We’ve pulled together several easy recipes (and many variations) for food gifts that make especially thoughtful hostess and teacher holiday gifts, or for anyone on your Christmas list who enjoys something homemade. Most of these homemade food gifts are fairly easy to make (some much easier than others) from commonly available ingredients.
Gourmet flavored salts and sugars
Package flavored salts or sugars in small wide-mouth jars (new four or eight-ounce canning jars with lids cost about $1 each). Each recipe makes about three cups, enough for 12 small jars or six larger jars. Add tags with name of product on the front and instructions for use on the back. Write or print the tags on card stock, cut to size, punch a hole in the corner and tie to each jar with a piece of ribbon.
Use flavored salt as a finishing salt on grilled meats, cheese or egg dishes or salads; to season potatoes, rice or popcorn; or to salt the rims of cocktail glasses for bloody marys or classic martinis.
- Mushroom salt: Place 1 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea salt) in a food processor with 1 ounce dried mushrooms; process until mushrooms are ground very small and evenly distributed throughout the salt. Add 2 cups salt and process again until evenly mixed.
- Smoked pepper salt: In a zipper-style bag or glass jar, place 3 cups coarse salt (kosher or sea salt), 3 tablespoons cracked black pepper and 3 drops smoked flavoring. Shake for five minutes, or until thoroughly mixed. Test flavor and mix in additional smoke flavoring if desired, 1 drop at a time—a little goes a long way.
- Sichuan pepper salt: Place 1 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea salt) in a food processor with 3 tablespoons Sichuan pepper; process until pepper is ground very fine and evenly distributed throughout the salt. Add 2 cups salt and process again until evenly mixed.
- Chili salt: In a large bowl, stir together 3 cups coarse kosher or sea salt with 3 tablespoon ground mild chili powder. If a “hot” salt is desired, add 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Test flavor and add additional cayenne, 1 teaspoon at a time until desired heat level is achieved. Be sure to label your salt with the heat level: mild (no cayenne), hot (1 teaspoon cayenne), or the devil made me do it (your choice).
- Celery salt: In a large bowl, stir together 3 cups coarse kosher or sea salt with 3 tablespoons celery seed.
- Seasoning salt: In a large bowl, stir together 2 cups fine sea salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup paprika, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 2 teaspoons ground turmeric, 2 teaspoons thyme and 2 teaspoons ground black pepper.
Use flavored sugars to sprinkle over fruit, sweeten coffee or tea, decorate sugar cookies or coat the rims of glasses for cocktails such as chocolate martinis and lemon drops.
- Vanilla sugar: There are three ways to make vanilla sugar: You can grind the sugar with whole vanilla beans (fast but more expensive), infuse the flavor with whole vanilla beans (takes several weeks but preserves vanilla bean for another use), or mix the sugar with vanilla extract (fastest and least expensive). Here’s how to do it: To grind the sugar with vanilla bean, place 1 cup granulated sugar in a food processor with 1 vanilla bean pod cut in small (quarter inch) pieces; process until vanilla pod is ground very finely and evenly distributed throughout the sugar. Add 2 cups granulated sugar and process again until evenly mixed. To infuse flavor using whole beans, in a zipper style bag or glass jar, bury 3 vanilla beans in 3 cups granulated sugar and store for two to four weeks (or longer, may be stored indefinitely); remove the vanilla beans before packaging sugar for gifts. To flavor sugar using extract, in a zipper-style bag or glass jar, sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon (real, not imitation) vanilla extract over 3 cups granulated sugar and shake for five minutes; taste and repeat until you like the vanilla flavor.
- Mint sugar: Instead of vanilla in the preceding recipe, use 6 (or more) springs of fresh mint for infusing flavor, or grind sugar with 15-20 mint leaves, or use mint extract.
- Lemon sugar: Instead of vanilla in the first recipe, use the zest from 3 lemons for infusing flavor, or grind sugar with the zest from 1 to 3 lemons, or use lemon extract.
Wrap these sweet or savory spiced nuts in cellophane and tie with a ribbon.
- Cinnamon pecans: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place two pounds raw pecan halves in a large (4-6 quart) bowl. In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon and set aside. In a small (1 quart) saucepan, stir together remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Place saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil uncovered for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and pour hot sugar water over pecans in the bowl. Toss until well combined. Sprinkle nuts with sugar and cinnamon mixture and toss again until well combined. Spread coated nuts in single even layers on two or more (parchment or silicone mat) lined baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 5-7 minutes or until pecans are lightly roasted. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Makes 20-24 party favor gifts or about eight larger (hostess, stocking stuffer) gifts.
- Spicy cashews: Place 2½ pounds roasted, salted cashews cashews in a large (6-8 quart) bowl. Heat a small (8-inch) stainless or aluminum skillet (do NOT use a non-stick skillet) over medium high heat. In a small bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1 teaspoon curry powder and 1 teaspoon cayenne. In a small skillet, heat 3 tablespoons canola or salad oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add ground spices and toss just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour hot spices and oil over cashews. Toss until spices evenly coat the nuts. Sprinkle nuts with 3 tablespoons granulated white sugar and toss again until thoroughly mixed. Cool to room temperature. Makes 25-30 party favor gifts or about 10 larger (hostess, stocking stuffer, teacher) gifts.
Limoncello (sweet lemon vodka liqueur)
Enjoy limoncello cold, served straight in a shot glass as they do in Sorrento, Italy. Or prepare a refreshing cocktail by pouring two ounces over ice in a tall glass, top with lemon-lime or plain club soda and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Zest, then juice, 14-16 medium lemons. (Discard the lemon rinds after juicing.) In a non-reactive container (preferably glass or porcelain), combine the lemon zest, lemon juice and 1 bottle (either 750 ml “fifth” or 1 liter “quart”). Cover, place in a cool location (or refrigerate), and let stand four to 30 days. Strain and reserve the lemon vodka. Discard the solids.
While the vodka is infusing, in a medium saucepan, stir together 3 cups water and 3 cups sugar until the sugar dissolves completely. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce the heat to low and simmer two minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and cool the simple syrup to room temperature. Store syrup in a bottle in the refrigerator.
Stir together the strained lemon vodka and the simple syrup. Transfer limoncello to small bottles for gift-giving.
Print the enjoyment instructions on card stock, cut tags to size, punch a hole in the corner, tie with a piece of ribbon, and hang the tag on the neck of the bottle. Store in the refrigerator. Makes about 20 small (4 ounce) bottles (two-drink size), depending on the size of the lemons and the amount of vodka used.
Easy chocolate fudge (with variations)
This fudge recipe is foolproof and very easy to make. Customize your fudge gifts with any of the flavor variations.
- Prepare pan: For thick pieces of fudge, line a 9-inch square straight-edged pan with foil with ends of foil extending over sides. For thinner pieces, butter a 13×9 inch straight-edged baking pan.
- Fudge recipe: In a 3-quart saucepan, stir together 3 cups sugar, 3/4 cup butter or margarine (1½ sticks), and 1 small can (5 oz. or 2/3 cup) evaporated milk. Note: Do not use sweetened condensed milk. Stirring constantly throughout the cooking time, bring mixture to full rolling boil over medium heat, and then continue to boil for four minutes. Remove from heat. Add 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips and one 7-ounce jar of marshmallow crème. Stir until chocolate is melted. Add 1 cup roasted chopped walnuts (optional) and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir until mixture is smooth and nuts are evenly distributed. Scrape mixture into prepared pan and spread evenly. Cool completely at room temperature before cutting.
- Microwave method: Microwave butter or margarine in 4-quart microwave-safe bowl on high (100%) 1 minute or until melted. Add sugar and milk; mix well. Microwave on high 5 minutes or until mixture begins to boil, stirring after 3 minutes. Mix well; scrape bowl. Continue microwaving on high 5-1/2 minutes; stir after 3 minutes. Stir in chocolate chips until melted. Add remaining ingredients. Stir until mixture is smooth and nuts are evenly distributed.
Cut fudge into 1 or 1½-inch squares. For the foil-lined 9×9 pan; use foil handles to lift fudge from pan before cutting. Cut 9×9 squares for 81 small pieces or 6×6 squares for 36 large pieces. In the 13×9 pan, cut 13×9 squares for 117 small squares or cut 8×6 squares for 48 large pieces.
Fudge recipe variations
- Milk chocolate fudge: Substitute 12 ounces milk chocolate chips for the semi-sweet chocolate chips.
- Triple chocolate fudge: Substitute 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips and 1/2 cup white chocolate chips for the walnuts.
- Mint-chocolate fudge: Substitute 12 ounces mint-chocolate chips for the semi-sweet chocolate chips.
- Peppermint fudge: Substitute 1 cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies for the walnuts.
- Rocky road fudge: Substitute 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows for 1/2 cup of the roasted walnuts.
- Mocha almond fudge: Stir 1/4 cup instant coffee granules into the pan with the chocolate chips and substitute 1 cup roasted slivered almonds for the walnuts.
- Peanut butter fudge: Substitute 1 cup peanut butter chips for the 1 cup roasted walnuts.
- Cookies and cream fudge: Substitute 12 ounces white chocolate chips for the semi-sweet chocolate chips and substitute 1 cup crushed Oreo cookies for the walnuts.
- Butterscotch pecan fudge: Substitute 12 ounces butterscotch chips for the semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1 cup roasted chopped pecans for the walnuts.
If you have canned jam in summer, you can also prepare it almost any time of year for gift giving. Each of these recipes uses commonly available ingredients and thickens successfully without the use of pectin.
- Low-sugar pineapple jam: In a heavy stainless-steel or enamel saucepan, stir together 9 cups pineapple purée (about 2 large fresh pineapples or 4½ pounds canned crushed pineapple, drained), 1½ cups sugar, 3½ tablespoons fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, and 1¾ teaspoon grated fresh lime peel. Boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, about 8 minutes or until thickened to desired consistency. Keep jam hot while filling jars; adjust headspace to ¼-inch. Process half-pints or pints for 10 minutes (at 0 to 1,000 feet). Makes 7 half-pints.
- Low-sugar apple or pear butter: In a large (6- to 8-quart), heavy stainless-steel or enamel pot, add 5¾ pounds (about 16 medium) peeled, cored and quartered fruit and 1¾ cup apple cider. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to cook until fruit is soft. Press fruit through a strainer, or purée in a food processor. Rinse the pot and return fruit pulp to it. Stir in 2½ cups sugar, 1¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon cloves. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil gently, adjusting heat as needed. Cook until thick, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Fruitbutter is done when it mounds on a spoon, or a spoonful on a plate does not weep clear liquid around the edge. Keep jam hot while filling jars; adjust headspace to ¼-inch. Process half-pints or pints for 10 minutes (at 0 to 1,000 feet). Makes 7 half-pints.
- Chunky orange-cranberry sauce: Wash 7 cups fresh cranberries and place in a saucepan with 1 heaping tablespoon grated orange zest and 7/8 cup freshly squeezed orange juice. Cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until skins split. Leave berries whole, or purée to desired consistency with a food processor or hand blender. Return sauce to the pan, add 3½ cups sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 3 minutes. Reduce heat, but keep sauce hot while filling jars; adjust headspace to ¼-inch. Process half-pints or pints for 15 minutes (at 0 to 1,000 feet). Makes 7 half-pints.
- Spiced tomato jam: In a large (4- to 6-quart), heavy stainless-steel or enamel saucepan, stir 10 cups tomato purée, 3½ tablespoons grated fresh ginger, 1¾ teaspoon cinnamon, 1 scant teaspoon ground cloves, 2/3 cup bottled lemon juice, 7 tablespoons cider vinegar, and 3½ cups lightly packed brown sugar until well blended. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, or until thickened to desired consistency. Keep jam hot while filling jars; adjust headspace to ¼-inch. Process half-pints or pints for 45 minutes (at 0 to 1,000 feet). Makes 7 half-pints.
Homemade food gifts you have prepared yourself from commonly available ingredients are inexpensive ways to share a simple and thoughtful gesture of giving.