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4 Last Minute DIY Food Gifts

4 Last Minute DIY Food Gifts

Clockwise from top left: Spiced Almonds, Preserved Lemons, Sambar Curry Popcorn, Chocolate Clusters with Tart Cherries, Ginger and Pumpkin seeds. 

Clockwise from top left: Spiced Almonds, Preserved Lemons, Sambar Curry Popcorn, Chocolate Clusters with Tart Cherries, Ginger and Pumpkin seeds. 

As someone who loves to eat and cook, I'm always happy to make edible gifts that feel like a special treat from my hands direct to friends and family. As a working parent and creative starter of many things, I also get way too busy for my own good, so pulling together a few last minute gifts is not an uncommon occurrence at all. Last minute doesn't have to mean careless though. When it's something you made with your own hands it carries a little extra love.  It doesn't take much time in the kitchen to create these edible gifts, especially the spiced popcorn, chocolate clusters and candied nuts, which use ingredients you're likely to have at home, or can pick up easily on the way there.

One of these gifts is quick to make, but needs to ferment for 3-4 weeks. If you think the receiver of your gift will be into it, and wouldn't mind working a little for something delicious, the preserved lemons are the way to go. This versatile condiment used widely in Morocco and across many other countries, is just salt packed lemons with some spices added. You can include a label with instructions to keep the jar out at room temperature and flip over and back once a day. After 4 weeks, transfer to the fridge and pull out a piece to add to your rice, stew, roasted veggies, meats or salad dressings. Seriously it's good in just about everything!  

These gifts are great for teachers and co-workers, as well as family. Pack them up in cellophane bags, jars or squares of colorful fabric or parchment, and tie with a tag listing ingredients and a kind wish. Get as fancy or as no-frills as you want. The deliciousness inside will be enjoyed either way. I'd love to see what creative deliciousness is flowing out of your home, please post ideas in the comments below! 

4 Last Minute DIY Food Gifts
 

Sambar Curry Popcorn:

The sweet/salty/spiciness of this popcorn is totally addictive. I especially love it with this Sambar curry powder I get at my local Indian market, but any curry powder you have will taste great.  Make popcorn in an air popper machine or by using a little oil in a pan (coconut oil adds great flavor). Melt some butter or coconut oil to drizzle over popcorn. Immediately sprinkle with salt, sugar(raw or brown sugar is great here, but any sweetener is fine), add curry powder to taste. Bag it up and tie it pretty (it won't stay that way for long). For a more detailed recipe for Sambar Curry Popcorn click here.
 

Chocolate Clusters
With Tart Cherries, Ginger and Pumpkin Seeds

These are my attempt at something a little healthier but still decadent.  Chocolate Clusters are just nuts, seeds, and dried fruit covered in 70% dark chocolate and sprinkled with coarse raw sugar.  No measured recipe needed. Just pick an assortment of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, melt some chocolate, mix everything together, spread on a lined pan, sprinkle with raw sugar, cool, and cut. There should be enough chocolate to coat all the ingredients and hold them together when it hardens. Roughly 1 bag of melted chocolate chips will coat about 3-4 cups of seeds/nuts/dried fruit.  My favorite combination: Candied ginger (finely chopped) dried unsweetened tart cherries, pumpkin seeds, and hazelnuts. If you are making large quantities of these and need to keep your costs down, try using unsweetened shredded coconut and sunflower seeds, they make excellent and affordable additions or substitutions for other more expensive items.  

 These chocolate clusters are part of a recent over the top Cookie Infatuation post, check it out here. 
 


Spiced Nuts

Spiced nuts are one of the easiest and most delicious snacks (for those of us lucky enough to be able to eat them). The basic premiss is toss any nuts you like with a thin drizzle of honey or other sweetener and toss with spices, herbs or citrus zest, bake at 300 degrees until caramelized, but not burned, cool and pack. Done. If you want to stay away from sweetness, you could use a few drops of oil in place of honey or other sweetener. The flavor combination of citrus and plenty of fresh ground black pepper is addictive and so simple, but you can get creative with any flavors you like. Rosemary/maple is fabulous, curry/ginger, lemon/fennel...the possibilities are endless! Have fun with it! 

Orange Pepper Almonds
2 cups raw almonds (you can substitute any nut you like, walnuts are great too!)
1 tablespoon honey (basically a thin drizzle, just enough to very lightly coat each nut)
Zest of one small orange
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of raw sugar (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment, foil, parchment or a silpat baking mat. 
  2. Toss almonds in honey until well coated all over. There should be a thin layer of honey on each nut, but they should not be dripping with honey or it will ooze and burn in the oven. Toss in the orange zest and season to taste with salt and pepper or any other spices you like. 
  3. Spread onto prepared baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 10-12 minutes until honey is bubbling on the edges of each nut and they are lightly browned, but not dark. If you want to use the raw sugar, pull the nuts from the oven at 7 minutes and sprinkle on a little raw sugar and continue baking until done. Cool completely, enjoy. Store in an air tight container (if you can keep them around). 
     
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Preserved Lemons

As I mentioned, the prep for these is pretty quick, but they take a month to ferment and need to be flipped over and back once a day and left at room temperature. Include some simple instructions and an "enjoy by date" on your gift tag so the gift receiver can take care of these while they wait to sample them. This gift does take a bit more work because you will need to buy some new pint glass canning jars. These are often available in large grocery stores, hardware stores and many big box stores too. 
What you need: lemons, salt (kosher or sea salt), jars, spices are optional (some nice combinations are cinnamon and hot pepper or bay leaf and black peppercorns. Meyer lemons are preferred for this recipe, but organic regular lemons are also fine, just soak them in vinegar water for a few minutes and wipe dry. For each 16 oz jar you'll need approximately 3 lemons, plus some extra juice and about 3 tablespoons of salt. 
How to do it:  Cut the stem end of the lemon off. Slicing only 3/4 of the way through the lemon, cut the lemon part of the way down into quarters from this cut end, stopping about 3/4 of the way through so the sections stay connected at the bottom. Pack as much kosher salt into the lemon as you can and place it cut side down into the jar and press down on the end. Top with 3 more salt packed lemons, or as many as you need to pack the jar. Top it off with some extra fresh squeezed lemon juice, add any spices you like (cinnamon/clove/red pepper flakes or black pepper/bay leaf are both great combinations). 
Make them work for their gift: If you don't have time to let these ferment for a month at home before gifting, don't forget to include a tag with instructions to turn the jars over and right side up again once a day for 4 weeks, and let the jars sit at room temperature. After 4 weeks, the lemons will be softened and flavorful and can be stored in the refrigerator. To use, remove a piece of lemon, rinse off the salt and cut off the pulp. Cut the rind as you desire and add to many different recipes. This post from The Spruce has more detailed instructions and photos and tons of recipe ideas and info. 

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