Homemade holiday gifts
Photo: Victor Schrager
If the idea of producing a batch of homemade gifts sounds intimidating, consider this: We have a plan for crossing your entire shopping list off at once. All you need is one afternoon, a clear kitchen countertop, a few basic ingredients—and you're done.

Think of all the hours you won't spend running around town shopping. Consider the money and gas you'll save. And how touched and impressed your friends and family will be when you present them with these luscious foods you've made yourself.

Giving something personal and homemade is "the right note for the times," says cookbook author Diane Morgan, whose latest collection, The Christmas Table: Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition, is full of simple, delicious food-gift ideas. Here she offers 11 exclusive recipes created for O readers, from crunchy peanut butter and chocolate chip Rice Krispies balls to rich maple-caramel sauce and versatile cranberry chutney. We've also added two of our favorite recipes from The Christmas Table: a wonderfully moist apricot-walnut-ginger tea bread and Morgan's famous meringue-glazed pecans. "Everyone always loves those pecans," says Morgan. "I was worried that if I gave out the recipe, it would destroy the anticipation of the gift." This year she relented. But be warned: If you make a present of the pecans—or any of these addictive treats—prepare to field requests for them every holiday season for the rest of your life! See eight great holiday gift ideas and get the recipes!

Plus, holiday gift giving doesn't get any easier than when you whip up these edible homemade presents—zero cooking required.  Cashew, Coconut, Peanut Butter Chip, and Raisin Trail Mix
In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups salted roasted cashews, 2 cups unsweetened coconut chips, 1 bag (10 ounces) peanut butter chips, and 2 cups raisins. Portion the snack mix into cellophane gift bags tied with a ribbon.

Makes about 8 cups.

Latin Grill Spice Rub
In a mixing bowl, combine 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons each of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, ground ginger, and ground cumin. Add 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper. Stir until completely blended. Pack into small glass jars with tight-fitting lids. Attach a ribbon and gift tag with suggested serving ideas, such as "Delicious as a rub for pork, chicken, and flank steak."

Makes 1 cup.

Hot Chocolate Mocha Mix
Combine 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder with 1/2 cup sugar, then add 3/4 cup premium unsweetened cacao. Blend well to combine. Spoon into small decorative tins or small glass jars with tight-fitting lids. Attach a ribbon and a tag that says, "Mix 3 Tbsp. hot chocolate mocha mix with 1 cup steamed or simmered milk. Top with miniature marshmallows."

Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix
Chop 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate into small chunks and layer on the bottom of a standard quart-size mason jar, or an equivalent-size jar. Tap the jar to level it and settle the chips. In a bowl, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour with 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Layer the mixture on top of the chocolate. Add 3/4 cup of coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans. Layer 3/4 cup of firmly packed brown sugar on top. 

Seal the jar, tie it with a ribbon, and attach a gift card with this simple recipe: "Preheat oven to 350°. Have ready 2 nonstick baking sheets. Using a mixer or wooden spoon, cream together 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) softened butter with the brown sugar in the jar. Add 2 eggs, mixing them in one at a time. Add 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and blend. Add the remaining ingredients from the jar and mix just until all the flour is absorbed. Use 2 tablespoon cookie dough for each cookie, and space them an inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Makes about 24 cookies."

Mixed Seasoned Olives
Drain 2 cups of picholine or other brine-cured olives, rinse in cold water, and pat dry. Combine olives with zest from 1 lemon, 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, 2 teaspoons cracked black peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and about 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Add a chopped dried red chili, if desired. Marinate at least 4 hours or up to 5 days. Pack into decorative jars with tight-fitting lids. Tie each with a ribbon and attach a gift card.

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