Quick food gifts anyone can make

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Your neighbors have just invited you over for a holiday event.

You need a quick gift for the coworker who answers your phone while you’re out.

Maybe a teacher would like something that isn’t school-related.

With just a little research, I found three super-fast, easy food gifts that can be made in minutes, then dressed up for the holidays.

I had a very busy weekend, and I’m sure you did, too, but I managed to make all three in a couple hours one afternoon.

It required one bowl, one baking sheet and a small saucepan, so cleanup was not bad at all.

We have an abundance of rosemary growing in front of our house, a few other perennial herbs and a shelf full of spices.

A quick trip to one of our craft stores provided the containers and the packaging. You might have usable materials around your home already.

Homemade gifts are thoughtful and show you were willing to put in some effort. The best part is you can start with food items you may already have.

I decided that people get lots of cookies, fudge and other sweet treats, so a couple of salty things might make a good contrast.

I’m crazy about spiced nuts. And they’re pretty irresistible when left sitting in a bowl at a gathering.

I found a recipe for spiced mixed nuts that gussies up the nuts you buy in a can. I made the original recipe and I have some ideas for tweaks that would make the nuts more delicious.

Spiced Mixed Nuts

1 egg white

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. ground cumin

3/4 tsp. chipotle powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3 cans of salted mixed nuts (about 24 ounces or more)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

Save the separated egg yolk for another use and beat the egg white with the sugar, cumin, chipotle powder and cinnamon.

Then stir in nuts and coat with the spice mixture thoroughly.

Spread the nuts in a single layer on the prepared pan and bake, stirring once during cooking, for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from oven and pour nuts into a bowl to stop the cooking and cool the nuts.

When cool, simply pack in pretty glass jars and seal tightly.

Cook’s notes: Use more cinnamon, around a teaspoon, and add a dash of cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp. or more, to taste. The nuts were tasty, but needed a bit more kick. The chipotle powder is a smoky flavor. I could barely taste the cinnamon, so I’d like more.

Watch this very carefully as they roast. They burn in the blink of an eye. Check at 15 minutes, then again at 18. Twenty-five minutes is too long, unless you have a slow oven.

I loved the idea of adding citrus to olives, so I tried this recipe:

Citrus Marinated Olives

2 lemons

1 orange

6 cloves garlic

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. dried thyme

3 cups brine-cured olives

Cut three wide strips of lemon peel, avoiding the white pith, from each lemon and set aside. Zest remaining peel. Cut three wide slices of orange peel, without the pith, and add to lemon strips. Zest remaining orange peel. Add strips of lemon and orange to the olive oil in a small saucepan with the thyme and the garlic cloves, which have been peeled and smashed. Heat oil for about 1 minute, then pour oil over olives and add zest. Store in a tightly sealed plastic bag and let sit in refrigerator overnight or longer. Pack in pretty jars and store in refrigerator.

These are OK. Very subtle.They need more liquid. An easy fix is to add the juice of one of those lemons. I used mostly Kalamata olives, because that’s what I had.

So this is the recipe I will try next time:

Citrus Marinated Olives II

1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives

1 1/2 cups green olives

1 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup orange juice

6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel

1 Tbsp. orange peel

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a plastic bag and shake to blend. Refrigerate at least one day and up to three days. Transfer olives and some marinade to glass jars and serve at room temperature.

Infused vinegars are so simple it’s ridiculous.

There are two basic methods: Pouring vinegar over herbs in a jar or bottle and letting it sit for a few days or warming the vinegar slightly before pouring over herbs.

Combinations are limited only by your imagination.

I had rosemary and oregano in my yard, and picked up a head of garlic at the grocery store.

I used a mix of distilled white vinegar and white wine vinegar. I wanted some sharpness to match up with the strong herbs I had on hand. It’s been steeping for three days and it smells great. It would make a great vinaigrette for salad dressing or would be yummy sprinkled on cooked greens to kick up the flavor. It could also be used as a marinade for pork, beef or even chicken.

This is the method used:

Fill the chosen bottle or jar with vinegar. Add washed, dried herbs and peeled, whole garlic, seal and let stand on the counter for a couple days. After that, strain the vinegar through a coffee filter into a bowl and discard the solids. Refill the bottle with the vinegar and add a fresh sprig of whatever herb you used. When giving the vinegar away, add a note that it can be refreshed by straining and adding fresh herbs and more vinegar, if needed.

You might want to add your favorite vinaigrette recipe, too.

Here’s the go-to formula: Three parts oil to one part vinegar, unless you like a tarter dressing, then use three parts oil and two parts vinegar. A spoonful of Dijon mustard will allow the oil and vinegar to emulsify. Just a teaspoon or so will do.

Try lemon peel and garlic or tarragon and garlic. Thyme makes a fragrant vinegar. Thyme and basil would go well together. Most of those herbs can be found in the grocery store. Something more exotic? Try star anise and orange peel, or a few slices of ginger.

If you like spicy, there are plenty of chili peppers out there to choose from. Just slice the chili, such as serrano, in half. Remember: The vinegar will get spicier the longer it sits.