OK so I know it’s the kind of thing your granny would say but really, it’s true that there’s nothing like a homemade Christmas present. The other factor is that, having worked in retail for a few years now, you might be interested to know that the cost of making something is usually less than a quarter of its retail price – this accounts for necessary costs to retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers and also for packaging, advertising and the like.
So here is my what-to-make-for-Christmas PART 1
Christmassy Foods for eating or for presents!
“A good cook is half a physician“ Nicholas Culpeper
Like lemon curd, only more seasonal, more magenta and more moreish! This recipe (thanks to Nigella) makes quite a lot. Make it a few days before Christmas as it is best eaten quite fresh (though this shouldn’t be a problem!). You can’t get organic cranberries easily but I have read that they aren’t grown that intensively.
Cranberry curd isn’t all that cheap (£1.50 for a smallish jar) but it’s so gorgeous, unusual and bright that that shouldn’t stop you making it as part of your portfolio of bargain, handmade presents.
500g caster sugar
6 large eggs
100g unsalted butter
5 x 250ml jars or equivalent – makes 1¾ litres
Place cranberries and water in a saucepan, cover them and cook on a low heat until tender and popped. Pass the cranberries through a food mill (or push through a sieve) and put fruit puree back into a saucepan. Add the butter and sugar, melting them gently. Beat the eggs in a bowl and sieve them into the saucepan. Stir the curd constantly over a medium heat until it has thickened. This requires patience as you don’t want to speed things up and curdle the mixture, but that’s not particularly challenging. When it has thickened, is should coat the back of a spoon. Let cool a little before pouring in to the jars. Keep in the fridge.
Cranberry and Port Sauce
You will be left with crushed cranberries, which would be a crime to throw away. I put the same quantity of sugar with the cranberries (or to taste) and a slug of port and heat til bubbling on a medium heat for about 10 mins until the sugar has melted and the mixture is jam-like. Serve with turkey, brussel sprouts, carrots etc – you know the one! Also goes well with meat and nut roasts throughout the year (cranberries aren’t just for Christmas…).
Find a good mincemeat recipe, maybe Delia’s, put a nice label on it, possibly with a bit of information about it’s history and a few recipe ideas (a few spoonfuls are great run through a basic fudge recipe or a basic ice cream recipe). Added to a basic sponge recipe it can make a last minute christmas cake substitute or a spoonful stirred into a basic biscuit recipe works festive wonders.
Incidentally, if circumstances force you to buy mincemeat when you would otherwise make it, ‘doctor’ it by adding a few chopped nuts, a squeeze of orange juice, a slurp of brandy, some chopped apple or orange zest.
Pecans in Maple Syrup or Walnuts in Honey
Both these work well, though the latter is decidedly more local and cheaper! Basically half – 2/3 fill a jar with the nuts and pour on the liquid. This doesn’t need to be in a large jar as it will be eaten fairly sparingly (eg with ice cream, spooned over an otherwise dull sponge cake or shortbread biscuits).
Other ideas include homemade pesto (always gratefully eaten), homemade jams with fruit you need to use up etc.
Buy good quality olives in oil and add garlic cloves, a slice of lemon and some herbs and spices a week before giving the present.
Cost: obvious cost of vodka makes this fairly expensive but you can give smaller quantities.
Ease: pretty easy, all told. No special equipment and good for using spices you might have in the house or fruit which is being sold cheap
Basic vodka syrup
8oz caster sugar
10fl oz/275ml water
bring water to boil over a low heat then add sugar, stiring until dissolved (approx 30 secs). Return to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5 mins. When cool add the vodka.
Pour the vodka syrup into a bottle and place flavourings in there and leave for 2 weeks minimum (can be left for quite some time so good one to do for next year, esp using cheap cranberries in Jan for next Christmas).
Spices; 8 cloves, stick of cinnamon, vanilla pod/bean, fresh chilli (would make a strange but interesting set with the chilli chocolate) or organic lemon/orange peel
Fruit; heat berries (blueberries, cranberries, blackcurrants etc) on low heat for a few minutes until soft and juices flowing – add to the mixture; kumquats etc
Chocolate; melt a 100g bar of chocolate bain-marie style (see chocolates) then, off the heat when cool but not set, pour 1 quantity of vodka syrup into the mixture and stir. When cold, pour into a bottle and keep at room temperature. Although highly un’organic’, this can be done with your recipient’s favourite chocolate bar, eg mint Aero, (almost all of which melt) as well. Technically you can do it with jelly beans etc although I have always got a gloopy mess when I tried it.
Any fruits soaked in vodka can be made into chocolates. Strain the vodka and label as fruit liqueur (which effectively it now is) and either use fruits in chocolate moulds as below or melt chocolate and pour half on greaseproof paper, cool, smear fruit over the top and pout another layer of chocolate over the top. When cooler, cut and serve with coffee! These go well as a gift set – eg cranberry chocolates and cranberry vodka. Lovely!
Mulled Wine Sachets
Dried peel of 1 orange
1 tsp of cloves
2 inch piece of cinnamon stick
piece of dried ginger or ground ginger (1 tsps)
Variations include the additions of 1tsp coriander seeds, 1tsp dried rosehips, 4 cardamon pods, ½ tsp cumin, few grates of nutmeg, ½ tsp allspice, 1 star anise, 1 Earl Grey tea bag, dark rum, – experiment!
Tie in a double layer of muslin and tie with string. Write a label instructing the recipient to put in a saucepan with one bottle of medium to full-bodied red wine (eg cabernet sauvignon) with 3 tbsp of sugar (dark muscavado is the best) or honey, dash of brandy, a sliced orange and sliced lemon and 1 pint of water, simmer for 20 mins and serve. You can also put the spices in a small jar which looks nicer.
Put caster sugar into an attractive jar. Push a vanilla pod into the sugar and leave for a week. This sugar is great for making homemade custard but works well in coffee or sprinkled over stewed fruit. Make a set of 3 sugars with different flavours and give as a present.
Other flavourings include:
Flowers – collect approx 6 fresh, homegrown (ie unsprayed) lavender flowers in the summer (per small jar) – this sugar is great for cakemaking and has a subtle, floral taste. Rose petals (esp red) also make a fantastic sugar and look beautiful
Spices – cardomon, cloves, cinnamon etc
Fruit – try unsprayed/unwaxed orange and other citrus peels
Almond and rosewater dates
These make a good alternative to the standard dried fruit and nut tray, available in supermarkets. Also, they are freakily high in nutritional value (providing large quantities of magnesium, phosphorous and calcium) and help to calm the nervous system, help with PMT, those who work late at night and acts as a general tonic. Pretty thoughtful present? I think so.
1lb naturally dried dates (no added sugar)
enough rosewater (available from indian stores) to cover the dates – this can be made by making an infusion of rose petals in the appropriate season
Leave dates to soak in the rosewater overnight. Cut the dates open and replace the stone with an almond. Package and give as a present or simply eat!
Salt and peppercorns
Put salt and herb mixes in a good quality salt grinder (eg ‘provencal herbs’; lavender florets, shredded bay leaves, dried sage etc). Lots of varieties possible (eg herbs for fish, herbs and spices for curries)
Try sugar and small pieces of chocolate to use with sweet foods
Buy red, white and black peppercorns and package in a jar or in a peppergrinder for variation.
Hand blend spices for an indian or thai recipe and put in plastic bag with instructions and small bag of lentils or similar.
Layer various coloured pulses as part of hamper – useful as soup mix.
INFUSED OILS AND VINEGARS
Put a clove of garlic, 3 birdseye chillies, a star anise, a stick of cinnamon, few mustard, cumin and coriander seeds in a small glass bottle of sunflower oil (adding a little sesame oil if you have any) and leave for a a few weeks or heat gently to cheat!. Put a ribbon and label on bottle and give, possibly with a good stir fry recipe. Good cheap but attractive present.
Salad dressing oil
Do as above but with a few basic spices and a large sprig of a fresh herb (these should be organic if poss or washed and thoroughly dried). Leave for a few weeks and then strain, replace with the same herb (so it will look fresh).
Add herbs as with the oil alone or in combination with fruit (eg raspberries which have been crushed slightly). Leave to steep then strain and replace with fresh herb. Slightly stew cranberries and do the same, finally replacing with cranberries threaded on a scewer for an attractive present. In summer, make rose petal vinegar by steeping unsprayed rose petals in white wine or cider vinegar (don’t use malt vinegar which is for chips only!)