DIY Christmas gift ideas: Cookie mixes, pancakes, infused oils and vinegars all bursting with flavor

Give the gift of bold flavors this Christmas

CLEVELAND - The Christmas present clock is ticking. So many people still to buy for and you’re running out of ideas and cash. But there are gifts that are easy to make, won’t break the bank, and will allow you to give something with a personal touch. Plus, they’re tasty! We’re talking about food gifts.

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While not extravagant, food gifts are memorable. Most are easy to put together in an afternoon, some even in a matter of minutes. Let’s take a look at some ideas.

Herb infused oils are a great way to add flavor to salad dressings, sauces, roasted meats, vegetables, and even to popcorn.  Or, they can be used by themselves as dips for bread. The following recipe is basic and easy to make. The key is to use dried herbs. Fresh herbs contain water, and that can lead to botulism concerns in oils.  Dried herbs are safe and full of flavor. Put your infused oils in small decorative bottles, preferably with a cork or a screw on cap (They’re available at many craft stores.). Make sure the bottles you use are washed and dried. Oh, and for a nice touch, decorate each bottle with a small ribbon or hand-written gift tag.

#1) Bottles of oils and infused vinegars

Herb Infused Olive Oil

1 quart extra virgin olive oil

10 to 12 sprigs dried herbs like oregano, basil, parsley, sage, thyme, or rosemary

Place all ingredients in a pot and heat to 120 degrees. Remove from heat and place mixture in a cool dry place.  Allow herbs to steep for at least a day. The longer they steep the more intense their flavor will be.  Strain the oil through a fine mesh strainer. The oil is now ready to bottle. Use a funnel to gently pour the oil into the containers. You may garnish each bottle with a sprig or two of dried herbs.

You can also infuse vinegars with flavors, and your options are even greater. You can use fresh or dried herbs, garlic, citrus zest, or fresh or dried fruits and vegetables. The process is even easier than infusing oils, and you can use the same bottling method. You can use infused vinegars in salad dressings, to brighten soups and sauces, or even as marinades for fish, poultry, meats, and vegetables.

Herb, Garlic, and Lemon Infused Red Wine Vinegar

1 quart red wine vinegar

10 to 12 sprigs of dried or fresh herbs like oregano, basil, sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary

2 cloves garlic, smashed

Zest of one lemon

1 dried red chili pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon black pepper

Place all ingredients in a pot and heat to 110 degrees. Remove to refrigerator and allow the herbs, garlic, and lemon to steep at least 12 hours. The longer they steep, the more intense their flavor will be. You may allow the steeping to continue for two weeks. Strain the vinegar through a fine mesh strainer. Use a funnel to bottle the vinegar.  You may garnish each bottle with a sprig of dried herbs.

Thyme and Raspberry Infused White Wine Vinegar

1 quart white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar

2 cups fresh raspberries

6 sprigs fresh thyme

Place all ingredients in a pot and heat to 110 degrees. Remove to refrigerator and allow mixture to steep for at least a day. The longer the berries and thyme steep, the more intense their flavor will be. Strain the vinegar through a fine mesh strainer. Use a funnel to bottle the vinegar. It should be a bright red color. You may garnish each bottle with a sprig of dried thyme.

Mango Infused Vinegar

1 quart white vinegar

3 cups dried mango

Place all ingredients in a pot and heat to 110 degrees. Remove to refrigerator and allow mixture to steep for at least a day. The longer the mango steeps, the more intense their flavor will be. Strain the vinegar through a fine mesh strainer. Use a funnel to bottle the vinegar. This is a wonderful vinegar to use in tropical and Latin-inspired dishes, especially in salsa and gazpacho.

Reductions make great condiments and flavorful gifts. They’re easy to prepare, though the person receiving them doesn’t need to know that. Bottle them in decorative containers, but make sure they’re refrigerated, because they are perishable. Use them on grilled and roasted meats, as well as vegetables. They’re fantastic on burgers, and you can dip French fries or onion rings in them, too!

 

#2) Reductions

Basic Red Wine Reduction

4 cups fruity red wine

1 cup chopped shallots

2 sprigs dried thyme

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons butter

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Combine wine, shallots, thyme, and tomato paste in a medium sauce pan. Bring mixture to a boil and allow to reduce by a quarter. Lower heat to a simmer. Add balsamic vinegar and allow to reduce for another two minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper. Refrigerate immediately. Bottle once cooled. Keep refrigerated until you’re ready to give your gift.

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

4 cups balsamic vinegar

Bring vinegar to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Lower heat to a simmer and allow to reduce until vinegar coats the back of a spoon. Refrigerate. Bottle once reduction cools. Keep refrigerated until you’re ready to give your gift.

Do you have a favorite cookie recipe? How about a pancake recipe? You don’t have to bake the cookies, or get up early on Christmas Day to make pancakes to give them as a gift. All you need is a canning jar with a lid, the ingredients, some nice ribbon or cloth to decorate, and hand written or printed instructions.

 

#3) Baked goodie mixes

Snickerdoodles

2 ¾  cups all-purpose flour

¼  teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons  cream of tartar

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Then place the contents in a jar. Be sure to attach the following instructions to the jar in a hand written or printed note.

Instructions and what you’ll need:

1 ¼ cup butter, soft

2 eggs

¼ cup milk

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use an electric mixer to cream the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs and milk and beat until smooth. Add the contents of the jar and mix until a soft dough forms.  Combine sugar and cinnamon in another bowl. Form dough into small balls and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Arrange on an ungreased cookie sheet two inches apart and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Makes about five dozen cookies.

Christmas Day Pancakes

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons baking powder

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Then place the contents in a jar. Be sure to attach the following instructions to the jar in a hand written or printed note:

Instructions and what you’ll need:

1 large egg

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Half of the mix from the jar

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the milk and the vegetable oil and combine well. Stir in the pancake mix.  Pour out about a ¼ cup of batter on to a greased or buttered griddle or skillet to form individual pancakes.  Makes 6 to 10 pancakes.

Chutneys make great condiments. They really can dress up roasted and grilled meats. Plus, they’re great with chicken salad or tuna salad, and on sandwiches of every type. They’re easy to make, and best of all, you can jar them, and give them as gifts.  Here’s a basic recipe that is full of flavor.

 

#4) Chutney

Pineapple-Mango Chutney

1 small onion, diced

1 tablespoon ginger, chopped

¼ cup red bell pepper, chopped

2 cups pineapple, diced

2 cups mango, diced

¼ cup fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup lime juice

½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon butter

Melt butter in a large skillet. Saute onion and bell pepper until soft. Add all other ingredients and bring to a simmer for three minutes. Remove from the heat. Spoon chutney into decorative jars and refrigerate until ready to give as gift.

Want to really wow the folks at the annual Christmas party? This dish is sure to do the trick. It also makes a great gift for a close friend who enjoys seafood. It looks and tastes complex, but it is very easy to make.

 

#5) Gravlax

1 to 3 pound salmon filet, pin bones removed

1 cup coarse salt

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup dill, chopped

Mix the salt, sugar, pepper, and dill together. Place the salmon in a large bowl. Pour the salt mixture over the salmon, making sure to coat it completely. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours to allow the salmon to cure. Keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to give your gift, or take it to your gathering.  Slice it thinly and serve it with capers, sour cream, gherkins, pickled onions, and crackers, dark rye, or bagel crisps.

Food gifts are tasty and memorable, and perhaps best of all, they‘re made by you and they come from the heart. And those are the best gifts of all.

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