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Home cooked, or assembled food/foodie gifts for Christmas, new ideas?

Sure, I know its just September. But some things gift-wise have to be started early. It's going to be a fairly lean year here on the farm due to some new business ventures, so gifts are going to be kept on a budget and home-made when possible.

I'm going to be starting some hard cheeses this weekend. I'm still at a bit of a hit and a miss on my cheese making skills, so I try to start early and often.

I was thinking maybe some jellies or canned relishes or pickles. Maybe flavored vinegars or something. But I'm looking for something new and exciting. Anyone want to share their ideas?

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  1. Not terribly new or exciting, but if you have a favorite cookie recipe, put the dry ingredients in a glass jar, then attach a recipe card so your giftee can add the rest and bake their own.

    1. We put together homemade stuff last year and everyone was very happy. Like you, we're starting early this year.
      We're doing chow chow ketchup, green ketchup, and salsa with late season, cheap tomatoes.
      Last year, we also canned (well, jarred) various beans in layers, the wife tied a decorative cloth overtop and I made a seasoning packet - a homemade version of 7 bean soup mix.
      We also do dried sausage which is a big hit, and we have about 15 gallons of 2 year old wine which will be bottled in a few weeks.

      We just bought Bernardin's Guide to Home Preserving. Lotsa ideas.
      I'm now looking at various jellies, like habanero gold, red pepper and garlic, and red onion jelly - looks good and seems pretty simple.

      2 Replies
      1. re: porker

        What do you think of the Bernardin's book? I've heard it mentioned before but haven't run across it yet to look at. I have "the Big Book of Preserving the harvest" by Costenblader. It has some interesting recipes.... like horseradish jelly and summer squash conserve that I may try this year.

        1. re: Firegoat

          The wife picked up the Ball Blue Book at a garage sale awhile back for $1. No date on it, but it looks like its from 1962. Still very informative with lots of old-school recipes.

          Recently (last week) picked up Bernardin. Obviously more modern, slick handbook (more like a hefty magazine) for like $7.

          I like it, as it carries loads of info on mainstream subjects like tomatoes and pickles. It also covers other stuff like salsas, "international pickles", and "asian condiments".
          There's also a "gifts in a jar" section which shows layered items, nuts, soup, and crafts like snow-globes, candles, and kids stuff.

          It looks like this

          I also stumbled across a different, perhaps more comprehensive Bernardin:

      2. In addition to these great ideas, I bake small loaves of different kinds of breads and/or scones and put in little pots of different kinds of homemade cheese spreads (like smokey cheddar bacon with toasted walnuts) and compound butters (like snail butter, chive butter, honey cinnamon butter). To help things stay cool until people get home with their baskets I put little frozen gel packs from the dollar store in plastic bags and bury them underneath the butters and spreads. Not always necessary depending on the weather at that time of year, but definitely helpful with the baskets that go with my husband to his office.

        2 Replies
        1. re: morwen

          would either of you be willing to share your recipe for green ketchup or the smokey cheddar bacon with toasted walnut spread?

          1. re: Firegoat

            Sure! Smokey Cheddar Bacon is a mostly "to-taste" recipe. I've never really measured it out, I just taste as I go.

            8 oz cream cheese, room temp
            1 lb sharpest cheddar you can find, shredded, room temp
            1/2 lb nice smokey bacon, fried to a crisp, drained well and finely crumbled, OR, you can use a package of real bacon bits (like Hormel)
            pinch or two of garlic OR onion powder
            1 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts (I use a double handful, but I've got small hands so I'm guesstimating 1 cup)
            a few drops of liquid smoke to taste
            fresh coarsely ground black pepper to taste

            Pulse the cream cheese and cheddar cheese together in a food processor. The cream cheese acts mostly as a binder so you can use more or less as your taste dictates. Start out with half the amount of both cheeses and add more of whichever until you get the cheddar cheese taste that you like. Then whirl until fairly smooth and combined.

            Add a pinch of garlic or onion powder and taste. Add a little more if you think it needs to be more pronounced or if you like it garlicky/oniony.

            Pulse in bacon crumbles. I like lots!

            Pulse in chopped walnuts.

            Taste for smoke flavor. Sometimes the bacon provides enough but if you need more, add liquid smoke mixing in a drop at a time and tasting after each addition. Be careful here, a little goes a long way.

            I don't add salt. Usually it's got enough from the cheese, bacon, and liquid smoke. But I do add a little coarsely ground or cracked black pepper at the end, again to taste.

            Pot up in small containers. I use 4 oz snack size plastic ones. Refrigerate. Flavors are well blended the day after making it, but it can be used immediately too. It can be frozen until needed which makes it handy to make ahead and store until you're ready to do your Xmas baskets.

            A variation of this is to make a "pine cone" for an appetizer for a Xmas party or buffet. You could even make small ones for gift baskets. Swap out the walnuts for pecans. Reserve a pile of whole toasted pecans. Make the recipe and chill well. When chilled, form the spread into an egg shape (either one large or several small). Starting at the narrow end, push the smaller ends of a couple of pecans into the "egg". Add the next row of pecans overlapping the bottom row and continue "shingling" all the way to the top. Garnish with a little spray of pine.

        2. I make home-cured corned beef for family and friends. I usually end up making about five briskets or so every winter, in addition to special order from friends that want to give them as gifts themselves. Fully cooked, they last a long time if wrapped properly and refrigerated. It is actually quite easy, only requires about five minutes to trim the meat, 10 minutes to assemble the cure and rub it on, and two weeks in the fridge with a "food grade" brick on top. After that you are pretty much in business. I basically use Joan Nathan's recipe/process from "Jewish Cooking in America." Very popular homemade gift around here.

          1. How about
            *some homemade peppermint marshmallows with some hot cocoa mix
            *Homemade fudge
            *a tray of cinnamon rolls
            *homemade vanilla extract (really simple from what I've read)
            I think your idea of infused vinegars or olive oils would be great too!

            Hope this helps,

            4 Replies
            1. re: sammyw

              Firegoat, if you have any pecan (or I guess any other nut) trees on your farm, you might consider nut gifts. It has always been my experience that friends & family without such trees like nothing better than a gift of pecans (preferably shelled - or some of both if a big gift). Have at times sent sugared, spiced, etc. pecan halves, but believe just regular pecans (for use as gift recipients desire) are more appreciated. Homemade jams, jellies, butters, preserves, etc. as well as homemade relishes have always been popular gifts with me - both to give & receive. Homemade breads (a cranberry-pumpkin one is my favorite) and homemade cheese straws are two of my favorites to receive - as I seldom make the breads & never the cheese straws.

              1. re: foodisgreat

                Unfortunately I do not have pecan trees, but I do live in the "pecan belt" where it is easy to access fresh pecans in the fall. I usually buy a bag for my mom and grandmother, because while they can grow walnuts in the north, the pecans don't fare well there.

                1. re: Firegoat

                  Here's a link for spiced nuts previously posted....there's an Orange-Spiced Nuts recipe I posted at the bottom.


              2. re: sammyw

                I've been making homemade marshmallows for a few years and people really like them- I just do plain ones but every person that has gotten them marvels at the fact that you can make them yourself. It isn't very expensive either.

                Great suggestion sammyw!

              3. This is a December idea rather than a months in advance idea...There are some recipes out there for baking cakes inside a canning jar. I got a kahlua chocolate cake in a jar as a present last year. It was very charming.

                1. This recipe is from the Beverly Hills Hotel and I have been making it and giving as gifts for years.

                  Polo Lounge Granola

                  Ingredients :
                  1/2 cup honey
                  1/4 cup corn syrup
                  1/4 cup apple juice
                  1/2 cup oil
                  6 cup oatmeal
                  3/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
                  3/4 cup sesame seeds
                  1 1/2 cup pecan pieces
                  1 1/2 cup sliced almonds
                  3/4 cup pine nuts
                  1 cup shredded coconut
                  3/4 cup wheat germ
                  1/2 cup lecithin
                  1 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
                  1/2 cup brown sugar - (packed)
                  1/2 tsp cinnamon
                  Method :
                  • Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
                  • Combine the honey, corn syrup, apple juice and oil in large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat.
                  • Combine the oatmeal, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pecans, almonds, pine nuts, coconut, wheat germ, lecithin, a dash of salt, the dry milk, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Add to the hot liquid in the saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
                  • Spread the granola mixture on 2 baking sheets and bake, stirring with a wooden spoon every 10 minutes, until the cereal is lightly browned and crunchy, about 40 minutes. Cool, then store in airtight containers.
                  • This recipe yields 24 half-cup servings.


                  2 Replies
                  1. re: laliz

                    This sounds good - I'd like to give it a try. What is lecithin and is it necessary? I know I see it on packages all the time, but I've never seen it as an ingredient in a recipe.

                    1. re: waver

                      I think that lecithin is a nutritional additive in this case. It does act as an emulsifier but this is granola! Lecithin is in egg yolk. You can easily omit it.

                  2. Have you ever had PA Dutch chow-chow? It's a sweet-and-sour hodgepodge of veggies. Sort of a cross between a relish and 3-bean salad. I've never made it, seemingly too labor intensive, but I have bought cases of the stuff over the years as Christmas gifts. Here's a link to a recipe that sounds like what I've tasted.


                    Also, depending what's in your garden, you might want to invesitgate the Italian Giardiniera, pickled vegetables.

                    Personally, I think jars of jam are so welcomed and so comforting that you can't go wrong. I'm putting up my second batch of peach jam tomorrow.

                    1. i make bottles of homemade cranberry vodka and lemoncillo. Great gifts for alcohol lovers and make great after dinner treats for the holidays.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: emilief

                        What vodka would you recommend for these? I don't want to use a super-high premium vodka meant for sipping, but don't want one that has an unpleasant taste, either.


                        1. re: almccasland

                          check out this post and search around on Spirits board if you need more info. For my cranberry and lemoncello I use a pretty basic brand and have always have success..


                          1. re: geminigirl

                            Great, thanks! I did search the spirits board, but I didn't type in the proper phrase, it seems. Happy Thanksgiving!

                          2. re: almccasland

                            I use Absolut. I save the bottle while the vodka is steeping in cranberries and strain it back into the bottle when finished, Just did it yesterday and it is delicious. Re the limoncello, I use vodka but it is supposed to be even better with pure alcohol (grain alcohol?? everclear or some such thing).

                            1. re: emilief

                              Thank you, too! How long did you steep the cranberries in the vodka? Were you pleased with the results?

                              1. re: emilief

                                you don't want to use pure alcohol!

                                1. re: melly

                                  Ha, yes not pure alcohol, as in rubbing alcohol - but GRAIN alcohol is very much recommended to use in making limoncello.

                              2. re: almccasland

                                I made Rompope and bought a really high proof vodka meant just for this type of thing. It has a high-test flavour alone but with the eggs, sugar and vanilla, it is just fine. I think you could use something cheap with no problem.

                            2. I had some large (probably 3" long, thinner than a bell, fatter than a banana pepper) mildly-hot peppers pickled stuffed with sauerkraut that were wonderful. I think the fellow said he got the recipe from epicurious. Very different, very good.

                              There was a recipe somewhere here on Chowhound for Cowboy Candy -- sweet pickled jalapenos.

                              One of the easiest I know is to get a jar of dill pickle chips, drain & reserve pickle juice, add one small bottle of tabasco to the jar, 1 cup sugar, and pour pickle juice back in until full. Put a bit of plastic wrap on to get a tight seal, stick in the fridge, and turn the jar over every 48 hours for 2-3 weeks. Great on sandwiches.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: weezycom

                                Terrific pickles, so easy! Try adding peeled garlic cloves to these. and when chopped in the processor, make an unusual pickle relish! I like them too, when using regular sweet pickle chips.

                              2. This year I am canning Vanilla Pears as gifts. A vanilla bean in each jar and pear halves or whole if they are small.

                                I think anything home made would be appreciated. Cookies, spiced nuts, tamales, jams, jellies. Personally, what I don't like to receive are mixes of any sort. I received a jar of dried orange zest and was delighted. I made candied citrus peel and then dipped the tip in a good dark chocolate. That was well received.

                                1. i agree with homemade jams and such. personally, i love to make apple or pear butter, as these are always well received in the hearty fall season.

                                  i also like filling little cellophane bags with baked streusel topping (just the crumby topping), and tying off with pretty satin ribbons.

                                  agree also that making flavored liquors or vodkas is a nice simple touch.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Emme

                                    Home made spice blends such as steak rubs, curry powders, taco seasoning, seasoning salt etc. are interesting. Get empty glass spice jars and layer all the different ingredients, give it to the person this way, they can be quite beautiful in the layers, just make sure that there is enough room to shake the ingredients in the bottle. :)

                                  2. Nigella has some great ideas in her new Christmas book.

                                    I'm going to be making several of them, including dried fruits steeped in Pedro Ximinez/cherry brandy (amazing as a topping for vanilla ice-cream), Christmas chutney, Christmas pudding truffles and honey and fig vinegar.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: greedygirl

                                      Okay, I've scoured the web--- can we please have a paraphrase of the dried fruits steeped in brandy? I would love to try this.

                                      1. re: Vetter

                                        As Nigella says, not so much of a recipe as an assembly job.

                                        She recommends adding 250ml of alcohol to 250g of your chosen fruit. Put in sterilised kilner jars and keep for at least four days before giving away. The fruit will absorb the liqueur as it stands, so you may need to top it up with another 100ml or so.

                                        Recommended combinations are:

                                        Dried cherries + cherry brandy (not kirsch)
                                        Mixed luxury dried fruits (raisins, sultanas, currants, glacé cherries) in Pedro Ximinez
                                        Golden sultanas in Grand Marnier

                                        Embarrassingly easy, really.

                                    2. I really like the idea of "Salad Kit" in Chow's "10 Homemade Food Gifts".

                                      I'm thinking of doing a small bottle of homemade dressing, a bag of croutons, and a bag of nuts/ other topping. And maybe with a set of salad tongs if I can find some inexpensive ones that I like.

                                      Any ideas for dressing/crouton/topping combination? I'd like to make a few different ones so that I'm not giving everyone the exact same thing. I'm thinking that one could be a red wine vinaigrette with herbs, pita "croutons", toasted pine nuts, and sun-dried tomatoes.

                                      1. I make REAL ceasar dressing and bottle it up. In a nice bag I include homemade croutons and romaine lettuce leaves. I use pasturized eggs.

                                        1. I'm making home made nut butter and granola.

                                          1. Preserved Lemons. A single lemon, salt and lemon juice in those 1 cup Mason jars; fabylous for Moroccan dishes.

                                            Homemade Crackers. Simple & easy. Package in 'cookie tins'.

                                            Homemade Spice Rubs or blends. Use a LOT less salt than the commercial stuff...

                                            1. Homemade Nutella!


                                              Feta chunks in herbs and olive oil in pretty glass jars (refrigerate


                                              Pear and Chipotle Jam--use standard pear jam recipe and add dried ground chipotle. Also good madein summer with fresh plums pr peaches.

                                              1. I had a very overactive passionfruit vine this year so everyone's getting Passionfruit jam, homemade granola and some really good coffee beans.

                                                Breakfast on me!