Homemade treats add personal touch to Christmas gifts
BY NICOLE MARSHALL MIDDLETON World Scene Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
12/05/12 at 5:16 AM
Homemade gifts come from the heart.
And there's still time to make edible gifts this holiday season. All you need is some inspiration.
Candy, cookies or jams and homemade liqueurs, cordials or sausages all make great gifts. Have fun with the packaging, and add personalized gift tags.
The production of the gifts can even become an event to anticipate with families or friends gathering to make the gifts together.
Many stores sell decorative bottles that can be kept and used again long after the contents are gone. Consider making fruit cordials that can be used to flavor teas, sparkling water or wine.
A spiced chai concentrate to keep in the refrigerator would be a great non-alcoholic gift and can be used to flavor iced tea. Or add milk, and serve it warm.
There are also many recipes for liqueurs that can be made at home, including limoncello, amaretto, peppermint schnapps and coffee-flavored liqueur.
Tom Rush, bartender at Biga Italian Restaurant, 4329 S. Peoria Ave., has long made the popular limoncello for the restaurant. And the reason for serving the drink is based in the Italian culture as told to Rush by several people of Italian descent.
"Italians celebrate life and love with food and wine," Rush said. "After a multi-hour, multi-course dinner of antipasto, fish, truffles, entree, espresso, dessert ... as a sign of closing, one drinks limoncello as a digestive, palate-cleanser and breath-sweetener before one kisses and expresses affection to family and those whom they love before leaving dinner. What could be sweeter?"
Rush also shared some tips on making limoncello and a recipe.
"There are two basic recipes for limoncello: using grain alcohol that produces a product of 33-35 percent alcohol content; or using vodka, producing a 20-25 percent alcohol product. I use the vodka recipe, as it is much softer than the grain-alcohol version," Rush said.
He said there are also two schools of thought on whether to use whole lemon rinds or to zest the lemons.
"My thoughts are this: If the rind and the pith are equal diameters, use the whole rind," Rush said. "If the diameter of the pith exceeds the rind, zest half the lemons, and use the whole rind for the other half. The rationale is, like wine with good tannins, a certain tannic or bitter quality in the background, will produce a good limoncello, which will be balanced by the sugar content of the lemons and simple syrup, and smoothed out by the vanilla."
The yearly practice of making candy for Christmas gifts with her family inspired Shelley Rippy of Bixby to write a book about candy-making.
The book, "A Sweet Legacy," is now available at many local stores. Packaged along with some sweet treats, the book would also make a great gift.
"I grew up in a family that cooked, canned and sewed together," Rippy said. "The women in my family are spread all over the country, so we started planning three-day weekends to get together with one, or two major projects in mind.
"We would end up spending the weekend in sweats and pajamas, giggling and telling stories," she said. "These memories became more important than the project we had gathered to create. I wrote this book to honor my grandmother and to encourage others to start family traditions. They truly are a legacy of love."
The family jokes that their candy-making projects are like "candy boot camps," and it's no exaggeration to say they'll use 60 pounds of sugar for all of the candy that they make.
"Homemade gifts are something really personal. I give food gifts to neighbors, friends, teachers and even the people who you don't always think about, like the piano teacher, the mailman or the lady who comes once a month to clean my house," Rippy said. "I also keep some to bring as hostess gifts at holiday parties."
If you prefer making something savory, consider making a summer sausage or salami. It takes some planning ahead, but it is easy to do. Package it with some cheese and crackers, even a small cutting board or a cheese knife.
Once you practice with a basic sausage recipe, you can add other ingredients such as peppers, cheese and spices.
Other savory foods that make good gifts include homemade crackers, flavored popcorn or spiced nuts.
Here are some recipes for homemade gifts.
Where to find it
Several boutiques around town carry copies of Shelley Rippy's candy-making book, "A Sweet Legacy":
The book is also available from Rippy's Facebook page, facebook.com/ASweetLegacyShelleyRippy; or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Canterbury Lane, 10051 S. Yale Ave.
- Steve's Sundry Books and Magazines, 2612 S. Harvard Ave.
- The Book Place, 732 W. New Orleans St., Broken Arrow
- On The Corner, 224 S. Main St., Broken Arrow
Homemade amaretto is thinner than store-bought and less syrupy. Without all of the sweetness, the almond flavor shines through.
1 cup (8 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 vanilla bean
3 1/2 cups cheap vodka
4 tablespoons almond extract
1. Combine the brown sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar is dissolved, then let cool.
2. Use a paring knife to split the vanilla bean from one end to the other to expose the sticky seeds inside.
3. Pour the liquid into a bottle or jar, then add the split vanilla bean, vodka and almond extract. Top with the lid, and shake to combine. The amaretto is ready to drink immediately but will get better with age.
Storage: room-temperature in an airtight bottle, lasts six months; in the freezer in an airtight bottle, two years.
- adapted from "The Homemade Pantry," Alana Chernilla
1. Combine rinds of 1 1/2 dozen lemons with 1 quart bargain vodka in a covered glass container. Keep at room temperature for 1 week to 10 days.
2. Squeeze out lemons, and throw away the rinds. Strain out fine particles and seeds.
3. Make a simple syrup by boiling 1 quart water with 2 cups sugar. Boil for about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and let cool.
4. Combine vodka and syrup. Bottle and refrigerate.
- courtesy of Biga restaurant and Tom Rush
5 cups water
1/4 cup roughly chopped, unpeeled fresh ginger
3 4-inch cinnamon sticks
3 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
3 black peppercorns
1 1-inch circular slice unpeeled orange
4 black tea bags, regular or decaffeinated
1/4 to 1/2 cup honey, to taste
1 1/2 to 2 cups milk, low-fat or whole, to taste
1. Combine the water, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, peppercorns and orange slice in a medium pot. Partially cover the pot, and bring the mixture to a boil; reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Take the pot off the heat, add the tea bags, and cover and steep for 5 minutes. Put a strainer over a bowl, and strain the liquid. Add the honey to taste.
3. To store the chai in the refrigerator or freezer without milk, do so now. Otherwise, return the tea to the pot, add the milk, and reheat.
Storage: covered container with milk, 5 days. Without milk, two weeks.
- adapted from "The Homemade Pantry," Alana Chernilla
Makes 4 cups
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
3 cups vodka
1. Make sugar syrup: In small saucepan, combine water and sugar. Over medium heat, cook until sugar is dissolved and liquid is clear, approximately 5 minutes. Let cool completely.
2. Pour vodka, sugar syrup and peppermint oil into a sterile jar with a tight-fitting lid.
3. Store in cool, dark place, allowing it to steep for 2 weeks. Turn jar upside down every 2-3 days to mix, or remove lid and stir. Transfer to smaller sterile bottles, if desired.
- adapted from TheYummyLife.com
CRANBERRY-LIME INFUSED VODKA
1 bag of fresh cranberries
Peel of 1 lime
2 tablespoons sugar
Vodka, enough to fill the bottle
1. Poke holes in each cranberry, and begin putting them in the bottle. Fill about 1/3 of the way.
2. Peel some of the lime rind off, and put in the bottle. Continue filling the bottle with cranberries. Put another layer of lime rind in the bottle about 2/3 of the way up. Fill with the remaining cranberries.
3. Use a funnel to drop the sugar in the bottle. Fill with enough vodka to cover the berries. Put cap on, and shake so the sugar dissolves. Let sit at least a day. It can be kept at least two months, and the flavor gets stronger with time.
Makes about 100
1 pound butter
2 pounds peanut butter, smooth
2 1/2 pounds powdered sugar
1. Mix by hand (the dough should be pretty stiff but not too stiff), and form into balls the size of small walnuts. You may need to refrigerate the dough so it won't be too sticky. Place on a cookie sheet or tray, and freeze overnight.
CHOCOLATE DIP FOR BUCKEYES
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 ounces milk chocolate chips
1/2 slab cooking wax
1. Melt in a double boiler, and dip peanut balls into chocolate, leaving the tip of the peanut butter dough exposed - this will make them look like a buckeye nut. You can stick a toothpick in them to hold onto while you dip them in the chocolate. Place on wax paper to dry. Store buckeyes in an airtight container in refrigerator or freezer.
Hint: When dipping dough, have balls frozen so they won't fall off the toothpick into the chocolate. It makes dipping easier.
- from "A Sweet Legacy" by Shelley Rippy of Bixby
HOMEMADE SUMMER SAUSAGE (AKA SALAMI)
2 pounds ground beef
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons quick curing salt (Morton Tender Quick salt)
1. Mix together all ingredients in a nonmetal bowl. It is easier to mix the seasoning with the water, then incorporate the meat, using your hands to distribute all spices evenly (like making a meatloaf). Put in a sealed container, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
2. Remove from bowl, and roll into 4 rolls, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. Wrap in aluminum foil with shiny side toward meat. Punch tiny holes along one side, and place in a broiler pan with holes down to drain out liquid. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.
3. Let cool. Remove foil, and rewrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 12 hours.
- adapted from Food.com
Original Print Headline: Spirit of creation
Nicole Marshall Middleton 918-581-8459
Homemade vanilla (left), peppermint liqueur, amaretto, cranberry-lime vodka, chai, limoncello and peppermint liqueur. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Making almond toffee, truffles and buckeyes is a family tradition for Shelley Rippy of Bixby, and she has written a cookbook on candy-making. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Homemade summer sausage CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Homemade peppermint liqueur CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Homemade cranberry-lime infused vodka CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World