Food and cheer
It’s just three days to Christmas, but there’s still time to make some quick and simple edible gifts and dishes.
GIFTS are a lot like greeting cards. Storebought is nice, but nothing compares with homemade and the sentiment it conveys. Not only can you tailor a handmade gift to each recipient, but you can also choose ideas that will fit your budget, whether large or small. And when it comes to food, there is nothing like the taste of something lovingly made from scratch.
Here are some great gourmet homemade ideas perfect for giving. From intricate projects to simple nibbles you can fix in an afternoon, there is something for every level of craftiness. A number of the ideas even make great projects for kids.
Whether you’re thinking of family or friends, neighbours or co-workers, every handmade gift can be personalised and packaged in many ways. And the sentiment will last long after the present itself has been devoured.
Candied nuts: Simmer one or a variety of shelled raw nuts in simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) until the syrup has infused the nuts, 20 minutes or so. Drain the nuts and spread them out on a baking sheet, then bake at 120°C until toasted and dried. For spicy nuts, toss the drained nuts in sugar mixed with a little chilli powder or flakes before toasting.
Roasted almonds: Beat an egg white until stiff, then stir in a half cup of sugar along with a pinch of cinnamon or chilli powder. Toss with 500g of almonds and spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 120°C until the coating is crisp and browned, an hour or so, stirring every once in a while.
Flavoured popcorn: Looking for something a little more calorie-conscious? Toss freshly popped corn with smoky chilli salt or an herbal rosemary-garlic seasoning for a quick, healthful gift.
Caramel corn: 14 cups popped popcorn is tossed with rich caramel — 2 cups brown sugar, 1 cup butter, ½ cup corn syrup and a little salt boiled to 120°C and then tossed with a teaspoon of baking soda — and spread out on a sheet pan to bake until set. Cool the popcorn and break into clusters before packing. For a little something extra, add nuts to the popcorn before tossing with caramel.
Chocolate-covered pretzels: Coat pretzels or dip pretzel sticks in melted chocolate, then drizzle over coloured sprinkles or other candy decorations.
Coloured sugars: A perfect gift for the avid baker. Place granulated or coarse sanding sugar in a bag along with a few drops of food colouring. Seal and shake the bag to distribute the colour, adding additional colouring for richer shades. Mix and match to create a set of vivid colours or subtle pastels.
Infused sugars: Place sugar in a Mason jar with one or two vanilla beans or a sprig or two of fresh lavender and seal it tight. The sugar will pick up the flavour as it sits, and gets only better with age.
Flavoured syrups: A perfect gift for the home baker or mixologist. A basic solution of sugar and water (typically equal parts) heated until the sugar is dissolved. Flavour the syrup with citrus peel, or steep with fresh herbs or spices as it cools. You can even replace the water with fruit juice, tea or coffee before making the syrup.
Beer brittle: Combine ½ cup beer, and 1 cup each sugar and corn syrup and boil until a candy thermometer reaches 160°C, being careful it does not boil over. Carefully add a little salt and vanilla, along with a cup of toasted nuts. Spread out on a foiled and greased rimmed baking sheet, then break the brittle into pieces when cooled and hardened.
Granola: Toss 4 cups oats with 3 cups mixed nuts with ½ cup each oil, brown sugar and maple syrup along with a touch of salt and vanilla (or tweak the spices to suit your taste), spread out on a baking sheet and bake at 160°C until golden brown. Cool, then stir in 4 cups dried fruit.
Seasoned breadsticks: Roll prepared pizza dough through a fettuccine cutter on a pasta machine or cut it by hand as thinly as possible. Brush lightly with beaten egg white and season with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of chilli powder or chopped fresh herbs. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake at 175°C until golden brown.
Herbed puff pastry sticks: Thaw frozen puff pastry, butter one side and top with chopped fresh herbs. Use a pizza cutter to slice into thin strips, twist them and bake at 190°C until puffed and golden.
Quick-pickled carrots: Simmer equal parts vinegar and water with crushed garlic, toasted fennel seeds, sliced lemon and a little salt. Pour the liquid over peeled, sliced and
blanched carrots. Set aside to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.
Candied fruit and citrus peel: Blanch citrus peel strips in water two or three times to remove bitterness, then simmer the peel and fruit (separately, if working with multiple types of fruit) in simple syrup until tender and translucent. Remove from syrup and cool on a rack. Brightly coloured, it makes a wonderful gift for the serious baker (you can also toss the candied fruit in sanding sugar for a treat).
Infused liquor: Start with gin, vodka or tequila. Zest a few oranges using a vegetable peeler (rind only, no pith) and add to the liquor along with a cup of sugar and a little spice (choose either a couple of cinnamon sticks, a few whole cloves, a bird-eye chilli or two, or a few cardamom pods). Shake every day for a couple of weeks, then leave in a cool place. The flavour only improves with age.
Whiskey caramel sauce: Cook 2 cups sugar, ½ cup water and a teaspoon of corn syrup until the sugar darkens to a rich caramel color, then carefully stir in a couple of cups of cream simmered with a stick of butter and a touch of salt. Add a half cup of whisky that has been flambeed (the alcohol has been cooked off) and refrigerate before giving.
Seasoning blend/dry rub: For the barbecue enthusiast, give a homemade rib rub. Combine 1 tablespoon each sea salt, celery salt, black pepper, onion powder, dried oregano, chilli powder and cumin with 2 tablespoons each garlic powder and sweet paprika. Whisk in ¼ cup brown sugar.
The rub will keep for months tightly wrapped in a cool, dark place. – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Easy peasy: Aunty G’s Eggless Fruit Cake made by Ann Marie Chandy is not only easy to make, it tastes good, too. — RAYMOND OOI/The Star
Thoughtful gift: Homemade breakfast granola says you have their best interest in mind. (Inset) a uniquely-flavoured popcorn bucket works as a good times reminder too.
Personalised pretzels make a simple, unique holiday gift that will be appreciated. — Pictures by mcT