Gifts from the heart, made in the kitchen

By Jessica Roy During the Holiday season I look forward to thinking up some sort of homemade gift to make and have on hand to give out to neighbors, friends and family — especially those foodies on the list. It’s really easy to make “batch gifts” with a personal touch that can also come in handy when the need for that last-minute, unexpected gift arises.

Part of the fun in homemade gifts is getting creative with the packaging or wrapping. One of my favorite ways to ‘serve’ a gift is in a mason jar with a hand-written tag. Just stuff the jar full, add some glittering ribbon and a personal touch, and you’ve got a beautiful holiday gift, ready to go.

These gift ideas are among some of my favorites, but also have an emphasis on “easy.” To start, homemade vanilla extract is a huge hit. With only two ingredients (vanilla beans and vodka), the prep can’t get any more minimal. Simply mix together and seal up the jar. The key here, however, is that the vanilla has to sit for a minimum of six weeks for it to fully infuse. Just write the “open on date” on your label, and the gift will be one worth waiting for. Bonus: It gets better the longer it sits.

A custom toasted spice blend also acts as a fun Christmas ornament until it finds a home in the spice cabinet. Finally, everyone loves a sweet snack. Instead of cookies, why not some candied nuts? You can change up the blend however you like, but I prefer a little cinnamon and subtle heat with a kick of cayenne pepper.

Candied Nut Mix

3 cups mixed nuts

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbs.

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients (except 1 Tbs. sugar) in a bowl, and mix well so that all the nuts are coated. Spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove the tray from oven. Sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbs. of sugar over the nuts and allow to cool.

Vanilla Extract

3-4 vanilla beans, split down the center

1 cup vodka

Jar or bottle

Combine the beans and vodka into a jar or bottle with a good seal. Let sit for a minimum of 6 weeks before use.

Chef’s note: Vanilla beans are easy (and cheaper!) to order online. For the best deal, I use

Toasted Holiday Spice Blend

1 part ground cinnamon

1/3 part ground nutmeg

1/3 part ground cloves

1/3 part ground ginger

Small jar or bottle

Combine the spices on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 5 minutes, or until fragrant. Allow to cool, and transfer to a jar or bottle.

Jessica Roy is a private chef, specialty caterer and author of foodie blog, Shiso Fresh.