Friday, April 19, 2024

Holiday food gifts to make

You know how it is: you’re invited to someone’s home for a dinner or get-together. You’d like to bring something to show your appreciation, and while a bottle of wine will do, you wonder if you could make a food gift instead. 

Homemade food gifts are unique, delicious and unexpected – and delicious! – surprises that everyone loves to receive. They’re labors of love that are sure to elicit oohs and ahhs from both the assembled guests and your appreciative host. 

Savory or sweet, some of the best holiday food gifts are simple classics. Dressed up with a bit of colorful ribbon, a decorative jar or cellophane bag, or a pretty box and some tissue paper, they don’t have to be complicated or difficult. Think delicious and edible! You’ll have fun making them and maybe even start a tradition. The recipes below are inexpensive to make, with easily available ingredients. 

Do consider carefully whether the recipient has any food allergies or dietary sensitivities. If you don’t know, attach a small label or tag to the gift listing the ingredients, just in case.

Hibiscus-Ginger Cocktail Syrup

For the margarita lover on your list.

  • 4 cups sugar
  • About 24 whole cloves (about 1 tsp.)
  • 1 cup julienned fresh ginger 
  • About ¾ cup dried hibiscus (jamaica) leaves (about 1 oz.)

Combine sugar, cloves, ginger and 4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high, stirring until sugar is dissolved – Don’t let it boil, as that will make the syrup cloudy. Remove from heat and steep 10 minutes. Stir in hibiscus leaves; and steep another 35 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large jar or bowl; discard solids. Refrigerate for about 1 hour until completely cool. Pour into gift bottles. Syrup can be stored, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.

Butter Mints

Homemade Butter Mints. (Barefeet in the kitchen)

No cooking is necessary to make these classic candies, and they’re so easy and fun to make that even the kids can help. Make traditional pastel colors or red and green for the holidays.

  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ tsp. peppermint extract
  • 1 Tbsp. whole milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • Food coloring, gel or liquid, as desired

Using a mixer on low speed, combine butter and 2 cups sugar until sugar is moistened, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until well combined. Turn down to low speed, add remaining 2 cups sugar and beat about 1 minute more till thoroughly mixed. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes more. Add extract, milk and salt; beat until smooth.

Lightly dust a clean work surface with confectioners’ sugar, then dump or scoop mixture onto it. Divide into 5 pieces and tint as desired with food coloring, leaving one piece white. Keep pieces covered with plastic wrap while working to prevent drying out.

Roll “dough” into ½ -inch-thick ropes. Using a sharp paring knife, cut into half-inch long pieces. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Let dry, uncovered, at least 12 hours. Mints can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 10 dozen.

Tropical Granola

A classic recipe adapted to Mexican ingredients.

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup dried unsweetened coconut 
  • ½ cup chopped raw almonds
  • ½ cup chopped raw pecans or walnuts
  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • 3 Tbsp. water
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar or grated piloncillo
  • ½ cup pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
  • Flaky or coarse sea salt
  • ¼ cup chopped dried pineapple, mango or apricots 
  • ¼ cup diced candied ginger or minced chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix oats, coconut, all nuts, oil, water, sugar, pepitas and 1 tsp. salt. Spread mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. 

Bake until darkened, 50-60 minutes, stirring well every 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Store in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 weeks or refrigerated up to 3 months.

Chili-Cilantro Finishing Sauce

Use as a marinade or sauce for tofu, chicken or shrimp, or easily turn into a salad dressing or Thai sauce.

  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems
  • 1-3 chiles (jalapeno or serrano), seeded and chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 4-5 small limes or ⅓ cup rice vinegar
  • Water, if needed
  • Optional: ½ bunch green onions or ½ small onion, chopped

Place all ingredients except water in a blender. Slowly begin processing, gradually increasing the speed to high. If necessary, add a couple of tablespoons of water to loosen up the mixture. Add onions if using and continue blending till smooth and liquid. Store in refrigerator.

To make vinaigrette: 1 Tbsp., 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar or lime juice and 6 Tbsp. olive or peanut oil for a spicy dressing for salad or noodles.

To make Thai variation: Add ½-1 can coconut milk to Chili-Cilantro Sauce. Use to stir fry shrimp and vegetables.

Caramel Nut Popcorn Clusters

An irresistible sweet-nutty-crunchy snack everyone will love!

  • 10 cups freshly popped popcorn
  • 2 cups whole almonds
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¼ cup corn syrup
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • ½ tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 225F (110C). Spray a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick spray and set aside. Mix popped popcorn and almonds in a large bowl; set aside.

Combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and boil 5 minutes. 

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and baking soda. Pour hot syrup in a thick stream over popcorn and almonds, stirring gently to coat. Pour the popcorn mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading evenly. 

Bake 1 hour. Remove from oven and cool completely. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.


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