Over the years, I’ve attended many holiday parties, and hosted even more. I’ve appreciated all festive offerings, and while I would never turn my nose up at a jar of caviar or good bottle of wine, the gifts I’ve enjoyed the most came from creative minds and loving hearts.
A particularly memorable one was a forest green ceramic planter filled with fresh sprouting seasonal herbs, including rosemary, sage and thyme, potted in an edible soil of crumbled dark chocolate brownies. These whimsical treats can be tailor-made to accommodate the dietary restrictions of the host (low cholesterol, or gluten-, lactose-, tree nut-, or sugar-free), and preferences (mild, hot, smoky, crunchy, sweet, savory, or vegan).
You will need some simple supplies like Mason jars, cruets, clear gift bags, decorative tins, ramekins, twine and labels. Now let’s get this craft party started!
For the meat-lover, whip up a batch of barbecue sauce. Ketchup’s smoky, tangy, complex cousin is king of condiments for dipping, spreading, pouring and slathering on everything from pulled pork, burgers of all manners, and chicken to fries, onion rings and grilled vegetables.
Take a page from the cookbook of the Lone Star state with a bold, brown, hearty, hickory, tomato-based sauce; Memphis with sweet and sour notes from the apple cider vinegar, mustard seeds and molasses; Kansas City’s rich brown sugar and aromatic spices; or Alabama’s zippy white version with mayonnaise, horseradish and lemon juice that gives a dose of southern comfort. Transfer the sauce to a quilted Mason jar, and fasten a label with the ingredient list using a piece of rustic twine.
Or concoct a rub blending dried herbs, spices, salt, and sugar for a flavorful crust on various cuts of meat, fish and fowl, along with sealing in juices for melt-in-your-mouth morsels. The rub needs to be prepared to precise ratios — a higher salt proportion works best for beef, gamey meats, and fish, while a higher sugar content is preferable for various cuts of pork.
A Moroccan rub (see recipe below, at the end of this article) with seasonal aromatics would be an ideal offering this time of year, gift wrapped in a decorative shaker jar.
‘Tis the season to indulge the holiday sweet tooth with everything from festive home-baked cookies (buttery Linz tarts with raspberry filling, crunchy cranberry biscotti, pistachio macaroons, gingerbreads, shortbreads and Russian tea cakes) to quick breads and loaves (pumpkin spice, Meyer lemon, rum and raisin, pecan maple), marzipan and panettones.
Cookies do best in tins or canisters, while loaves and other goodies can be wrapped in cellophane with whimsical ribbons.
Or blend pre-measured, raw ingredients, including flour, sugar, baking powder, oatmeal, chocolate chips or raisins in a Mason jar with measuring spoons attached, as well as preparation and baking instructions.
The Candlestick Maker
The adventurous spirit can create edible candles with assorted molds, melted chocolate, mousses and other delights using an almond or any fatty nut as a wick.
Roasted or candied, sweet or savory, whip up a bunch of heart-healthy, omega-3 rich nuts like toothsome buttery Marcona almonds, decadent hazelnuts, mild-mannered pistachios or earthy walnuts. Sweeten them up with maple syrup, coconut or date sugars; spike them up with warm spices like ginger, cloves, cinnamon and allspice, or zippy ones like cayenne, smoky paprika, turmeric, garlic and chili powders. Pile them in canisters, tins or jars.
Butter Me Up
Nut butters of all manners — or seasonal fruit butters, whether apple, pumpkin or pear — make a warm, seasonal spread on muffins and scones, a sundae topping or an add-in to smoothies.
Extend an Olive Branch
Infuse extra virgin olive oil with interesting ingredients like fresh Rosemary sprigs, thyme or basil leaves, Meyer lemon rinds, lavender buds, roasted garlic gloves, chili peppers, dried porcini mushrooms or any complementary combination as a wonderful finishing oil in sauces, on pastas and salads, or dipping for breads. Pour into a glass or ceramic cruet with a colorful cork, and label with ingredients and suggested uses.
Bark with a Bite
Prepare sheets of holiday bark made with assorted chocolates, whether bittersweet, milk, or white, dotted with roasted nuts or seeds, fresh mint leaves, or splinters of traditional peppermint candy. Break into chunks and place in a clear gift bag, tied with eye-popping ribbon or twine.
Recipe: Moroccan Dry Rub aka Ras el Hanout (for lamb and chicken)
• Ingredients: 2 tablespoons sea salt; 2 tablespoons each of white and brown sugar; 2 tablespoons cumin; 2 tablespoons black pepper; 2 tablespoons cinnamon; 1 tablespoon ginger powder; 1 tablespoon coriander; 1 tablespoon turmeric; 1 teaspoon nutmeg; 1 teaspooon cardamom; 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds; cayenne pepper to taste.
• Method: Combine ingredients in an airtight jar. Cover and shake until well blended. Store in a cool, dark place.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com