The Buzz from Bella Luccè

Last minute holiday gift ideas

December 21, 2011

This season, my Celie and I decided to make gourmet gifts for friends, families and teachers and we were so thrilled with the results that I wanted to share them with you. These are truly so fast and easy that they can be made in an afternoon from readily available materials and passed onto recipients before Santa stuffs his sleigh…it’s not too late! We created three items: Rosemary infused sea salt, sugar infused with Madagascar vanilla beans and vodka infused with Buddha’s Hand citron fruit.

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A few weeks earlier, I had spied the most bizarre looking fruit at our local Fresh Market. I picked it up simply for the novelty, thinking my kids would find it curious. Once home, I did some research into Buddha’s Hand citrons and learned that they are common temple offerings in Asia and also edible. As citrons, they have no pulp, no juice and no seeds, but they smell DIVINE. There’s definitely a lemon note, but it mingle with gorgeous floral notes that fill your kitchen as soon as the fruit is sliced. “Closed hands” (as seen at the bottom of the picture) are most often temple offerings because they resemble praying hands, while “open hands” are used in cooking.

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I studied up a bit and found that the most common use for Buddha’s Hand is to infuse them in vodka. Not sure Buddha would approve, but the internet certainly seems to. I returned to Fresh Market the next day to discover the rare fruit had already sold out, but I found them by the case online at Pearson’s Ranch in California for less than half of what I had paid in store! I ordered two cases, which is ummmm… a LOT of Buddha’s Hands.

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I ordered glass bottles and jars from Specialty Bottle, though this is a great opportunity to recycle old glassware. Alternately, you could probably find suitable glassware at Sur La Table, Crate & Barrel or your local craft shop. I began by giving each Buddha’s Hand a thorough scrubbing with warm soapy water and leaving them to dry overnight. The next morning, I cut the “hands in half” with a knife, then separated the “fingers.” From there, a vegetable peeler made quick work of creating strips of the citron. Literally, every part of the fruit can be used though I chose to just use outer strips for their gorgeous shock of yellow.

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I slipped 6-10 long strips of citron into each bottle and topped each bottle off with Grey Goose. Though I hear that any budget vodka will work wonderfully, we’re vodka snobs in my house and I wanted top-shelf. I sealed the bottles and left them in a dark spot for two weeks to infuse, shaking them every few days. Since the holidays are just a few days away at this point, you could create a gift tag that says “Don’t open me until 2012!” to give everything time to infuse a bit. To finish each bottle off, I picked up some fun printed papers at the craft store and matched them to coordinating satin ribbon. Using a 2.5” craft punch, I made gift tags that I inscribed with holiday wishes and a description of the vodka. I wrapped each bottle in the ribbon and affixed a smaller “medallion: of the same paper using a glue dot to hold it all together. The wrapping was just pennies per bottle. The infused vodka is sublime and is lovely on its own. Mixing one-to-one portions of simple syrup and infused vodka yields a gorgeous Limoncello.

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The vanilla sugar was a breathtakingly simple affair. My friend Melissa just returned from Madagascar and brought home a bounty of lush, fresh beans. I was fortunate enough to receive a handful, though most gourmet shops should carry beans with some “plump” left in them. We selected demerara sugar for the infusion and used candle jars from Specialty Bottle (though small mason jars would be adorable). Simply cut each fresh bean in half with a sharp knife, then use a spoon to scrape the tiny seeds. We filled a large, two quart bowl with sugar and dropped in the seeds of six fresh beans. Stir well. We stuffed the remaining shell of one bean into each empty jar, then used a soup ladle to fill each jar full of infused sugar. The flavor develops within days and is divine in coffee or tea and is lovely when sprinkled on fresh fruit. You can also substitute half of the sugar called for in any holiday recipe with this infused sugar for an extra dose of vanilla!

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For the rosemary infused sea salt, I purchased a fresh rosemary tree (which is still adorning our table weeks later), along with kosher coarse salt and flake sea salt. We used a small food processor to grind four cups of coarse salt with a handful of fresh rosemary leaves. Once the rosemary leaves had been sufficiently shopped, we poured that rosemary/salt mixture into a large bowl and stirred in four cups of the sea salt flakes. Again with the candle jars filled with a soup ladle. We also stuffed each jar with a fresh rosemary sprig. I adore rosemary and these infused salts are perfect to sprinkle on chicken or vegetables.

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At the end of the day, we created 48 gourmet gifts in record time and on a limited budget. The next day, Celie and I made the gift tags and tied it all up in ribbon in just a few hours. If you give these a whirl, let us know what you think…happy holidays!

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