Love in a Bottle: Edible Gifts | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Love in a Bottle: Edible Gifts

My experience with Secret Santa has been a never-ending cycle of gag gifts and prepackaged hot cocoa in holiday mugs. Two years ago, I received a parcel that changed my mind, filled with exquisite jellies and preserves, like rare gems on a drift of packing peanuts.

From that moment forward, I vowed to let creativity be my guide. My budget for these delights didn't exceed $20.

Sweet tea marmalade is a love letter to Meyer lemons and jasmine green tea. It's an excellent spread between layers of a lemon cake, on butter-slathered bread or as a condiment for smoked duck. Because it's a pain in the neck to assemble all the ingredients for mulled wine, I infused honey with rich flavors mimicking an ancient mead recipe and a more traditional spiced wine. Married together, it's a great hostess gift or holiday potluck contribution. I'd use either as a glaze for carrots.

The Mason jar soup is based on an Indian favorite, Dal Tarka. The soup turns a stunning daffodil yellow when cooked. You can't bottle the nuttiness of slow-caramelized onions of a true Indian tarka, but this soup is a tasty crowd pleaser, nonetheless.

Sweet Tea Marmalade Makes four cups

6 organic lemons, preferably Meyers, sliced thin and quartered, seeds reserved
6 cups strong brewed tea 3-4 cups sugar, kept warm in a 200-degree oven

Soak lemons in tea for 12 hours. Wrap seeds in cheesecloth and tie tightly, leaving a long thread as an anchor.

In a large saucepan or stockpot, bring tea and lemon mixture, along with the bag of seeds, to a boil. Simmer on medium heat for a half hour or until the rind is very soft. Stir in sugar to your taste (I have an unrepentant sweet tooth and used 4 cups). Heat on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until a canning or candy thermometer reads 220 degrees. The excess liquid will have evaporated, and the marmalade will be ready to can.

Remove from heat. Wait 10 minutes before attempting to can, because hot jams and marmalades are culinary napalm. Spoon into half pint wide-mouth mason jars. If you're familiar with canning, follow food safety and sterilization guidelines. These will store safely for six months in the freezer, or for a week or two in the fridge.

Mulling Honey Servings: Mulls two small or one large bottle of wine.

White Wine
1 cup clover honey
3 to 4 thin lemon slices or wedges
1 tablespoon rosemary needles
1 whole nutmeg, quartered
2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 to 4 inch long
10 cloves
1 teaspoon pink peppercorn
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon mace

Red Wine
1 cup clover honey
3 to 4 thin tangerine slices or wedges
5 green cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 to 4 inch long
10 black peppercorns
2 large whole star anise
1 tablespoon mace

For both recipes, place herbs, spices and citrus slices in a half-pint mason jar. Fill the remainder of the jar with honey, with a half-inch of room beneath the jar lip. Place jars in a saucepan, and fill saucepan with water until half the jar is submerged. Let honey steep for 30 to 40 minutes on medium low heat, taking care not to boil water or honey. Cap jars, and let steep for five days before using.

To serve, pour unstrained honey into a pot and heat until honey is liquid. Add wine and stir. Let flavors meld on medium low heat for 10 minutes for the red wine and off the heat for the white wine. Serve with fresh citrus slices.

Indian Spiced Lentil Soup Serves four as a main dish, six as a side

1-1/4 cups split red lentils
1/2 cup dried diced onion
3 tablespoons dried minced garlic
1 to 3 tablespoons dried jalapeƱo
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1-1/2 tablespoons dried cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon powdered ginger root
1 teaspoon turmeric powder

To assemble: In a pint-sized Mason jar, assemble ingredients in layers, as you would create sand art in a bottle. I added a quarter-cup of lentils and onions at a time for a parfait effect, occasionally adding spices along the mason jar's edge. This creates an attractive striated effect, and it's a great job for an artistic child. Include a copy of the recipe and instructions with each jar.

To serve: Add jar's contents to 5 to 6 cups boiling water or stock and 2 tablespoons ghee or olive oil. Simmer until the lentils reach a smooth, porridge-like consistency, stirring occasionally. Serve as a soup or over fragrant rice.

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