Food & Drink

Simple recipes + pretty packages = great homemade gifts

Swirl these sticks into hot milk for instant hot chocolate.
Swirl these sticks into hot milk for instant hot chocolate.

One summer when there was an abundance of yellow banana peppers, I made a very tasty mustard. At Christmas time, I gave a few jars as gifts, and it was so flavorful, one friend decided to make it for her holiday gifts the following year, and then the next because friends demanded it.

The recipe called for chopping and peeling hot peppers and cooking them with vinegar, and then blending with flour and regular mustard. It was quite flavorful and colorful, and time consuming to make.

This holiday season when you think about making something homemade for your friends and coworkers, I suggest you think about recipes that are easy to make, inexpensive and flavorful. Perhaps something the gift receivers would not make for themselves, such as condiments.


This recipe for whole-grain honey mustard is made by combining a few ingredients, pouring it into sterilized jars, and decorating the jar. Fill a half-pint jar with the mustard, tie a ribbon around the jar like you would a present. Add a scrapbooking sticker in the center of the lid where the ribbons cross. Slide a small spoon or holiday spreader underneath the ribbon.

Whole-grain honey mustard

2 cups yellow mustard seeds

1 cup brown mustard seeds

11/4 cups white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 stick (6-inch-long) cinnamon

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon sea salt

In a bowl, mix together mustard seeds, vinegar, crushed red pepper, and cinnamon stick. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Remove and discard cinnamon stick. Add honey and mix well. Using a mortar and pestle or food processor, blend three-fourths of mixture to a thick paste. Add reserved mixture and sea salt; stir. Spoon into sterilized jars. Makes 6 half-pint jars.

Source: Country Living

Culinary vinegars are popular with gourmet cooks and often cost from $6 to $12 or higher per bottle. Infused vinegar will add panache to many home-cooked dishes. Since they allow you to flavor dishes without salt or fat, infused vinegar can help you cook healthier meals, too.

Blueberry balsamic vinegar

4 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1 quart white balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

Zest from 1 lime, green part only, in strips

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

Crush blueberries in a large, non-reactive saucepan with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon. Add vinegar, sugar, lime zest and cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Pour into a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2 days to allow flavors to blend. Place a strainer over a large bowl. In batches, ladle blueberry mixture into strainer. With a large spoon, press out as much liquid as possible. Discard solids. Pour vinegar into clean glass bottles or jars. Refrigerate, tightly covered, until ready to use. Use in a favorite salad dressing recipe or the following vinaigrette. Makes 5½ cups.

Attach this recipe to the bottle of vinegar.

Blueberry vinaigrette

¼ cup olive oil

3 tablespoons blueberry balsamic vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a cup, combine olive oil, blueberry balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve on salad greens tossed with fresh or dried blueberries.

Source: U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council

A spicy sauce makes a delightful gift for someone who enjoys cooking. Decorate jars of your spicy blackberry pomegranate sauce with strips of burlap. Cut burlap into strips that are two inches wide. Wrap it around each jar, and use hot glue to keep it in place. Use a piece of natural jute twine to attach a homemade tag with serving suggestions.

Spicy blackberry pomegranate sauce

3 cups Driscoll's blackberries

1 cup pomegranate arils (substitute 1 cup Driscoll's blackberries, if desired)

2⁄3 cup sugar

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and roughly chopped (leave the seeds in if you want more heat)

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

Combine blackberries, pomegranate arils, sugar, jalapeño, and vinegar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Reduce heat and simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until blackberries have broken down significantly. Continue to simmer, mashing blackberries against the side of the pan until blackberries are pulpy. Remove from heat.

Strain blackberry pulp through a fine mesh strainer until smooth (you might have to do it more than once). Return blackberry mixture to saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk together cornstarch and water in a small cup or bowl. Add cornstarch mixture to boiling blackberry mixture and stir about 1 minute or until mixture is thickened and clear. Makes 2 cups.

Attach these serving suggestions to the jars or bottles.

■ Make an elegant appetizer by spreading whole-grain crackers with goat cheese, cream cheese, or brie and then add a drizzle of syrup. Or drizzle the syrup over goat cheese, cream cheese, or brie on a serving plate and allow guests to spread on crackers or pita chips.

■ Brush on boneless, skinless chicken thighs while on the grill; drizzle remaining syrup over the chicken thighs before serving.

■ Toss together baby spinach, sliced red onions, crumbled feta or goat cheese, and fresh blackberries. Whisk together 2 parts syrup with 1 part extra virgin olive oil and drizzle over the salad, then toss gently before serving.

Source: Driscoll Strawberry Associates

Make multiple batches of these individual spice sachets for apple cider. Place sachets in a decorative tin, or jar, and be sure to add the mulling directions to the gift.

Apple cider mulling spice

1 stick cinnamon, broken in half

2 whole cloves

2 whole allspice

Place spices in center of a piece of cheesecloth. Tie tightly with long piece of string. Place in a jar, bag, or tin and attach these serving instructions: Place spice sachet in small saucepan. Add 2 cups apple cider and 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.Simmer over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes or until fragrant. Stir in vanilla. Discard spice sachet. Serve warm.

Source: McCormick

Everyone loves candy and bark is one of the easiest homemade gifts you can make. While most people make peppermint bark, you can add a new flavor dimension with dried cranberries and apricots.

Orange white chocolate bark with cranberries and apricots

1 package (12 ounces) white chocolate chips

1/4 teaspoon pure orange extract

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup chopped dried apricots

1/4 cup dried cranberries

Microwave chocolate chips in large microwavable bowl on High for 11/2 to 2 minutes or until almost melted, stirring after 1 minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in orange extract.

Spread on large foil-lined baking sheet to 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle with almonds, apricots and cranberries, pressing lightly into chocolate with spatula. Refrigerate about 10 minutes or until firm. Break into irregular pieces to serve. Store in tightly covered container at cool room temperature or in refrigerator up to 5 days.

Source: McCormick

This is a fun gift for someone who loves hot chocolate. Make a fudgy square of peppermint-flavored white chocolate and a marshmallow on a lollipop stick to swirl into hot milk for rich and creamy hot chocolate.

Peppermint white hot chocolate on a stick

2 pounds white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract

4 drops red food color

18 large marshmallows, halved crosswise

36 lollipop sticks

Line 9-inch square baking pan with foil. Spray foil with no stick cooking spray. Place chopped chocolate in large bowl. Set aside.

Bring sweetened condensed milk and cream to simmer in medium saucepan on medium heat, stirring frequently with wire whisk. Pour over chopped chocolate. Let stand 1 minute. Whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in peppermint extract. Remove 3/4 cup chocolate mixture. Tint chocolate mixture pink with red food color.

Pour remaining (plain) chocolate mixture into prepared pan. Drop tinted chocolate mixture by tablespoons over chocolate mixture in pan. Swirl with knife for marble effect.

Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight until firm. Cut into 36 squares. (May be made ahead. Store chocolate mixture, tightly covered, in pan in refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature before cutting into squares.).

To assemble chocolate on a stick, thread a marshmallow half and a chocolate square onto each lollipop stick. Wrap each hot chocolate on a stick in plastic wrap or small cellophane bag. (May be assembled up to 2 days ahead.). To serve, stir hot chocolate on a stick into 8 ounces hot milk. Makes 36.