Christmas Countdown – Spicing Up Your Holiday Basket

As I write this post, Christmas is but 154 days away. By the time I finish and get everything nicely posted, it will be in the neighborhood of 146 days away – four months and counting. Wow – those days will fly by quickly!

We’ve had a lot of changes in our life recently. You know the old saying when a door closes, a window opens. It is with this uplifting perspective that I gaze through a new window into our life.

So what does all this reflecting have to do with Christmas? With change comes an adjustment of attitude – we aren’t going to be passing out store-bought presents neatly wrapped in pretty paper and tied up with holiday bows. This year, with time on my hands, I will be making our gifts.

As someone who loves to prepare wonderful home-cooked meals, I thought I would give gifts from my heart and my kitchen. This will allow me to be a part of my family’s lives even when I am not there.

This first post is going to deal with making seasoning blends for our two favorite types of cooking – Italian and Mexican. I’ve increased the ingredients in each recipe to make ample blends as gifts for my extending family and friends. Whenever possible, a link to the original source has been included. If nothing else, I hope these ideas will get your creative, gift-giving juices flowing!

Note: Spice Jars in a variety of sizes can be had at places such as World Market. This would also be a great place to shop for labels, gift baskets and other whimsical ways to wrap and give your creations.


 * * * Italian * * *

Italian Herb Blend
1/4 Cup Basil
1/4 Cup Marjoram
1/4 Cup Oregano
1/4 Cup Rosemary
1/4 Cup Thyme

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, until well combined.

For a finer consistency, once dry spices are mixed, pulse everything in a spice grinder or coffee grinder to desired grind. If you do not have a grinder, use a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon or drinking glass.

Funnel seasoning into spice jars (can be had at World Market). Be sure to label the jar, so you don’t mix it up with another spice blend. (A good suggestion would be Italian Herb Blend – this is purely an Herb blend without additional spices).

Seasoning can be used immediately as needed or store it in an air-tight container for up to 6 months. The recipe will yield 1 1/4 cups seasoning – plenty to fill your 3 oz gifting spice jars.

Original Recipe: https://www.thebalance.com/homemade-italian-seasoning-recipe-4144351)

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Italian Seasoning Blend
1/4 Cup Garlic Powder
1/4 Cup Onion Powder
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Parsley
1/4 Cup Salt
1 1/3 Tablespoons Black Pepper
1 1/3 Tablespoons Basil
1 Teaspoon Thyme

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, until well combined.

For a finer consistency, once dry spices are mixed, pulse everything in a spice grinder or coffee grinder to desired grind. If you do not have a grinder, use a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon or drinking glass.

Funnel seasoning into spice jars (can be had at World Market). Be sure to label the jar, so you don’t mix it up with another spice blend. (A suggestion would be Garlic and Onion Italian Seasoning Blend – in reference to the garlic and onion and as a reminder to taste whatever is seasoned before adding additional garlic or onion).

Seasoning can be used immediately as needed or store it in an air-tight container for up to 6 months. This recipe will yield just over 1 1/4 cups of seasoning.

Since this recipe includes sugar, be sure to store in a dry place to prevent seasoning from becoming clumpy.

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Savory Italian Herb Blend
1/4 Cup Marjoram
1/4 Cup Basil
1/4 Cup Thyme
1/4 Cup Oregano
1/4 Cup Sage
2 1/2 Tablespoons Savory

A quick word on Savory – this is a herb has an aromatic thyme-like flavor with a peppery bite.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, until well combined.

For a finer consistency, once dry spices are mixed, pulse everything in a spice grinder or coffee grinder to desired grind. If you do not have a grinder, use a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon or drinking glass.

Funnel seasoning into spice jars (can be had at World Market). Be sure to label the jar, so you don’t mix it up with another spice blend. (A suggestion would be Savory Italian Herb Blend an indication that savory is used in the recipe ).

Seasoning can be used immediately as needed or store it in an air-tight container for up to 6 months. This recipe will yield just over 1 1/4 cups of seasoning.

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Italian Seasoning and Dressing Mix
Dry Italian Mix
1/4 Cup Garlic Powder
1/4 Cup Onion Powder
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Oregano
1 Tablespoon Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Basil
1 Teaspoon Ground Thyme
1/4 Cup Parsley
1 Teaspoon Celery Salt
1/4 Cup Salt

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, until well combined. Since this blend will be used to make a wonderful Italian dressing for salads or as a marinade, you will want to keep the herbs and spices in their original size rather than to grind down into a finer mix.

Funnel seasoning into spice jars (can be had at World Market). Be sure to label the jar, so you don’t mix it up with another spice blend. (A suggestion would be Italian Seasoning and Dressing Mix – in reference to the use as a seasoning in recipes, for dressings and marinades to add Italian flavoring).

Seasoning can be used immediately as needed or store it in an air-tight container for up to 6 months. This recipe will yield just over 1 1/2 cups of seasoning.

Italian Dressing and Marinade
2 Tablespoons Dry Mix (above)
¼ cup Cider Vinegar
⅔ cup Oil
2 Tablespoons Water

To make dressing, combine ingredients in a bottle and shake well. If making ahead of time, give the dressing a good shake before using. Store in the refrigerator as you would any salad dressing.

(Original Recipe: http://simplyshellie.com/recipe-homemade-italian-seasoning)

Note: A nice touch to the whole gift-giving concept would be to include a small mason jar for the dressing with instructions tucked inside.

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Savory Italian Red Pepper Blend
1/4 Cup Basil
1/4 Cup Oregano
1/4 Cup Rosemary
1/4 Cup Marjoram
1/4 Cup Cilantro
1/4 Cup Thyme
1/4 Cup Savory
1/4 Cup Red Pepper flakes

Place in a food process, blend for 1 minute or until desired consistency is reached.
Store in an airtight container or spice jar

Funnel seasoning into spice jars (can be had at World Market). Be sure to label the jar, so you don’t mix it up with another spice blend. (A suggestion would be Savory Italian Red Pepper Blend – in reference to the use of Red Pepper and Savory – both bringing just a little Peppery Heat to the mixture).

Seasoning can be used immediately as needed or store it in an air-tight container for up to 6 months. This recipe will yield 2 cups of seasoning. More than enough to share with all your friends and plenty more just for you.

(Original recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/34450/italian-seasoning-i/)


 * * * Mexican * * *

Before sharing the two recipes for Mexican Spice that I use (these have been increased from the originals for gift-giving purposes) let me first mention that the recipes I reach for most share an original source – the Frugal Hausfrau. She has an amazing collection of recipes, ideas and helpful advise all designed to aid the home cook to elevate the quality of our dishes up while keeping the cost of cooking down. Please check her out: https://frugalhausfrau.com/

Taco Seasoning Mix
2 Tablespoons Onion Powder
2 Tablespoons Chile Powder
2 Tablespoons Cumin
2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
2 Tablespoons Paprika
2 Tablespoons Sugar (optional)
2 Tablespoons Arrow Root (as a thickening agent – can also use cornstarch)
2 Teaspoons Cayenne
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
1 Teaspoon Mexican Oregano

Mix the ingredients together. Makes about 1 cup of taco seasoning.

To use as you would a taco seasoning packet, 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons for each pound of ground meat will just about equal a store-bought seasoning packet.

For Tacos: Brown ground meat in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up the meat as it cook. Remove meat from skillet to drain off excessive grease.

Measure needed seasoning into the skillet and allow to toast for about 30 seconds. Return meat to skillet, mix well and let the seasoning flavor the meat for about a minute. Add 1/2 cup of water or stock and let simmer until desired consistency is reached.

(Original Recipe: https://frugalhausfrau.com/2015/02/04/taco-seasoning-homemade/)

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Chipotle Taco Seasoning
2 tablespoons Onion flakes
2 tablespoons Garlic powder
2 tablespoons basic Chile powder
2 tablespoons Chipotle Chile powder
2 tablespoons Cumin
2 tablespoons Smoked paprika
2 Tablespoons Sugar (optional)
2 Tablespoons Arrow Root (as a thickening agent – can also use cornstarch)
2 Teaspoons Cayenne
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
1 Teaspoon Mexican Oregano

This brings a little more zip to the basic taco mix with the addition of Chipotle Powder and Smoked Paprika, giving a spicy-smoky flavor to the seasoning mix.

Mix the ingredients together. Makes about 1 cup of taco seasoning.

To use as you would a taco seasoning packet, 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons for each pound of ground meat will just about equal a store-bought seasoning packet.

For Tacos: Brown ground meat in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, breaking up the meat as it cook. Remove meat from skillet to drain off excessive grease.

Measure needed seasoning into the skillet and allow to toast for about 30 seconds. Return meat to skillet, mix well and let the seasoning flavor the meat for about a minute. Add 1/2 cup of water or stock and let simmer until desired consistency is reached.

(Original Recipe: https://frugalhausfrau.com/2017/03/14/smokin-chipotle-taco-seasoning/)

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