Gifts from your kitchen

    It is Christmas time, and that means buying presents. This year forget calendars, candles and bath gel. Why not make something yourself that is fresh, heartfelt and sure to be savored?

    Kitchen gifts are a personal way to let people know how much you appreciate them. Taking the time to craft something from scratch always means more than an obligatory memento from the mall.

    As always, thoughtful planning and preparation will make a monumental difference in how much of your time goes into each gift. Think about who is getting these gifts, and find just one or two items that should please everyone. Read recipes thoroughly and make sure that all containers and mixing bowls, etc. are on hand and are the right size.

    If this is the first time doing this kind of thing, pick a recipe that is easy to do, or one you’ve done before on a small scale. Whenever a recipe is multiplied, the headaches can increase too, especially if you are not prepared with space and equipment.

    A week before, put a list of ingredients together and if shopping must be done at numerous places, do it along with your regular groceries for the week. Leave the weekend to the frantic holiday shoppers who aren’t making their presents at home.

    Think about what kind of packaging will work best. Soft sugarplums need a firm container that will protect the contents, whereas candied nuts will look beautiful in a cellophane bag with festive raffia or ribbon.

    A day in the kitchen is enjoyable. Pour a glass of wine or mull some cider on the stove and get in the holiday mood while preparing your presents. Don’t forget to taste everything you make!



    A traditional Christmas favorite, these confections are not too sweet. Glimmering from a coat of sugar, fruit and nuts are rolled together with a generous kick of brandy. Keep these airtight in a clear container–perfect with coffee or tea when unexpected guests arrive.


1 cup walnuts, toasted

1 cup almonds, toasted

1 cup dried figs

1 cup dried apricots or cherries

1 cup dried dates

1 cup currants

1/3 cup candied or crystallized ginger

1 cup brandy

1 cup cane sugar for rolling


    In a food processor, mince nuts and fruit in tiny bits. Sprinkle a bit of sugar while processing so fruit does not clump up. Mix together in a large bowl and sprinkle with the brandy. Cover and allow to sit for four to six hours or overnight. Form into one-inch balls and roll in sugar. Will keep for up to two weeks at room temperature or longer refrigerated.


Tropical granola

    Give a taste of summer in the depths of winter and soup up breakfast by adding lavish ingredients never found in health food store cereal.


6 cups rolled oats, not instant

1/3 cup sliced almonds, unsalted

1/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped rough

1/8 cup pine nuts, unsalted

1/3 cup sunflower seeds, unsalted

1/3 cup coconut flakes, unsweetened

1/3 cup honey

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup dried tropical fruit–mango, pineapple and papaya, chopped rough


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.


    Combine nuts, sunflower seeds and coconut in a large bowl. Over low heat, melt together honey, butter and brown sugar, adding vanilla when smooth. Remove from heat and pour over nut mixture, then stir to combine. Pour onto cookie-sheet pan lined with foil. Bake, stirring often, until toasty brown. Remove and cool. Break apart if chunks form, then fold in fruit. Store in airtight clear containers.


Glazed spiced nuts

    Don’t sit down to watch a movie with a jar of these in your hand–they’re positively addictive. Practically a brittle, the sugar and honey melt to a caramel-crunch glaze around these toasted nuts.


1/2 cup honey

1 tablespoon water

1 pound nuts: pecans, walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts

1/2 cup raw sugar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


    Melt honey and water together over low heat. Separately combine sugar and spices in a small bowl. Put nuts in a large bowl and pour honey mixture over. Stir well to coat nuts thoroughly. Sprinkle with 2/3 of the sugar mixture and coat, then pour onto a foil-lined cookie-sheet pan. Bake 10-12 minutes, stirring when glaze starts to turn a caramel brown and sprinkle with the reserved sugar-spice mixture. The outside of the pan will begin to brown first so redistribute so all nuts get evenly browned. Remove and cool, then break apart and store in airtight container


Infused vodka

    More an idea than a recipe, flavoring your own vodka makes a colorful and very useful gift.

    Purchase clear glass containers, noting the size of the mouth. Be sure to get a lid or stopper for each container. Zyliss makes an airtight rachet-like top that is perfect for recycling wine-type bottles with small mouths available at kitchen stores and New Seasons.

    Wash containers thoroughly, sanitizing in dishwasher if possible.

    Choose ingredients you think the recipient might like as well as those that have pretty colors. Organic is important here because any chemical or dirt will be passed on to the vodka.

    Cut larger fruits and vegetables into chunks that will fit through mouth, stacking in a way that shows the colors at their best. Peppers can be left whole, if small, as can berries.

    Top with good quality vodka, and allow to sit for between one and two weeks. Sprinkle a bit of sugar at the top to intensify flavor, if desired, shaking occasionally to dissolve.


Some holiday combinations:


Cranberry ginger

Cranberry with orange zest

Citrus zests–orange, lemon and lime

Grapefruit zest

Pineapple mango

Hot peppers/bell peppers for color, jalapeno and habanero peppers

Holiday spice–whole cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cracked nutmeg and allspice berries