Gifts from the Kitchen

Updated December 8, 2009

I believe in consumable gifts, not clutter: things that are readable, eatable, wearable, or usable. One of my favorite things about the holidays is making gifts from the kitchen. Other people go crazy baking cookies, but I prefer making nuts and sweets.

After Thanksgiving is over, we start planning gifts of food for the winter holiday season. My spouse and I believe in a simplified Christmas celebration. We have Christmas Eve dinner with a circle of friends and exchange gifts of food we’ve made ourselves. Mary makes her version of White Trash, which is different every year. Lori bakes mini loaves of quick breads, and we bring jars of Spiced Honey. For colleagues, both of us work in offices with large teams, so we make batches of things that can easily be divided.

Our local Michael’s store sells packs of 100 clear treat bags with silver twist ties (Wilton brand). These treat bags hold 1 cup of content or 10 Lindt truffle balls (pre-made, individually wrapped).

Note: “recipe” indicates the recipe is posted to this blog, while “link” indicates the recipe is offsite.

Theme sets

  • Chili Kit: Pack a favorite chili recipe or cookbook, chili spice mix, cornbread mix, jar of salsa, ladle, and red apron in a soup pot. Add a small jar of Mild Chili Spice Mix.
  • Coffee Break: Line a small basket with a pretty dishtowel or linen napkin. Include a coffee mug, a bag of gourmet coffee, and a package of biscotti tied with a ribbon.
  • Lights, Camera, Relax: Stuff a gift bag with bottled root beer, a bag of favorite candy, and a gift certificate for a local video store. Add popcorn balls, snack mix, or brownies.
  • Liqueur Gift basket: A bottle of citrus liqueur, Gouda cheese, crackers, and a set of cordial glasses.
  • Sundae: Package a set of ice cream bowls with jarred ice cream toppings, such as butterscotch sauce or hot fudge.
  • Tea Time: Give a small teapot or a beautiful one-of-a-kind teacup and saucer set. Add a few varieties of special tea, and then fill a tin with teacakes, shortbread, or other baked treats.

Savory Items

  • Blue Cheese and Olive Spread (link): I omitted the chives and used green and black olives from a jar of “deli mix.” Recipe makes 14 oz. Instead of shaping the mixture into a ball, I filled a 1.75-cup bowl container with lid. The flavor is even better the next day. Rice crackers or pretzels are too salty with this spread. Instead, serve with multi-grain crackers or Wasa Crispbread and slices of fresh pears.
  • Marinated Olives with sambuca, olive oil, garlic, shallots, and orange zest. Recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated (The Best Recipe: Italian Classics). Make extra marinade so the olives can be completely covered when you jar them.
  • Spice mixes. Try Faith’s Special Spice Mix.

Spiced Nuts and Trail Mix

  • Try the Honey-Cinnamon Pecans or the Sweet Spiced Pecans.
  • Favorite Trail Mix: Combine 1 cup toasted almonds without salt, 1/2 cup lightly salted cashews, 1 cup smoked almonds, 1 cup dried apricot (cut into small pieces), and 1 cup dried cranberries without sugar. Place cupfuls of mixture into treat bags (1 cup per bag). This snack mix is a nice combination for people watching their sugar intake during the holidays. The salted nuts balance out the sweetness of the fruit.
  • Salty and Sweet Cashews (link): I tried this recipe earlier in the year, and the 4 tsp kosher salt called for is too much. Use 2 to 3 tsp instead; add more salt to taste. These do indeed “keep you coming back for more.”
  • Temptation Trail Mix (link). A home cook’s version of Trader Joe’s trail mix, which includes peanuts, dried cherries, and white chocolate chips. I used Reese’s Pieces instead of peanut butter chips. A double batch made about 7.5 cups, enough to fill 7 treat bags with 1 cup of mix each. I found 1.5 cups of cashew halves and pieces is almost all of a 9.25 oz can. Leftovers are great sprinkled over plain yogurt.
  • Triple Garlic Almonds (recipe). It’s hard to stop eating these buttery garlic nuts. I took a batch to work and 3 people asked for the recipe.

Sweets and Baked Treats

  • 3C Cookies (recipe): A wonderful holiday treat with coconut, cashews, and dried cranberries.
  • Chocolate candies: Dark Chocolate Turtle Fudge or Balsamic Truffles
  • Cinnamon-sugar mix. Annmarie Timmins, Associated Press, recommends a gift package of cinnamon-sugar blend, a cookie recipe that uses the blend, a cookie cutter, and a tag that says “Have a sweet holiday.”
  • Coconut Joys (recipe) for the office cookie exchange
  • Hot Chocolate on a Stick (link) from AmberLee at Giverslog. She says, “Stir one of these sticks into a cup of steaming milk or cream and in two minutes  you will have transformed it into a cup of rich hot chocolate, the blessed stuff.”
  • Coconut Macaroons made with M&Ms or chocolate chips
  • Rolo Turtles (recipe) made with mini pretzels for library staff: 15 in a treat bag.
  • Mexican-Style Hot Cocoa Mix (link): Make Alton’s recipe, but add 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp nutmeg.
  • Mint chocolate chip cookies (link), a recipe from Sunset magazine
  • Spiced “Love Honey” (recipe): A 32-oz batch filled 4 jars (8.1 oz honey per jar). Started on Thanksgiving Day, as it needs at least 3 weeks to mellow.

Chocolate bark and clusters

Clusters or bark are made with 12 oz chocolate, melted, and 1.5 cups of mixed nuts and dried fruit. Aim for 1.5 cups mix-ins by volume, not weight. Clusters are dropped into little mounds; bark is spread out into a flat sheet.

“Clusters are especially good for using up leftover chocolate and any extra nuts you have lying around the kitchen,” says Elizabeth LaBau.

Technique: Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or foil. lightly coated with cooking spray). Melt the chopped chocolate, and stir in the mix-ins until combined. Drop teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto prepared cookie sheet. Place sheet of clusters in the refrigerator to set at least 10 to 15 minutes.

Assorted chocolate barks

  • Aztec Chocolate Bark (link), made with toasted slivered almonds instead of pepitas (pumpkin seeds). To toast 1/2 cup slivered almonds in the microwave, spread them on a plate in a single layer. Microwave for 1 minute on High. Stir the nuts, and microwave for another 30 seconds on High. Let them cool. Yield from this candy recipe: about 4 cups bark.
  • Layered Peppermint Bark (link): Just look at the lovely photos by Orangette. Inspiring.
  • Peppermint Bark (link). Variation: 8 oz bittersweet chocolate, 1/2 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies, and 1/4 cup toasted shredded coconut.
  • Smoked Almond Bark (link): 3 ingredients and simply wonderful. A double batch made with Trader Joe’s Pound Plus dark chocolate fills a regular rimmed cookie sheet. Makes about 5 cups bark (5 treat bags). For dark chocolate fans only: Everyone who has received these is delighted.

Options for 12 oz dark chocolate:

  • Chocolate Coconut Haystacks (link): As recipe author Elizabeth LaBau says, “Who knew two simple ingredients could be so good together? Toasted chocolate and coconut are a match made in heaven.” We add dried cranberries.
  • Inspired by a Baking Bites cookie recipe: 3/4 cup shelled and toasted pistachio nuts and 3/4 cup dried cherries
  • New England style: 3/4 cup dried cranberries and 3/4 cup toasted pecan pieces
  • Inspired by “favorite trail mix” above: 1/2 cup mixed nuts without peanuts, 1/3 cup smoked almonds, 1/3 cup dried apricot, and 1/3 cup dried cranberries without added sugar
  • Dip crystallized ginger pieces (left over from making cranberry chutney)

Options for 12 oz white chocolate:

  • Hawaiian Haystacks: 1 cup sweetened flaked dried coconut, 1/2 cup diced dried pineapple, and 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • Inspired by 3C Cookies: 2/3 cup sweetened flaked dried coconut, 1/3 cup dried cranberries, and 1/3 cup lightly salted cashew pieces
  • Cherry, walnut, and ginger clusters: 5 oz dried cherries, 8 oz walnut pieces, and 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
  • Cherry, apricot, and ginger: 1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped; 1/2 cup dried apricot, chopped; and 1/4 cup crystallized ginger
  • Cranberry-Ginger: 1-1/4 cup dried cranberries and 1/4 cup crystallized ginger

What to do with homemade liqueurs

Suggestions from Cordials from Your Kitchen.

Two of my favorite homemade liqueurs to give are Limoncello (lemon-infused vodka) and Cranberry Liqueur (cranberry-infused vodka). People are delighted to receive these drinks.

  • Add 1/4 c liqueur to each 8 oz cream cheese in a no-bake cheesecake
  • Beverages: Mix with half-and-half and serve over ice. Add to tea (hot or iced), coffee, hot chocolate, sparkling water, or club soda
  • Make a glaze/marinade for chicken or fish with teriyaki sauce
  • Mix 2 T liqueur in 8 oz cream cheese (or frosting) to make a spread
  • Picnic: Raspberry liqueur, cream cheese, crackers, fresh raspberries with sour cream
  • Dessert: Serve liqueurs over sponge cake or pie. Swirl liqueurs into vanilla ice cream for parfaits.
  • Sip fruit liqueurs with cheese, crackers, and dips. Sip nut liqueurs with desserts.
  • Soda: Combine 1 oz liqueur, 1 scoop of sherbet or ice cream, and lemon-lime soda or sparkling water to fill a glass. Top with whipped cream and a cherry.

More ideas on other Web sites

  • The Dallas Morning News has their best recipes online, and you can search for the keyword “gift”. This is a treasure trove of ideas for gifts from your kitchen. The list is arranged alphabetically and shows a full-color photo for almost each recipe. As a bonus, their recipes are free to access.
  • An article on thekitchn.com about “Homemade Edible Presents” (link) provides a nice overview of this category as well. They recommend Brittles and Barks, Marshmallows, Fudge, Cocoa Mixes, Caramels, Soup Mixes, Spice Blends and Rubs, Spiced Nuts, Buckeyes (“truffle-esque peanut butter balls”), and Jams and Preserves. Scroll to the bottom of the page for reader recommendations.
  • Martha Stewart has 40 ideas for a “Handmade Holiday” (link).
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