It’s the season of eating. From Thanksgiving until Jan. 2, it is all about parties and celebrations and great food. From that golden turkey and all the sides — pecan pies and more — we go right into latkes and brisket and soofganiyot. It is fun and delicious — and I am glad it only lasts about a month.
This season is also all about gifts. When our kids were little, we tried to downplay the gift-giving during Chanukah by making one night a night for giving homemade gift “checks.” Each family member gave every other family member a “check” for something that the giver thought the receiver would like. My kids did the dishes, made the beds, made dinner, and cleaned their rooms without reminders. I used to give each child an afternoon of uninterrupted alone time to go to a movie or shop or even go to a sporting goods store to buy the latest roller blades (a gift from grandparents). It became a family favorite and one we still do it every so often.
Still, a lot of the joy of Chanukah is, for many, about gift-giving and latkes and soofganiyot and family get-togethers and more. I love to bring little gifts to friends at this time of year, and I always try to make sure it is something from my kitchen. It can be cookies or brownies, but I like to make more unusual things that may not be so highly caloric.
I start in the summer and seek out interesting bottles at crafts fairs and online. I use these for all kinds of gifts from oils to syrups and more. The beautiful, usually inexpensive, bottles are unique and add interest and personalization to their content. One year I even decorated the bottles myself and then suddenly found myself with almost no time to make anything with which to fill my artistic creations!
Bring some joy to your friends with homemade treats. Yes, you can go buy a gift, but sometimes a gift from the kitchen is the best gift of all (and don’t limit yourself to brownies!).
Garlic and Herb Infused Dipping oil (pareve)
4 cups extra virgin olive oil
2 cups high heat safflower oil or cold-pressed canola oil
2 Tbsp. dried basil
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 to 4 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
12 to 18 small whole garlic cloves
6 (8 ounce) glass jars
2 to 4 Rosemary sprigs
Wash 2 to 4 (8 to 12 ounce) decorative bottles with very hot water and let drain upside down until thoroughly dried.
Divide the basil, parsley, thyme, and oregano evenly between the bottles. Place 1 tablespoon of minced garlic in each bottle. Add several whole garlic cloves to each bottle. Pour 2/3 cups olive oil in each bottle using the funnel. Add 1/3 cup safflower oil to each bottle. Add some rosemary sprigs or thyme sprigs. Cover tightly and shake gently. Add more oil to fill the bottle and close with the stopper provided. Label and wrap. Give this gift immediately and refrigerate after opening. Use within 2 to 3 weeks. Makes 2 to 4 pretty gift bottles.
Maple Cranberry Syrup
This is great for pancakes and even for a chicken glaze. Put in a pretty glass maso-type jar. Will keep for about 10 days in the fridge.
2 cups pure maple syrup Grade B
1-2/3 cup cranberries, stems removed (measure generously)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Place all ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a strong simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, partially covered. Berries will pop, so stir carefully. Let cool. Pour into pretty glass jars and refrigerate. Makes about 4 cups or 2- 4 gifts.
Candied Ginger (Parve)
The hardest part of this recipe is peeling the ginger. Slice carefully with a small, sharp paring knife. Candied ginger is great in cookies, in a cup of tea and in all kinds of baked goods. It is even good to chew on when one has a minor digestive upset. This is easy and keeps well.
1 pound fresh ginger with thick fingers
5 cups water
1 pound sugar, more or less
Peel the ginger and slice into 1/8-inch slices. Place in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, until the ginger is softened. Reserve 1/4 cup of the water and drain the ginger. Weigh the ginger and add the same amount of sugar and the reserved water back into the pan. Cook until the sugar looks dry, all the water is absorbed and the sugar starts to recrystallize, about 20 minutes. Stir almost constantly. Place on a cooling rack over a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil and separate the pieces. Place in pretty glass jars. Makes about 1 pound or 4 gifts. Candied ginger is great for baking or placed in hot tea.
Homemade Pure Vanilla Extract (Pareve)
You can buy vanilla beans on-line in bulk. Beanilla.com and bostonvanillabeans.com are two good sources. This may be too late to give fully steeped for Hanukkah, but is still a great hostess gift. Just print out directions to shake once a day to give with the gift.
14 to 20 vanilla beans
3 cups vodka or bourbon
2 (12 ounce) decorative glass jars with thin necks and tight fitting tops
Wash the jars in very hot water and let drain upside down until dry. Take each vanilla bean and make a slit all the way down the center of the bean. Open gently with the tip of the knife. If the beans are too long, cut them in half. Place 7 to 10 in each jar, fill with vodka, cover and shake for about 20 seconds. Set in a cool, dark place. Shake each day for about 20 seconds until the liquid is dark mahogany color, about 6-8 weeks. Remove the vanilla beans or leave them. The flavor will continue to deepen. Makes 2 lovely gifts any baker will love.