winter

winter

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Homespun Holidays: Gifts for the Gourmet

With the holiday season beginning at Thanksgiving, it can be a little hair-raising to see what gifts are touted for the gourmet cooks in our lives. The various gadgets and wondrous cooking devices that strangely resemble Medieval torture devices to the untrained eye are usually priced high enough that they may as well be equipment for making a poor soul suffer unspeakable agony. Fortunately, however, there are a few simple gifts that are always well received by any cook, gourmet or not.

Flavored Vinegars & Oils

For the cost of a few pretty bottles and herbs, it is possible to put together a gift that appears to be far more expensive and is virtually effortless. When making flavored vinegars or oils, it is best to allow them to cure in a separate jar before bottling. This eliminates mess and allows you to strain your liquids before bottling, thus ensuring a clear fluid in the bottle 90% of the time. Prior to making any of the following items, be sure that all of your equipment is scrupulously clean.

Rosemary Vinegar

Rosemary is one of those lovely potted herbs that are available for sale just about everywhere right now because it is popular to use for a live Christmas tree. Make sure that you are getting Rosemary, if you're choosing to use sprigs of fresh Rosemary from the plant itself. (I highly suggest this as the bush is wonderfully fragrant and an excellent investment if you do any herbal gardening!) If you are not purchasing the plant, it is possible to buy sprigs of Rosemary from the grocery store's produce section in most large grocery stores. Failing this, take a small steel tea ball and put one to two pinches of whole dried Rosemary leaves in it.

Fill a 2 quart jar with white vinegar and place two sprigs of Rosemary in (or your tea ball). Cover with the lid and place in a cool dark location until shortly before Christmas eve. (Roughly 1 month.) At this time, retrieve the vinegar and pour it into a bowl. Strain the herbs out of the liquid and discard. Pour your vinegar into your cleaned and sterilized bottles, cap, and seal with a bit of wax dripped on top.

Attach your label with a ribbon and you've finished the gift. Fine bottles to use for giving flavored vinegars are wine bottles. Make sure, however, that you have cleaned and sterilized the bottle, as well as removed the label. A sprig of dried Rosemary can be added to the vinegar at the time of bottling for decorative purposes or tied to the label.

Chili Oil

Chili oil is quite versatile and can be a wonderful accompaniment to many savory winter dishes. Make sure that the dried chilies that you choose are well cleaned and not too hot for the person you're giving this gift to. In a cleaned and sterilized 2 quart jar, place two chilies. If you would like for the chili flavor to be even stronger, add three. Cover tightly and place in a cool, dark place for two weeks at minimum. As with bottling the Rosemary vinegar, strain the chilies out and discard. Keeping the chilies in the oil will add greater amount of the volatile oils within the chilies (the sources of the flavor) to the oil and make the flavor more pronounced.

Bottle, cap, and seal as with the Rosemary vinegar. Thread a chili onto the ribbon affixing the label to your flavored oil.

Chili HoHo

This is a Colonial style vinegar and is quite potent. Completely fill a clean bottle dried pequin chilies. Then pour in enough white vinegar to cover the chilies. Cover and place in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks, shaking occasionally. Once the liquid has taken on a rich red color, you are now ready to seal and label your gift. This can be made using gin, sherry, or vodka in place of vinegar. Be sure to warn the gourmet cook receiving this gift that it should be used sparingly. As the Chili HoHo is used, more vinegar or alcohol can be added.

Spice Sachets

A square of cheesecloth, a length of butcher's twine, and some of the spices in your kitchen leads to a basket full of additions to soups, stews, and roasts that will make your chef smile in appreciation. Using dried whole herbs rather then powdered is best. Given below are some spice mixtures for you to use.

Boquet Garni

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Bay
  • Tarragon
  • Peppercorn

Italian

  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Marjoram
  • Thyme
  • Oregano

Equipment Boquet

Every cook knows the value of a good wooden spoon. We also know that eventually, our favorite wooden spoon is going to break, our rubber tipped spatula will look like it was used by a poodle puppy for teething, and the wire whisk is going to rust. As such, buying the cook in your life a few good quality wooden spoons, a spatula, and one or two other commonly used cooking implements will be appreciated. Tied together with a pretty ribbon and given in an inexpensive vase, large jar, or pretty and inexpensive oversized mug not only gives them replacements for when their cherished tools are used up but a place to keep them.

A Cooking Journal

One of my most treasured possessions is my cooking journal. It's different from a mere cookbook because I not only have recipes in there but also menus, shopping lists, and my notes as to what food allergies my family has. Nothing is more helpful then knowing what your neice will absolutely always refuse or that your sister-in-law is deathly allergic to shellfish when you are planning a dinner.

If you choose, it is possible to make the cooking journal a little more wonderful then a tab-divided notebook. With a little bit of time and creativity, the journal can be made to look more like a scrap book with pictures and pretty details. If you choose to take more of a scrap book approach, I highly advise you go the distance with it. Purchase page protector sleeves and use either an actuall scrap book or a three ring binder to hold it all together.

I, personally, would opt for the binder because it will be less expensive then trying to locate a pretty and yet durable scrap book cover. If you wish to personalize the cover, use a three ring binder with pockets on the covers and bindings which will allow you to add your own artwork to it. The sleeve protectors will make it easy to keep the cooking journal/scrap book in good condition as well as they're incredibly easy to wipe spills off of.

Your Own Cookbook

If you are like me, half of the family clamors for about half of the recipies that you have made. Make a list of those recipies and sit down at the computer, folks! You've got the makings of a quick and easy cookbook. Type up the recipies, throw in a few cute pictures from clip art, and fire up the printer. Binding them with staples is the easiest thing in the world and your gift can be done in an hour. If you have decided to give some one a cooking journal, it is possible to add your cookbook to it by simply punching the pages and slipping them into the binder.

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