The countdown to Christmas has already started and the seasonal search for perfect presents is now upon us. Every year, I try to think of something a little original to give to my loved ones, and by the time I have finished thinking, there are only a few days till Christmas, so I end up panic buying naff trinkets that may be remotely suitable (or not), and because I am short of time, I unconvincingly tell myself “that’ll have to do”. This year is different for obvious reasons. The situation we have found ourselves in 2020 has put limitations on the contacts we enjoy with our family and friends. So, this year, I want to make something special for them myself, in a mere attempt to make up for the missed precious opportunities to be with them.
The ideas I have selected taste good and require no or little cooking. You can have a lot of fun making them look great too (I am sure you can do better than me). You do not need an artistic flare, just a few jars, bottles, and decorations.
Get good quality salt, preferably sea salt. Himalayan pink salt is also a good choice and has a nice colour. After that, all there is do is mix herbs and spices to your salt, transfer to in airtight jars, et voilà! Here are 3 versions that I find work well and are simple enough to appeal to anyone.
Take the zest of 2 washed unwaxed lemons. Bake in a tray in the oven at 140 C for 30 minutes. Leave to cool, chop finely and mix with 100g of salt. This salt works very well with fish and seafood.
Salt and pepper salt
Mix 100g of salt with a tbsp of coarse black pepper. You can use other types of pepper, like pink or mixed peppercorns that you will grind before mixing with the salt. This is a good ‘everyday mix’ with salt and pepper all in one,
Mix 100g of salt with 1 tbsp of finely chopped dried rosemary. If you have fresh rosemary from the garden, dry it in the oven first (like the lemon zest in the lemon salt).
These are very simple to make and can be consumed (with moderation) with mixers or added to cocktails. Three different small bottles, or a large one make a very attractive gift.
Chop 2 large chillies and add to a 1 litre bottle of vodka. Leave to infuse for half a day. Strain the chillies, pour the chilli vodka into a bottle of your choice and add a whole chilli (not long before you give away your gift as the chilli will discolour with time).
Make sure you prepare this one at least a couple of weeks before you intend to create your finished product. Take a punnet of strawberries, wash and dry the fruit well. Pour 1 bottle of gin in a Kilner jar (if you don’t have one you can use a bottle with a wide neck instead) and add the strawberries. Leave to infuse for 1 to 2 weeks, discard the strawberries then transfer to smaller bottles.
Take the leaves of a couple of large bunches of mint (app. 250g) , wash and dry well. Put them in a Kilner jar cover with the vodka. Leave to infuse for a week. After a week, pass the liquid through a sieve and discard the leaves. Prepare a syrup, heating 800 g of sugar with 400 ml of water. Add the syrup (when lukewarm) to the mint vodka and leave for 3 to 4 days away from light, then transfer into bottles.
For 250 of mixed nuts, you will need 2 tbsp honey (or maple syrup for a vegan version), 1 tsp olive oil, salt pepper and any spices or herbs you fancy. One of my favourite combo is salt and pepper with chilli flakes. I also like the Kneals Cocoa and Spice savoury powder. A little goes a long way, but it’s entirely up to you. Some recipes suggest mixing everything before baking, but I did not have a resounding success with that method. I found that the honey congealed with the oil which resulted in dark lumps of caramelised spicy honey (my oven may have been too hot). So, this is my version:
Mix the nuts and the oil in a bowl and transfer to a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Bake the nut mix for 10 minutes in the oven preheated to 180C/160C fan/ Gas mark 4, stirring half-way through. Toasting them in the oven really enhances the nutty taste. Add the honey, mix well and bake for a further 5 minutes. Take out of the oven and sprinkle on the salt and spices and mix through making sure the nuts are evenly coated (before the honey hardens). Once cold, break up the mixture and put in pretty jars, label, and decorate.
The process is the same as for the spiced nuts. You will need:
Preheated to 180C/160C fan/ Gas mark 4, mix all the ingredients except for the almonds and the dried fruits. Bake on a tray lined with baking parchment for 20-25 minutes, stirring half-way through. Take out of the oven and add the almonds (or nuts) and the dried fruit before cooling down. Mix well and transfer to a jar.
Again, the choice of nuts, fruit and seeds is entirely up to you and your personal taste (or that of the person who will receive the gift). I personally prefer to leave out the cinnamon as I am not a great fan of the stuff in sweet food.
The key to flavoured oils is to make sure that your have sterilised your bottles before hand and that the ingredients added to the oil are as dry as possible. If you add herbs, I recommend you dry them in a low oven before to get rid of any moisture. The quality of the oil will also affect the end result, but overall, the principle is simple: pour oil in a bottle, add flavouring ingredients and leave to infuse for at least 2 weeks away from direct light. Here are two of my favourite:
I like to use a range of vinegars. Traditional malt vinegar, sherry vinegar, white wine vinegar, not forgetting balsamic vinegar will give a distinctive lift to any dressing. Making your own flavoured vinegar could not be simpler: put flavourings of your choice in a bottle, cover with vinegar and wait for it to infuse (usually for about 1 month but less is fine).
Shallot vinegar: in a light vinegar (e.g. white wine) add peeled and quarter shallots (100g per litre). Leave to infuse for at least a month (2 ideally). You do not need to discard the shallots or filter your vinegar.
Tarragon vinegar: blanch (dip for 30 seconds in boiling water), dry (very well) a couple of sprigs of tarragon and put into a bottle. Cover with a light vinegar. Wait for 1 month. Ideal for use in a béarnaise sauce.
You could of course make a batch of cookies and put them in a jar. However, I have a nice alternative. The only thing you have to do, is measure all the dry ingredients from a recipe, place them ‘artistically’ in a jar and include cooking instructions. The only thing that the person receiving this gift will need to do for the cookies to materialise, is mixing the rest of the ingredients (the wet ingredients) and bake.
Ingredients (this will make about 20 cookies):
Simply layer all the ingredients in a fairly large jar.
Tip! Watch in which order you place the ingredients in your jar for well-defined, distinct layers. On my first attempt I ignored the laws of physics and my chocolate chips vanished, buried below the sugar. I would advise to layer ingredients in the same order as mentioned in the list (flour at the bottom, and chocolate buttons last, on top). Do not forget to include cooking instructions.
I hope this has inspired you to have a go at homemade presents, but if it has not, you can always get stocking fillers from our Christmas collection; chocolate never disappoints.
Follow this link for our Christmas collection https://knealschocolates.com/product-category/christmas/