Gifts From The Kitchen: Create Homemade Gifts That are Fun, Delicious, and Nourishing This Holiday Season

I’m a cook, I’m a foodie, and I’m a herb whisperer. My life is seasonal and revolves around the only two places I love to be: a kitchen and a garden. I’m in my own garden, or visiting the gardens of others, from spring through summer. I’m in my own kitchen, or the kitchens of friends, throughout the fall. Winter finds me writing and testing recipes for the next book project. And through the rhythm of the seasons, my life is connected to family and friends through anniversaries, birthdays, holiday celebrations and many other gift-giving opportunities.

So it’s not unusual for me to spread the love with a jar of jam, or to toss a playful punch with a tin of homemade Madras Curry Blend. There’s something deeply touching about opening a jar of homemade chutney (homemade for heaven’s sake!) or popping the lid on a sweet and sassy chocolate mousse – pack a spoon and I bet it’ll be eaten right from the jar… before your eyes.

I promise that these special gifts won’t take long to make, and I hope you spend more time having fun thinking of ways to package, label and adorn them; that you express your own inventive creativity and think out of the box… or jar or tin. So start collecting interesting bottles, containers, bags, paper, ties, labels and cards and get into your favourite room to start your homemade gifts with the recipes below.

To Sterilize Jars: Stand jars up in a canner or stock pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch. Bring the water to a full rolling boil. Cover the pan and boil for 15 minutes.

Remove lid and let the pot stand for 5 minutes before removing jars. Remove and fill one jar at a time and cap before filling the next jar.

To Scald Lids: Place rings and flat lid pieces in a pan. Bring a kettle of water to the boil and pour over lid pieces. Set aside until lids are required. Use tongs to remove lids from the hot water.

* A Maslin pan is a stainless steel, heavy-bottomed canning pan that is narrow at the base and wider at the top (to encourage surface evaporation). Alternately, any heavy-bottomed pan large enough to hold 6 – 8 litres of liquid will suffice.

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(Makes 4 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 8 organic lemons, scrubbed
  • 2 Tbsp kosher or pickling salt
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger root
  • 1 dried cayenne pepper, crushed
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp crushed coriander
  • 1/2 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 cups + 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar (or use 1-1/2 cups coconut sugar as a lower glycemic alternative)

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(Makes 2 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • ½ cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds
  • 3 oz (90 g) hard Italian cheese (Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino), cut into small cubes
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh parsley
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh basil
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh mint or oregano
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ cup olive oil (approx)
  • freshly ground sea salt

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SPICE BLENDS
I found a well-stocked Indian grocery store on Gerrard Street West in Toronto with an entire wall devoted to spices that are fresh, whole, and most importantly, decently priced. I’m sure there are similar spice sellers all across the city, and it’s important that we seek them out and give them our business. Always purchase whole spices from stores that specialize in spices, or health food stores that have a large spice section. Start out with small quantities so that you always have fresh at hand.

Curry is a blend of spices, not one spice, and everyone has their own secret curry combinations, so feel free to experiment with spices and amounts. The heat in the blend below comes from the mustard, peppercorns and chiles. Of course, the fresher these spices are, the hotter they will be. If you like the flavour but not the heat, reduce the amounts of those spices in this blend.

You will need two small, dark glass jars (1/4 cup capacity), plus lids and labels. (Makes ½ cup.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp fenugreek seeds (see Recipe Notes)
  • 2 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 Tbsp allspice berries
  • 1 Tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 stick (4-inches) cinnamon, crushed
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 5 dried chiles
  • 2 Tbsp ground turmeric

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I use cinnamon as a sweet flavouring in both sweet and savoury dishes. It imparts an aromatic ‘Island’ taste to dishes. My favourite ground, or stick, cinnamon is premium Vietnamese, but Cinnamomum zeylanicum is a close second. Both are much sweeter (with a pure, never bitter, cinnamon flavour) than the common Cinnamomum cassia, which is the cinnamon most often found in supermarkets.

By the way, see the label on the jar? It was designed by my daughter (http://www.gusandabby.com) as a gift to me. So every time I use (or give) my own spice blends, I think of her.

For this recipe you will need two small dark glass jars (1/4 cup capacity), lids and labels. (Makes ½ cup.)

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup toasted coconut flakes
  • ¼ cup coconut sugar crystals
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon (see Recipe Notes)
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp ground cloves

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Rich tasting, but not loaded with fat, this conserve makes a sweet-tart chocolate sauce and topping for all sorts of desserts. The keys to this textural delight: start with cooking apples, cook them until they are soft, and purée them in a food processor or blender until silky-smooth. In the absence of a food processor, either a fine sieve or a food mill will work for this purpose.  You can double the recipe, but be sure to use a very deep and heavy-bottomed pot because, when the puréed mixture is returned to the pan, it will spit when it bubbles.

I’ve included directions for water-bath canning the jars, the safest way to store this condiment. You can use clean, sterilized jars and keep the mousse in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 weeks before giving away. Be sure to instruct recipients to “Store in the refrigerator and use within 2 weeks,”  if you do not use the Water Bath technique to preserve them. (Makes 3-1/2 cups.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon
  • 6 cups chopped apple (about 2 lb/1 kg)
  • 3 cups granulated sugar (or use 2 cups coconut sugar as a lower glycemic alternative)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Related Recipe Books by Pat Crocker:

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