle a variety of glazes that can be used on ham, such as one featuring cloves, another pineapple, others Asian- or Mediterranean-themed. Make them the same day as you will give them, refrigerate and have your host do the same.
Artistic Egg Masterpieces
Get creative and vividly paint hardboiled eggs your host can serve with the meal or snack on the next day. You don't even have to cook yourself, as they are available inexpensively in most supermarkets' ready-made aisles. Perhaps personalize with host and hostess' initials or kids' names.
Jelly Beans that Fit to a "T"
Jelly beans solo are fine, but using the Easter staple as an innovative added ingredient is even more memorable. Employ them as a drizzle on top of frosting on homemade cookies, cupcakes and brownies and you won't help but draw smiles. Mix them into a compatibly flavored canister of loose-leaf tea (such as a fruity lemon-, orange- or berry-based one) and when they are included with the tea in a strainer ball while brewing, they will melt a bit and release fun flavors into the finished cup. Best: Include a steal strainer ball or two in the gift basket. These look impressive, but often sell for even under $3 at supermarkets and national tea and gourmet chains.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: When recipes call for a final mix-in ingredient at the end of the cooking process - like the sour cream often stirred into beef stroganoff - be sure to first carefully remove the pan from the heat for about a minute. This is enough time for the pan to cool slightly, but for it to still be hot enough to dissolve the addition. That's your goal, that amount of heat, but without your ingredients still cooking.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.