Our Front Porch

Out of the Box: Holiday Gift Giving for the Frugal Foodie

By Annie Fenn

My Decembers used to be full of frantic last minute shopping trips, schlepping from store to store, searching for the perfect gift. As the holidays approached, all I really wanted was to be home, in the kitchen, with my family and friends (and to give unique gifts without spending a fortune). Nowadays, I craft gifts from the kitchen for everyone on my list. I just set aside a lazy December afternoon to crank out my precious homemade goodies and reap the added bonus of kitchen time doubling as family time.

Gifts from the kitchen do take advance planning, but you won’t have to sacrifice a powder day for these simple projects. Most can be made in less than an hour from ingredients already found in your pantry. I no longer spend money on expensive wrapping paper destined for the trash or the fireplace. Instead, I keep an eye out, year-round, for suitable containers. Throw in a handwritten label and some festive twine, and they’re ready to go.

Tip: Make more than you think you’ll need. These recipes are easily doubled or tripled. The extra jars of oil make for a quick party favor. The Dark Chocolate Bark, however, tends to disappear regardless, so put some aside for yourself. It’s the cook’s reward for a holiday well done.


Moroccan Preserved Lemons
Makes 2 quarts of preserved lemons, divided any way you like into airtight jars

Strips of preserved lemon rind give savory dishes a magical zing. Use the lemons for a Moroccan twist on chicken, to add zest to pasta dishes, to make preserved lemon vinaigrette, or to simply sprinkle over vanilla ice cream.

12 or more  organic lemons
1-1 1/2            cups Kosher salt
                       bay leaf, a few green cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick (optional)

1.  Sterilize the jars in the dishwasher or wash them with hot, soapy water. Dry completely.
2. Scrub the lemons well, and dry with a kitchen towel.
3. Cut them in half through the equator.
4. Using a sharp knife, quarter each half, cutting lengthwise down to the stem, but not through the stem (the lemon should look like a flower). The stem end should remain intact to hold the lemon half together.  
5. Rub kosher salt between each quarter. Place a bay leaf, a cinnamon stick, and a few cardamom pods inside each jar (if using). Stuff as many salted lemons as you can into the jar.
6. Juice the rest of the lemons. Cover the salted lemons with the juice, leaving ½ inch of headspace for mixing. Cover tightly.  
7. For the next 3 days, turn the jar over once each day to mix the ingredients. After 3 days, put them in the refrigerator to cure for 3 weeks.
8. To use, take out a piece of lemon, rinse under cold water to remove the salty brine, and pull off the pulp. Slice thin or mince before adding to recipes.

Note: Preserved lemons will keep refrigerated for up to one year as long as they are completely submerged in the brine.


Chili Orange Oil
Makes 2 ½ cups

When stored, the seasonings will settle, forming a goopy paste. To use: Skim the oil off the top for cooking or finishing a dish. Use the “goop” to spice up Asian noodles, soups, or stir-fries.

4    large oranges (preferably unblemished and organic)
1/2  cup red pepper flakes
3     tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
2     large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2     cups peanut oil (for allergies, substitute grapeseed oil)
1/4   cup sesame oil

1. Scrub the oranges with soapy water and an abrasive sponge. Dry with a dish towel.  
2. Zest the orange in long strips with a vegetable peeler. Finely mince the zest with a sharp knife.
3. Combine the orange zest and all the other ingredients in a heavy, non-aluminum saucepan. Heat until gently bubbling and maintain a temperature of between 225ºF and 250ºF on a candy thermometer for 15 minutes.
4. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
5. Pour the oil and the seasonings into glass containers, cover, and store at room temperature.


Ginger Lemongrass Vinegar
Makes 3 cups

Perfect for my favorite go-to Asian vinaigrette (just add EVOO)!

3        cups unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2     cup fresh ginger, scrubbed, peeled, and cut into quarter-sized coins
2        fresh lemongrass stalks, crushed and cut into 3-inch pieces

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a heavy non-aluminum pot, and bring to a gentle simmer.  
2. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
3.  Pour the vinegar into clean glass jars, straining and discarding the solids.



Dark Chocolate Cherry Pistachio Bark
Makes enough for about 5 gifts

Customize your chocolate bark by swapping out the pistachios for almonds, walnuts, or cashews. Swap the dried cherries for dried cranberries, figs, or candied ginger. Add a dash of chili powder for some kick.

16    ounces dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
1       cup dried cherries
1       cup unsalted pistachios, shelled
1/2    teaspoon coarse sea salt (Maldon, grey, or Fleur de Sel)
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  
2. Place the pistachios on a cookie sheet and toast for 10 minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn. Discard the papery husks.
3. Melt the chocolate by placing it in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Or warm in the microwave at 50 percent power, stirring every 30 seconds.
4.  Place parchment paper or a silicon mat on a 17 x 12-inch rimmed baking sheet.
5. Toss dried cherries with the toasted pistachios and sprinkle over the baking sheet, reserving 1/3 cup.
6. Pour melted chocolate over the center of the baking sheet, and spread evenly to the sides of the pan.  
7.  Sprinkle with reserved pistachios and cherries, pressing them into the chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt.  
8. Cool in the refrigerator until firm.
9. Peel the paper or silicon mat off the chocolate slab and break into large pieces.  
10. Pack into small boxes, jars, or tins.  

Unique foodie ingredients:

Fresh Lemongrass: Smith’s Grocery/8 cents a stalk. Prices may vary.
Marukan Rice Vinegar: Most supermarkets/$3.29
Morton Kosher salt: Most supermarkets/$3
Chinese fermented black beans: mingspantry.com 12 ounces for $4.99 or at an
Asian market for about $2.

Festive Packaging:

Mini Corked Jars: Jackson Whole Grocer/$1.99
Wide Mouthed Spice Jars: Jackson Whole Grocer/$1.79
Tall Vinegar Jars: Jackson Whole Grocer/$2.79
Weck 1/5th liter Deco Jars: weckjars.com/$13.55 for 6
Weck Mini Mold Pint Jars: weckjars.com/$23.50 for 12
Kerr Mason Pint Jars: Smith’s Grocery/$8.80 for 12
Kitchen Towels:  $2.95 each at crateandbarrel.com or locally at Bella Cose in Jackson or Festive Living in Victor.

After twenty years of practicing OB/GYN, Annie Fenn traded in her surgical gown for an apron and spoon.  She now writes about cooking, growing, and foraging for food at www.jacksonholefoodie.com. She splits her time between Jackson, WY and Felt, ID with one very tall husband, two soccer and skiing-obsessed sons, and two semi-obedient hunting dogs.