By Megan Patrick, Staff Writer
Whether or not you have a tight holiday shopping budget, a homemade gift from your kitchen shows how much you care about your friends and family so much more than a pair of socks or a gift card. You can bake elaborate treats, or you can put together simple food gifts that celebrate the flavors of the season. Whichever route you choose, these thoughtful gifts will delight everyone on your list!
Capture the bright flavors of winter citrus with this delicious lemon curd recipe. Package the curd in pretty jars and keep it refrigerated until you're ready to give it away. It will keep up to a month. Curd is wonderful served over pound cake, scones or with fresh berries.
Gather up the dry ingredients for your favorite cookie mix and layer them one by one in a clean glass jar. Include the recipe on a pretty notecard. You can also include a festive cutter if you go with a sugar cookie or gingerbread cookie mix.
You can actually use your microwave to make delicious, fancy chocolate truffles that will impress even your choosiest friends and family members. Using a large microwave-safe bowl, melt 12 ounces of chopped dark chocolate with 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Heat for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each interval. Remove when the chocolate is 3/4 melted. Stir in a teaspoon of vanilla or other flavored extract. Allow the mixture to cool in the refrigerator for at least two hours, then scoop into balls with a spoon or cookie scoop. Roll truffles in chopped nuts, coconut or cocoa powder.
Introduce your friends to new flavors by sharing a collection of your favorite spices. Discovered a great curry mix this year? Package it in a pretty bottle and include a recipe that uses the spice with your gift. You could also hunt down unusual sea salts, unique barbeque rubs or fancy herb blends to share.
Give the gift of warmth with your own hot-chocolate mix. You can even customize the mix depending on the dietary needs of the gift recipient. If they're watching calories, use a sugar substitute. If they can't have dairy, substitute powdered soy milk.
Turn a simple jar of sugar into a special gift by making it into vanilla sugar. Simply slice a whole vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into a jar filled with two cups of sugar. Bury the bean pieces in the sugar and cover with a tight lid. Allow the vanilla to infuse for a week or two before presenting the gift. The sugar is amazing in coffee or tea and can be used like regular sugar in baking.
Gingerbread cookies aren't just for eating. They also impart a delicious smell when used as ornaments. Bake your favorite gingerbread cookies using holiday-themed cutters. Be sure to cut out two of each shape you want to make. When the cookies are cool and decorated, you can use extra icing to stick two cookies together with a ribbon loop in between.
Don't forget family pets while you're baking this holiday season. Whip up a batch or two of some healthy dog treats and bring them with you when you visit dog-loving family and friends. Here are three version to try: peanut butter dog treats, dog biscuits, dog cookies.
Homemade crackers are a special treat that will surprise and delight almost anyone. You can package the crackers in a fancy tin or a pretty box to make them even more special. Here are three different options to try: graham crackers, cheese crackers, whole wheat crackers.
This ancient Greek treat makes a wonderful holiday gift. Roast hazelnuts in the oven at 350 degrees on a sheet pan for about 5 minutes or until they smell toasty. Once the nuts cool, place a layer in the bottom of a very clean half-pint jar and cover with a layer of raw honey. Continue layering nuts and honey until the jar is full. The honey will preserve the nuts for up to 12 months! Use the honeyed nuts on yogurt, on oatmeal or on a fancy cheese tray.
Nothing makes your house smell more like the holidays than a pot of cider on the stove. Mix together 3 ounces of whole cinnamon sticks, 1bwhole nutmeg, 1/3 cup chopped dried orange peel, 1/3 cup chopped dried lemon peel, 3 star anise pods, 1/4 cup whole allspice, 1/4 cup whole cloves and 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger. Put the spices in a plastic zip-top bag and crush them with a mallet or frying pan. Wrap 2 tablespoons of the mixture in each of 14 squares of muslin or cheesecloth and tie closed using kitchen twine. The spice sachets can be used to flavor apple cider or mulled wine.
You can embellish this very simple recipe for chocolate-covered pretzels to make them more special. Use food coloring to turn white chocolate into red and green drizzles or top just-dipped pretzels with festive sprinkles.
This gift can be as homemade as you want it to be. To keep things simple, just package up graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate squares in a cute box. If you want to get more elaborate, you can make your own graham crackers or even homemade marshmallows.
Make preparing a warm, filling breakfast that much easier by putting together this easy instant oatmeal mix. You can use whatever nuts or dried fruit you think the recipient would enjoy the most. Package in an airtight container along with the simple instructions for cooking the oatmeal.
You'll need to keep this gift refrigerated, but your chai-loving friends will adore the fresh flavor of this homemade drink mix. Just pour a 14-ounce can of unsweetened condensed milk in a clean class jar and add 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper. When your friends are ready to have a chai, they just have to add 2 or 3 tablespoons of this mixture to a cup of hot black tea.
Fancy coffee liqueur can be pricy, but you can make your own and impress your friends with this delicious holiday treat that's perfect for adding to eggnog. Pour 3 cups of inexpensive vodka into a clean gallon-size container with a lid. Add the freshly scraped seeds and empty pod of one whole vanilla bean and a 1/2 cup of freshly ground dark roast coffee. Boil 4 cups of water with 4 cups of sugar until it's completely dissolved. Once the simple syrup cools, add it to vodka mixture. Now let the brew steep for at least three weeks, then strain out the solids using a colander lined with a coffee filter. Enjoy!
For the tea drinkers in your life, you can create your own special blends of loose tea and herbs or botanicals for a special treat. Here are some flavor combinations to try: a cup of loose black tea with a tablespoon each of dried orange peel and chopped cinnamon stick; a cup of loose green tea with a tablespoon each of dried lemon peel and dried ginger pieces; a 1/2 cup of dried spearmint with a 1/4 cup each of dried marjoram and dried sage.
Make your own special flavored coffee for the season by adding 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 3 or 4 scraped vanilla beans to a pound of freshly ground medium-bodied coffee. Pack the mix in a lined coffee bag, which you can find at specialty kitchen stores or online, and decorate with a bow or handwritten label.