‘Tis the season for gift giving. With a list full of family and friends, the cost of buying gifts at the store (let alone the mental strain of finding just the right present) bears a heavy load. Yet a gift need not carry a brand-name label to have meaning. In fact, some of the most thoughtful (and memorable) gifts I’ve received are homemade — be it a jar of homemade jam with a family recipe for popovers or the vanilla sugar I use in my tea every morning.
Instead of spending boatloads of cash this year, get into the kitchen and mix up some delicious gifts that are sure to wow friends and family, and get more use than that scarf from the store. Here are eight treats we’re hoping will grace our stockings this year. Santa, are you listening?
Making your own infused liquor at home is easy and it’s a great way to preserve the flavors of the season, be it raspberries in summer or apples in the fall, to enjoy year-round. Start with a clean bottle and add in your choice of flavoring. Top with a plain liquor like vodka or rum and shake well. Let the mixture infuse for about three weeks, shaking a couple of times a week. Add your own personalized label and tie with a ribbon for a gift that keeps on giving long after the first day.
Homemade Chai Tea Latte Mix
There is nothing quite like the sweet, spicy aromas of a warm chai latte on a winter afternoon, but some store-bought mixes just don’t suffice. We love this hand-blended mix, with a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Pair with an oversized mug to cup with two hands for a trip to India without leaving home.
Now, we’re not about to turn down a dark chocolate truffle, but a little imagination goes a long way. Add a splash of Kahlua, rum, Bailey’s, or Frangelico to this basic truffle recipe and garnish with something that gives a clue to the surprise inside, like a coffee bean or hazelnut fragment.
From a tea sweetener to a topping for cheese and crackers, honey is a versatile condiment that no kitchen is without. And when blended with a custom mix of herbs and spices, a jar of this simple sweetener can truly make a statement. Any kind of herb or spice works, from cayenne and black pepper to more mild lavender, mint, or rose. Add about one tablespoon of finely choppsed seasonings to one cup of honey and let steep for about two weeks in an airtight jar.
Most supermarkets have a plethora of olives, and more often than not, you’ll end up getting a a couple of varieties when hosting a party. But what about making your own? Combine a blend of different olives, large or small, green or black, in a glass jar. Top with warm oil infused with your choice of herbs and spices, like rosemary and citrus or chile and sun-dried tomato.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Put those beloved Sri Lankan vanilla beans to good use by making your own vanilla extract. For every split bean, you’ll need about 40 to 50 milliliters of vodka. Let the mixtures sit for about six months before using. It’s worth the wait — the homemade stuff has a much more complex scent than store-bought varieties, and is a whole lot cheaper.
Fancy Popcorn Sampler
We’re not talking the eponymous caramel, Cheddar, butter combination here, but a hand-crafted blend of more exotic and unusual flavors. Try Sriracha and Parmesan, bacon bits, or lemon zest and dill. For those with a sweet tooth, drizzle popcorn with chocolate and peanut butter or melted honey butter and thyme.
Signature BBQ Spice Rub
You’re known for your spice-rubbed steaks and friends clamor for your recipe. But you’d never think of letting it out. Here’s a way to give what your friends want while ensuring no one else can top your skills on the grill — a jar of specially blended spices. Package with a ribbon and a tag with usage instructions and pairing suggestions.