• 43°

Infuse a little fun into your Christmas gifts

By Deirdre Parker Smith



very day from now through Christmas is going to be busy. And you don’t have time or the money for everyone on your gift list to get the latest gadget or trending fashion.

Go back to basics and make your friends and neighbors something they can use. And it doesn’t have to be complicated, or involve stirring, cutting and baking.

Go the easy route with flavored salts, oils and vodkas. That’s right, vodkas. Or make any or all of those things for yourself.

Most of these ideas require little hands-on time, meaning you can mix the ingredients and move on to your next thing quickly. Just don’t forget what’s in the jar on the counter.

Flavored salts are one of the easiest homemade gifts you can make.

Just use your imagination and this general rule: 1 tsp. flavoring to 1/4 cup salt.

Blend it a day or two before giving it away. The flavor will last about a year, but it will surely be used by then.

Blend with favorite flavors, like thyme or cayenne pepper. Blend a couple of flavors into the salt, like citrus zest and rosemary.

Be sure to use air-tight containers, like small apothecary jars or jars with other tight-fitting lids. Make sure the containers are food safe. Look closely if shopping at the craft store — some items are marked as food safe while others do not indicate. Think clear glass so you can see what’s inside, and consider adding a sprig of fresh herbs to drive the point home.

Use coarse salt, like kosher salt, which is easy to find in the grocery store. If you want to go fancy, use Maldon salt or fleur de sel.

Here’s the equipment you’ll need:

• Measuring cups and spoons

• An oven or food dehydrator

• Mortar and pestle, coffee or spice grinder or a small food processor

• Baking sheet — for drying citrus zest

• Airtight container

Your herbs or spices should be dry and ground, chopped or flaked.

Dry herbs or citrus peel in the oven at a low temperature, around 150-200 degrees, or in a food dehydrator.

When using citrus zest, consider using larger strips of zest to dry, then cut them into smaller pieces or give them a short blitz in the food processor or spice grinder.

To combine salt with a flavoring, simply use your fingers or a very small whisk. Using the grinder or mini processor may break down the salt too much.

Here are a couple of ideas:

Chili-Lime salt — 1/4 cup salt, 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, 1 tsp. dried lime zest and 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika.

Citrus-Rosemary Salt — 1/4 cup salt, 1/2 tsp. dried lemon zest, 1/2 tsp. dried orange zest and1/2 tsp. dried rosemary.

Lime Ginger Salt — 1/4 cup salt, 1/2 tsp. dried ginger, 1/2 tsp. dried lime zest.

Thyme Salt — 1/4 cup salt, 1 tsp. dried thyme. Add 1 tsp. dried lemon zest for a variation. Orange zest is also good with thyme

Coriander-Cumin Salt: 1/4 cup salt, 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. dried coriander

Cinnamon-Clove Salt — 1/4 cup salt, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. grond cloves. Excellent on pork or roasted butternut squash.

Sriracha Salt — 1/4 cup salt, 1 Tbsp. sriracha. Preheat oven to 350. Mix sriracha and salt and spread over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Turn off the oven and place salt in and let it sit for 3-4 hours, until fully dried.

Infusing oils is just about as easy as the salt, and you don’t have to fill a large bottle. Infused oils should be used quickly, as a finisher for soups, salads, or as a dip for breads, or to top hummus or roasted vegetables.

Cold infusion requires you to store the oils in the refrigerator, where they will last for about a month.

Heat infused oils do not require refrigeration. These work well with woody herbs and dried chilies. Just remember that the original herb or chili will begin to look a little funky after the infusion. Best to remove it and replace with a fresh piece of whatever the flavor is to let people know what they’re getting.

To heat infuse, here’s the basic method: heat the oil no higher than 150 degrees. Remove from heat and add the ingredients. Cover and infuse for the desired time. The longer the infusion, the stronger the flavor. Rosemary will have a stronger flavor than thyme; garlic can be overpowering — if using in a blend, start with less garlic and taste after it has infused a bit before adding any more.

Start small, using about a cup of oil, so the recipient will be able to use it quickly. It’s hard to find exact ratios, but, as with the salt, use 1-2 tablespoons to one cup oil, depending on the strength of the ingredient.


Fresh cilantro and serrano chiles

Lemon zest and thyme

Chiles, orange zest and garlic

Rosemary and garlic

Ginger, garlic and lemongrass

Orange, lemon and lime

Oregano, basil and garlic

For lemon oil, use 2 lemons (preferably organic) that have been washed and dried. Remove the zest in strips from one lemon with a vegetable peeler, being careful to avoid the with pith. Heat 1 cup olive oil until bubbles just begin to form at the edge of the pot.  Add lemon peel and simmer 10 minutes. Take off the heat and let stand two hours. Remove lemon zest and pour oil into a clear jar or cruet.

Make thin strips of lemon zest from the other lemon and put in the jar — this is mostly for looks.

For fresh herbs, crush them slightly with a wooden spoon to release their oils before adding to the heated oil. Let infuse at least 30 minutes, then remove the used herbs. Add a sprig of well washed and dried herb before giving oil away.

For chiles, use a neutral oil such as vegetable oil. Use 2-3 whole dried red chilis per cup of oil. Also used dried chili flakes for more intense flavor.

Herb or chili oil is great in pastas and risottos.

Flavored vodkas look pretty and taste good. Just the thing to ease through the holidays.

Vodka, especially flavored vodka, continues to be a thing. Forget the bubble gum and candy corn flavors. Make your own for friends who enjoy a nice cocktail with a flavor boost.

Both of these vodkas will warm you from the inside out.

Chai Vodka

1 750 ml bottle vodka

3 cinnamon sticks

2 Tbsp. candied ginger

12 black peppercorns

10 whole cloves

10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

Combine vodka, cinnamon sticks, candied ginger, black peppercorns, whole cloves and cardamom pods. Cover and let stand at least one day or up to three days. Strain and pour into bottles. Keeps for up to  two months.

Spicy Citrus Vodka

1 750 ml bottle vodka

5  3-inch long strips grapefruit zest

2 jalapénos, sliced

Combine vodka with grapefruit zest and jalapénos. Cover and let stand one day. Strain and pour into bottles. Keeps up to two months.

Coffee Vodka

1/2 liter vodka

2 cups roasted coffee beans

1 Tbsp. sugar

Place beans in a zip-top plastic bag and use a rolling pin or small, sturdy pan to break the beans up.

Using a 1/2 liter glass jar or bottle, put the crushed beans and sugar at the bottom of the container.

Fill the jar with vodka, leaving a little room at the top of the jar. Some beans will float, and that’s fine. Air bubbles are OK, too

Once the vodka darkens, seal the container and shake it for 30 seconds. Place into a dark, cool location; not the freezer.

Leave it alone for five days, shaking the jar each day.

When done, use a funnel with a cone shaped coffee filter and strain the vodka into a clean container.

Give your friend the recipe for this cocktail:

6 parts coffee vodka

1 part Kaluha

1 part Bailey’s Irish Creme

Shake vigorously in a shaker of ice and serve in a martini glass with a few coffee beans floating on top.


Granite Quarry

Granite Fest makes a comeback with music, vendors and fun for kids


State budget process could mean big gains or loss of funding for schools


Biz Roundup: Downtown Salisbury vying for $25,000 cash prize


Kannapolis native serves as a member of U.S. Navy’s ‘Silent Service’


Snyder promoted to deputy city clerk


Woman arrested for flashing rear end at Sheriff’s Office after previous charges overturned


Hall wins bronze medal in SilverArts


Harold B. Jarrett American Legion Post 342 holds 75th anniversary celebration


Salisbury-based Integro Technologies acquired by Kaman Distribution Group


World War II veteran, longtime Rowan County farmer, celebrates 100th birthday


Rowan commissioners will discuss body cameras for bailiffs, arrowhead donation, plumbing fix for lead levels


Downtown move gives Salisbury Eyecare and Eyewear chance to expand offerings, add new doctor


Clinton recovering from infection 


Teen charged in shooting at Mount Tabor High School held without bond


Marine officer receives reprimand for Afghanistan criticism


Beasley top fundraiser in third quarter for Senate race

Farm & Garden

Nearly 1-ton pumpkin sets record at state fair

High School

High school football: Loeblein throws record six TD passes for Falcons; Cavs, Hornets romp


UK lawmaker stabbed to death in terrorist act


Cooleemee man arrested after trading gunfire with Davie County investigators in Rowan


Salisbury council candidates list crime reduction, hiring a new city manager among city’s top priorities


Blotter: Man charged with trio of vehicle break-ins


Catawba College will require COVID-19 vaccinations in 2022


City selects Sada Stewart Troutman as new Downtown Salisbury Inc. director