Gifts from the pantry |

Gifts from the pantry

For The Associated Press
This photo taken Nov. 22, 22009 shows a apricot--ginger fizz mixer. Cocktail mixers apricot-ginger fizz mixer, foreground and cranberry cocktail mixer, left, are inexpensive gifts that have style. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)
AP | FR41490 AP

A tight budget is a good excuse to look to your pantry for gift-giving inspiration.

Gifts from the kitchen, such as a box of homemade holiday cookies or jars of jazzed up hot cocoa mix, not only are easy and inexpensive to prepare, they also add a personal touch in this gift card era.

Making a great food gift is a balance between culinary creativity and clever packaging ideas.

• Lucinda Scala Quinn, executive director of food and entertaining for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, suggests using colored parchment or plastic to wrap bite-size pieces of homemade fudge. Twist the ends to look like old-fashioned candy and package them up in a cellophane bag tied with a ribbon. Or use the candies individually as stocking stuffers.

• Quinn says that flavored nuts also make lovely holiday gifts, especially when portioned in decorative cupcake liners, placed inside cellophane bags and tied with colored twine or ribbon.

• Or use a recipe for easy-to-make homemade cocktail mixers (recipes below) in flavors such as cranberry and apricot-ginger fizz. To package, decant them into decorative bottles (found at many home good stores) and add a label with drink recipes and storage instructions.

• If you want to avoid bottling, Quinn suggests making sachets of spices for mulling wine or cider. Just fill squares of cheesecloth with a 1⁄2-inch cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, 2 cardamom pods, 4 black peppercorns and 1⁄4 teaspoon of whole cloves. Tie each sachet with kitchen twine and package in a decorative tin tied with a bow and holly sprig.

The best food gifts often are the simplest, says Tanya Steel, editor-in-chief of Not only are they easy to appreciate, they also save you time.

• Steel gravitates toward pretty jars with screw-on tops and airtight plastic containers – it’s important that containers are airtight so that food gifts remain fresh and sturdy, especially for cookies, which crush easily. And if the containers will come into contact with the food, make sure they are labeled food-safe.

• To be even thriftier, Steel suggests repurposing containers that may be sitting around your home. Jars and old tins are great, she says, but you also can package foods in an airtight cellophane bag set in a pretty bowl that you no longer use.

These gifts also are a good way to involve children in the gift process. It’s a fun way to teach children, says Steel, that the holidays are as much about giving as they are about receiving. And that’s a gift in and of itself.

• Thinking of giving someone a fruit and nut basket? Assemble your own for far less money. Bulk nuts in the shell are inexpensive. Those already shelled can be wrapped in cellophane bags. Fill a basket with nuts, then top with fresh (and affordable) fruit, such as apples, pears, oranges, even a pineapple.

• And don’t forget, there also is the gift of time. Especially for an elderly relative or neighbor, a “gift certificate” good for an afternoon of help in the kitchen can be more valuable than any material item.

Looking to make and give foodie gifts on a budget this year? Here are some easy ideas:


This festive mixer makes an excellent cocktail with vodka, but can also be added to plain seltzer or club soda. For each drink, combine 4 ounces of mixer with 2 ounces of vodka in a cocktail shaker with ice; strain into a chilled martini glass.

Start to finish: 15 minutes, plus 1 hour 15 minutes cooling

Makes enough for 6 cocktails

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

21/2 cups cranberry juice

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine both zests, the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool.

Put juice into a large container, then stir in the zest mixture. Refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour or overnight. Strain and pour into an airtight bottle. Mixer can be refrigerated up to 1 week.

(Recipe from


Fresh ginger gives this fruity drink mixer a nice kick. The flavors blend well with a dry sparkling white wine. For each drink, pour 3 ounces of mixer into a glass, then add 3 ounces of sparkling wine. Or mix it with plain seltzer for a “mocktail.”

Start to finish: 15 minutes, plus 2 to 4 hours cooling

Makes enough for 6 cocktails

1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

21/2 cups apricot nectar

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the ginger, sugar and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool.

Put the apricot nectar into a large container, then stir in ginger mixture. Refrigerate, covered, for 2 to 4 hours. Strain and pour into an airtight bottle. Mixer can be refrigerated up to 1 week.

(Recipe from


In Argentina, this mix of herbs and spices is combined with oil and vinegar and used as a sauce for grilled meats. For best results, use dried herb leaves, not the powdered or finely ground varieties. Rub the mixture all over beef or pork before roasting. Or to make a marinade for roasted chicken, whisk 1⁄4 cup of the rub with 1⁄2 cup of olive oil and 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.

Start to finish: 5 minutes

Makes about 34 cups

3 tablespoons dried oregano leaves

3 tablespoons dried basil leaves

2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes

2 tablespoons dried thyme leaves

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon dried savory leaves

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Transfer to airtight container. Can be made 1 month ahead. Store at room temperature.

(Recipe from