Useful gifts for bakers and foodies

December 13, 2019
It’s that time of year when our mailboxes (both electronic and physical) are flooded with catalogs and advertisements for holiday gifts. Whether cyber-shopping or keeping things local, there are lots of ways to build a customized package of useful kitchen gifts for the baker or foodie in your life.
One example is the basket in the photo, packed with baking essentials. Up front are Penzey’s cinnamon and ginger, set between cookie cutters and whimsical fish-shaped measuring spoons. There’s a colorful holiday mug filled with wire whisks of varying sizes, a microplane (sometimes called a zester), a bright red-checked kitchen towel and a whole vanilla bean in an elegant glass tube.
It’s easy to mix and match items like these to fit the personality of the recipient. For example, instead of the gingerbread-person or star-shaped cookie cutters, look for college mascots or fancy truck shapes. For someone who doesn’t bake but likes to grill, consider exotic spice rubs or finishing glazes along with a grate brush to clean up the barbecue afterward.
You could also assemble an ethnic cuisine-themed basket. For the Tex-Mex fan, you can tuck in a wide range of chili powders, and taco and fajita seasonings. Add a package of corn husks and one of harissa so they can make tamales (maybe they’ll share with you). Try a variety of whole dried peppers; specialty groceries have selections from ancho chile to chipotle.
A gluten-free basket is always a welcome gift for friends and family with sensitivity to wheat products. Consider treats like cookies and baking mixes as well as staples such as flour substitutes, pastas, cereals, bread rolls and gluten-free soy sauce. A six-pack of gluten-free beer from Glutenberg or Omission brewery would also be a thoughtful touch.
Fancy foods are great fun to collect into a gift basket. For local sources of high-quality options, stop by The Station on Kings, Lewes Gourmet or The Fresh Market. For well-priced (but somewhat unpredictable) selections, try Marshalls, HomeGoods or Kitchen and Company. The latter three all have shelf-stable foods and mixes as well as cooking tools.
One of nicest gifts we’ve ever received was a wine-themed basket which included three bottles of wine (red, white and rosé) with a matching stopper and corkscrew set (this was in the days before screw-tops). Monogrammed stemless glasses, cheese and crackers nestled on a cutting board alongside a decorative knife, plus napkins and a charming tea towel rounded out the selection.
Another alternative is to make something and deliver it in a useful storage container or serving platter that becomes an element of the gift. Last year, Treasures in Lewes had a “gifting plate” printed with a sentiment about keeping the plate on a constant journey from person to person, always filled with something delicious to share.
And, if you are gifting food, make sure it is not highly perishable, as kitchen pantries can become crowded this time of year. I’ve included a recipe for dried spice mix for mulled wine and another for a seasoned salt blend. Give the mulling spices in a decorative storage jar along with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. Fill a spice grinder with the salt blend and tie it up with a bow. Happy gifting!
Seasoned Salt
1 C rosemary leaves
1 C thyme leaves
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 C coarse sea salt
1 t crushed red pepper
Line a rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside. Remove the rosemary leaves from their thick stems; place the leaves in the bowl of a food processor or blender; discard the stem. Trim away any thick stems from the thyme sprigs; add the leaves and tender stems to the blender. Thinly slice the garlic and add to the blender. Pulse the herbs until uniformly chopped. Add the salt and red pepper; pulse to blend. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the baking sheet. Allow to dry, stirring occasionally until dried, about two days. Transfer the mixture to a sealed jar or a spice grinder.
Mulling Spices
4 oranges
8 oz fresh ginger
8 cinnamon sticks
40 whole peppercorns
24 allspice berries
24 star anise pods
16 whole cloves
Preheat oven to 175 F. Line three rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Place a drying rack on each baking pan; set aside. Slice oranges into 1/8-inch thick rounds, discarding ends. Arrange in a single layer on two of the prepared baking pans. Trim the ginger and slice thinly with a mandolin; arrange in a single layer on a prepared baking pan. Dry the oranges in the preheated oven for about 4 hours, flipping the slices halfway through. Dry the ginger in the oven for about 3 hours, flipping the pieces halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pans. Divide the oranges, ginger and spices into eight bouquet garni bags and secure with twine.

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