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Gifts from the kitchen

With wholesome treats made at home or purchased locally, the packaging can be an integral part of the gift
Juli Leonard/Raleigh News and Observer/TNSBaked Brie with Pecans
Photo courtesy of Jefferson Farm KitchenJefferson Farm Kitchen in Jacksonville stocks gift baskets of locally grown and prepared foods.

Sidestepping the season’s supply chain stress can be as simple as supplying friends and family with gifts from the kitchen.

Bonus points go to both giver and recipient when wholesome recipes are packed into new, reusable containers, says chef Kristen Lyon.

“Something I try to do is packaging as the gift,” says Lyon, whose Jefferson Farm Kitchen stocks gift baskets of locally produced foods, along with reusable containers.

“We’re oversaturated with all these to-go containers and packaging.”

Many households are equally saturated around the holidays with rich, sweet snacks and treats. Lyon advocates for spiced nuts, homemade granola, dried apple and pear slices, even kale chips as more nutritionally sound alternatives.

“I feel like that’s what I’m personally craving,” says Lyon. “We’re kind of inundated with a lot of sweets.”

Compared with batches of cookies, candy or fudge, savory snacks can be even easier to make and more budget-friendly, says Lyon. Recipes for spiced nuts and kale chips require hardly any measuring or mixing. An electric dehydrator transforms apple and pear slices into chewy chips, although a low-temperature oven works, too. For recipients with a sweet tooth, homemade candied ginger and citrus peel still feel festive but not too indulgent, says Lyon.

Make a more significant contribution to holiday spreads with baked Brie, comprising a wheel of cheese, accented with fresh or dried fruits wrapped inside commercially prepared puff pastry. Lyon presents hers in a new stainless steel container that — lid removed — can go straight from freezer to oven. The celebration’s hosts can use the container long after eating the Brie.

“You can bake it from frozen, and it is such an easy recipe to put together,” says Lyon.

Even easier for the giver are grab-and-go potpies and take-and-bake meal packages from Lyon’s Farm Kitchen in Jacksonville. Weekly meal packages start at $44, and individual items, from meatloaf to raw vegan cashew cheesecake, range from $16 to $32.

Cooking with organic, locally grown and raised ingredients geared toward special diets, Lyon even offers “everything but the turkey” side dish packages and heat-and-serve holiday appetizer assortments that include compostable cocktail napkins and plates, from $99 to $200. See jeffersonfarmkitchen.com.

“Just the gift of giving someone our meals, you’re giving them the gift of time,” says Lyon. “I feel like the past year, everyone’s bought everything they wanted — because that’s all we do.”

Keeping shopping dollars local, Lyon notes, is vital for small businesses that faced so many challenges for nearly two years. Given that “$100 in sales can make or break” a local business for the day, she urges browsing their inventories before browsing online.

Ashland-based Ecopiggy is Lyon’s source for stainless-steel containers sized for in-home and on-the-go use — from picnics to potlucks and packing up leftovers. Topped with silicone lids, the containers are lighter than glass and available in the Farm Kitchen storefront. Lyon also fills some with house-made snacks for gift giving.

“We have all different sizes.”

The chef also touts canning jars topped with festive fabric for homemade treats or a new kitchen towel tied with ribbon around a bottle of wine as eco-friendly solutions to gift wrap.

Chile-Lime Roasted Cashews

1 lime, zested and juiced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ancho chile

1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile

1 egg white

2 cups raw, whole cashews

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lime zest, salt, ancho chile, chipotle chile and egg white. Add the cashews to bowl and toss to combine, making sure nuts are evenly coated.

Transfer nuts to prepared baking sheet, spreading them out in an even layer. Roast in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking.

Remove nuts from oven and drizzle, while hot, with the lime juice. Let nuts cool. Once completely cooled, transfer nuts to an airtight container and serve as needed.

Kale Chips

1 head kale

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons vinegar (optional)

Sprinkle of sea salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash the kale leaves and use a towel to blot dry or spin in a salad spinner. Tear or cut leaves free from stems.

If using curly-leaved kale, discard stems and tear kale into potato-chip size pieces. If using lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur kale, black kale, Tuscan kale, etc.) remove stems with a sharp knife, leaving 2 long strips.

Place leaves on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss to evenly coat. Add the vinegar, if using, and toss again. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes. Kale will shrink and turn crispy. (You may need to bake in more than 1 batch. Be careful not to overbake; kale chips burn easily. To be on the safe side, cook kale at 300 degrees instead.)

Remove from oven and sprinkle with the sea salt to taste. Serve immediately. Store any leftovers in an airtight container. Makes 4 servings.

Baked Brie

1/2 cup pecan halves

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 package (1 piece) frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 (8-ounce) round of Brie

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a small bowl, combine the pecans and sugar, using your fingers to thoroughly mix; set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

Lightly dust work surface with flour. Cut the piece of puff pastry in half and place on work surface, 1 piece directly on top of the other. Using a rolling pin, adhere 2 pieces of puff pastry together. Continue rolling puff pastry until it is very thin, slightly less than 1/8 inch thick.

Place the Brie in center of puff pastry. Top Brie with pecan mixture, spreading to within 1/2 inch of edges of cheese. Be sure to remove any sugar or nuts from puff pastry, as they may cause holes to form during baking. Fold puff pastry up and over Brie to enclose. Use a sharp knife or clean scissors to trim excess pastry, reserving scraps. Transfer Brie to prepared baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk and cream to make an egg wash. Cut reserved scraps of puff pastry to make decorative shapes. Using a pastry brush, gently brush decorative shapes with egg wash and adhere to wrapped Brie. Brush wrapped Brie evenly with egg wash. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake Brie in preheated oven until golden brown and puffed, for about 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake until dark golden brown, for 10 to 15 minutes more. Serve with sliced baguette, crackers or fruit. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from Martha Stewart.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.