Carrie's Kitchen: Some spicy ingredients that could be gifts this holiday season

This week I wanted to take a step back away from prepared foods as gifts and look at ingredients instead, like a spice rub.
This week I wanted to take a step back away from prepared foods as gifts and look at ingredients instead, like a spice rub. (Bill Hogan / Chicago Tribune file)

Christmas is getting closer and I have another week of food-related gift ideas to share with you.

In the past two weeks we’ve covered nut-based snacks and breakfast foods, but this week I wanted to take a step back away from prepared foods and look at ingredients instead. Because while you might have a lot of friends that really enjoy eating the foods that you make for them, there are also those food-lovers who are really in their element when they’re the ones doing the cooking. So I thought of these as some pre-ingredients that they can experiment with, and if you’re lucky, be the benefactor of them testing them out.


For example, first up, a barbecue spice rub. A dry rub is great on so many different preparations of meat, but I bet I only go through the trouble of making my own dry rub from scratch a handful of times per year. This is a very classic recipe with lots of salt and brown sugar, and some heat from paprika, black pepper and a smidge of cayenne (which you can increase if your recipient likes meats on the spicier side). Now a spice rub can seem like a small gift, but why not pair it with a gift certificate to a local meat market where they can get an exceptional piece of meat? (Note to friends: I would LOVE this as a gift.)

If barbecue isn’t their thing, try a rosemary lemon sea salt blend, which would be great on chicken, fish or pork. It’s oh-so-simple, but to the recipient who opens the little container and gets a whiff of this mixture, it’s like being transported to a beach deck somewhere in August. Summer in a bottle — that’s an excellent gift idea.


Speaking of rosemary, I found this recipe for a rosemary-infused olive oil, and thought that’s another great way to help a chef feel like they have a little extra luxury at their disposal. If rosemary isn’t your favorite flavor, try another dried herb, but do some investigation from a trusted source like the cooperative extension before trying to make flavored olive oils from anything that hasn’t been dried first. Apparently botulism is a potential risk in additives that still include water.

Now that I have my Christmas decorations out, I’m thinking about staying home and being cozy, and it made me want to explore breakfast food gifts!

And finally, this one was so unique that it really caught my eye, but it’s a recipe for a highlander mustard, a Scottish recipe for a spicy little condiment (and yes, it does have whiskey in it). This would be great to give as a hostess gift, maybe with some of Carroll’s delicious cheeses. It requires no cooking, just a little time to let the mustard seeds sit in liquids to get them a little softened before blitzing all the ingredients in a food processor. I need to go find some little jars for this ASAP.


Barbecue spice rub

⅓ cup sea salt


⅓ cup brown sugar or maple sugar

¼ cup paprika

2 tablespoons black pepper

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried mustard

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Use as a spice rub on chicken, fish, beef, or veggies.

Rosemary lemon sea salt blend

¼ cup coarse sea salt or kosher salt

1 tablespoon turbinado raw sugar

1 tablespoon crumbed red chile flakes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 lemon

Mix the salt, sugar, chili flakes and rosemary in a bowl.

Grind the peppercorns, fennel and coriander seeds in a small spice grinder. Stir into the bowl.

Peel the lemon thinly with a vegetable peeler, avoiding the white pith as much as possible. Slice the peel into thin matchsticks, then slice crosswise to make tiny squares.

Stir the lemon into the salt mixture. Let the mixture dry for a day or two before packing into a small jar.

For a tasty spice rub, use about 1 tablespoon per pound of meat, poultry or fish.

Rosemary-infused olive oil

3-4 dried sprigs rosemary

½ cup olive oil

1 4-ounceglass bottle with cork

Stuff rosemary sprigs into your glass bottle. Set aside.

In a sauce pan, heat olive oil until a few small bubbles start forming. (If your oil starts smoking, take it off the stove and allow it to cool for 10 minutes.)

Carefully pour warm oil into the bottle over rosemary. Don't overfill.

Cork the bottle and store in the refrigerator.

Highlander mustard

8 ounces mustard seeds

½ teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes

3½ fluid ounces cider vinegar

2 tablespoons whisky

2 tablespoons water

4 tablespoons runny honey

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon sea salt

Mix mustard seeds, chili pepper flakes, water, whisky and vinegar, cover and set aside overnight or for 24 hours.

Add honey, nutmeg and salt, then blitz half of the mixture in food processor. Gently mix in the rest so that you have a good mix of rough and smooth together.

Spoon into sterilized jars and seal. Makes three small jars and keeps for a year.

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