Monday, December 5, 2011

Spicing Up the Season

It's no secret that, as a recent grad, I'm a little strapped for cash this holiday gift-giving season. That said, I'm also one of those people that can't help but want to give my family and friends the "best" of everything - they've been so kind, understanding and generous to me over the years that I could never begin to repay them, but I at least set out to try.

Luckily, the best gifts are always those from the heart - and I'm well practiced at giving those! From when I first realized the process of "giving" at holiday and birthday times, I began concocting things I could bring to the event. Even though my parents would foot the bill for "proper" gifts from the store for the friends and family, I would find a way to do something of my own. My three year old self thrived on giving my relatives hand-drawn stick figure-and-scribble pictures (with a bow stuck to them) as presents, and once I started Home Ec in elementary school it was pretty much a guarantee that the last project of the year would become the first thing wrapped for my parents.

These days my giving list has changed somewhat, though the number of recipients has stayed more or less the same. The major difference over the years is that I've begun to refine the items I make to give away, focusing on my cooking and baking strengths (which should be obvious from this blog!) and finding a way to package them attractively (in an upcoming book review you'll see how a real gifter operates! One of my "themes" for this year's gifting stems from the bounty and variety of things my garden gave me over the summer. Grape jam, green tomato chutney, green tomato-carrot-beet mincemeat and roasted "everything" sauce were simmered, stewed, stirred and canned, awaiting their chance to be gilded with ribbons and bows and given away along with the prerequisite baked goodies (one of which you know is a constant, the others as yet are unshared!).

When I set about making that Sweet Garlic Pomodoro Sauce, I found that I had more tomatoes than I really wanted at my disposal. Instead, I set about making this rich, sweet and spicy tomato preserve laced with touches of ginger, cinnamon and lime. I decided on a blend of recipes that I had from books and two delicious looking blogs that translated into a mix of dark brown sugar, chili flakes, pineapple sage, lime, ginger and cinnamon that the tomatoes cooked in until they were a rich, thick, caramelly mass. I scaled down the recipes (thank you Excel!) and it made exactly 1 cup, perfect for the two tiny jam jars I had. I think it would be fitting for a cheese and cracker plate, or stirred into steamed broccoli and asparagus for a weeknight side.


Exotic Tomato Jam
Makes about 1 cup, 4 1/4-cup servings
10 oz fresh tomatoes, diced
7 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp chili flakes
1 pinch salt
1 tbsp (about 2 leaves) minced fresh pineapple sage (you can use lemon balm or mint)
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan.
  2. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring often, for 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Spoon into jars and either keep in the refrigerator or can in a water bath for 20 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 107.2
Total Fat: 0.2 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 16.1 mg
Total Carbs: 35.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.8 g
Protein: 0.6 g

Are you making any holiday gifts this year? What are your favourites to put (or find!) in a gift basket?