Sunday, March 3, 2013

Easy-to-make fancy salts and sugars

Attending a dinner party soon? Want to wow your hosts? Homemade gifts are usually more special and thoughtful than random things you happened to pick up at Safeway along with a bottle of pinot noir. Don't worry - you won't need to learn how to crochet a tea cozy, knit a potholder or hit up a pottery painting spot to create plates that your friends will never use.

Here are a couple of easy-to-make, inexpensive and awesome things to give your pals as gifts or to have on hand in your own kitchen. Just store these items in smaller mason jars and tie ribbon around it.

Rosemary Salt

  • At least three ounces of coarse-ground sea salt
  • One bunch of fresh rosemary

Wash and dry the rosemary and remove the leaves. Blend leaves with the salt in a blender or food processor until the leaves are coarsely chopped up and the salt is greenish. The salt mixture should remain pretty coarse and not too fine. Spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with foil and bake in an oven about 225 degrees F. This is just to dry the salt and take out any remaining moisture from the rosemary and should take 15-20 minutes.

Store in a jar. If you have a giant rosemary bush, or if you get a lot of rosemary at the farmer's market, buy a big bar of coarse salt and make a ton of this. You can also use other herbs like oregano if you'd like. The salt is great for sprinkling on top of breads you're baking like focaccia or pizza crusts or as a rub for lamb, grilled steaks or kebabs. I think this is a great gift for anyone but is especially useful for people who love to barbecue.

Vanilla Sugar

They always have vanilla sugar on hand at Macrina bakery and that stuff is fantastic to add to coffee or for baking.

  • One vanilla bean
  • Two cups of granulated cane sugar
Pour the sugar into a jar. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the sugar. Mix up the seeds into the sugar and bury the remaining pod into the sugar. Seal tightly with the lid. Shake up the jar and make sure the vanilla is evenly distributed. The seeds are pretty gooey so it doesn't need to be too even if they stick together. Wait a couple of weeks and the sugar will turn golden and be ready to use. Use it in lieu of normal sugar in recipes if you want a light vanilla flavor or use to stir it into coffee, tea and hot cocoa. Just remember to remove the halves of the bean! This is a fantastic gift for your pals who love to bake.

You can also make lavender sugar pretty similarly except that you will want to use dried lavender flowers and sift out the lavender later or wrap lavender in a cheese cloth and remove the sachet after a couple of weeks.

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