Maureen "Mo" Valko's family lives all over the country. To make holiday shopping even more challenging, they have families of their own and "they have the things they need," she said. "But they always need to eat."
Valko's solution is to spend a full day in the kitchen every holiday season and make as many edible gifts as she can. She saves money and said, "I like the idea of spending time on creating something awesome for someone."
As the marketing director for the Boise Co-op, Valko decided to share her ideas in one of the Co-op's first cooking classes at its new location near the Village at Meridian.
The second location opened in mid-November at 2350 N. Eagle Road. The 25,000-square-foot grocery store also includes a workshop kitchen complete with a TV screen and camera to give a closeup on cooking demonstrations.
On Dec. 6, Valko hosted the two-hour "DIY Edible Holiday Gifts" to a room of four women.
"We were expecting small classes at first until people find out about the program," she said. "Small classes are good, though, because it can be more hands-on instead of a demonstration."
Valko gave each participant a 16-ounce and 32-ounce jar, as well as a plate layered with parchment paper. On her counter rested several bowls of spice and colorful lentils and beans. Already, a pot of water was simmering.
She chopped up a few bars of Endangered Species Chocolate, which gives 10 percent of its profits to wildlife conservation.
"Traditionally, we made chocolate-covered strawberries, cherries, pretzels," Valko said. "Strawberries aren't even in season right now. I want to give you some different ideas today."
She showed off a platter of thinly sliced dried pineapple, blocks of crystallized ginger, pieces of chili-lime seasoned dried mango and (most unusual) slabs of dried jackfruit.
"Most people in Idaho probably have never even tried jackfruit," she said.
The fruit, which tastes like a cross between mango and pineapple, grows mostly in Mexico. It's a giant, spongy thing that looks a little like an obese banana covered with spikes.
After dipping each in chocolate, the class sprinkled coconut shavings and pink sea salt over the dark glaze.
Next, they filled their 16-ounce glass mason jars with the makings of beef and bean soup. Layers of gray, beige, green, yellow and red beans and lentils piled on top of ground parsley, chili powder and Himalayan pink salt. Valko carefully placed dried bay leaves propped up in the jar for an aesthetic touch.
"Then you just hand-write the recipe and attach it with a piece of twine," she said, "as well as a Co-op gift card so the person you give it to can buy the rest of the ingredients."
- Kelsey Hawes
- (Almost) everything you need to make delicious beef and bean soup.
The class did the same with the larger mason jar, filling it with the makings of oatmeal raisin cookies.
Valko recommended several more ideas, such as a relaxing herbal tea blend with lemongrass and rose petals placed in a small tin; ginger and garlic vinegar; a cajun spice blend; and a steak seasoning.
Some of the more elaborate ideas included homemade vanilla extract, which requires combining a vanilla bean sliced in half and a few ounces of 70-proof vodka, then letting it sit for eight weeks.
"That requires more planning than I can handle before Christmas," Valko said with a laugh.
There's also the option to make flavored honey, which involves heating honey with dried lavender leaves or fresh ginger and straining it into a sanitized glass jar.
The Boise Co-op has several cooking classes—all set for 6-8 p.m.—on the calendar. On Thursday, Dec. 10, attendees can take a class on "RAW for the Holidays," devoted to creating an entirely raw food menu. On Friday, Dec. 11, the Co-op is offering a class on sparkling wine and on Saturday, Dec. 18, it's offering one on champagne tasting.
Other classes include a "DIY Body Care Gifts" class on Sunday, Dec. 13, where participants can learn how to make body butter, sugar scrubs and scent combinations with essential oils.
There are a few more traditional cooking classes offered, such as the "From Scales to Skillet: Learning to Cook Fish," on Thursday, Dec. 17, and the "Cook like a Chef at Home," which features Chef Richard Langston of Richard's Cafe Vicino. That class is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 20.