Edible Christmas Gifts


I’m dedicating my entire column to edible gifts for the many food lovers in your life this week.  Lots of savoury treats, delicious accompaniments, pickles, chutneys, spicy salts and a few jars of toasted nuts, sweet and fiery chilli sauce and a super delicious peanut rayu to liven up absolutely everything from fried eggs to cold turkey over the festive season. 

Next week we’ll focus on comforting food for Christmas Eve but I’m keeping the blurb to the minimum to fit in as many delicious treats as possible.

During the year, I look out for little pots, jars or special glasses in charity or bric-a-brac shops, I have a stack ready to fill with Christmas goodies.  Do ramp up the labelling and packaging, ribbons and glitter to add extra excitement and festive cheer. 

A hamper of four homemade soups got an ecstatic and grateful response from a couple of busy working mums last Christmas – easy, delicious, fun and quick to defrost even if frozen. 

Chilli Salt

A perfect pressie for a foodie friend who likes to add a little extra oomph to everything – carry it in your handbag to perk up bland dishes…

110g (4oz) flaky sea salt

2 tablespoons crushed dried chilli pepper (Jalapeno or Habanero)

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Mix the salt and chilli together and whizz for a couple of seconds in a food processor or a molcajete with a pestle and mortar. 

Fill into little airtight glass containers. 

Roasted Almonds with Rosemary

Delicious to nibble with drinks.  The quality of almonds varies a lot.  Look out for Marcona almonds – they are grown in Spain and have a sweet, delicate flavour.   They are more rounded and plumper than the Californian almonds that are more widely available.

whole unpeeled almonds

extra virgin olive oil

freshly chopped rosemary to taste

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Put the almonds onto a dry baking sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes, until golden and crisp.  Toss in olive oil, freshly chopped rosemary and sea salt.   Serve warm but perfect filled into little glass jars as a Christmas present. Irresistible – try not to eat the lot!

Sweet and Fiery Chilli Sauce

We grow about six or eight varieties of chilli in the greenhouse.  They vary enormously in heat, even on the same plant.  For consistency, you’re probably best to use Dutch red finger chillies that are widely available in the shops.  Serve over everything…even fried eggs…

Makes 1 bottle

3 large red chillies finely chopped (seeds and all)

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) rice vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

185g (6 1/2oz) sugar

1 clove garlic crushed

Put all the ingredients into a little saucepan over a low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to the boil and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the mixture thickens to a syrupy texture.  Cool and fill into a sterilised jam jar or bottle.  Store in a cool, dry place.

It will keep for a year or more, though you are unlikely to have it for that long. 

Spicy Asian Cucumber Pickle

This fresh tasting pickle is an irresistible accompaniment to and perk up cold meats, smoked fish and Cheddar cheese.  Use within a couple of weeks.   

Serves 4-6

1 cucumber, quartered, excess seeds removed and sliced thinly at an angle

2 shallots, peeled and sliced thinly, lengthwise

1 red chilli, seeded and sliced thinly in rings

1 green chilli, seeded and sliced thinly in rings


4 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons white malt vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the ingredients for the marinade together in a saucepan.  Bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-5 minutes. When cool, pour the marinade over the cucumber, shallots and chilli.

Fill into cold sterilised glass jars.  Cover and label. 

Beetroot and Ginger Relish

Another delicious combination, this relish compliments goat’s cheese, pâte de campagne and lots of other meats – keeps for months.

Makes 4 jars (yields 500ml (18fl oz) approximately)

Serves 8 – 20 depending on how it’s served….

225g (8oz) onion, chopped

45g (1 1/2oz) butter

3 tablespoons sugar

450g (1lb) raw beetroot, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

25ml (1fl oz) sherry vinegar

120ml (scant 4 1/2fl oz) red wine

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sweat the onions slowly in the butter for 5-6 minutes until very soft.  Add the remaining ingredients and cook gently for 30 minutes.  Serve cold.

This relish is best eaten within 6 months.

Kumquat Compôte

A gem of a recipe, this compôte can be served as a dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, goose or glazed ham.  Also delicious with goat’s cheese or yoghurt.

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

Slice the kumquats thinly into four or five round slices depending on size.  Remove the seeds.  Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender.  If they accidently overcook or become too dry, add a little water and bring back to the boil for one minute – they should be crystallised but slightly juicy

Serve warm or cold.

Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Kumquat and Clove Compote

Add 6 cloves to the kumquats in the saucepan and proceed as above.

Gary’s Peanut Rayu

This stuff is addictive, the problem is that the recipient of this will plead for more…what can I say!

500g (18oz) red skinned peanuts

12 cloves garlic thinly sliced, on a mandolin if possible

1 litre (1 3/4 pints) sunflower oil

150g (5oz) Korean chilli flakes

125g (4 1/2oz) Tamari

150g (5oz) sesame seeds (75g each of black and white seeds – use all white if you don’t have black sesame seeds)

150g (5oz) honey

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Roast the peanuts with a good pinch of Maldon sea salt for 10-12 minutes, remove from the oven, cool, blow off the skins and chop coarsely.

Heat the sunflower oil in a small pot and fry the garlic slices until light golden brown and crisp, drain through a sieve and dry on kitchen paper. Allow the oil to cool to tepid and reserve.

Mix the chilli flakes and sesame seeds in a bowl and add the tamari then pour in the cooled reserved oil, allow to cool completely and stir in honey, crisp garlic, stir well and enjoy.

Fill into jars, label and decorate.  Keeps for months.

Christmas Granola

Perfect for breakfasts over the holiday season. Enjoy with yoghurt and lots of grated Irish apple…

Serves 20 people approximately

125g (4 1/2oz) butter or coconut oil

175ml (6fl oz) honey

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

500g (1lb 2oz) oatmeal

110g (4oz) sunflower seeds

150g (5oz) slivered almonds

110g (4oz) pumpkin seeds

50g (2oz) barley flakes

50g (2oz) rye flakes

50g (2oz) coconut flakes

50g (2oz) dried apricots or a mixture of dates and apricots, chopped

50g (2oz) dried cranberries or dried cherries 

50g (2oz) juicy sultanas 

Preheat the oven to 170°/325°/Gas Mark 3.

Melt the butter or oil in a saucepan over a low heat, stir in the honey and vanilla extract.  Mix all the remaining ingredients, except the dried fruit and coconut flakes, in a large mixing bowl, add the liquid and stir well until everything is evenly coated.   Spread over 3 large baking trays and toast in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the grains are crisp and very lightly browned. Stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the trays. Add the coconut flakes and continue to cook for a further 5-8 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and when cool transfer to a large bowl.  Add the dried fruit and mix.   

Fill into Kilner jars and zhuzh up with ribbons and labels and a sprig of holly or rosemary – keeps for up to 1 month.  

Little Pots of Christmas Pâté

This pâté can be served in many different ways: its success depends on being generous with good Irish butter.  You could fill this pâté into little glass jars but how about buying a few little pottery ramekins to embellish the gift.  For extra lux, spoon some brandy-soaked raisins and a few chopped pistachio nuts on top. 

Serves 10-12 depending on how it is served.

225g (8oz) fresh organic chicken livers

2 tablespoons brandy

225 – 350g (8 – 12oz) butter (depending on how strong the chicken livers are)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 large clove garlic, crushed

freshly ground pepper

few sprigs of thyme

clarified butter, to seal the top

Wash the livers in cold water and remove any membrane or green tinged bits. Dry on kitchen paper.

Melt a little butter in a frying pan; when the butter foams add in the livers and cook over a gentle heat.  Be careful not to overcook them or the outsides will get crusty; all trace of pink should be gone.   Add the crushed garlic and thyme leaves to the pan, stir and then deglaze the pan with brandy, allow to flame or reduce for 2-3 minutes.  Scrape everything with a spatula into a food processor.  Purée for a few seconds.  Allow to cool.

Add 225g (8oz) butter.  Purée until smooth.  Season carefully, taste and add more butter, cut into cubes if necessary.

This pâté should taste fairly mild and be quite smooth in texture. Put into pots.  Tap on the worktop to knock out any air bubbles.  Add a little sprig of thyme. 

Clarify some butter and spoon a LITTLE over the top of the pâté to seal.

Serve with crusty hot white bread or toast.  This pâté will keep for 4 or 5 days in a refrigerator.

Watchpoint: It is essential to cover chicken liver pâté with a layer of clarified or even just melted butter, otherwise the pâté will oxidize and become bitter in taste and grey in colour.

Caramel Popcorn

Makes tons…

225g (8oz) sugar

150ml (5fl oz) water

50g (2oz) popcorn

First make the popcorn.

Combine the sugar and cold water in a small heavy bottomed saucepan.  Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then remove the spoon and boil until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut brown.  Do not stir and do not shake the pan.  If sugar crystals form around the side of the pan, brush them down with cold water.  When the caramel is ready, it must be used immediately or it will become hard and cold.

Spread the popcorn onto a silicone mat or oiled tin and drizzle the hot caramel over.  Leave to cool

Fill into jars, label and fancy up with ribbons and a sprig of rosemary.

Rachel Allen’s Popcorn Paradise

It’s difficult to have a home cinema night without popcorn, so why not try this recipe and all its variations?  Serve the popcorn in a big bowl or in paper cornets for each person.

Serves 4

Plain Popcorn

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

75g (3oz) popcorn

25g (1oz) butter

pinch of salt

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan.  Add the popcorn and swirl the pan to coat the popcorn in oil.   Turn down the heat to low, cover, and the corn should start to pop in a couple of minutes.  As soon as it starts popping (after 5 – 7 minutes), take the saucepan off the heat and add the butter and salt.  Put the lid back on the pan and shake to mix.  Pour out into bowls and leave to cool a little.


Toffee Popcorn

Cook the popcorn as for the plain popcorn recipe, but while the corn is popping, make the toffee coating by melting 25g (1oz) butter in a small saucepan.   Then add 25g (1oz) brown sugar and 1 generous tablespoon golden syrup and stir over a high heat for 1/2 – 1 minute until thick.   Pour the toffee over the popcorn, put the lid on the pan and shake to mix.   Pour out into bowls and cool a little before serving.

Spiced Popcorn

Cook the popcorn for the plain popcorn recipe as far as removing the pan from the heat.  In a bowl, mix 1 1/2 teaspoons each of ground cumin and coriander seeds with 1/2 teaspoon each of medium-strength curry powder and ground paprika and 3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper.   Heat 2 teaspoons of sunflower oil in a frying pan, add the spices and stir for about 30 seconds until lightly toasted.  Throw in 25g (1oz) caster sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt, stir, then add all of this into the prepared popcorn in the saucepan, toss and empty into a big bowl.

Homemade Cheese Crackers

Make lots of these, some can be gifted alongside a beautiful ripe cheese but fill a tin box to serve with a charcuterie and cheese board over Christmas (see next week’s column – 24th December).

Makes 20-25 biscuits

225g (8oz) plain white flour or a mixture of brown wholemeal and white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

25g (1oz) butter

1 tablespoon cream

water as needed, 5 tablespoons approx.

Put the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl.   Rub in the butter and moisten with the cream and enough water to make a firm dough.

Roll out very thinly to one sixteenth of an inch approx.  Prick with a fork.  Cut into 9cm (3 1/2  inch) squares with a pastry wheel.  Bake at 150˚C/300˚F/Gas Mark 2 for 30 minutes approx. or until lightly browned and quite crisp.  Cool on a wire rack.  Store in a tight-fitting tin box or fill into jars as a gift. 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters

  • Recipes