The holidays are a time for eating. We come together around the table to celebrate traditions through Mom's cranberry sauce and Grandpa's stuffing. We bake cookies for Santa, hang candy canes on the Christmas tree and take the annual obligatory bite of fruitcake. Why should gift giving be any different? This holiday season, impress your friends and family by making gifts that are experiential as well as delicious. Edible gifts, that is.
Here's a list of ideas that are just as fun to make as they are to receive.
1. Sushi kit
Put a gift bag together with all the ingredients and tools needed to make sushi: a bamboo rolling mat, package of nori (seaweed wrappers), short grain sushi rice, rice vinegar, a rice paddle, wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce. Head to New Sagaya City Market in midtown for all your supplies. Add a pair of colorful chopsticks for the final touch.
2. Homemade vanilla extract
All you need to make your own pure vanilla extract are vanilla beans, your favorite bottle of vodka and a little bit of patience. This essential ingredient is expensive at the supermarket and sometimes only imitation vanilla extract is available, so this DIY gift is sure to be a hit with the bakers in your life. I recommend getting your vanilla seed pods at Summit Spice & Tea, where they sell high quality Tahitian, Mexican and Madagascar beans. (Fun fact: vanilla beans come from the vanilla orchid, the only orchid that produces an edible seed.) Using vodka will result in a clean, pure vanilla taste. Rum, bourbon, or brandy can also be used, but will each add distinct flavors to the vanilla extract. To make, slice the vanilla bean lengthwise then drop into the bottle of alcohol. I recommend using three vanilla beans per cup of alcohol. If you decide to gift them before infused, make sure to add a note with instructions to let vanilla sit in a cool dark place for at least eight weeks before using.
3. Simple syrups
Choose your fruit or herb (wild Alaska blueberries? High bush cranberries? Rosemary?) and boil in equal parts sugar and water. Discard the solids and pour into a bottle or mason jar. Give by itself, or pair with a martini shaker or cocktail recipe book.
4. Heirloom seeds for the garden
Help the gardener in your life get ready for the growing season by making a gift bag full of heirloom and hearty vegetable seeds. Foundroot is a new company based in Palmer that declares itself a "100% open-pollinated seed and sustainable homestead supply company for challenging climates." Their online store has 53 seed options ranging from rainbow carrot mix to cantaloupes. All seed packets are $3.
5. Spice kit and ingredients featuring a country
A fun gift for a world traveler is to put together a spice kit and cooking staples based around their favorite country or region. For example, Southern Italian cuisine relies on olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, and anchovies. Go to Originale's at the Metro Mall and pick up some homemade pasta and San Marzano tomato sauce. East African cooking features garlic, chilies, fenugreek and cloves. Stop by the Alaska Halal Grocery store and throw in some roti bread. A Vietnamese kit would include fish sauce, limes, ginger, and coconut milk. To make this gift more elaborate, choose a recipe and gather all the ingredients for making it. Be sure to include the recipe card in the bag and the story behind it if it has one.
6. Cookie Mason jar mixes
A perfect gift for under $10, layer all the ingredients for your favorite cookie in a mason jar. Add a tag with the recipe, and let the recipient know all they have to do is add butter and eggs!
Homemade granola is easy and another fun, inexpensive gift. All you need is oats and your choice of nuts and dried fruit. Add some kind of sweetener like maple syrup, agave nectar or honey and mix everything together. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Order re-sealable pouches online for packaging, or put in a mason jar.
8. Infused spirits
Make your own signature infused spirits and bottle them for gifts. Most infusions are made with fruits, berries, herbs and spices. Try combinations like cilantro-cucumber, strawberry-rhubarb, lemongrass-grapefruit and blackberry-basil. Experiment with garlic or habanero for savory bloody mary bases (add tomato juice and some pickled asparagus to your gift bag for a bloody mary kit.) Remove peels, skins, stems, or cores from the fruit and then cut into pieces. Fill a clean resealable glass jar or bottle with the clean fillings, top off with liquor, and screw on the lid. Place in a cool dark place (your fridge if you have room) and shake every few days. Try it after a week to see if you like the taste, and if not continue to let infuse for up to a month. When you are happy with the flavor, discard the fruit, spices, etc.
9. DIY Sangria kit
Sangria is a festive drink, perfect for New Year's Eve parties. To put this kit together head downtown to Crush Wine Cellar or your preferred local shop for a bottle of red wine (you'll want to pick out a bottle for yourself as well while you're there.) Stop by Summit Spice & Tea to get four types of spices to make spiced (or mulled) sangria: whole cloves, crystallized ginger, cinnamon sticks and star anise. Pick up a package of sugar cubes and some lemon or ginger soda while you are there. Use a pitcher as your gift box. Fruit not included. To make a tasty winter hot sangria, combine the wine, fruit (I recommend oranges, apples, or cranberries), three star anise pods, a cinnamon stick, a tablespoon of cloves, 1/4 cup of crystallized ginger and sugar cubes to taste. Simmer in a slow cooker for one hour before serving. If you would prefer it cold, mix all ingredients and let chill in the fridge for 24 hours before serving over ice.
10. Perfect camp pancake mix
When I go on winter camping trips I love making pancakes on the camp stove in the morning, but detest the process. Make this backcountry pancake mix for your outdoorsy pals and brighten their mornings. Mix 6 cups of unbleached white flour, 4 cups of whole-wheat flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons salt, 1 cup powdered milk, and 2.5 tablespoons baking powder. Put in a lightweight and airtight container. Include a travel-size bottle of maple syrup and a camp spatula.