Gift baskets are popular presents because they are useful and easy to give, but they also can be predictable. You can do much better than putting together the ubiquitous basket of fruit, nuts and preserves or soup, cake and cookie mixes in jars for your food-loving friends.
Instead, assemble an unexpected update of the gift basket format by featuring your own DIY spice blend. Let the blend set the theme for add-ins and accessories to fill a basket that's thoughtful and personal as well as practical — so much so that you may want to make one to give to yourself.
Universally loved... to the point of bordering on addiction for people who can't get enough of its use in tacos and chili, the aromatic, spicy depths and dazzling, smoky heat of a special chipotle chili taco seasoning blend is the theme of this gift.
This chipotle chili version of homemade taco seasoning contains aromatic, spicy depth and dazzling, smoky heat you won't find in run-of-the-mill taco seasonings.
Items to include: Smoky Chipotle Taco Seasoning and recipe card, dried pinto beans and rice, onions, peppers, garlic and tortillas.
This basket includes a mellow, allspice-spiked version of wildly popular pumpkin spice blend that can be sprinkled in coffee and tea.
Though there's no actual pumpkin in this homemade Pumpkin Spice Blend, it's the combination of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves that creates the nostalgic aroma and taste that causes a frenzy each fall.
Items to include: Pumpkin Spice Blend and recipe card, fresh ground coffee, black tea, maple sugar and mug.
The secret to fine-tasting pasta dishes is quality seasonings and ingredients. This basket includes a classic, oregano-based Italian seasoning blend with a hint of sweet fennel.
Items to include: Italian Seasoning Blend and recipe card, pasta, fine olive oil, and canned, organic plum tomatoes.
As the saying goes: "Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea." This gift includes a melange of three cinnamons and sugar blend to sprinkle on buttered toast.
Items to include: Three-Cinnamon Sugar Blend and recipe card, loose leaf tea, fresh-baked and sliced bread, tea cup & saucer.
Popcorn is an easily made, relatively healthy snack that gets an unexpected and addicting spicy Buffalo seasoning blend in this gift basket. A big bowl of popcorn seasoned with this white cheddar, cayenne and celery salt blend will disappear before halftime, it's that finger-lickin' good. (Note: Double the quantities in the recipe below for an amount that will fit nicely in a 4-ounce spice jar.)
Items to include: Spicy Buffalo Popcorn Seasoning Blend and recipe card, organic popcorn, coconut oil and sea salt.
Next to flour and sugar, vanilla extract is one of the most important ingredients they ever use. While not technically a spice blend, real vanilla extract is essential in cookies, cakes and pastries, so a good baker is constantly running out. Give them the means to brew up their own homemade vanilla extract which will turn out like no other.
You can easily create your own natural flavor extract out of vanilla beans (or almost anything from almonds to peppermint leaves) with the following recipe.
Items to include: Whole vanilla beans, vodka, pretty jar
DIY Spice Blends
Here's a rundown of some popular spice blends and their ingredient possibilities. Keep in mind that there's no one "right" recipe for any of these. We're offering a list of just some of the possible spices for each blend -- experiment to see which of those listed you most enjoy (and in what ratios). Cooks all over the world create their own blends to perfectly suit their culinary creations. This is your invitation to do the same!
Adobo Seasoning (Latin America)
"Adobo" is Spanish for "sauce" or "marinade," and you'll find it in Southwestern and Latin American dishes. Grind the ingredients together and use to season meats, poultry, fish, beans, and grains. Or make a traditional adobo paste by combining the dried spices with tomatoes, vinegar and sugar.
Ingredient possibilities: bay leaf, black pepper, cayenne, cumin, garlic, onion powder, oregano, paprika, sea salt, turmeric
Apple Pie Blend
Use for an array of apple and other fruit desserts and baked goods.
Ingredient possibilities: cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg
Shake on meats, poultry, tofu, and fish at the grill, or add to other sauces and condiments (like catsup).
Ingredient possibilities: black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, cumin, garlic, nutmeg, onion, paprika
Bay Spice Blend
Originally used to season crabs on the Chesapeake Bay, Bay Spice Blend (also known as Old Bay) is good for all kinds of seafood as well as poultry and potato and egg dishes.
Ingredient possibilities: allspice, bay leaves, black pepper, cardamom, cayenne, celery salt, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, mustard powder, paprika
Berbere Spice (Ethiopia)
This rich spice is traditionally used to flavor many African recipes, such as meat stews, chicken, vegetables, and lentils.
Ingredient possibilities: allspice berries, black peppercorns, cardamom, chili peppers, cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin, fenugreek, ginger (ground), green cardamom seeds, paprika, sea salt, turmeric
Bombay Vegetable Blend (India)
Traditionally used in lentil and vegetable stews, this mix is also delicious as a rub for grilled poultry.
Ingredient possibilities: bay leaves, black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin seeds, fennel, fenugreek, sea salt
Bouquet Garni (France)
Actually a bundle of herbs, a bouquet garni can be made with any seasonings at all, though some are customary. Use cheesecloth or a large tea ball for easy removal from your soup or stock.
Ingredient possibilities: basil, bay leaf, black peppercorns, chervil, oregano, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme
A key ingredient in gumbo and other Cajun and Creole dishes, you can also use this blend as a rub for fish or meat or sprinkled on vegetables, grains, and salads.
Ingredient possibilities: basil, bay leaf, black pepper, cayenne, chili powder, cumin, fennel, garlic, marjoram, mustard seeds, nutmeg, onion powder, oregano, paprika, parsley, sea salt, thyme, parsley
A staple blend for Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine, make this as potent or tame as you prefer by varying the amount and heat of the chilies you include.
Ingredient possibilities: allspice, chili peppers, cloves, coriander, cumin, garlic, onion, oregano, paprika
Creole Seasoning (New Orleans)
Use in bean and grain dishes, on tomatoes, with fish, meat (especially blackened dishes), gumbo and jambalaya.
Ingredient possibilities: black pepper, cayenne, chili peppers, fennel, lemon peel, garlic, onion, oregano, paprika, sage, sea salt, thyme, white pepper
Curry Powder (India)
Most Indian cooks stir up their spice blends as needed to suit each dish. Some curry powders contain dozens of spices (all ground together), but don't panic, a few will do! Curry spices are best when heated, so sauté them a bit before adding to any dish that's not going to be cooked.
Ingredient possibilities: bay leaf, black mustard seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom, cayenne, chili peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seed, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, ground ginger, mace, nutmeg, paprika, sea salt, ground turmeric