I had the good fortune and genes to grow up with two great-grandmothers and two grandmothers, who all lived into their late 90s. At holiday time, however, it was very difficult to buy gifts for them. One of my grandmothers said if she couldn’t eat it or wear it, she didn’t want it. So, what does a granddaughter do? I soon learned to make special treats for them. I found this creative approach to the holidays more fun, more cost effective, and better appreciated by everyone — not just grandmothers.
Hence, I often give gifts from my kitchen. Since I always have little time and less funds, I find creative projects that can be made quickly, easily, and at little expense — usually relying on my garden and pantry for inspiration. The following recipes match my criteria for quick, easy, cheap, and requiring little advance planning. The ingredients for these recipes are easily available in your pantry or at a local grocery store. One exception is the top-quality chocolate vermicelli, which is available online. Since I preserve, I usually have several sizes of Mason jars on hand. You may have to purchase Mason jars or other decorative containers for gifts.
Infused Jalapeno Vodka
My mom enjoys very spicy foods. When I ran across a recipe to make infused pepper vodka, I made a batch for her. Everyone loved it! If hot pepper is not your flavor, experiment with gin and ginger, vodka and citrus, or any of hundreds of combinations. I discovered it is simple to infuse your own spirits — all that’s required is a glass bottle, your spirit of choice, some added flavors, imagination, and time.
Quart mason jar with lid or similar large sealable container
Vodka bottle or decorative jar
Coffee filters or cheesecloth
1 750-ml bottle moderate quality vodka (Smirnoff works well)
2 – 4 jalapeño peppers sliced lengthwise, seeds removed
- Place jalapeño halves into a quart or larger mason jar or another sealable container.
- Pour vodka over the jalapeño peppers, then seal the container.
- Place the sealed container in a cool, dark place such as a pantry or coat closet.
- Steep the vodka at least 48 hours (for most flavor and heat steep for five to seven days).
- Unseal jars, strain vodka through a funnel lined with a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Discard the jalapeno halves.
- Label bottle and decorate for a gift or serve in your favorite bloody Mary, Moscow mule, or martini!
Trio of Flavored Sugars
Talk about a sweet — and easy — gift idea! These sugars may be used to top baked goods, mix into iced tea, or rim the edge of a cocktail glass. Prepare them and package them in airtight containers or Mason jars.
Supplies for flavored sugars
Small jars or small metal containers
Mixing bowls and spatulas
Resealable plastic bags
Rimmed baking sheet
Sugar ‘n’ Spice
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
In a medium bowl, whisk one cup sugar with tablespoons ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground nutmeg until well blended. Transfer to containers. This can be stored at room temperature up to six months.
Vanilla pods or good quality extract
To make the sugar with vanilla pods:
Cut one vanilla pod in half lengthwise with the tip of a paring knife. Using the side of the knife, scrape out seeds; transfer seeds to the food processor bowl, along with one cup sugar. Pulse until well combined. Transfer to airtight container, along with scraped vanilla pod halves.
To make sugar with vanilla extract:
- Place two cups granulated sugar in a large resealable plastic bag. Add one teaspoon vanilla extract. Seal the bag and knead the sugar until the vanilla is evenly distributed.
- Spread sugar on large rimmed baking sheet. Let stand 25 to 30 minutes or until sugar is dried.
- Store in airtight containers. If sugar clumps, break apart by rubbing between fingers.
Either recipe can be stored at room temperature up to six months.
1 cup granulated sugar
- Zest peel from 2 limes, 1 orange, and 1 lemon; transfer zest to food processor bowl, along with ½ cup sugar. Pulse until well combined.
- Transfer sugar mixture to medium bowl; whisk in another ½ cup sugar until well blended.
- Spread on large rimmed baking sheet. Let stand at room temperature one hour.
- Transfer to airtight containers. Store this recipe in refrigerator up to one month.
Sweet & Salty Chocolate Sprinkles
Foodies everywhere have discovered the magic of sweet and salt combinations on everything from bacon to ice cream. This creative topping combines dark chocolate, crunchy sea salt, and sugar. For this mix, invest in quality chocolate sprinkles, such as Callebaut dark chocolate vermicelli. This pour-and-stir recipe makes a dozen or more small jars for under $5 each with under an hour preparation — less time than driving to the stores to shop on Black Friday.
Large bowl and spatula
Small Mason jars or other containers
2 ½ pounds real chocolate sprinkles (dark chocolate vermicelli)
1 pound demerara sugar
4 ounces flaky sea salt or Kosher salt
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a wide spatula to combine well. Divide the mixture between the jars and seal. Sweet and Salty Chocolate Sprinkles can be stored at room temperature for up to three months.
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Written by Jackye Meinecke • Photography by Cheryl Fallstead