Give the Gift of Flavor with 6 Homemade Spice Blends

One surefire way to reclaim the true spirit of the holidays is by getting your craft on with some homemade gifts. These six spice mixtures are easy to prepare and don’t require any special preserving knowledge. Make all six in a day, package them the next, and over the course of a weekend you’ll create a cache of long-lasting and affordable gifts. All you’ll need is an assortment of spice and/or jelly jars with labels, some ribbon and an electric spice grinder.

Savory treats

Zesty Seasoned Salt: Sprinkle on sandwiches, burgers, oven fries, avocado, cottage cheese, fish, chicken—just about anything. Toast 2/3 cup coriander seeds, 1/2 cup dill seed, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 2 tablespoons allspice berries and 2 teaspoons chili flakes in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and lightly smoking. Cool, and add 1 cup coarse sea salt, 2/3 cup dehydrated minced garlic and 2 tablespoons cornstarch (to prevent caking). Grind to a fine powder. (Fills 6-8 [3-ounce] spice jars.)

Fennel Grill Rub: Great with salmon, pork, poultry, sausages and shellfish. Toast 3/4 cup fennel seed, 3/4 cup coriander seed and 1/3 cup rainbow peppercorn blend until fragrant and lightly smoking. Cool, and add 1/3 cup fine sea salt, 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, 3 tablespoons onion powder, 3 tablespoons dehydrated minced garlic, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons sweet paprika and 3/4 teaspoon cayenne. (Fills 6 [3-ounce] spice jars.)

Spicy treats

Roasted Chile Taco Seasoning: Avoid a house full of peppery fumes by toasting dried chiles on a low grill, using tongs to turn frequently until fragrant and lightly browned in spots. (Use 4 ounces dried ancho chiles, 1 ounce dried chipotles (1/2 ounce for milder version) and 1 ounce dried New Mexico chiles.) Cool, and remove the stems and seeds. Tear into small pieces. Toast 1/3 cup coriander seed, 1/4 cup cumin seed, and 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces. Cool, and add 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, 1/4 cup dehydrated minced garlic, 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 tablespoon fine sea salt. Grind to a fine powder. (Fills 6 [4-ounce] jelly jars.)

Garam Masala: This pungent spice blend is used in Indian dishes like Cheryl’s Chicken Biryani. Toast 1 cup cumin seed, 1 cup coriander seed, 1/2 cup whole cloves, 1/2 cup black peppercorns, 2 tablespoons fennel seed and 8 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks broken into pieces until fragrant and lightly smoking. Cool, and add 2 tablespoons ground nutmeg and 2 tablespoons ground cardamom. Grind to a fine powder. (Fills approximately 6 [3-ounce] spice jars.)

Sweet treats

Vanilla Bean Sugar: This easy indulgence is great in baked goods or a cup of joe. Scrape the seeds from 4 vanilla pods into 4 pounds of superfine sugar. Stir with a whisk until the clumps of beans are dispersed. Bury the pods in the sugar, cover tightly, and let sit 2 weeks. Sift through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any clumps or bits of pod. (Fills 10 [12-ounce] jars.)

Chai-Spiced Cocoa: Combine 4 cups powdered sugar, 2 cups cocoa powder, 2 cups powdered milk, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon each ground cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger. Stir with a whisk until powders are blended. Sift through a fine-mesh strainer, working lumps through with back of spoon if necessary. To drink, combine 1 cup hot milk with ¼ cup mix. (Fills 6 [12-ounce] jars.)

Bonus gift idea!

Check out my recipe for crunchy and colorful Dark Molasses Cranberry Granola. It’s easy to make and will be an especially welcome gift on a busy Christmas morning!

Happy Holidays!

Nourishing Gift Ideas from the NOURISH Evolution Market!

It’s that gift-shopping time of year. If you’re like us, you’d rather skip the mall and buy tokens for the nice people on your list online (OK, and the naughty ones, too). Have you checked out the NOURISH Evolution Market? Lia and I have filled it our must-have kitchen tools–the stuff we use every day and what we think makes cooking easier and more fun.

Of course, you can head straight over to the Market and browse to find goodies for everyone or just make a wish list for yourself. We’ve also gone through and picked our favorite selections. Here’s what we suggest you slide under the menorah or tree.

Lia’s faves

  • Stocking Stuffer: Oxo Good Grips Melon Baller ($9). “Mine went missing a few weeks back, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dug for it since,” says Lia. “Aside from the fact that it makes balling melons a breeze, I use it to quickly de-seed squash, scrape seeds from cucumbers, core apples and much more.”
  • Under the Tree: Colorful Oxo Nesting Mixing Bowls ($25). “I’ve got a mishmash of mixing bowls right now; some that nest, some … not so much,” says Lia. “I love how bright and colorful (and in NOURISH Evolution shades, even!) these Oxo mixing bowls are. The fact that they’ve got a handle and anti-skid bottom makes them even more attractive.
  • From Santa: Bormioli Rocco Food Storage Containers ($24).  “I’m asking for three sets of these from Santa to take the place of my Tupperware,” Lia confesses. “I’m ready to give up plastic once and for all.”

Alison’s faves

  • Stocking stuffer: Messermeister Pro-Touch Swivel Peeler ($7). I got this peeler in my culinary school knife kit, and I love how nimble and sharp it is. It can handle anything from delicate tomatoes to potatoes to thick-skinned winter squash.
  • Under the Tree: Fagor Duo 6-Quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker ($91). I used to be terrified of pressure cookers, but this model won me over. It’s foolproof, with a locking lid, easy-to-use pressure indicator and automatic pressure-release function. If you’ve resolved to cook more with dried beans and whole grains in 2011, you want this.
  • From Santa: KitchenAid Professional 600 Series Stand Mixer ($321). These are the workhorses of the kitchen–you can use them to whip egg whites, knead bread dough, make cookie dough, cut fat into flour for pastry and, if you add attachments like the pasta maker and ice cream maker, do a whole lot more.

We both love…

  • Stocking stuffer: RSVP White Marble Mortar and Pestle ($17). Lia makes a great case for using a simple mortar and pestle instead of food processor for everything from grinding spices to making pesto. This trim model is easy on your wallet, won’t hog kitchen counter space and can handle most any job.
  • Under the tree: Lodge Enamel Cast-Iron 6-Quart Dutch Oven ($67). Nights are cold these days, and we’re obsessed with braising. For that, you want a sturdy Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. This model by Lodge is pretty and affordable, too!
  • From Santa: Chef’s knife. No kitchen tool is used more than a knife, and a high-quality chef’s knife is a must. It’s also a very personal choice. Lia favors the nimble, Japanese-style Wustof Classic 7-inch Santoku Knife ($100). I love the Japanese-made Mac 10-Inch Chef Series French Chef’s Knife $100), which is well-balanced and holds its edge.

What’s on your list this year? Let us know!

In the meantime, use a pressure cooker or Dutch oven to make our recipe for Pea Soup with Spanish Chorizo and Sherry Vinegar.

Gifts That Give

It’s the time of year we’re all putting together gift lists—a roasting pan for Aunt Dottie, iTunes bucks for your favorite nephew. But consider, too, gifts that give to others as we give to those we love. Here are some ideas:

gifts-giveGIVE A FREE GIFT

Good Search. What a brilliant concept to do good while doing your holiday shopping online. Choose your cause and Good Search makes a donation every time you search. You can even download a Good Search toolbar (powered by Yahoo).

Let’s Say Thanks. An excellent idea by Xerox and absolutely free. Choose a card design, add a greeting and the card will be printed and sent to a member of the US military stationed overseas (you can’t specify who they go to). A great way to brighten a deserving person’s day during the holidays.


Feeding America. For a donation as low as $35, Feeding America will send you up to five Honor cards to send to family or friends that read “A gift has been made in your honor to FEEDING AMERICA.” Feeding America is the nation’s largest charitable hunger relief organization, rallying action through community both online and off, and advocating on behalf of 49 million hungry Americans.

Share Our Strength. One out of six children worry about when their next meal will come. Buy and send a few e-cards from Share Our Strength and help feed children across the country.


Order Cookies, Fight Cancer for Kids. The organization Cookies for Kids’ Cancer gained momentum raising money through bake sales. Now, they’ve partnered with a 25-year old family bakery in California to offer cute packages of cookies in flavors like Triple Chocolate Chunk and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin (with no preservatives or trans fats) with 100% of the profits go towards funding pediatric cancer research.

Baking For Good. Don’t feel like baking? Shop this online bakery that uses organic, local and seasonal ingredients in concocting goodies like cinnamon blondies and caramel corn, then choose a cause you’d like to support at checkout. Baking for Good will donate 15% of your purchase to the organization you picked.


Common Hope. This amazing organization is close to our heart for many reasons. Browse their Gift Catalog to purchase a stove, doctor’s visits, textbooks, etc. for Guatemalan families involved in the program.

Save the Children. Choose gifts from their holiday catalog ranging from education to livestock to health care and Save the Children will send a personalized holiday card to your honoree for free.


Global Goods Partners. Very cool handmade wares–from jewelry to bags to dolls–from this non-profit organization promoting fair trade, sustainable livelihoods and social justice.

Menu for Hope. Brought to us by Chez Pim and now in its sixth year, Menu for Hope features an array of food and wine related gifts to bid on, with proceeds going towards the Purchase for Progress initiative of the World Food Program.

Do you know of other gifts that give? Let us know here in this Mindful Meals conversation.