December 24, 2013 at 1:00 am

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: Storing baking ingredients and last-minute gift (or gift-card) ideas

Vaccuum sealing keeps brown sugar like new, even if you seal, break the seal and use some, and reseal. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

I’m so proud of the fix I found for that hardened brown sugar thing I used to face when I dragged it out after a break — and aware that I’ll likely be running around in a tizzy looking for stocking gifts tonight, as is my Christmas Eve way — that I wanted to tell you about my FoodSaver trick in case you need gift, or gift-card usage, ideas.

Plus, I thought some of you might have some great ideas for ingredient-storage or kitchen purchases, though I know the time to share them might be less plentiful.

Before I go there, though, let me just say that if you’re in need of a great holiday dessert (and an amusing story about the fire her husband slept through), click here to check out Kate’s cranberry cheesecake Simply the Best column. And speaking of Kate, if you’re looking for a last-minute foodie gift for the electronic age, I really recommend her “Seasonally Simple.” I had the privilege of editing part of this eBook, which is a compilation of 100 of Kate’s columns and recipes, and it’s just an absolutely kick-back-and-read pleasure — until you get so hungry you gotta start cooking.

Meanwhile, in my own corner of the world, my bungalow is “clean”(ish), decorated and packed with in-laws — from my son’s grandparents and aunts and uncles in the two guest rooms to his cousins in cots in the living room by the tree, with my son tucked into the crook of the hallway (behind room dividers) outside our bedroom upstairs. The kitchen, two fridges and even our porch are equally packed with food, as we dance around trying to figure out how to keep things cool but not frozen.

I think we’re rounding the bend on finishing baking, though you can never tell with this crowd; the last of the snickerdoodles my mother-in-law baked and the second batch of reader Carole’s Molasses Sugar Cookies I just had to make for our party and neighbors this weekend are gone, and I don’t see us maintaining a cookie-free home for long.

But by Friday, our visitors will be packing up to go, and I imagine it’ll be time to freeze the flour and retire the brown sugar for a while. Which is where my handy-dandy (that’s right, handy-dandy — I must admit, this may be my most infomercial-sounding column yet, heh) FoodSaver comes in. I got this beast for a wedding gift from some girlfriends who know how I eat; five years later, it’s still super helpful for batch-cooking and preparing in advance.

Vacuum-sealing is also the only way I’ve discovered to keep brown sugar from turning into that compact nightmare that you need an icepick to break up. Now, when the time comes to bench the brown sugar for a while (doesn’t it come for most of us, due to baking burnout or New Year’s resolutions?), the sugar doesn’t get wasted but instead nicely preserved. I like to cut a custom bag (you can buy individual bags or big rolls to choose your size, sealing both ends) with plenty of room at one end so I can cut it open, get some sugar out and reseal it, though this year I’m thinking of making some small bags with 2/3 cup brown sugar in each for experimenting on my husband’s breakfast bars. (I’m close — so close!)

So if you know someone who likes to batch cook and freeze but fights freezer burn (I’ve yet to, with vacuum sealing) or batch bakes and then takes a break (but hates to waste the leftover ingredients), check out a FoodSaver or other vacuum-sealing device. They’re at Meijer, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, among other easy-to-find stores.

In any case, that’s it from me til this weekend’s cookbook giveaway, so I’ll wish you a happy happy Merry Christmas (or happy holiday of your choosing)!

Do you have any tips for preserving baking ingredients or recommendations for kitchen purchases? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!

I love my Foodsaver. It's one of those appliances that gets used so much ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)