• Stir It Up: DIY holiday gifts: Start now
     | November 23,2012
    Steve Legato Photo

    A bottle of homemade Raspberry-Lime Liqueur says “Happy Holidays” from the heart. The photo and recipe are from “Edible DIY: Simple, Giftable Recipes to Savor and Share” by Lucy Baker.

    Are you perennially shocked by Christmas decorations hanging in stores before Halloween? Do you rail against holiday tunes on the radio before Thanksgiving? Cringe at toy ads during the World Series? If you like to make holiday gifts, and if you like the gifts you make to be of the edible variety, you will see those early holiday displays as a personal reminder. They may be screaming, “Buy this!” But you are hearing, “Get cooking!”

    There are two reasons to start cooking, stat. First, many holiday gifts (liqueurs, extracts, flavored vinegars and, don’t laugh, fruitcakes) need several weeks for flavors to mellow. Second, making gifts ahead of time lessens stress closer to the holiday.

    When looking for recipes to make as gifts, keep in mind:

    n They should not require refrigeration. In the run-up to the holidays, you will need your refrigerator for more important stuff. Like eggnog.

    n They should have a long shelf life. What’s the point of making a recipe that says “Will keep for up to five days”? It essentially requires that you hand a friend your gift and then stand there while he eats it.

    n They should be simple. Holidays are complicated enough.

    When packaging your gifts, use clean jars and bottles with tight-fitting lids. Canning jars in sizes as small as 4 ounces are sold at the supermarket. Affordable bottles, tins and other packaging can be found online; one source is www.specialtybottles.com (206-382-1100).

    You can find gift recipes galore in “Edible DIY: Simple, Giftable Recipes to Savor and Share,” by Lucy Baker (Running Press, 2012), a compendium of 75 year-round gifts. The liqueur and seasoned salt below are from the book. The vanilla extract is from my files.

    Raspberry-Lime Liqueur

    Yield: 8 cups

    4 cups (18 ounces) fresh or frozen (thawed and drained) raspberries

    4 cups vodka

    ¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice

    2 cups water

    2 cups sugar

    Combine raspberries, vodka and lime juice in a large glass container with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to combine. Store in a cool, dark place (like the back of a closet) for 2 weeks, shaking the container halfway through.

    Simmer water and sugar together over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Set aside to cool. Add to the vodka mixture, cover, shake to combine and store in a cool, dark place for 2 more weeks.

    Line a fine mesh sieve with cheesecloth. Strain the mixture into a pitcher, discarding any solids. Pour into bottles. Label with the date and instructions: “Sip on the rocks or mix with seltzer or sparkling wine. Store in a cool, dry place for up to a year.”

    Recipe from “Edible DIY: Simple, Giftable Recipes to Savor and Share” by Lucy Baker (Running Press, 2012)

    Lemon Salt With Fennel And Red Pepper Flakes

    Yield: about 1 cup, or 2 (4-ounce) jars

    ¼ cup freshly grated lemon zest

    ¼ cup coarse kosher salt

    ¼ cup flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel

    1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed

    2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread zest on a baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes, or until dry to the touch, stirring halfway through. Remove from the oven and allow zest to cool completely.

    In a medium bowl, combine salts, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. Add dried lemon zest and stir until evenly distributed. Divide between 2 (4-ounce) jars with tight-fitting lids. Label with date and instructions: “Excellent on meat or poultry, especially pork or chicken. Store in a cool, dry place up to 6 months.”

    Recipe from “Edible DIY: Simple, Giftable Recipes to Savor and Share,” by Lucy Baker (Running Press, 2012)

    Vanilla Extract

    Yield: 2 cups or 4 (4-ounce) bottles

    8 (6- to 8-inch) vanilla beans, or more (see note)

    2 cups gold rum

    Using a small, sharp knife, cut vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Place all pieces in a large, clean jar and add rum. Cover and store in a cool, dry place for at least 4 weeks and up to several months.

    Drain through a sieve into a pitcher, saving the soaked beans. Pour the extract (including any dark sediment) into clean jars or bottles. Add a few of the soaked beans to each container. Label with date and instructions: “Use as you would store-bought vanilla extract. Store at room temperature for up to a year.”

    Note: To use a 1.75-liter jug of rum, add at least ¼ pound vanilla beans. “Grade B” or “splits and cuts” are fine — and cheaper. Best prices are online, for example at www.beanilla.com (888-261-3384).

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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