Monday, December 20, 2010

Handmade Holiday Gifts

We love it when people give us gifts that they made. One of the most memorable things we received last year and used in everything was a jar of hand-pressed olive oil. It was just about the best thing I have ever tasted. I also fondly remember some canned peach and coriander chutney from years past. These are the thoughtful things that make the holidays great. So in lieu of overdoing the shopping this week, why not make a thing or two for people to remember and request in years to come? Here are some of our favorites:

Hot Sauce: This is about as simple as it gets. Get ahold of your favorite small, dried peppers, de-stem them, pack them into a soy-sauce bottle, and then funnel in some vinegar. I recommend tabasco peppers or Thai bird chilies. I use white vinegar, but you could use apple cider vinegar or champagne vinegar if you want to try something different. The vinegar will become infused with the heat and flavor of the peppers overnight, resulting in beautiful-looking hot sauce. The cool thing is that when the vinegar runs out, you just refill it, and the process starts all over again.

Saffron + Recipe: For our family Christmas gift this year, we put together a neat little package that contained an envelope of red saffron and a saffron egg drop soup recipe printed on a nice sheet of card stock and tied up with a red ribbon. You could do something similar with curry powder or lavender. It makes for a beautiful presentation, it's inexpensive, thoughtful, and easy to carry. It's a fun way to encourage people to get in the kitchen and cook.

Vanilla Extract: Simply split about 12 vanilla beans straight down the middle and drop them into half a handle of vodka. It takes a month or so for it to transform completely; however, if you get the process started now, you can simply bottle it and date it to let the recipient know that it will ready for use in a few weeks. If you'd like to try something different, use rum or bourbon in place of the vodka. Your homemade vanilla extract may be something incredibly tasty to add to a holiday cocktail, but that's for you to find out.

Citrus Sugar: This is really easy and smells so good. Microplane the rind of some unwaxed, organic lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruits and mix it in with cane sugar. This would be a great drink rimmer, dessert topping, or iced tea addition. (Last year, we made vanilla sugar, and people tell me that they're refilling it and using it still. Same process: split 1-2 vanilla beans and pour sugar over them. It doesn't take long to permeate.)

Jams, Sauces, and Infused Oil: If you have a little more time on your hands, you can always can something so that no one has to be in a rush to use it. Jam is pretty easy to make: just use 4 cups fruit, 1/2 to 2/3 cup sugar, and lemon juice or pectin. We also love cinnamon persimmon sauce and basil oil. (However, pickling cucumbers, okra, or beets is easy if you want something quicker.)

Granola: This is somewhat healthier than all the cookies and candy floating around right now. I based it on a simple Woman's Day recipe. (And I like this presentation in big jars a lot.)

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups oats
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup pecans
1/3 cup pepitas/pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the sugar, syrup, oil, vanilla, and salt. Add dry ingredients and combine. Spread it out on a baking sheet. Bake it for 10 minutes, stir it up, and then bake it for 10 more minutes. It should be toasted and ready by then. It'll last about 2 weeks. You also can add chocolate chips once it's out of the oven -- just let them melt, stir, and refrigerate to harden.

*Penzey's Spices, World Market, and kitchen supply stores are good sources for containers, and any big grocery store should have jars.

Are you giving any handmade gifts this year?