Out-of-the-ordinary edible gifts to give this season

At this time of year, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of gifts that we have to find. Gifts for our kids, family members and close friends are a given.

Then there are the gifts for all the people who touch our lives: teachers, coaches, office staff, the neighbors, the fellow parent who gives our kid a ride home from practice each week. That’s a lot of presents. How can we show our appreciation to all the people who make our lives a little bit easier without going bankrupt buying Starbucks cards?– Emily Paster

No gourmet cooking skills required for these easy, and tasty, gifts.

One way to spread holiday cheer is by giving a homemade, ediblegift.

I like to think outside the dessert box because we are alloverloaded with sweets this time of year. Instead, I like to givegifts that will help people cook a little better all year long.

One of the keys to giving special holiday gifts is thepackaging. Your colorful berry vinegars and elegant flavored saltswill really impress when presented in attractive glass bottles andjars. You can find pretty vessels at stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics,Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. Cost Plus World Market is another goodsource. For a really wide variety of choices, check out specialtybottle.com.

Flavored salts and sugars

One of the easiest edible gifts to make is flavored salt. Trygiving your friends and neighbors a jar of citrus salt, which isheavenly sprinkled on fish or chicken. To make, simply layer stripsof orange or lemon peel-use only the outer peel, avoiding thebitter white pith-with kosher salt in a glass jar. This isespecially fun in winter when there are so many exotic citrusvarieties in stores like Meyer lemons and blood oranges.

For bakers, flavored sugars are a welcome gift. To make vanillasugar, which is a delicious addition to most baked goods, scrapethe inside of a vanilla bean into two cups of sugar and stir tocombine. Cut the bean in half and add it as well. Citrus sugarsalso are a wonderfully fragrant gift. The idea is the same asvanilla sugar: add the zest of a large lemon or orange to two cupsof sugar and stir to combine.

Homemade vanilla extract

This gift requires advance planning. To make, split open half avanilla bean and place it in a 2.6 ounce glass jar. Cover withvodka and seal. In about a month, you will have a flavorful versionof vanilla extract. I sometimes use orange-flavored vodka to makeorange-vanilla extract. If you are coming up against the holidaysbut want to try this project, you can always give the extractbefore it is ready and tell the recipient to wait to use it.

Flavored vinegar

Nothing elevates an ordinary salad like an exotic flavoredvinegar. And a tall bottle of brightly colored homemade vinegar isa gift that will be sure to impress. Making flavored vinegar is aneasy project. Berry-flavored vinegar is a great one to start with.Mix four cups of blueberries, blackberries or raspberries-frozen isOK-with one cup of white wine vinegar in a large bowl. Mash theberries lightly to release their juices. Add the remaining vinegarto the bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Store in acool, dark place for one to four weeks, stirring every few days andtasting weekly until desired strength is reached. When the vinegaris ready, strain it and pour into decorative bottles for giving.This recipe will yield about three bottles of vinegar.

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