Mary Carter has been styling food, testing and developing recipes, and preparing “Edible gifts” for over 25 years. “Each phase of this work has been interesting and rewarding.  Cooking has enabled me to be a guest on local television over 100 times.” Mary has been a guest on QVC as a spokesperson for a cookbook she helped develop.  It’s called “Hometown Favorites”.
“Years ago, I compiled many of my favorite recipes from friends, family and my own kitchen.  That resulted in “Edible Gifts from Your Kitchen”.   I have used the recipes from that collection for every holiday season since.   It’s been a great resource for quick, easy to prepare items.”
It inspired Mary to start her cookie business, Milk and Cookies.   Her cookies were becoming increasingly popular, so she decided to bake them as a side business.  Mary says that it’s been really fun attending the local markets and getting feedback from customers.
Mary lives in Nashville with her husband, and two young adult children. They waltz in and out….always bringing friends and eating the latest offerings from her kitchen.

Q: This year I want to give gifts of food. What can I fix ahead of time and freeze to give later?

A. Cakes and quick breads make great do-ahead freezer items.  I do not recommend freezing cookies.  They don’t hold up as well as the more substantial items. Consider items that do not need to be frozen.  Chutneys, flavored vinegars and cereals (such as granola or muesli) hold up well.

Q: I would love to send my relatives food gifts that I made. They live in another state. What ships well?

A. Shipping can be tricky. Liquids are off limits.  Stick with things that have a long shelf life. Again, I would send granola or muesli. If you really want to send a cookie, try a shortbread. They have a longer shelf life than soft cookies.

Q: In order to keep down expenses I have decided to give gifts of food. What can I give that is different from the usual cookies?

A. It is wise to consider cost. Budget out your entire project. Sometimes those high quality ingredients, packaging and  postage add up to a higher final ticket than expected.  Start out by considering purchasing ingredients at a lower cost store…such as Aldi.  Scour places like the Dollar Tree for pretty and affordable packaging. Also, shop for next year early.  When stores rotate out seasonal packaging, it can be reduced as much as 80%.

Give something that is a true expression of YOU.  If you love chocolate, then share that love.  If you have a knack for combining seasonings to make rubs, bag them up for the grillers in your life.

Other thoughts:
-Consider allergies.   This is becoming a bigger issue each year.
-Remember that overeating becomes increasingly tempting over the holiday slide toward New Year’s.   A true friend will consider your health. Give items that reflect that.

We’ve been getting questions about specific gifts. Here are the answers:

1. Flavored vinegars are so easy to make. Herbs are great. Citrus is also nice.
Basil Garlic Vinegar:
1 pint red wine vinegar
1 large bunch (about 1 cup) fresh basil, washed and patted dry
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Arrange basil and garlic in a pretty jar or bottle. Pour the vinegar into the container. Cover tightly. Allow the flavors to mellow for several days, and up to a month. Keep refrigerated.
Orange Mint Vinegar:
1 pint white wine vinegar
peel of 1 whole orange, or clementine (peel carefully to make long and slender strands, avoiding bitter whit pith)
1 bunch (about 1 cup fresh mint)
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
Arrange mint and orange peel in a jar or bottle. Shake vinegar together with the honey and pour into the container. Cover tightly. Allow to mellow for several days. Keep refirgerated. Gently shake before using, as the sweetener will settle to the bottom of the container.

2. My Favorite Granola:
Step 1
In a very large bowl combine 6 cups rolled oats, 2 cups each flax seed meal and oat bran.
Add 1 cup each chopped walnuts, chopped dried apricots, craisins, coconut, chopped almonds
Reserve 1 cup golden raisins

Step 2:
In a medium saucepan combine 3 cups brown sugar, 1 1/2 cups butter 1 cup maple syrup and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Stir over medium heat until well combined and beginning to bubble. Pour over cereal mixture in the large bowl. Stir until cereal, fruit and nut mixture is evenly coated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large pan with high sides (a roasting pan is good) with non-stick spray. Spoon all but raisins into the pan. Bake for 10 minutes and remove from oven. Stir well and return to oven. Repeat this process until cereal and nuts are golden brown. Stir in raisins. Allow to cool on a flat surface. Package in airtight containers. Makes about 12 cups.

Have a question for our expert? This line is open until Friday, December 2nd. Our expert will then answer the top questions and we’ll post their answers right here and on our Facebook page.