Easy (&Boozy) Last Minute Gifts

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I hear those sleigh bells jingling…ring ting tingling, too. The holidays crept up this year when I wasn’t paying attention and now, here we are 5 days out and I’m doing my best to suppress sheer panic. Christmas is a time for family, friends, glitter, twinkly lights, loads of cookies…and blowing budgets. It’s that budget part that gets me all in a tizzy. There is just something about another cashmere sweater, insanely priced imported chocolates, or those witty (but pointless) gifts that fit the recipient so perfectly that would bring a big shameonyou for not purchasing.

Usually at this time of year, I turn to the exotic food section at Wegmans, the gourmet aisles of DiBruno Bros or extra special bottles of the local Wines and Spirits for some inspiration and saving grace. Christmas for us is all about the food and drink (surprised?). From the coffee we drink while opening presents to the bread we clean our dinner plates with, everything is just a bit more decadent than usual.
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And since gifts for me should always be decadent, thoughtful and maybe a little ridiculous, what’s a better way than gifting food? Don’t think I skimped on the booze…not even a little bitnot even at all. Here are some ideas to save your butt and budget over the next few days so you can avoid traffic and standing in line for that giant snowflake sweater …again. Plus you’ll get bonus points for the handmade gifts.

And what mother doesn’t love that?!

A few places that are musts to hit: a liquor store, unless of course you have random bottles of alcohol that you’re able to use, a Home Goods (or something similar) for some fun, funky glassware and kitchen products that are cheapcheap, and the grocery store. Most grocery stores will sell Ball Mason jars—check the bottom shelves in the dry goods section or ask. If not there, check hardware or craft store. You might have been headed there anyway!

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Red Wine Cherries with Black Magic Cake Recipe

  • 1 Half Pint Mason Jar
  • 1 16 oz. Bag of Frozen Dark Sweet Pitted Cherries—fresh ones are nice but pricey and the work of pitting is already done for you (go frozen!)
  • 6-8 oz. of a full-bodied red wine (Zinfandel or Cabernet work well)

Fill the clean Mason jar with as many cherries as you can fit. Top with red wine. Seal jar. I topped mine with a split wine cork for a little homey touch. Since these cherries are fantastic spooned over chocolate cake, I packaged with this amazing Black Magic Chocolate Cake recipe, a container of Sharffen Berger cocoa, some cake pans and a spatula.

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Orange Vodka for Christmas Morning ManMosas

  • 1 Pint Mason Jar
  • 2 Jumbo Navel Oranges
  • 12 – 14 oz. Vodka

Slice one of the oranges into wheels and cut each in half, add to clean Mason jar. With a zest cutter, cut the skin of the second orange completely, add to jar. This should fill the jar pretty well. Top with vodka and seal. Package with pint glass or beer stein and a recipe breakfast ManMosas: the manly alternative to the mimosa with orange vodka, OJ and Blue Moon. *Thanks to Jimmy for teaching me to drink like a man in the morning.*

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Christian Brothers Brandy Soaked Cherries and Rye Manhattan Recipe

  • 1 Half Pint Mason Jar
  • 1 16 oz. bag of Frozen Dark Sweet Pitted Cherries
  • 6-8 oz. Christian Brothers VS Brandy

Fill the clean Mason jar with as many cherries as possible and top with brandy. Seal. These little suckers are fantastic in a Manhattan and can be packaged with a glass if you know your recipients preference of up or on the rocks. I didn’t, so I stuck with the shaker and a simple drink recipe. A little chalk board paint on the lid let me label it in a fun way.

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Star Fruit and Dried Berries for Fantastic Winter Cosmo

  • 1 Half Pint Mason Jar
  • 2 star fruit, slice thinly
  • 2 Tbsp. dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp. raisins
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 4-6 oz. Triple Sec

Add the sliced star fruit, cranberries, raisins and cinnamon sticks to the jar and top with triple sec. Package with a fun shaker, martini glass (or a combo of both!) and a great winter Cosmo recipe that calls for the drunken fruits, white cranberry juice and vodka.

Quick Wine Poached Salmon

Since I work pretty long hours and get home well after what some people consider “dinner time”– I get it, Mom. I’m sorry for all of the times I gave you crap for dry chicken and one-pot meals.

At the end of the day: simple is the best option. Finding bread that’s not moldy for a PB&J sandwich at 1am after a 14 hour day is pretty close to nirvana for me these days. When I’m hungry and tired and I just need something to eat so I don’t turn into a gremlin (which I readily admit happens if I don’t eat on a regular basis), I remember to just keep it simple.

And I work from there.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve prayed in front of the refrigerator door before. Wishing and willing food to have withstood time, warded off mold, slime and freezer burn is perfectly reasonable, right?

Frozen or dried foods would seem to be the answer but I can’t stand the thought eating my dinner from a plastic tray. Or from the microwave. And I like things that are actually green and taste like what they are supposed to.

So I’ve been grabbing flash frozen, vacuum sealed pieces of wild caught sockeye salmon from the grocery store and packing them away for desperate times. Wild caught fish is never really going to be cheap but it’s definitely tastier than the stuff in a can, will keep for a couple of weeks when going to the fish market is not an option (or you get home after it closes–I do!) and makes me remember why I love salmon in the first place. This isn’t the oily, petal pink crap you might think of when salmon comes to mind. It’s almost red. Like when someone says “that’s not pink, it’s salmon.” It’s really supposed to that dark.

With a little olive oil and a few cloves of crushed garlic, I seared the outside of the fish–careful to not leave any behind when flipping and searched my produce for some citrus only to find that my only lime looked like a kiwi (read: brown and furry and required tongs to get to the trash can).

Knowing that the wine I had planned packed enough punch, I dumped the contents of my glass and the some more from the bottle when that burned off. It was light, very crisp, almost grassy and full of the crazy citrus needed to dampen any fishiness from the fillet. Sauvignon Blanc in general is a great wine to use because it hits all of the light citrusy notes you’d want with fish but I really like the Sea Glass Saugivnon Blanc for poaching  because it’s pretty inexpensive (less than $10) AND it’s delicious. I’m not much of a white wine drinker so finding one that I like is a big step.

My version of simple food is a little different from the pasta dishes I ate as a kid but the heart is still there. It’s quick, clean, healthy and easy.

White Wine Poached Salmon

  • 6 oz Portion of Flash Frozen Sockeye Salmon (Whole Foods/Wegmans/Trader Joes are all awesome)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 3/4 C Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fresh Dill to garnish
  • Mixed baby greens
  • cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 T Italian Salad Dressing

Thaw fish in refrigerator over night (if possible) or thaw under running water (don’t nuke to defrost!!) In large frying pan on med-high, heat oil and garlic for about 1 minute–stirring to prevent garlic from burning. Place fish in pan and cook for about 2 minutes or until beginning to brown. Carefully, flip with a spatula and cook 2 more minutes until brown.

Lower heat, add wine (if you forget to lower the heat, you’ll know why I said to do it), and some dill, cover and cook on medium for about 8 mins or until fish flakes easily when pushed with the side of a fork.

In the meantime, rinse off your lettuce (I like to chop mine and put in a bowl of ice water to let it get crispy, but to each his own), cut up tomatoes and other salad accoutrements and pick your dill. I also like to toss some herbs in with the lettuce (dill, cilantro, mint are great surprise bites) if you have them readily available. Toss lettuce with dressing, top with fish and serve. High protein, low carb, and one dirty pan…nothing better than that!