Homemade Gifts Infused with Flavor

There is something so special about a homemade gift. It tells recipients you care enough to spend the most precious gift—your time—on them. You can make tasty, healthy gifts easily from ingredients you already have at home. Homemade food gifts will not only save you time fighting crowds at the mall, they will save you money and let the recipients know you care about their health.

Infused vinegars, honey and sugar can build big, bold flavor. They are a good alternative to seasoning with salt, which is hard on blood vessels and kidneys. Infusions transfer saturated flavors to your tongue, make you feel satisfied, and curb the salt craving. Flavors can be extracted from herbs, spices, citrus, or fruits and released into vinegars, honey, or sugar.

To bottle up these beautiful and tasty treats, start saving salad dressing bottles, jam jars, and wine bottles. Save the lids and soak off the labels, and you have containers to fill with your homemade flavor infusions. If you are short on glass bottles, ask friends to save some for you or take a trip to a thrift store.

See recipes below for homemade, healthy and "less-expensive-than-store-bought" goodies that are perfect for holiday giving.

Cranberry Orange Vinegar

Flavored vinegars can add a tart, springy zest to winter salads, and they make great meat marinades. Or sprinkle some over oven-roasted vegetables. Try fruits in season now, like cranberries and oranges, or lemon and pomegranate.

1 bag cranberries
1 gallon vinegar (white or rice*), divided
1 1/2 cups sugar
Grated rind of one orange

*If you use rice vinegar, be sure it's unflavored—that kind has much less sodium.

Pour cranberries into saucepan. Add 2–4 cups vinegar. Add sugar and orange peel. Cook on medium heat 10–15 minutes, until berry skins begin to split. Pour back into gallon container, mixing with remaining vinegar (it won’t all fit, so put the rest in another bottle or bowl). Let sit 2–4 days. Strain out berries and put flavored bright red vinegar into bottles.

Infused Honey

Cinnamon and citrus peel brighten up a dark winter morning when you infuse their flavors in honey and serve over homemade waffles.

1–2 cups honey
2–3 sticks cinnamon
Finely grated peel from one orange

Note: You will need a candy thermometer.

Put honey, cinnamon and peel in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Microwave for one minute. Stir and check temperature. Keep microwaving for short times until mixture reaches 185 degrees. Let sit until cool. Put into bottles and store in cool, dark place.

Vanilla or Cinnamon Infused Sugar

1–2 vanilla beans (or 2 sticks cinnamon)
1 cup sugar—white, brown or turbinado (coarse brown sugar) or sugar substitute like Splenda or Sweet'N Low

Put sugar or sugar substitute in container. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Poke vanilla bean or cinnamon sticks down into sugar until covered. Wait 1–2 weeks, shaking occasionally. Use in tea, chai or coffee, or in holiday cookies or desserts.

—Katy Wilkens, Northwest Kidney Centers

Katy G. Wilkens, MS, RD is the nutrition department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. See more of her recipes online.