Last minute holiday shopping can be so stressful, why not stay at home and make something instead. Here are a few ideas for quick, easy, and inexpensive little gifts to stuff stockings and fill gourmet baskets. Featuring lots of wonderful local ingredients, these are all recipes you can put together in no time, with very little actual cooking involved. Gather some tins, jars and bottles to package your goodies. You can often find really great jars and bottles in thrift shops or flea markets, I tend to collect them, but even the most ordinary jar can be dressed up with a pretty label. Just use what you have on hand.
Infusions of various sorts are welcome additions to any creative cooks pantry. Vinegar, oil, or even salt infused with spices, herbs, or citrus add that little something extra when finishing a dish.
Infusing canola with dried chilies lends a festive red hue to the oil and a kick of heat. For the complete recipe, click here.
Infused vinegars are so pretty, they hardly need to be dressed up for gift giving.
It is important to start with good quality white wine vinegar and a scrupulously clean bottle. From there, let your imagination run wild with possible flavour combinations. Basically, all you do is add clean dry herbs to your bottle, and fill with vinegar, let rest. For complete instructions and recipes click here. I made a Simon and Garfunkel inspired infusion using parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. I'm calling it Scarborough Fair Vinegar. I think it will be nice in a winter salad dressing, or in a marinade for chicken. This time of year, you can buy local fresh herbs from Riverview Herbs at the Halifax Seaport Market.
Homemade raspberry vinegar is another possibility. Its bright red colour makes it a natural for Christmastime.
Shrubs, or sweetened fruit vinegars can easily be prepared using frozen berries this time of year, or experiment with some seasonal fruit shrubs for winter cocktails. Berry shrubs and sparkling wine make beautiful festive holiday drinks. So, package up a few in pretty bottles for giving, include a bottle of your favorite local sparkling wine,
Orange Rosemary Sea Salt:
When infusing salt, it's best to start with dried ingredients, or the salt will clump. So, if you are using citrus rind or fresh herbs, they will need to dried first. If you happen to have a food dehydrator, this is the best tool for the job, if not click here for instructions for oven drying. The basic ratio for flavoured salt is 1 teaspoon of dried ingredients to 1/4 cup coarse sea salt. Add the dried ingredients to a tablespoon of the salt in your mortar and pestle and grind until fragrant, then add the rest of the salt and stir to combine. Package in a pretty jar, and you are done. For this one, I used 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel. It would make a nice finishing salt for roasted potatoes, chicken, or pork.
While you are at it, throw together a batch of your signature spice mix, bbq rub, or popcorn seasoning. Maybe some mulling spice sachets too.
Spiced Maple Snack Mix:
Spiced nuts or snack mixes are another easy gift idea. I discovered this recipe for Pumpkin Crunch last year, it is actually pretty healthy and everyone raved. This years mix is even better with the addition of Pure Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Clove infused maple syrup and some whole almonds for extra crunch..
- 3/4 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 cup raw almonds
- 1 cup local Terra Beata dried cranberries
- 1.5 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 tablespoons Pure Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Clove infused Maple Syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
Preheat oven to 300F. In a big bowl, toss the pumpkin seeds and almonds with the oil and spread out on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Toast for 15-20 minutes, don't let the almonds get too dark. Remove from the oven and return to the bowl, add the dried fruit, and toss to combine. Sprinkle with cinnamon and salt, and drizzle with maple syrup. Toss to thoroughly combine. Return to the cookie sheet and spread the mixture out in a single layer to cool before packaging.
If you'd prefer something saltier, favorite local blogger Movita Beaucoups shared a great snack mix recipe here.
The super talented Feisty Chef's recipe for Spiced Nuts is another tasty option.
Deluxe Holiday Granola:
Speaking of local bloggers, Lori from Danger Ahead!!! Newfie Girl with Brushes, Shovels, and Chocolate Chips has a granola recipe that needs to be shared. I made a couple of adjustments, and added dark chocolate and cardamom to gussy it up for the holidays, but the original recipe is utterly addictive. She gives fully illustrated step by step instructions for perfect granola toasting, follow them faithfully for perfect results. Be sure and bookmark this blog if you are an urban gardener, Lori shares amazing tips for creative container gardening.
Combine in a large bowl:
- 4 cups old fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup cashews
- 1/2 light brown sugar, packed
- 3/4 teaspoon dried cinnamon
- cardamom seeds from one pod (about 8 little black seeds), freshly ground
In a small saucepan melt,
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1/3 cup Cosman and Whitten honey
Remove from heat and add 3 teaspoons vanilla extract. Pour over the oat mixture and stir with a big wooden spoon until everything is coated in the butter and honey mixture. Spread mixture onto two large nonstick cookie sheets and bake in a preheated 300F oven for 10 minutes. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and redistribute the granola. Bring the stuff on the edge of the tray toward the middle and push the middle toward the edges. Return the granola to the oven, rotating the sheets, and bake for another 10 minutes. Check the level of browning at this point. You may prefer a little darker or it may be just right at this point, it's a personal preference thing. An additional 5 minutes in the oven is about all you'll need for a darker roast.
Once mixture has cooled completely, add:
Toss to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients, and package in an air tight container.
Baci di Dama:
It's just not Christmas without cookies, this recipe for Baci di Dama fits the bill perfectly. Rich in hazelnuts and butter and filled with nutella, they come together pretty quickly but really taste like something special. Since they are made with rice flour, they are gluten-free. For the complete recipe and instructions, click here.
So, avoid the madness at the mall, and put on some music, pour yourself a Baileys and coffee, and enjoy an afternoon in the kitchen making delicious treats for the folks on your list.