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12/18 Special Column: Giving the gift of flavor

By Tracey Carlton, fitness nutrition specialist with On-Point Nutrition

10:03 AM EST, December 18, 2013

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Not every gift you give as part of your holiday celebration has to come pre-made from a store. Some of the most enjoyed gifts are those that you make right in your kitchen. With just a little time and care, you can easily make gifts that your gift recipients can enjoy meal after meal.

When making food gifts, safety and presentation is important. Make sure to thoroughly wash and dry all containers. Airtight containers will keep mixtures fresh longer. Decorate the container, be it a jar, tin, or plastic bowl. Consider including measuring spoons with spice gifts, and always include the recipe detailing how you made the gift.

Spice mixtures, seasonings, and infused oils are perfect gifts as they last longer than a batch of baked goods and they can really help a person bring variety to their typical meals. Variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to preparing healthy dishes.

Making homemade spice mixtures allows for the flavoring of food without the added sodium, coloring, and preservatives. For the spice recipes below, you may double, triple, or quadruple the recipes. Make sure to mix all the dried ingredients before placing in your individual gift containers.

Gingerbread Spice

1.4 tbs. cinnamon

2.2 1/2 tbs. ground ginger

3.2 tbs. allspice

4.2 tbs. nutmeg

5.2 tbs. ground cloves

Italian Seasoning

1.4 tbs. dried basil

2.3 tbs. garlic powder

3.2 tbs. dried oregano

4.2 tbs. dried thyme

5.2 tbs. dried rosemary

6.2 tbs. dried parsley

7.1 tbs. crushed red pepper flakes (To make it zesty if you prefer)

Creole Seasoning

1.4 tbs. paprika

2.1 tbs. cayenne

3.2 tbs. black pepper, freshly ground

4.3 tbs. garlic powder

5.2 tbs. onion powder

6.1 1/2 tbs. dried oregano

7.1 1/2 tbs. dried thyme

Ranch Seasoning

1.4 tbsp. dried parsley

2.4 tbsp. dried basil

3.1 tbs. dried dill weed

4.4 tsp. garlic powder

5.4 tsp. onion powder

6.2 tsp. dried chives

7.1 tsp. ground black pepper

Taco Seasoning

1.4 tbs. chili powder

2.1 tsp. onion powder

3.2 tbs. cumin

4.1 tsp. garlic powder

5.1 tbs. paprika

6.1 tsp. dried oregano

7.1/2-1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (Amount depends on level of spice preferred)

Infused oil, flavored vinegar, and herbed olives lend easy, healthy ways to bring variety to common dishes, such as lean meats, grains, greens, roasted and steamed vegetables, and salad. Plus, the end result is a gift with a striking visual presentation.

Infused Oil

1.A variety of fresh herbs, washed and gently bruised

2.Extra-virgin olive oil

Bruise herbs by gently rolling and rubbing the fresh herb in your hand or with a mallet. Place herbs in a glass jar or bottle with a good seal. Cover with extra-virgin olive oil. Refrigerate for at least a week.

To quicken the infusing of the flavor, you can heat the oil with the herbs over medium-low heat to 180 degrees. Do not overheat. Pour into another container, and allow the oil to cool before transferring the oil to a glass jar or bottle. Seal tightly.

Infused oils will keep in the refrigerator for one month.

Hot Pepper Vinegar

1.1/2 pound hot peppers

2.2 cups apple cider vinegar

Heat vinegar to a boil. While vinegar is heating, place peppers in a glass jar or bottle with a good seal. Place a metal knife in the jar (this will help absorb some of the heat of the vinegar and keep your glass jar or bottle from breaking). Once vinegar has reached a boil, ladle the vinegar into the glass jar or bottle. Remove the knife, seal the jar, and allow it to sit for at least a week.

Herbed Olives

1.1 cup olives (choose a variety)

2.1/4 cup olive oil

3.1 lemon sliced

4.2-3 rosemary and thyme sprigs (dried or fresh)

5.1/4 tsp. red pepper flake (If desired)

Place all ingredients in a glass jar with a good seal. If you are using fresh herbs, bruise them before placing in the jar. Arrange olives, lemon, and herb sprigs so that you have a variety that appears through the jar for presentation. Refrigerate.

Tracey Carlton is a Fitness Nutrition Specialist certified through the International Sports Sciences Association, and is the owner of On-Point Nutrition, which offers both online and face-to-face nutrition coaching to meet your individual weight, performance, and health goals. She also is employed by the Greater West Point Family YMCA, providing instruction for its 5210 youth nutrition program. Feel free to e-mail your questions or nutrition topics of interest to tcarlton@on-pointnutrition.com. You can find On-Point Nutrition on Facebook or at http://www.on-pointnutrition.com