Post #431 Two Great Gifts From Your Kitchen, and NEWS

October 26, 2015 at 12:29 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #431 Two Great Gifts From Your Kitchen, and NEWS

We’re coming up on the Holiday Stretch and it’s always a challenge to come up with gift ideas for the loved ones.  I enjoy the process, for the loved ones.  But then there’s the casual gifts that “must” be given during the season.  Either it’s an office party, or a holiday get together with friends, but you know what I’m talking about.  Then there’s the gifts for the “far flung” family and friends, those who aren’t quite as close but you want to give gifts to.  The strain on the budget and your sensibilities can be tremendous.

Long ago, I decided that many of my far-flung gifts, party gifts, and even some close gifts were going to be made in my kitchen, or by hand.  One year, a good friend complimented me on the playlist on my Ipod, saying how much she enjoyed the choice of music.  That year, I copied the entire playlist onto 30 CDs, and packed them into a CD wallet which I then wrapped up.  They still listen to the CDs.

So, I’m going to tell you about a couple of great gift ideas from your kitchen that you can make cheaply, and can give as sets or singly.

bottles

Gift bottles are elegant and useful and versatile.  They can be as creative as you make them, decorated in any way imaginable, and always make a “splash.”   See what I did there?  I’m going to focus on just two things, oil and vinegar.  That’s because you can give them singly, or as a set.

Oils:

Flavored oils have to start with a good quality oil.  Olive oil is the usual choice since it picks up flavors so well, and it’s mild flavor blends well.  But other oils can be just as good.  Any of the nut oils, walnut, pecan, almond, etc. can work just as well as long as you pair the oil with a complementary flavor.

The first step is to find a bottle.  You can use bottles you’ve cleaned thoroughly from around the house.  For instance, a nicely shaped pasta sauce bottle with no label on it can make a good bottle for a gift.  Dress it up a bit and put a new label on it.  If you put a label on it, make sure to put the date and any care instructions.  Some oils will turn rancid fairly quickly at room temperature so let the “giftee” know that.  The most important thing is make certain the bottle is absolutely clean.  You can also get already prepared bottles at craft stores and hardware stores.  Another place for oddly shaped and colored bottles is antique stores.  Just make sure they’re clean!!

Then select your oil/flavor blend.  Normally what I do is use olive oil and make herb or spice flavored oil.  It’s very easy.  Measure the amount of oil to fill the bottle into a pan that will hold it.  The easiest way is to fill the bottle with water, then measure the amount of water you have by emptying it into a measuring cup.  Measure the same amount of oil into the pan and set it over the lowest heat setting your stove will allow.  Then add your flavor ingredient.  As I said, herbs and spices are very popular, but peppers and chilis are, too.  You can either chop the ingredient up or leave it whole.  Heat the oil gently for about ten minutes, then turn it off.  You want to extract the flavor; you don’t want to cook the herb/spice/pepper.  Leave the pot on the stove for about 3 hours to allow the ingredients to steep, like a tea.  Then strain the oil into the bottle using a fine mesh strainer and a funnel.  Do this over the sink to avoid messy cleanup in the case of a spill.  I also try to put a large whole piece of whatever flavoring into the bottle if I can.  It gives a visual clue to what flavor the oil is.

Some of the more popular (and easy) flavors are garlic, rosemary, thyme, basil, mint, truffle, citrus, hot pepper, sweet pepper, and apple.

Vinegar:

All the bottle care for oil is the same for vinegar.  Labels, cleanliness, information, etc. all the same.  Don’t neglect it.  Vinegars, though, can safely stay at room temp without spoiling.

You need to use a vinegar that pairs with the flavor you want to make.  Vinegars are harsh, but some are not so harsh as others.  When making flavored vinegars, it’s best to stick with the balsamic or rice wine vinegars due to their slightly milder flavor.  Champagne vinegar is good, too, if you can find it.

As with flavored oil, you measure the amount of vinegar into a nonreactive pan and set it over the lowest heat setting available.  You add the flavoring agent and allow it to steep over the heat for ten minutes.  Then you turn the heat off and allow the vinegar to steep for 2-3 hours.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer into the bottle, add a piece of whole flavoring agent, cap it, and store.  Vinegar is easy.

Fruit flavored vinegar is the most popular.  I love a good pear vinegar.  Another way to make flavored vinegar is to add fruit juice or concentrate to vinegar by tablespoons until you get a flavor you like.

Herbed and spiced vinegars are good, but most people tend to stick to the sweet herbs and spices for vinegars to offset the acidity of the vinegar.

There’s one other thing you can do with vinegar, particularly balsamic vinegar.  Take a full bottle of balsamic vinegar and put it in a nonreactive pan and set it to simmer.  Allow it simmer for quite a long time until it’s reduced by half or more.  It will turn to a syrupy consistency, and the grape flavors of the vinegar will intensify, making it taste sweeter.  Pour this into a clean bottle and label it reduced balsamic vinegar.  Store it in the fridge to avoid spoilage.  This reduced vinegar can be used in sauces, as a deglazer, or as a garnish, among other things.  It’s well worth the effort to make.

Enjoy

 

******************************** N E W S ! ! ! *************************************

There are a few things going on that I need to update you about because they will impact the blog.  First, I’ve been pulling together stories and recipes from the blog to compile into a book.  I’ve got them all gathered and I’m going through my second edit.  Hopefully by Christmas, I’ll have an ebook ready on Amazon based on the blog.  This was one major goal for this blog and I’m thrilled to be near crossing it off my bucket list.  I’ll update you the further I get along.  I’m leaning towards a price point of 99 cents, or perhaps 1.99.  Depends on how I feel when I’m ready to hit the “publish” button.

Second, I’m joining NaNoWriMo next month.  That stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s an unofficial competition to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  It’s been going on for over a decade and I’ve followed friends’ progress on it with enjoyment, but I’ve never attempted it myself.  It boils down to 1667 words a day, and in the last hour, I’ve written 1200 on this blog post and have a few hundred more to write.  So I think I can do this.  I’ve been busy selecting the book I’m going to work on, and doing a chapter breakdown.  It starts on Sunday Nov 1 and I’m nervous but excited by the idea.  You don’t win anything, but at the end, if you finish, you have a completed novel, or 3/4 of a completed novel on your computer.  So, here I go.

Third, I’m rejoining the ranks of the gainfully employed.  A high end grocery store in a nearby town has hired me to join their middle management team.  I’m starting at the bottom and working into the spot they have in mind for me.  I start Wednesday, the 28th.  I have no idea what my schedule will be like.  I could be there as early as 5am, or as late as 12 midnight.  I’m looking forward to interacting the customers, and with the coworkers.  It’s been a long time since I’ve worked day to day and I’m happy to be doing it again.

All this leads me to Fourth.  I’m going to take the month of November off from blogging.  The work on the blog book, plus the work on the writing competition, plus the work at the store is going to keep me busy and I don’t know at this point what my days are going to look like.  I’ll continue to update as I can, and I will do my best to write funny and insightful blog posts.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, or want to throw a guest post my way, just let me know.  I’ll be back on Dec 2 without fail.

Once again,

Enjoy

BTW – this came in at 1500 words.  I’m gonna kick ass in November!

 

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