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Gift basket themes: tea time or movie time

Put Maple Almond Popcorn, shown here, in a tub as part of a movie night-themed Purim gift basket. ()

Put Maple Almond Popcorn, shown here, in a tub as part of a movie night-themed Purim gift basket. ()

NEW YORK (JTA) — So it’s nearly Purim and the excitement in my house is rising every day. I’m not a great one to fuss with costumes, but my mind is bubbling over with ideas for mishloach manot, the Purim gift baskets.

It’s more than mere “tradition” to give goodies to friends and family for Purim, which this year falls on the evening of March 7. The practice of giving food – specifically two different types — was mandated as a mitzvah at the suggestion of Queen Esther (you’ll find it in the Megillah), and we’re still obeying to this day. I like to go out of my way to give mishloach manot to people I just met or to new friends. It’s a great opportunity to break the ice with new neighbors, too.

When it comes to your goodie basket, you can go from cheap and cheerful to expensive and exotic. The only things that limit you are your imagination and your wallet.

Now don’t stress over this. Technically you only have to give to one person, not your whole town, but chances are you’ll want to do more. I’ve been there, believe me.

Exhibit A — the easy way: The first year I was married, I borrowed (OK, stole) the easiest Purim idea from a friend. I sent cute little boxes filled with purple yummy stuff along with a card wishing everyone a “Grape Purim!”

Exhibit B — the hard way: When we moved into our new house three years ago, Purim fell on erev Shabbat. I made an individual challah roll, a quart of fresh chicken soup and added a small bottle of grape juice for 60 families — yes, 60 — in our new neighborhood. That was a little intense and a lot crazy.

Overboard, yes, but I was on the right track because there is something special about giving a homemade treat. But I’ve made a solemn promise to myself (and to my husband, to keep our household peaceful) that if I go this route, I’ll do it with a lot of planning and forethought. No last-minute panic.

At first I couldn’t decide between two ideas, so I developed two EASY recipes. (Not like making 60 homemade challah rolls!) Again, I “borrowed” a few ideas from my friends, Tamar and Hadassah, who work with me on JoyofKosher.com, but I can’t remember which was which.

Anyway, you’re welcome to borrow these ideas from us, and we won’t tell a soul.

Option 1: an English Tea Time Shalach Manot.

Homemade jam is so easy to make, so (literally) sweet, and a perfect way to use up those bits of frozen berries in your freezer. You can package homemade jam and some biscuits, crackers, scones or English muffins (you can buy all of these) and a box of tea. To that end, I present my recipe for Homemade Mixed Berry Jam.

Option 2: a “movie night” theme is fun and family friendly.

You get to satisfy all your cravings for Twizzlers, soda and popcorn. But not just any popcorn: We’re talking my homemade, gourmet Maple Almond Popcorn. Don’t worry — it’s truly Quick & Kosher, and so easy you’ll do it again and again.

I decided to go with Option 2, so I picked up some plastic movie-style popcorn tubs, and I’m rounding out the package with a can of soda tucked into a Coke cup with a lid (got ‘em from the pizza store). And of course, I’ll add a pack of Twizzlers.

To complete this mishloach manot package, I will create an “admit one” ticket of some sort with a poem or catchy line inviting people to the greatest movie now playing, “The Purim Story,” and coming soon, “The Exodus from Egypt.”

While you are making all of that to send out on Purim, be sure to allow yourself a taste for quality control. Don’t you know that every good cook takes a taste before the goods leave the kitchen?

HOMEMADE MIXED BERRY JAM

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Servings: 8-10

Ingredients:
3 cups frozen mixed berries (raspberries and blueberries)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup diced peeled granny smith apple
2 tablespoons water

Preparation:
1. In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 to 45 minutes or until thickened and berries are broken down. Cool completely.
2. Can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or can be canned and stored for up to 6 months.

MAPLE ALMOND POPCORN

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients:
6 cups popcorn
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup maple syrup

Preparation:
1. Grease a large bowl with cooking spray. Add popcorn and almonds and stir to combine. Set aside.
2. Line a large sheet pan with foil and grease with cooking spray.
3. In a medium heavy bottom saucepan over medium high heat, bring maple syrup to a boil. Boil until maple syrup reaches 300 on a candy thermometer. Immediately pour over popcorn and stir vigorously to coat. Quickly spread popcorn mixture onto prepared pan and let cool completely before breaking into pieces.

(Jamie Geller is the author of the best-selling "Quick & Kosher" cookbook series and creator of the Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine. She is the host of the popular "Quick & Kosher" cooking show online at youtube.com/joyofkosher and on-air on JLTV. Follow more of Geller’s Quick & Kosher cooking adventures on Twitter @JoyofKosher and on facebook.com/joyofkosher.) 

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