Make-ahead gifts
November 6, 2012 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Infused olive oil, homemade pancake mix... what are some cheap, nice make-ahead food gifts?

I'm trying to figure out what to give my co-workers for Christmas. I have a few requests for simple syrups (they're kind of my thing), but also wanted to do stuff like make an infused olive oil, or something like a pancake mix.

Here are my questions:

Olive Oil
1. I've been seeing contradictory information for how long it will keep. For example, some sites say that you have to use basil-infused olive oil within the week. Others say it'll keep for a month. What factors impact how long it will last?

2. I've seen in a few places now that you have to brine garlic, lemons and chilis before using them to infuse the olive oil. Is that just letting the clove or sliced chili chillax in some vinegar for a bit?

3. How do I present this lovingly without making folks sick? I was going to use empties of the bottles we use at work, thoroughly cleaned. Will using a bottle that's not sealed make folks sick?

1. I'm pretty much in love with the Naptime Chef's pancake mix. Do you have one you prefer?

2. I like the idea of a soup-in-a-jar like this one from, but was wondering if there are some that incorporate noodles? Would using dried noodles instead of beans reduce their shelf life?

If it matters: I work at a coffee shop. My coworkers are a mix of college students (most of whom are returning students), military spouses, knitters, and writers working on the next great American/urban fantasy novel. I like the idea of making sure this crazy bunch of dames (and two gents!) can have an easy breakfast/dinner on me, or can jazz up something they eat using a slightly fancy thing. They're awesome and I <3 them muchly.
posted by spunweb to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Check out this book. It's got a lot of ideas for other food gifts, and they also do a good job of answering questions about spoilage, shelf life, sanitation, packaging, etc. They've got a pancake mix in there, as well as a couple of muffin mixes, a chai tea spice mix, a couple of salsas and preserved fruits, etc.

The chai tea spice mix may not be a bad idea - it's the spices alone, and you can make a whole bunch of packs of spice mix if you get like one bottle each of each of the whole spices they call for. (And it's easy to use them - heat a cup of milk with one tablespoon of the spice mix, let it steep for 10 minutes while you make a cup of tea, then strain the milk into the tea and add sugar. Presto. this may actually go over well with people who work in a coffee shop, in fact.)

Specifics for olive oil - I think spoilage for flavored olive oil depends on how you're flavoring it, and what you do. It's not the oil that spoils as such - it's the plant material inside the oil if you leave it in there. I have some rosemary olive oil going on my shelf, but every time I use some I have to pour more plain oil back in there to re-cover up the branch of rosemary in the bottle, so it's not exposed to the air - the plant being exposed to air is what would make it spoil. Basil may be a bit more fiddly and yechhy-looking after a while in general, if you're using whole basil. (Mind you, if you're planning on straining the leaf out of the oil before presenting it, that may not be as much of a problem.)

As for santation of your bottles - seriously, the book will answer a lot of those questions. You should be okay with well-cleaned bottles, but check that book.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:44 AM on November 6, 2012

My sister, who has a PhD in food chemistry and packaging, thinks that homemade flavored olive oils are a major botulism risk. She's pretty adamant about it, in a way that she is not about a lot of other things.

Flavored vinegar, on the other hand, has very little risk.
posted by OmieWise at 11:46 AM on November 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

OmieWise beat me to it - flavored oils aren't shelf stable (oil is, but once you introduce any other ingredient, botulism, ahoy!), but flavored vinegars are easy and lovely - tarragon vinegar is nice (take the tarragon out before you gift it, if your friend uses some and tarragon ends up exposed to the air again it can mold), or raspberry or chive blossom, if you have a garden and it is the month of May.
posted by hungrybruno at 11:53 AM on November 6, 2012

Chilli sherry. Amazing in soups, easy to make. I assume the alcohol makes it reasonably safe from a bacteria point of view, though that's just a guess. Cheap, nice and wintery, and looks good in the bottle.
posted by penguin pie at 11:54 AM on November 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I stand corrected on olive oil.

But the vinegar suggestions have reminded me: pique! It's just vinegar flavored with chile peppers, salt, vinegar, and a little garlic. Do a search for "pique hot sauce" and you'll find a ton of recipes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on November 6, 2012

I've done some work on vegetable oil spoilage. I agree with OmieWise's sister. Additives make fatty acids/triglycerides much more likely to spoil.
posted by bonehead at 12:16 PM on November 6, 2012

I suggested the same thing in a recent thread on fancy homemade kitchen staples but how would you feel about flavored salts? I had a vanilla bourbon one that was out of this world (toasted bread + goat cheese or ricotta or honey butter + salt = best thing ever), and the red wine and mushroom (perhaps grind up some dried mushrooms and mix with the salt?) flavors were good, too.

Less likely to spoil and fairly versatile, though you might not want to gift them in Torani-sized bottles.
posted by rebekah at 12:32 PM on November 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I read a good, very brief, hot sauce recipe that involved simply soaking hot peppers (scotch bonnet) in very good tequila. I haven't tried it.
posted by OmieWise at 12:32 PM on November 6, 2012

You guys are all amazing. I'll definitely not be doing olive oil now!

Keep the good thoughts coming!

Also, in case this matters too: nobody here is afraid of intense flavors. Spicy, salty, tangy, sweet... we love 'em all.
posted by spunweb at 3:48 PM on November 6, 2012

Seconding flavored salt. My sister made sriracha infused kosher salt last yums. I have no ifea how she made it, though. Also, apple butter is super easy (essentially, put cut up cleaned apples in slow cooker, cook for 8 hours).
posted by holyrood at 6:34 PM on November 6, 2012

I keep recommending this: Johnnybird's Toast Dope (oh so good). A few suggestions from that thread for how to use it:
If I kept track of all the ways I've used Johnnybird's Toast Dope, I would be able to publish a cookbook about the stuff. ...Used it in an orange french toast recipe this morning, and sauteed apples in butter and Toast Dope recently and then put vanilla ice cream on top. Another thing I love when I have a slight sweet tooth late at night is buttered popcorn with Toast Dope on it, and to drink bubbly with it.
It's also good made with other citruses, so have fun experimenting. You could give people little sets of different flavors of toast dope, perhaps. (Hm. Come to think of it, I have holiday office gifts to make too…)
posted by Lexica at 6:51 PM on November 6, 2012

My personal vote would be to avoid X-in-a-jar mixes for which the instructions involve separating the ingredients to mix/cook. This is sometimes true for baked goods. Would quite possibly be true for noodle soups if the other ingredients need to cook for longer than 15 minutes (else you'd get really mushy noodles).
That said, I did make and give these (adorable!) hot chocolate mix cones as christmas gifts and there was double-bagging to keep the powder separate from the marshmallows.

Another favorite: spiced sugar. Not just cinnamon sugar or vanilla sugar, but "gingerbread sugar" (brown sugar, ginger, nutmeg, bit of cinnamon, cloves) and "rich spice sugar" (sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, allspice) and "chai spiced sugar" (based off a chai tea blend recipe that I can't find right now, but without the tea).
posted by aimedwander at 9:06 PM on November 6, 2012

One of my go-to gifts for the holidays is spicy bourbon pecans (here's a recipe, although I use a little less salt & more cayenne). Pretty easy & and shelf life is seldom a problem - they often get eaten the day they're received.
posted by mr vino at 4:48 AM on November 7, 2012

It's a little late for this year, but I've always wanted to try Homemade Vanilla Extract.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:01 PM on November 7, 2012

I have been aspiring to do make and preserve fancy chutneys.

Also, chocolate chip cookie mix in a jar:
posted by semacd at 12:59 PM on November 7, 2012

« Older Help Me Find [Card Game] Converts!   |   Situation with work and politics Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.