The other week I shared one the favorite gifts that I received over the holidays, but here’s my favorite gift that I gave to someone else. Can’t go wrong with a gift basket, right? Perfect for any time of year and for any gift-giving occasion.
This is my “entertainer” basket, given to my brother-in-law Scott and his wife Catherine, perennial party hosts. Their house in Alexandria’s west end has an amazing basement bar and party room.
The contents of this basket are mostly DIYed, but I threw in a little non-DIY too (can’t do everything). First I made three of my favorite multi-purpose spreads — olive tapenade, roasted red pepper puree, and balsamic fig jam. Each one is delicious eaten straight out of the jar or, more appropriately, as an appetizer. Spreads plus breads plus cheese equals a tasty happy hour snack.
I don’t follow an exact recipe, but here’s how I made each one.
- Olive tapenade: Puree one jar of pitted kalamata olives in food processor with 1 T olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, 1 glove of garlic, and fresh basil and/or parsley. For more flavor variations, add some roasted red pepper, green olives, or capers.
- Roasted red pepper puree: Cut three red peppers into large chunks, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in 425 degree oven for about 45-50 minutes, or until they start to char. Cool and puree in food processor with about 1 T olive oil and herbs of choice.
- Balsamic fig jam: Chop 1 pint of dried figs into quarters and add to a small sauce pan with 1 cup of water. Lightly boil for about 20 minutes until figs are very soft and water has cooked off. Add 2 T sugar and 1 T balsamic vinegar. Cool, puree in food processor. This tastes like a more delicious version of the filling in a Fig Newton and is lovely on fresh biscuits or English muffins.
I also made lemon fennel salt (about 1/2 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup course sea salt, 1 T fennel seeds, 1 T lemon zest and a pinch of crushed red pepper pureed in food processor — add more fennel and lemon to your taste). This stuff is amazing and I now have a new love for fennel seed.
Unlike the spreads, you probably don’t want to eat fennel salt straight out of the jar, but it’s tasty in moderation on chicken and fish. The spreads will keep for a week or so, but the salt is good for two months.
After filling each jar (purchased at the Crate & Barrel outlet in Old Town), I attached a label, made with our handy-dandy typewriter.
In a larger hinged jar, I made this incredibly rich and creamy hot chocolate mix which consists of 3 cups nonfat dry milk power, 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 1 1/2 cups white chocolate chips, 1 1/2 cups Dutch-processed cocoa, and 1/4 t salt — all pureed in a food processor until the chocolate chips are well ground. The mix will keep for 3 months and makes 24 servings.
Enjoy with hot milk (1 cup milk to 1/3 cup mix) topped off with an optional shot of Bailey’s for a delightful after-dinner drink.
These coasters were the final DIY basket item. Using the end of a spool of thread and fabric paint, I made custom-stamped fabric (on art canvas). I cut the canvas into 5-inch squares and sewed two pieces together, with a top-stitch to finish it off. Everyone needs coasters — cold beverage condensation rings are a huge party foul.
For the non-DIY items, I purchased a bottle of wine, beer, crackers, a round wood serving board and a pretty wine stopper at Cheesetique.
I purchased the actual basket from Target for about $15. It’s sturdy and can be used for storage after all the contents are enjoyed. I wrapped each glass jar in tissue paper, carefully nested them in the basket (along with some last-minute homemade biscotti) and covered the whole shebang with some festive red fabric finished off with a quick hem.
As for the price, the DIY items cost less than similar items purchased at a store, but my real motivation was the joy of creating a special homemade gift.
When Catherine opened the basket on Christmas Eve, she asked where I purchased all the items. She didn’t realize I had made a lot of them. That’s music to the ears of a DIYer!
Are you a gift basket giver? What sort of items do you like to include — DIY and non-DIY?