There are just 11 days until Christmas. Hanukkah starts even earlier, beginning the evening of Dec. 24 and ending Jan. 1. And you've probably already been to at least one holiday party.
Point is, it's officially time to focus your efforts on celebrating the season, and that means checking off various gift lists. May I suggest something food-related?
With the rise of artisanal food products, it has become easier and more satisfying to wrap up an edible treat and call it a present, especially for the cooks in your life. Here are some ideas for food gifts you can buy or make at home.
Chef's basket: Put together a small basket of chef essentials: cooking oil, spices and utensils. A few stops in downtown St. Petersburg can get the job done. Pick up a large bottle of Herbs de Provence olive oil from Kalamazoo Olive Company (449 Central Ave.); pair with some of Savory Spice Shop's (400 Beach Drive NE) all-purpose seasonings. (Right now, they have a three-pack of essential seasonings for $14.95.) Finish the basket off with a set of bamboo cooking utensils; Saturday Morning Market vendor Bag It has a nice collection.
RECIPE delivery service: Subscribe to a recipe delivery service on behalf of a friend or family member, and give them the gift of not having to plan dinner. Most services allow you to sign up for one week and then skip until you are ready to commit to another week, so let your giftee know you've signed up and see if they'd like to continue the deliveries. If not, it's easy to cancel. Try Blue Apron (blueapron.com), an option with preportioned ingredients, clear recipes and a reasonable price point.
Canned goodies: Craft canning is officially having a moment. And you'll find more than jam in these jars: Think IPA pickles and curry mustard. Buy a variety of products from local outfits like the Urban Canning Company in St. Pete (theurbancanningcompany.com), FILL IN NAMES in Tampa and FILL IN NAMES in Bradenton, and festoon the jars with ribbons and bows.
One word: nuts. Turning raw nuts into a festive treat is among the easiest things you can do in a kitchen. And presented in a glass jar adorned with a bow, homemade spiced nuts look more impressive than they are. For one person, start with 2 cups of nuts — almonds, walnuts, cashews and pecans all work. Spread the raw nuts on a baking sheet and roast in a 250-degree oven for 15 minutes, or until they start to become fragrant. Remove from oven and place in a bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon each honey, salt, paprika, garlic and chopped fresh rosemary. Shake to coat.
More jam: There are certain people for whom spending $10 on a nice jar of jam is appropriate. For everyone else, you can make a jar yourself for about half the price. Start with the fresh fruit of your choice — strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and apples work very well. Begin with 5 or so cups of fruit and combine in a saucepan with 1 ½ cups sugar. Cook over medium heat, mashing fruit, then bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes until thickened. Spoon into jars and refrigerate till ready to use.
SWEET TOOTH: Remember that episode of Friends when Monica makes candy and her neighbors go crazy for it? That can be you. Make gingerbread fudge and create a box for a sweet friend. Start with 12 ounces melted white chocolate, then add 1 cup sweetened condensed milk. Add 1 teaspoon each nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger, and stir. Stir in red and green sprinkles, then place in a parchment-lined glass baking dish and smooth the fudge. Top with sprinkles and let sit until firm. Cut into squares and wrap.