While I was in Paris last week, I was trying to get a little Christmas shopping done in between metro trips to the southwest corner of the city to work on my latest edit for the National Geographic program. Being food obsessed as I am, of course I hit some of the grand food halls that dot that great city….but found myself blanching at the excessive prices on just about everything I picked up. Slowly it came to me, that I should simply exert a little elbow grease and give my friends food gifts I’ve made myself. So over the next few days I’m going to post recipes here for the many ideas I’ve come up with (it was a LONG metro ride to work so I had lots of brainstorming time).
Today I’m starting with an easy one – flavored sea salts. These little indulgences are heaped in bins at La Grand Epicerie and fill pretty little (expensive) bottles (I will admit I picked up a bottle of smoked sea salt for myself). Instead of splashing out, I’m making my own. The formula is simple: 1/4 cup of flaky sea salt (like Maldon) to 1 teaspoon of flavoring. You can mix together flavors as you see fit and personalize them for your recipient.
I like to do things in threes, so I’m trying a lovely lavender and lemon salt (dry your lemon zest in a low oven until hard), a dried porcini salt (take pre-bought dried mushrooms and grate them into the salt), and a fennel pollen & dill weed salt.
Other ideas include using saffron threads, fennel seeds, star anise, cumin, lemongrass, teas, dried chilies, ginger, vanilla….the varieties are endless! Kept in an airtight container these gifts will last a long while. Plus when your friends use them they’ll be reminded of you!
Packaging should be an extension of your creativity, I think. I’ve collected a whole slew of rubber stamps over the years and pull them out at Christmas. Here I’ve transformed empty jars into something a little more personal with my mixing bowl stamp and a short length of ribbon. Most of the year I use manilla luggage tags with my clients – I write any serving or reheating instructions on them. Now they make perfect gift tags. You get my drift. Have fun!