Yes, it’s that time. In the whirlwind of shopping, preparations, travel arrangements, and social calendars, it’s safe to say that at some point during the season you will inevitably find yourself in dire need of yet another unexpected gift: a party hostess, a distant relative, a co-worker. Well, given that everyone likes to eat, what’s simpler and more universal in a bind than a lovingly wrapped package of something delicious? Convenient as they are, I’ve found the array of commercially-packaged baskets and parcels mostly disappointing in quality: too many artificial additives, sub-par candy, and cheap chocolate (the ultimate sin in my book). For a fraction of the price, it only takes a fun idea and a bit of time to toss together a tasty present of your own making (much more impressive, too). Here are my picks for the cutest and easiest DIY food gifts that not only require minimal kitchen effort, but, unlike Auntie Mary’s fruitcake, will actually get eaten.
1) Infuse some booze
It’s no secret that alcohol always tops the list of most popular consumable offerings, and while it’s easy to pick up a bottle of wine, it’s not much harder to impress with a homemade liquor infused with fresh fruit, berries, or herbs. It’s simpler than it sounds! Try this festive recipe for strawberry-citrus vodka: fill a jar with 6 oz. of chopped strawberries and one sliced lemon, add 8 oz of vodka, cover and let sit in the fridge for at least three days, and up to seven. Switch it up with raspberries or cranberries, orange or lime, or add some fresh basil or mint. Pour the infusion through a sieve and into tall cork-topped glass bottles; tie on a hand-written label for a quaint touch.
2) Mull it over
While we’re on the topic of drinking, how could I not mention the ultimate cold-weather concoction – mulled wine, a.k.a. gluhwine or glintwine, steaming and fragrant with spice? I loved the idea of putting together a soul-warming DIY mulling kit, starting with these adorable mulling sachets from Martha Stewart: just combine a cinnamon stick, star anise, a couple of cardamom pods, pinch of cloves and a few peppercorns on a piece of cheesecloth, and tie up with twine. For a cozy presentation, wrap up a few of these along with a bottle of wine or some apple cider in a plaid throw, or place in a tea towel-lined basket and scatter a few pine cones and loose cinnamon sticks for decoration.
3) Go nuts
What goes better with these boozy libations than the ultimate cocktail party munchie – spiced nuts? Incidentally, pretty tins of these also make impressive hostess gifts to bring to said cocktail party, and are fantastically simple to make. First, select your nut – pecans or walnuts are always popular, but you can also try almonds, cashews, or pistachios; then add flavour: there are countless options, from sweet to spicy to exotic. I like the smoky and savory Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts from entertaining guru Ina Garten (recipe available at www.foodnetwork.com).
4) Be a basket case
Gift baskets are a no-brainer when it comes to holiday exchanges, but store-bought versions tend to be overpriced and have more straw filling than actual items. Instead, fill up your own basket, jar, ice bucket, salad bowl, or any other vessel of your choice with quality hand-picked goodies. Some ideas: a breakfast basket with some coffee beans, homemade granola, pancake mix, and maple syrup; a chocoholic’s kit of assorted premium chocolate bars, in various cocoa percentages, origins, or funky flavours (Valrhona, Vosges, or Chuao are some brands to try); or a “bro-bucket” for your favorite guy, stocked with a few different beers, smoked cheddar, dry salami, and seasoned crackers.
5) Layer up
Hot cocoa is a winter staple, and a homemade mix looks adorable layered in a glass jar. A basic recipe is just cocoa powder, sugar, and powdered milk (try the creamy version from Alton Brown, available at www.foodnetwork.com) but you can play it up with endless variations. Use malted milk powder instead of regular for an old-fashioned malted flavour; add cinnamon, nutmeg, and a pinch of cayenne for a Mexican-style recipe, or instant coffee granules for a mocha mix. Top it off with mini marshmallows, crushed candy canes, or chopped dark chocolate. Layer in Mason jars; add a square of fabric under the lid ring for rustic charm.
6) Stick it on
Sweet treats of all shapes and sizes are of course a classic on the list of edible gift-ables. As a departure from the standard goodies, I love the cake pops that have been turning up everywhere lately, but while adorable, the little frosted spheres require more effort than I’m willing to invest. For a lazier take on the trend, you can put pretty much anything on a lollipop stick – how about cookie pops? Use pre-made dough or make your own (put the sticks in before baking) and decorate as you wish – it makes a super fun project for the kiddos too. Or try brownie bites (homemade or store-bought), mini Rice Krispie squares (dress them up with some colorful candies thrown in or drizzle with frosting), or chocolate-dipped marshmallows. Cover each ‘pop’ with cellophane and tie together for a sweet bouquet, or place a bunch in an open jar and wrap with ribbon.
Whatever tasty present you decide to try your hand at this holiday season, have fun with it, get creative, and don’t worry about getting it perfect – your loved ones will appreciate the thought and effort even if the result doesn’t quite turn out Pinterest-worthy.
Kate Missine is a domestic diva, shopping addict, and worshiper of all things delicious. When she’s not chasing after her toddler son, Kate can be found stirring things up in the kitchen, scouring grocery aisles for strange ingredients, or indulging in much-needed retail therapy. She holds a B.A. in Communications and Publishing and accepts pastries and shoes as currency
By Kate Missine