With all the hand-wringing about the much-vaunted supply chain issues, I think it’s fair to say that if you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping by this point you might be feeling the first twinges of panic.
Or maybe that’s just me projecting.
Either way, I know I feel better when I have a few ideas in my back pocket if the drop-dead shipping deadline sails past and I still have a few people to check off my list.
Aged Eggnog – Alton Brown
This is as close as I’ve ever come to replicating the infamous eggnog Mr. Chestnut brings to my grandmother’s Christmas celebration every year. It’s smooth and rich and deceptively potent – and it comes together in ten minutes, makes three quarts, and keeps absolutely forever. The recipe says you can age it for up to a year, but I’ve never been that brave.
This recipe calls for raw egg yolks. In theory, it contains enough alcohol to kill off any bacteria that might be lurking therein (and with modern egg processing, your chances of getting salmonella from undercooked eggs are about 1 in 20,000), but if you’re gifting to someone older or immunocompromised I would recommend playing it safe and using pasteurized egg yolks, or pasteurizing your own eggs at home.
15 Bean Soup – Hurst’s HamBeens
I have very clear memories of making this bean soup as a gift when I was little – sitting on the floor and dumping beans in a giant metal bowl was something my mother deemed I couldn’t make too big a mess of even as a toddler. You can buy bags of 15 bean soup mix commercially (the recipe linked above is for one such mix), but I’d strongly encourage you to make your own blend, especially if you have lots of people to buy for.
The original mix contains northern, pinto, large lima, yelloweye, garbanzo, baby lima, green split, kidney, cranberry, small white, pink, small red, yellow split, lentil, navy, white kidney and black beans, but you could probably just grab one bag of everything that looks interesting at the Kroger and be just fine. You don’t even need 15 different bean types – I’ve seen variations on this base with as few as ten varieties and as many as 16.
We used to bottle up the beans in a mason jar with a little “seasoning packet” containing a couple cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, and a chicken (or vegetable) bouillon cube – but if you wanted to be extra you could also include a can of diced tomatoes and an onion to round things out. Tie on a handwritten recipe card and you’re good to go.
Homemade Spicy Chile Crisp – Serious Eats
We’ve been working on our container of chile oil for about a year now – since making it, we’ve discovered we are largely hot sauce people – but given the popularity of Laoganma and other similar blends I think we might be in the minority. Either way, if you have a spice lover in your life this could be a great gift.
I know certain dried chiles aren’t always readily available, so feel free to substitute guajillo chiles plus a little paprika for the kashmiri, or add a few extra arbols or dried thai chilies in place of the japones. And PLEASE take off rings, remove watches or bracelets and wear gloves when you’re working with large quantities of chiles of any kind – not only will you ruin your day when you go to take your contacts out later, prolonged exposure to capsaicin can and will give you chemical burns, especially if it gets stuck up under jewelry. Probably not a concern unless you’re making like a quadruple batch, but worth being careful regardless.
Herb Compound Butter – Love and Lemons
Ok, I know refrigerated gifts are challenging, but hear me out. Fancy butter always feels like a wonderful indulgence, especially since you really only get it in restaurants. Plus it genuinely only takes 15 minutes to get a batch together – which includes the time it takes to mince the herbs and garlic.
Any of the versions Love and Lemons suggests would be delicious, but she doesn’t include my personal favorite – lemon zest plus a little juice, charred scallions, parsley, garlic, thyme, and plenty of salt and black pepper. And for some bonus gift credit, maybe include a par-baked loaf of homemade bread – just pull it from the oven about five minutes early, when the outside is set and just starting to brown. Warm bread and salty, herby butter – as snacks or appetizers go, it doesn’t get much better.
Hot and Smoky Chile Salt – Eighth Street Mess
I know, shameless self-promotion, but I know I would personally love to get a jar of this in my stocking. It’s complex and spicy without being too overwhelming, has a perfect subtle kick of smoke, and is delicious on absolutely everything – it’s my go-to when I want a little something extra on roasted veggies or chicken and I have no brain left to be creative after a long day of cooking.
It’s also all I ever want to eat with hard-boiled eggs. Best snack ever.
Candied Ginger – Alton Brown
I give my mom about a pound of this candied ginger in her stocking every year – and she manages to be surprised about it almost every year, despite the fact that when I make it the house smells like ginger for absolutely hours afterwards. I make it for myself too – I can’t stand commercial candied ginger because it’s almost always soft, chewy and bland. This is thin and crisp and sinus-clearingly spicy and very rarely lasts long enough to be used in recipes because I keep eating pieces off the cooling rack.
This recipe does require a bit of time and effort – but a lot of it is hands-off. And if you’re intimidated by the word “candy,” don’t be. This is about as simple as it gets – no faffing about with temperatures and candy thermometers, just boil everything until it’s sparkly and grainy and crystallized.
Sour Candied Citrus Peels – Bon Appetit
Though they’re just a little more work than the candied ginger (you need to blanch the peels a few times to take the bitterness out), these citrus peels taste just like a more sophisticated version of Sour Patch Kids. I made them on a whim a few years ago – and I think the whole batch lasted maybe three days? My family couldn’t stop eating them. Plus, technically speaking, it’s fruit. And fruit is healthy.
Citric acid can be difficult to find in stores, but it’s becoming more and more common. If you’re worried about shipping times, I can tell you I’ve found it in person in Sprouts and Target. If your store has a well-stocked canning section chances are they will probably carry citric acid – it’s often used as a means of ensuring that tomatoes and other low-acid fruits process safely in a water bath.
Chocolate Caramel Crackers – Smitten Kitchen
I might be in the middle of testing about five different cookie recipes for next week, but this salty, chocolatey, toffee perfection is what I look forward most to receiving during this time of the year. They’re almost ludicrously simple, insanely addictive, take half an hour to make and only have six ingredients, all of which you probably have in your house right now. Have I sold you on these yet?
If you need a last-minute gift for me, consider this your hint.
Cook’s Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies – Brown Eyed Baker
This is another idea that might require some advance planning in terms of packaging and storage, but I cannot think of a single person who would not enjoy a bag of pre-portioned chocolate chip cookie dough, ready to bake right from the freezer. This is my absolute favorite recipe – the cookie part is complex and rich and the chocolate isn’t overwhelming, though I must confess to never ever measuring the chips. I just go until it feels right.
You could, of course, always gift the cookies baked, which removes a lot of logistical challenge. But chocolate cookies are just so much better straight from the oven, and I love that gifting the dough means there’s no pressure to eat them before they go stale. It feels like a real indulgence to reach into your freezer and make yourself a warm cookie or two after dinner – and I think we could all use a little pre-planned indulgence when January rolls around.