“Hey, are you free on Friday night? Would you like to come over for dinner?”
“Sure, I’d love to. Can I bring anything?”
Raise your hand if you have ever put such an offer forward and then bit your tongue because the kitchen isn’t exactly your favourite part of the house.
To continue the conversation above, the hostess will usually tell you not to worry about bringing anything. In most cases the said hostess will be a gifted chef. Still, our mothers taught us never to go to someone’s house empty handed and we find ourselves gifting the hostess a bottle of wine.
The PopSplat foodies decided it shouldn’t be so difficult to step away from the cliché without spending a bomb and revisited the spice jars in our kitchen. In between licking our fingers we’ve put together a few goodies any food lover would love to receive. You get extra brownie points because these gifts aren’t something you picked up at a store but something you created in that room you normally stay away from. We’ve kept things simple by keeping the formulas for these gifts limited to only three steps.
Shall we start? 1…2….3….
No matter how strict you are about your diet the toughest thing to resist is hot buttered toasts. We’re being a little naughty and making this harder for you or in this case your friends if they are on a diet. It sounds fancy but compound butter is simply butter that has been flavoured with herbs, spices or citrus zests.
The three magical steps to impressing your host:
- Finely chop fresh herbs
- Mix into butter at room temperature
- Chill in moulds until set.
You could try it with individual herbs and spices or try the combinations below. The suggested quantities are all for a 500 gram slab of butter.
- 2 tablespoons fresh chives + 1 tablespoon thyme + 1 tablespoon sage + 1 tablespoon rosemary
- 5 tablespoons tarragon + 4-5 tsp mustard paste + 3 tablespoons orange juice + zest of 2 oranges
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon + 12 tablespoons honey + a pinch of salt
- 5-6 cloves of garlic + ½ tsp ground pepper
For desert butter mix a cup of butter with half a cup of jam or marmalade.
Ice trays make easily available moulds or you could set the butter in a bigger dish and slice it. Once the butter is set, take them out of the moulds and pack in butter paper with a handwritten label and leave the wine bottles for everyone else.
Most people can’t face the day without their cup of morning tea. Here’s your chance to make your friends think of you as they start their day. Fill a jar, can or even a tea cup with your special blend of masala chai to create an exceptional hostess gift.
The three magic steps:
- Toast 12 green cardamom + ½ tsp black peppercorns + ½ tsp coriander seeds + ½ tsp cloves + one 4” cinnamon stick in an oven or on the gas for five minutes
- Mix with ½ cup of normal tea leaves
Optionally add chopped candied ginger or one tsp of orange zest to the mixture for added flavour.
We agree; our first reaction too was – “Sugar! That’s a boring gift..” It was a girl next door turns into Madonna kind of moment when we tasted how flavoured sugar took on an exotic avatar.
The three magic steps:
- Roughly grind 6 cups of sugar
- Fill equally into three airtight jars
- Mix with 1 chopped vanilla bean, 1 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon,1/4 cup green cardamom into jar 1,2 and 3 respectively.
The sugar will stay flavoured for upto a year but our experiments proved there might not be much left in the jars by then. Experiment with lemon zest, orange zest, lavender, nutmeg or even fresh mint leaves for other flavours. Replace your market bought sugar with this flavoured sugar in your breakfast cereals, as a finishing touch to deserts and to rim alcohol glasses.
Salt can similarly be flavoured with lemon zest or fresh herbs to be used in marinades and while grilling food.
Infused Olive Oil
Olive Oil = fancy.
Herb infused Olive Oil = Wow Fancy!!
Need we say more?
The three magic steps
- Cook herbs and oil on a low heat for about five minutes
Optionally dry the herbs in sunlight and add to a bottle of olive oil. Fresh herbs contain water which might make it decompose in oil, hence it is essential to cook or dry them properly. If not completely dehydrated the oil can cause food poisoning so don’t underestimate the drying process.
Begin your experiments with rosemary, chilies, garlic, thyme and oregano.
We grew up thinking that homemade pickles meant months of keeping jars of spiced mangoes and limes in the sun doesn’t mean there isn’t a simpler way to pickle goodness. Our method stays away from oils so if you want to be kind to your friends on a diet this is what you need to make.
The three magic steps
- Wash and cut vegetables into long strips
- Put into a jar
- Season with ¼ tsp of salt and fill to the top with vinegar
This is a gift that only looks as good as it tastes. Cucumbers, carrots, gherkins, onions or beetroots are some of our suggestions for your first gift jars.
The only fear we have now is that wine shops might turn against us for the loss in their revenue. Sigh… The risks we take for you!