Someone once gave me a hamper for Christmas. It looked very impressive with lots of crinkly, noisy cellophane wrap, an enormous red ribbon, and contents guaranteed to find their way to the back of my pantry, never to be seen again. Or at least, not until we moved house. Which for us now is... er... never!
I think there was some shortbread, which we may or may not have eaten, a Christmas pudding in a red plastic bowl, some sort of strange orange stuff which declared itself to be 'roe' which we fed to the cat, and a bottle of tawny port. The port at least was used to make balsamic glaze, not so long ago, but the rest? Meh. Take it or leave it. Sadly, my darling sister had forked out a reasonable sum of money for this ubiquitously named Gourmet Hamper, so I kept the fate of its contents to myself.
I actually don't get the whole thing about gourmet hampers and shortbread. Sure I'll eat shortbread if someone gives it to me. Especially if it's homemade. But it's not like I approach Christmas thinking "Yay! I can't wait to get lots of ... shortbread..." That said, the rest of the family adore it, and consume it by the kilo when it's around, but I can't help but be haunted by the "a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips" mantra. All that butter and sugar just waiting to attach itself fetchingly to my rump. No thanks!
I would however, love to get a hamper full of things to dress up the Christmas table. That includes nibblies, decorations, unusual tree ornaments or pretty candles, glossy relishes and chutneys to serve with the cold and hot meat, festive coffee, tea, herbs and salt sprinkles, flavoured liqueurs or brandy or infused spirits and pudding or cake redolent with festive fragrance. Anything to make the meal feel special, with minimal input from lil ol' me.
So, not one to be swayed by the so called gourmet hampers displayed in Kmart anytime from now until Christmas, I make up my own version of gourmet. I also distribute a list of gourmet offerings to my nearest and dearest to give them the opportunity to actually choose what they'd like in their hamper. That way, I'm not wasting time, money and effort, and they get to be the happy recipients of a heap of stuff they'll actually like.
You can't go wrong with a festive brew, after all, everyone wants a nice cuppa before their Christmas lie-down right? Here are three fabulously easy and utterly delicious homemade blends that are always a winning addition to Christmas hampers - and I can guarantee, you won't find anything that comes close in Kmart!
POWDER KEG BLEND
The guys really, really love this one. It's got a bit of flavour punch and clears the head and the sinuses!
2 cups tea leaves or ground coffee
30cms of black liquorice cut into 2.5cm pieces
1 dessertspoon black peppercorns
1/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
Place all ingredients in to your mixing container. Seal your container and roll it around for a minute or so to distribute your ingredients evenly. Decant your flavour-enhanced coffee or tea into your storage container and keep it in a cool, dark spot until you're ready to package it. Package into recycled jars or cellophane bags with blokey coloured ribbon or kitchen string and a tag with the following instructions:
Add two teaspoons to a single serve capacity teapot/coffee press and allow to infuse for 3-4 minutes. Enjoy with or without milk and sugar.
This is one to give out to all and sundry in the weeks coming up to Christmas. I chase the postman up the street to give him this... hmmm… maybe he's running away because he didn't like the tea last year... LOL! I also give it out in pretty vintage teacups as teacher gifts.
2 cups loose tealeaves or ground coffee
4 cardamom pods
3/4 cup mixed dried fruit
2 dried figs
4 dessertspoons chamomile tealeaves
1/4 tsp each ground ginger and Allspice
4 whole cloves
1 whole nutmeg split in half
Follow method as for Powder Keg Blend and attach the same instructions.
DELUXE AMBROSIA BLEND
This is the favourite for gift-giving. It's got a real festive flavour and some of my recipients even ask me to leave the choc chips in the mix… naughty!
2 cups loose tealeaves or ground coffee
1/4 cup craisins (dried cranberries)
1 large vanilla bean, split and scraped, seeds and pod added to mix
4 chunks crystallised ginger
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
2 cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
Follow method above and attach instructions when decanted. Now, you may be wondering how your recipients make their cuppa without the menace of chunks of ginger, cranberries or licorice, catching in their throat whilst consuming. Well, here's the final step.
Once your tea or coffee has sat between now and Christmas, absorbing all that lush flavour, you'll empty the contents of each one, individually, into a pasta colander - not a mesh strainer, but one of those bowl-shaped things with larger holes. You'll sift the tea or coffee away from the other ingredients, and decant the coffee grounds or tealeaves only. The other ingredients can then be reused for another batch or baked into biscuits or cakes which will then absorb the additional tea or coffee flavour. Yum! Just don't let the neighbours see you chasing the postie up the street. Tongues might wag!