Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some Christmas gift giving ideas

Ready or not, but it is time to think about Christmas gifts. In this economy, especially, it's time to think about giving loving gifts from the heart and trying to save some money while doing so. The best way to do this is to make your own gifts. We all have co-workers, extended family members and friends that we try to buy gifts for. A lot of the time an inexpensive homemade gift would be so appreciated and cherished. It is so easy to turn a little homemade gift into something very WOW! and fantastic.
It takes a little planning and thought but let's try to do this. Think about your co-workers, friends and family members. What are their interests, hobbies, personalities? Do they like homemade foods? Do they like to get out the grill in the Spring/Summer/Fall and cook good stuff? Are they stay at home mom's who might enjoy a little help with breakfast one morning? Do they like a little treat in the middle of the day with a cup of tea? Do they like to send out little notes of encouragement to others. Do they like Bath and Body items? Do they love ice cream? Do they like coffee/hot chocolate/teas and spend a lot going out to get that? Do they love chocolate? Do they like sharing special moments with family? Do they like to display photos of family? It's important to give a gift that will get used. It's sad to find out you bought a gift for someone and it sat on a shelf. So think about the interests of your friends and family and then think of a way to incorporate that into a simple gift. Then think of how you can package that up so it looks really as special as they are. It really is all about the presentation of a gift and the thought you put into it, not the cost or the size of the gift that counts.

Here are some great recipes to give to others in a cute container, box, or whatever you can make that will dress them up.

Biscotti and some variations: These are great served with tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. Package some up in some glassine bags or small coffee tie tin bags and give it with some individual packages of coffee (Folgers' singles) and some individual packets of flavored creamers. Very cute and fun. You could easily put together a great little package of this and put it in a large oversized coffee mug, or a standard size mug and it's own saucer.

Chocolate spice biscotti:
1 c. flour
1/2 c. semi sweet chocolate chips
1/3 c. toasted chopped walnuts
3 TBSP. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Combine flour, chocolate, walnuts, cocoa, baking powder, spices and salt in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, add sugar, eggs and vanilla. You want to make sure that you put the eggs in first, then the sugar and vanilla and start mixing right away. As soon as egg yolks come in contact with sugar the sugar actually cooks the egg yolks and start to coagulate them. Not good when you want to whisk them up and incorporate air. So gather those ingredients together first and then put them in your mixing bowl to mix when you are ready to do so.
Beat the egg mixture on high speed until they are light lemony colored and very thick about 5-8 min. Fold flour mixture into the eggs trying very hard not to deflate the eggs. Shape dough on parchment paper into two logs that are 12x2 inches wide. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of extra sugar if you want.
Bake for 30-35 min. Remove from oven and cool completely. Then slice into strips width wise and toast in a 325 F oven for about 15-20 min. to "dry out or crisp".

Citrus Pecan Biscotti.
Increase flour to 1 1/2 c. Omit the cocoa, chocolate chips and spices. Add pecans instead of walnuts. Add the zest of one lemon and one orange to egg mixture. Proceed as recipe directs.

Toasted Almond Biscotti.
Increase flour to 1 1/2c. Omit cocoa, chocolate chips and spices. Add toasted whole almonds for walnuts. Substitute almond extract for vanilla. Proceed as recipe directs.

Chocolate Candy in the Crockpot
1 16 oz. jar of dry roasted salted peanuts
1 16 oz. jar of dry roasted unsalted peanuts
1 box of German Chocolate
1 12 oz. bag of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 packages of chocolate almond bark

Layer the ingredients in your crock pot as listed. If you crock pot has a warm setting, use it and let it sit in crock pot for a few hours until the chocolates are all melted. Stir well with a spoon (this is stiff and hard to do but well worth it).
Spoon out by the teaspoon full and put on waxed paper or parchment paper. Let set and harden (this can take a little while).
Store in an airtight container or in the freezer. Makes about 139 teaspoon size pieces.

Hot Chocolate Blocks: courtesy of King Arthur Flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
18 oz. or 3 cups of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
4 oz. of unsweetened chocolate

wooden sticks or lollipop sticks

line an 8x8 pan with foil.
Heat cream and milk over low heat in a medium saucepan. Heat until steaming. Add chocolates and take off heat. Let sit for about 10 min. and then stir to combine. You can put it back on low heat to totally melt the chocolate if it is already not melted all the way. Stir the chocolate mixture vigorously until thick and shiny. Pour into pan and let it set up overnight. Cut into 1 1/4 inch blocks with a hot dry knife. You can coat the blocks in cocoa powder or crushed peppermints at this point too. Stick the sticks in the blocks and then wrap them in cellophane, waxed paper, or parchment paper. You can store them in an airtight container, or in the freezer.
To make hot chocolate, simply warm up a mug of milk and stir in the hot chocolate block. Super easy and so yummy! A unique way to give the gift of hot chocolate.

These make great gifts stuck in a mug with a couple of chocolate coated marshmallows on sticks as well. Wrap them in a clear cello bag and stick them in the mug. Tie on some pretty festive ribbon, add a tag and voila!! Instant warm happiness for you and your friends.

Here is a yummy cheesecake ball recipe. You can experiment with lots of add ins on this one.

1 cup of sugar (powedered or regular but powdered is best)
2 packages of cream cheese
1/2 stick of butter
1 tsp. of vanilla
(you can add in about 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips, peanutbutter chips, crushed oreos, crushed peppermints, or crushed lemon drops to this)
Cream together the cream cheese, butter and sugar. Add mix ins. Divide mixture in half. Shape each half into two balls on plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for a couple of hours or until firm. You can roll the cheesecake ball in about a 1/2 cup of more of the mix ins listed above, or chopped nuts or crushed cookie crumbs.
Serve with sweet butter cookies, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, fruit, or slices of pound cake. It is awesome!

Here is another version:
Peanutbutter chocolate chip:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup peanutbutter
2 packages of cream cheese
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Mix as stated above. Roll in mini chocolate chips before serving or chopped peanuts.

Caramel pecan:
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 packages of cream cheese
1/2 stick of butter
3/4 cup of chopped pecans
Mix up and proceed as above instructions.

Key lime or Margarita cheeseball:
1/3 cup sugar
1 box of lime jello
1 tsp. key lime juice
2 packages of cream cheese
1/2 stick of butter
(roll in toasted coconut or graham crumbs, or coconut and macadamias)

You can make these into little bite size cheeseballs for a party tray too. Just scoop out using a small cookie or ice cream scoop (Pampered chef makes a good one in their small size) when the mixture has chilled until it is firm. It's messy but shape the scoops into a ball and roll in chopped nuts or crumbs.

You can turn these recipes into little mousse tartletts by taking out the butter, adding only one and 1/2 packages of cream cheese. Add a little milk to the cheese mixture to thin it out a little (about 1/4 cup or less). Fold in a 8 0z. container of cool-whip that has been thawed. Pipe this into phyllo shells, brownie cups, or tart shells. Or line the bottom of mini muffin cups with a teaspoon of graham cracker crumb crust and pipe in the filling.

You can even package up these cheesecake ball mixes for gifts. Just package the sugar/sugars and any other dry add-ins in a zipper bag. Place chopped up nuts or other finishing garnish to roll the cheesecake balls in in a zipper bag (approx. 1/2 cup per cheeseball). Staple or tie together with ribbon and the instructions that tell them to add the 2 packages of cream cheese and 1/2 stick of butter. Place these in a pretty gift bag and voila, your gift giving dilemmas are over. Makes a great hostess gift to give to those holiday parties you go to.

  • Fruit and Nut Granola
  • 4 cups oats
  • 1 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • NOTE: add 1/2 cut of choc. chips if you want some in there


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the oats, almonds, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, canola oil, and honey. Spread evenly over the prepared baking sheet, pressing down lightly with the back of a spoon.
  3. Bake 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool completely.
  4. In a large bowl, break the cooled granola into large chunks. Mix in the raisins, and sweetened dried cranberries (and choc. chips if you decide). Store in an airtight container.
(Recipe was first shared by Lauren Meador)

Whole Grain Pancake Quick mix from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking
3 1/2 cups old fashioned oats (grind them for 30 seconds in a food processor till they are very well chopped up)
4 c. white whole wheat flour (it has a milder taste than regular whole wheat)
1 c. all purpose flour
3 TBSP. sugar
3 TBSP. baking powder
1 TBSP. salt
1 TBSP. baking soda
3/4 c. oil ( I like to use the Smart Balance Oil)

All you do is mix up all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Then you slowly add in the oil till it is mixed in well and evenly distributed. Done. I use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and it is so easy. Please note you can't just substitute quick oats for the ground oats. They aren't fine enough. You can put this in a ziploc bag and store it in the freezer. Since it is made with whole wheat flour, you need to keep it stored in the freezer unless you will be using it within a couple of weeks. I keep mine in the freezer and just scoop out a cup or two each time I make pancakes. Very easy and you don't have to thaw it out or anything.

Then to make a batch of pancakes (makes about 10 regular sized pancakes):
1 c. of pancake mix
1c. buttermilk
1 TBSP. orange juice (optional)
1 egg

Just measure out the dry mix, add the liquid, let it rest for 15 min. while you get out the plates, preheat the griddle, pour milk or juice for the little ones and it is done. Cook like you would for regular pancakes. Your kids will get a healthy, protein filled and fiber rich pancakes and they won't even know it is healthy cause they taste soooo good.

And then here is a great recipe for biscuits that you can prep the night before and then just add liquid in the morning and roll out. You might even be able to roll them out, wrap them up the night before and then just pop them in the oven in the morning. Haven't tried that yet, but I will my next batch.

So here they are courtesy of Katie Lee Joel and Comfort Food cookbook:
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 stick of butter or 50/50 Smart Balance spread (I use the latter and it's awesome)
1 TBSP. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar
(mix all the dry together and then cut in the butter until it looks like coarse meal)
Then add:
1 c. buttermilk
Knead the dough about 1 minute until smooth.
Roll out on floured surface (go easy on the flour on the surface okay, you don't want to make a flour crust on the biscuits).
Cut with a 2 inch round cutter.
Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 450 F for 10-12 min.
You can brush the tops with butter after you get them out of the oven. They are great with sausage and jelly or just buttered.

Homemade Hot Cocoa mix: from Penzey's spices
For 4 servings stir together:
3 TBSP of sugar
2 TBSP of natural cocoa (Penzey's spices has the best natural cocoa)
A dash of cinnamon

Now add this to 4 c. milk and heat in a heavy saucepan. Top with mini marshmallows. Or make a chocolate covered marshmallow pop (take a lollipop stick, thread on a marshmallow and dip in chocolate) and stir this in. Yummy!! Present some of this in a little tin, tuck it in an oversized coffee cup with some peppermint sticks, chocolate covered spoons sprinkled with crushed peppermints, or some chocolate covered marshmallows sprinkled with crushed peppermints.

Parmesan Chive Biscuit Mix: from Paula Deen
3 cups all purpose flour
1 TBSP plus 1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup all-vegetable shortening
3/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 TBSP dried chives
1 tsp. garlic powder

In medium bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture is crumbly. Stir in cheese, chives and garlic powder. Spoon into a 1-2 quart gift jar or a zip top bag to be put into a gift box.

To serve: Spoon biscuit mix into a medium bowl. Add 1 c. milk, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Drop biscuits by heaping tablespoonfuls onto baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray or lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400 F. for 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen biscuits.

Gingerbread in a Jar:from Paula Deen
Makes 5-6 Half Pint jars

1 TBSP. melted shortening or butter
2 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. milk
1/2 cup butter. melted
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 F. Brush 5-6 half pint canning jars that have been washed and sterilized (just dip them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then dry) with the melted shortening or butter. You can also try to spray them with a cooking spray. Place the jars on a baking sheet: set aside.

In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl combine milk, molasses, butter, eggs and vanilla. Combine wet to the dry ingredients and stir well. Evenly divide batter among the jars filling 1/2 full. Bake for 30-35 min.

Using kitchen towels, remove one jar from oven and carefully place lid and ring on each: screw lids on tightly. Cool jars on countertop. Once jars have sealed, store in a cool place for up to 1 year.

Chocolate Cake in a Jar: from Paula Deen

2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup butter melted
1/2 cup water
6 TBSP unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs beaten
1 tsp. vanilla

5-6 1/2 pint canning jars sterilized and greased and placed on a baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In a large bowl combine all dry ingredients (sugar, flour, baking soda and salt). In a separate bowl stir together the water, butter and cocoa powder. Add butter mixture to the dry mixture. Stir in buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Evenly divide batter in jars, filling about 1/2 full.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.

Carefully lift one jar at a time out of the oven and screw on lid and ring. Screw on tightly. Once the jars have sealed you can store them in cool dry place for up to 1 year.

Heavenly Chocolate Sauce: From Paula Deen

1 cup butter
6 oz. of unsweetened chocolate (Ghiradelli is best, and you can get a bar of this at Wal-Mart)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla

In large saucepan, combine butter and chocolate and melt over low heat, stirring frequently until melted. Add sugars and stir to combine. Increase heat to medium-low, stir in cream, and cook 5 min. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Let cool and then spoon into airtight containers. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. A great sauce for ice cream, brownie sundaes, cheesecake, and pound cake.

Rum Toffee Sauce: From Paula Deen

1 cup butter
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 c. dark rum
1 tsp. vanilla

IN a medium saucepan combine butter and brown sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and stir in cream and rum: simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool and spoon into airtight containers and store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Homemade vanilla. So easy and actually pretty inexpensive.
3 Madagascar vanilla beans (can get from Penzey's)
3 Mexican vanilla beans (can get from Penzey's)
1.75 liter bottle of vodka (you don't have to buy a real expensive brand)

Split and scrape the vanilla beans. Place them and the scraped out seeds into the vodka bottle. Shake the bottle up to mix up the vanilla beans and vodka. Store in a cool dry place. Shake bottle vigorously after one week. Shake every week for 3 months. You can strain the vodka to put in smaller bottles to give, but it is nice to have some seeds in the vanilla. It looks more gourmet. A good place to get pretty bottles is www.renaissancebydesign.com. Or go to www.specialtyglass.com for lots of packaging.

Penzey's spices website is www.penzeys.com. They sell cooking spices, spice blends (Jerk chicken, bbq, chili, steak seasoning, curry powders, Italian blend, seasoning salts, salt free seasoning, taco seasoning, salad dressing bases, etc.) and baking spices like cocoa, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, mace, cardamon, vanilla beans, extracts, etc. They are fresh spices in a variety of amounts from 1/4 cup jars to bulk bags. I love them and they are so great to give as gifts. Pick a couple of blends for meats on the grill and give it to the men in your life for grilling out. Give some baking supplies to the baker you know. Or just buy some for yourself to kick your own cooking up a notch. They are online at www.penzeys.com and they have a catalog you can sign up to receive with recipes in them as well. It's a cool store. I love it.

Coffee House Cookies: From Lauren Meador

3 Cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 Cup of softened butter (you can use margarine but butter is better for taste-not the waist)

1 1/2 Cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup of chocolate chunks

1 cup of white chocolate chips

1 cup of Peanut Butter Chips

1 cup of butterscotch chips

(you can omit or decrease the amounts and add favorite nuts instead :D)

Cream butter and sugar together. Then add eggs. They add dry ingredients. Stir in chips of your choice and nuts.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

I used ice cream scooper to scoop out large amounts of the cookie dough onto my baking sheet. Slightly push down center.

Bake 15 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. YOu can make these smaller with a smaller scoop. Decrease the baking time to about 10-12 min. or until edges are golden. Makes a soft cookie. Great dipped in coffee. pack it in a little "coffee" basket/mug.


Another great thing to package up with coffee or teas are some homemade shortbread cookies. Martha Stewart did a whole article on shortbread and about 17 different variations on them one year at Christmas. I have the recipes and they are sooo easy and good. The basic recipe is here: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/basic-shortbread?autonomy_kw=basic%20shortbread and here: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/basic-shortbread-cookies?autonomy_kw=basic%20shortbread

Well that is all the gift mixes. You can find lots of cookie in a jar mixes online, and I have some as well. I just don't have time to copy them all here. You all have your favorite holiday baking recipes, so pull them out, make them in mini loaves or a big batch of your favorite signature holiday cookies and package them up pretty and give as a gift. They sure won't sit on a shelf somewhere and end up in a garage sale, but will sure to be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone who gets them.
Next year, try getting some strawberries or other fruits and making homemade jelly. Pack them in 8 oz. jars and give as gifts with scone or biscuit mixes. Or with a loaf of bread or pound cake. Yummy.
Package up the pancake mix above with some maple syrup or fruit syrup and place in a pretty box or bag. Yummy and sure to be a hit. The cheesecake ball mixtures would be lovely packaged with some graham crackers, homemade shortbread, or other cookies as a wonderful gift. Maybe decorate a glass dessert plate to package them up on.

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