Select Page

Three Fun Food Gifts This Season

Written by contributor Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship.

Natural cooking and handmade gifts? Well. When I saw those two topics here at Simple Organic for the month of November, you can imagine how excited I was.

I spend a ton of time in the kitchen, and if I must give a gift, I do love it to at least have a personal touch, if not homemade all the way.

I’m often known to give food gifts, and since my whole foods conversion kind of disallows the rock candy that was my former yearly trademark, I’ve had to branch out a bit. It’s been fun to give family and friends healthy and fun foods for their unwrapping enjoyment. Here are my top 3 favorites for everyone on your list:

For the Bakers…

Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you open my casserole dish cupboard, you’ll be whomped with the scent of vanilla, because I’ve got about ¾ gallons of homemade vanilla extract perking along for Christmas gifts this year.

I’m so excited that it seems to be working, and it really only took about 20 minutes to get the jars going (plus a few hours research and ordering supplies, which I’ll distill into 15 minutes for you here).

I’m trying both a vodka-based and bourbon-based vanilla extract. Bourbon is a dark liquid already, but here’s how the vodka looked on day one, on the right:

Photo by Katie Kimball

And just one day later:

Isn’t that such fun?

If you want to make homemade vanilla, most recipes would tell you you’re a bit late for Christmas gifts for this year. Some say you can be ready to go in four weeks, though, so if you’re fast, you might make it!

You could also make individual bottles with vanilla beans in them like my friend Jodi did, and then even if the vanilla isn’t ready, you could always wrap them and present to friends with instructions about when to use the gift.

Here are the resources I used:

  • Best vanilla recipe, bourbon homemade vanilla
  • Ordered little brown jars from here (and darn, aren’t they too cute?)
  • Decided on a half pound of vanilla beans from Amazon after a bit of price checking, taking shipping into account (free if you need at least one more item)
  • I used my own half gallon jar, but you could buy big jars at the same source I got the little jars (note: shipping for gallon jars is about the same as the cost of the jars)

I think the time I spent scraping and cutting the beans is responsible for the deep color that happened so quickly, but if you want a quicker project, and especially if you have 4-6 months for the process to perk along, you could just snip down the middle of the bean with kitchen shears or a knife and drop them in the jar.

For the Eaters…

Homemade Salad Dressings

I keep an eye out all year long for appropriately sized glass bottles and jars to put my homemade dressings in. I love avoiding plastic and re-using, and I’m always especially pleased when I can give a gift that (a) increases my loved ones’ nutrition and (b) is consumable, therefore not cluttering a house or a landfill.

My favorite dressings to make and share include basic Italian and Ranch, Caesar, Asian Toasted Sesame and Greek.

Photo by Katie Kimball

I make a big old mess of the counter and whip up a bunch of jars batch cooking style. See my post on making homemade dressings as gifts here. Last Christmas my sister-in-law and  her husband told me I could give them dressings for every holiday and they’d be happy. My in-laws threw away the Caesar because it seemed thick (which is what olive oil does in the fridge). Sigh. You win some, you lose some!

For the Drinkers…

Homemade Irish Cream

Photo by Christopher Cornelius

As consumable holiday gifts for adults go, a bottle of wine or nice liquor is a classic. Adding the extra touch of making your own makes the gift really special. A few years ago when we presented my husband’s godparents with homemade Irish Cream Liqueur, they were totally impressed and kept saying, “We didn’t know you made your own booze!”

The secret: we didn’t, really.

You don’t need a distillery (or any special equipment, for that matter) to make homemade Irish Cream that rivals the name brand. The recipe I used was from a book from the library called Cheaper and Better, and it uses store bought vodka as the base.

My marked up recipe, alas, is all packed up because we’re trying to make my tiny kitchen look bigger to sell the house, but I found someone else who had made the exact recipe here. (Here is a different version using Irish whiskey.)

I went one step cheaper and used the recipe for homemade sweetened condensed milk from the same book, similar to this one but with a bit of added vanilla, I believe. There’s dry milk in that recipe, which I don’t usually use, but I think once you’re pouring a whole bottle of vodka into a dish, you can’t get very nit-picky about healthy ingredients, right? (wink)

If you want to try Irish Cream for this year’s Christmas gifts, now is the perfect time to prepare. You’ll want to make the recipe as close to one week before giving the gift as possible, as it’s supposed to sit at room temperature in a dark place for seven days. Stored in the refrigerator, it lasts three months, at room temperature, one month.

It’s possible that my husband and I still tried it mid-summer and it was just fine, but don’t take my word for it!

Now you can help people eat a great salad, bake a dessert and serve drinks. They’ll love your simple, healthful, homemade gifts.

What’s the best food gift you’ve ever gotten?

Reading Time:

4 minutes





  1. Nisha

    I’m anxious to see everyone’s response with their favorite food gift! I’m hoping to find a sweet deal on oranges this year and give oranges and peelers to neighbors.

  2. Jennifer

    I love the homemade vanilla – I’ll have to try that next year!
    For little gifts for friends this year, I’m making cranberry sauce and packaging it in small jars to hand out at playdates, etc. before Christmas. Most people haven’t had homemade cranberry sauce before, and my friends are always surprised at how delicious it is. It’s so easy to make, too, but makes a big impact 🙂

    • Nikki Moore

      Just have to say that souffle looks amazing! I would totally impress myself if I made that…to say nothing of anyone else! 🙂

      • Jennifer

        Thanks! It’s a favorite of mine for so many reasons – mostly because it makes me smile when I pull it out of the oven 😉

  3. Kara

    Compared to these, the food gifts I’ve received or given are quite boring. Cookie/cake mix in a jar, baked goods, canned jellies/jams, a barbeque rub (he was a Texan)… I’d love to try making vanilla and Irish cream (even though I’ve never tried it).

  4. Jessie

    This year I’m making dressing mixes (Ranch and Italian) and cards with recipes to use them in. I’m excited! I would be ecstatic if someone gave me tasty, REAL holiday foods that weren’t packed with sugar. 🙂

  5. Gabrielle

    I used to use organic ingredients and make homemade jams and jellies and stuff for family. Then I realized that with only 3 exceptions, none of them ever ate any of it because they thought it was ‘weird’. My husband’s family is the worst. My SIL had never seen homemade jam before and didn’t think she’d like it so she put a ribbon around it and stuck it up on a shelf on her wall to make her ‘country decor’ look more authentic. I also realized that none of them would even eat the cookies I made. THEN I found out that my uncle’s boyfriend threw out the homemade liquor we made them but kept the ‘pretty bottle’. See a pattern here? So I don’t bother making them anything homemade anymore that takes too much effort. I make them plain chocolate chip cookies with regular old white flour and Crisco. Everyone gets a box and I know they’ll actually eat them. They won’t even eat real whip cream so I know they won’t eat things with actual butter in them.

    However, my sister, grandmother, and mother DO appreciate the unique homemade gifts I give them, so I load them up with the pickles, jams, cookies, etc. that I make from organic, quality ingredients. So there you go. Do I feel guilty about making cookies with Crisco and white flour? Nope. I know they eat much, much worse every day and will never change despite what I’ve told them. I just have to suggest that everyone really step back and look at the people they are giving gifts to this year, think about their reactions honestly, and then proceed accordingly. Saves money, time, and heartache.

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      That’s such a sad story. I’m glad you at least figured out the travesty before wasting more time and money on them. I do wonder what happens to some of my healthy gifts, too…

      Thanks for your honesty and wise decision making! 🙂 Katie

  6. Sara

    Great post! I love all your ideas! I started a batch of homemade vanilla extract back in July so that I can give it as Christmas gifts to some friends and family. I did not scrape my beans, rather just used shears to snip up the middle of each bean. It didn’t take long at all. I used vodka and just with snipping the beans (and not scraping), I got a very dark color within 24 hours already. I would say its not necessary to scrape the beans… just for future reference and saving time next time around. 🙂

  7. melanie

    If I can get my act together, we are going to harvest from a few of the GIGANTIC rosemary bushes in our neighborhood and community garden (with permission, of course), dry them in our food dehydrator, and package them with red ribbons. If I would have thought ahead, I could have saved spice jars, cleaned them out and reused them. If someone’s really ambitious, you could do a variety of spices.

    I was on the receiving end of homemade vanilla last year and loved it. From what I understand, you can remake vanilla a few times with the same beans so I may try that…

  8. Two Chicks and a Hen

    I’ve been wanting to make homemade vanilla extract for ages–this is a good reminder. And I also love making my own salad dressings, but I’ve never thought to do it as a gift. A sampler would be a fun present.

  9. Katie

    Love these ideas, Katie! I may try a few as gifts this year. I have a favorite holiday bread I often give as a gift, but it’s loaded with white flour and white sugar. I haven’t tried to make it healthier…perhaps this is the year. It has walnuts, cranberries, and dried apricots in it. I’ve also done homemade soup mixes in a jar for college students – that was a hit. 🙂

    • Danielle

      Last Christmas I tried using whole wheat pastry flour in my holiday breads/muffins/cookies with great success! Go for it and good luck! (I haven’t been so daring with changing sugar)

      • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

        I do find pastry flour to be awesome in biscuits and quick breads, although I also love white whole wheat for quick breads, muffins and cookies. If your recipe is a yeasted bread though, I wouldn’t recommend pastry flour. It will probably be too crumbly. Have fun experimenting! 🙂 Katie

  10. deah :)

    Hi, Katiie! Thanks for sharing..these all look terrific! Have you made the vanilla before? I was wondering which was your favorite… I was also wondering if you immediately refrigerate all dressings or are some pantry-safe?

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      My vanilla is still extracting in my cupboard, and I actually used the first teaspoon of it today but haven’t tried the baked good yet. ??? I made the bourbon and the vodka, but I can’t say which is better…yet! someday I’ll post on all of it at KS, but I haven’t played enough yet.

      I refrigerate all the dressings that have egg yolk in them (ranch, Caesar) but the vinegar/oil based ones all sit on my table (Italian, Asian, Balsamic Vin, Greek). The vinegar preserves even fresh garlic.

      🙂 Katie

      • Deah =)

        Thanks for the reply! I’ll watch KS for the vanilla results. =) And I appreciate the notes on salad dressings. Refrigerator space is a valuable commodity, so if it doesn’t HAVE to be refrigerated, I don’t want to! =)

  11. Elizabeth

    Never thought about checking online for vanilla beans – sure as heck beats the 15.99 for two beans at Glen’s – it always stopped me!! Now, I’ll definitely get some and enjoy the goodness. Question – does the quality of the vodka matter? Or does it all come out in the wash? Thanks, Katie -as always am impressed and inspired by your ideas!

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I know others asked that question at GNOWFGLINS about the bourbon. I just bought the cheap stuff, myself, but mine isn’t finished yet. If you want to make cheap vodka act like expensive vodka, you can filter it 5-15 times through a Brita. For the cost of one filter, you can double or triple the vodka’s worth.

      I know what you mean about the beans – I always gasped when I priced them out at Penzey’s (3/$12 or so). This is much better!
      🙂 Katie

  12. Jennifer

    I already have my vanilla brewing but don’t yet have the containers to put it in. I split my beans down the middle and then started the process out with a good minute-long shake. And I shake it every couple of days to keep it moving along. Now I just have to decide whom to give it to besides my one sister that’s a baker.

  13. priest's wife

    yum! great ideas- I am going to make the vanilla

  14. Gillian

    Hi, this year I went on a cheesemaking course. Some relatives hinted about cheese as a gift so I want to give home-made Camembert as Christmas gifts, but hadn’t made before. Some friends and I got together last weekend to make a trial batch. It’s now maturing in our fridges. We should know how it went in two weeks, and if it was a success we’ll make the Christmas batch. Optimal aging for Camembert: approx 3 weeks.

  15. Nicole aka Gidget

    Great ideas! I think my dad would love the irish creme- I just might be making this!

  16. Colleen

    Does the Irish Cream need to be stored in a dark glass jar or will any glass jar do the trick?

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      The recipe says dark glass, but I’m not sure the science behind it. With the vanilla, for example, some recipes say dark glass, others put it in the sunshine! ??? Mine is in clear glass but in a dark cupboard. I would guess you could do that with clear glass and just keep it in the dark in general with the Irish Cream, but I’m really not sure. I often use old wine or beer bottles and just cap with foil or plastic and a rubber band, then store and move with care. Have fun! 🙂 Katie

  17. Christi S

    I am currently making some vanilla to give as gifts. Almost everyone on the list bakes except my little brother in college (who is in college and so he drinks).

    I really think the only one who actually ate the jams and butters I gave the past few years has been my mother. I know my inlaws never opened the apple butter that my MIL was nearly in tears over because it tasted like her grandmothers.

    I don’t know if anyone will actually use the vanilla (other than my mom and my sister who has to cook gluten-free. Oh and my brother.) Then again, with the price of REAL vanilla extract (not the imitation stuff), they would be crazy not to.

  18. jodimichelle

    Katie – Loved this post!! And thank you for the shout out (always love those:))

    Can’t wait to try a few of the other ideas for Christmas this year.

  19. Miranda19Lucas

    I had a dream to begin my own organization, but I didn’t earn enough amount of money to do this. Thank goodness my close mate said to take the loans. So I used the short term loan and made real my dream.

Join thousands of readers
& get Tsh’s free weekly email called
5 Quick Things,

where she shares stuff she either created herself or loved from others. (It can be read in under a minute, pinky-swear.)

It's part of Tsh's popular newsletter called Books & Crannies, where she shares thoughts about the intersection of stories & travel, work & play, faith & questions, and more.