The benefits of giving homemade holiday food gifts are numerous. They are easy on the budget and ideal for those people on your holiday gift list who have everything. The receiver appreciates the personal touch and effort you’ve put into the gift and, for you, the creative act of putting together ahomemade gift is rewarding.

But what many people may not know about the benefits of homemade gifts is that they can actually be better for the planet than the standard store bought gifts. Many mass-produced gift items are things that your gift recipients actually do not need. How many times have you received an off-the-shelf Christmas gift that you simply tucked away in a corner of your closet? With homemade gifts, you get to customize your gifts to what your gift recipients might like or use. Homemade gifts can also be less energy-consuming to produce, since you get to cut out the shipping process.

Homemade gifts also have the benefit of giving materials, originally headed for the recycling or trash bin, a new lease of life. For example, a piece of leftover ribbon can now be reused as part of the gift-wrap for a homemade gift. The process of hand-making your gifts can help to contribute to less waste, especially if you seek to reuse materials as much as possible. In the process of making homemade gifts, you might have to purchase some materials. Try to minimize that if you can. Be innovative, find alternatives that already exist at home. Because you have a choice over the type of materials, you can choose the environmentally more friendly or biodegradable versions.

What could be easier than baking a batch of your favorite cookies or mixing mocha drink ingredients or making a container of pickles and giving it as a gift in a fancy jar, complete with recipe and instructions? It is best to use a recipe that has your own special ingredients. Give the recipient a gourmet food jar or container that they might not find anywhere else. The best part about this step is that you can use a variety of jars in different shapes and sizes, adding to the uniqueness of your homemade food gift. Print the recipe and attach it to the food gift. Be sure to include all of the directions and a list of the ingredients the gift recipient will need to finish the recipe.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Toffee

Yield: about 20 pieces

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 sleeve saltine crackers (about 4 oz.)
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread almonds in a shallow pan; bake until lightly toasted and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes, shaking pan halfway through. Remove to a bowl to cool, then chop.

Line a 15-by-10-inch baking sheet with foil; mist with cooking spray. Arrange crackers in a single layer on sheet, breaking crackers as necessary to fit.

Bring butter and sugar to a boil in a small pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Spread mixture evenly over crackers. Bake for 13 minutes. Remove sheet from the oven; add peanut butter in dollops. Return to oven until peanut butter begins to melt, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack.

Spread peanut butter evenly. Sprinkle both types of chocolate chips over the mixture on the baking sheet; let stand until chips soften, about 1 minute. Spread chips over peanut butter. Sprinkle with almonds. Let stand for 30 minutes. Place sheet in the refrigerator; chill until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into approximately 20 pieces. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

As A Gift: Fill a decorative coffee mug with toffee pieces.

Peppery Peach Sauce

Yield: 8 half-pint jars

Ingredients

  • Three 16-ounce packages frozen unsweetened peach slices
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 15 1/2 ounce can peach or apricot nectar
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 fresh hot red chile pepper, seeded and very finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and chopped

Directions

Place half of the frozen peaches in a food processor or blender. Cover and process or blend until peaches are very finely chopped. Transfer chopped peaches to a 6-quart pot. Repeat with remaining peaches. (You should have 5 cups pureed peaches.)

Add sugar, nectar, vinegar, lemon juice, chile pepper, salt and garlic to the pot. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in raspberries.

Immediately ladle peach sauce into hot, clean half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and wipe jar rims; adjust lids. Process filled jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes (start timing when water returns to boil). Remove jars from canner; cool on racks.

As A Gift: Tie a ribbon around a filled jar, then slide a basting brush underneath the ribbon. Add a sprig of rosemary to the top of the jar for a festive touch.

Sweet Potato Loaf

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup light dairy sour cream
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup mashed cooked peeled sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat an 8x4x2-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In one bowl, combine flours, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine sour cream, eggs, sugar, milk, oil and vanilla. Stir in sweet potatoes. Add sour cream mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened. Fold in dates and nuts. Spoon batter into prepared pan, spreading evenly.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely.

As A Gift: Wrap the loaf in cellophane or a pretty dish towel and tie with ribbon.

Parmesan Grissini

Yields: 25 to 30 grissini

Ingredients

  • 2 2/3 cups bread flour
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup warmed milk
  • 1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) finely grated Parmesan

Directions

In a bowl combine bread flour, yeast, sea salt, fennel seeds and red pepper; make a well in the middle.

Pour olive oil and warmed milk into the well. Stir until dough comes together. Add Parmesan and mix until incorporated.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. (You can prepare the dough in a mixer with a dough hook, if desired.)

Shape dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap; set in a warm, draft-free place and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Lightly flour work surface again, then turn dough out and knead lightly for 1 minute.

Using a rolling pin, roll dough into a 12- by 15-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.

Using a sharp knife, cut dough into strips just under 1/2 inch wide. Lightly flour hands, then quickly roll strips until they’re slightly rounded.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving space between each strip. Set aside to rise again, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle shelf until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, turning bread sticks halfway through. Let cool completely.

As A Gift: Bundle in wax paper or parchment and seal with gold stickers.

Homemade Spice Mixes

Combine the individual mixtures and package in decorative containers. You can purchase decorative tins or spice jars from any kitchen supply company or use some of your empty spice jars.

Poultry Seasoning

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt free chicken bouillon granules

Fish Seasoning

  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground dried sage
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried marjoram leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried crushed rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Steak Seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons coarse-ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dill seed
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

Italian Seasoning

  • 4 tablespoons dried basil
  • 4 tablespoons dried marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 2 tablespoons thyme
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage

Gluten Free Flour Blend

If you have friends with gluten intolerance, they will appreciate having this baking mix handy.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups finely ground rice flour
  • 2/3 cup potato starch
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum

Directions

Combine all ingredients in large bowl; stir very well. Store mixture in a container with tight-fitting lid in the freezer; stir before using.

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