Easy, edible homemade treats that can be used during and after Christmas
There’s a knock at the door, you open it and there stands a friend, holding a basket of multi-colored eggs, a jar of cranberry-pear chutney or a tin of that wonderful spice rub you raved about during a barbecue last summer.
It is the season not just of colored lights, carols and Christmas shopping but also of homemade gifts from our kitchens. These gifts might give a moment of pleasure should, say, creamy caramels be your forte. Or they may give a year of deliciousness if you decide to package that secret spice rub.
If you have a few specialties, or if you are simply tired of all the crowds and commercialism that defines so much of this time of year, you can spend from a couple of hours to a few days making unique gifts that will delight your family and friends.
A little planning makes it all come together easily.
The first thing to do is to consider how much time you have and what is in season now. You can’t make blueberry chutney in December, and you may not have time to make pears in brandy, as the fruit needs to macerate for a while in the liquor.
But spice blends, shrubs using winter fruit, citrus curd, homemade sriracha and quick breads are all perfect at this time of year, as are pickled mushrooms and dried persimmons.
Once you’ve decided what to make, you’ll need to gather containers, labels, baskets, ribbons, fabric, cloth napkins and a good pen with permanent ink. For reliable sources, Cost Plus World Market, The Beverage People, hardware stores, thrift shops and your own pantry are great places for supplies.
A word or two of caution is in order. First of all, making flavored olive oil is not a good idea, no matter how popular it has become. Fresh herbs will go off fairly quickly, and if you add garlic, you run the risk of poisoning your pals with botulinum bacteria; the bacteria thrives in an anaerobic environment, which is just what olive oil provides.
Vinegar, on the other hand, can be flavored with a huge array of herbs, spices and flowers and makes a gorgeous and delicious gift.
You must also remember to tell the recipients of your delicious efforts not just how to use it but also how to store things and how quickly they must be used. If you can, add these details to the label.
Finally, it is helpful to know a bit about your friend’s preferences and restrictions. You won’t want to give little persimmon breads to someone who doesn’t eat gluten or chipotle salt and a bottle of tequila to someone who doesn’t drink. A little thought and a tiny bit of detective work is all it takes.
Gomashio is a popular condiment in Japan, and if you’ve ever eaten in a Japanese restaurant, you’ve likely had it. It takes no special skill and very little time to make it.
Makes about 1 pound (enough to fill 16 2-ounces jars or 8 4-ounce jars)
1 pound unhulled white sesame seeds, preferably organic
1 ounce nori seaweed, preferably local and unprocessed
1 tablespoon kosher salt or other flake salt