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A dozen gift-giving ideas from the Orlando Sentinel test kitchen

by Heather McPherson

Edible presents are not only easy to make, they are inexpensive and can extend the holiday spirit well into the new year. Here are a dozen gift-giving ideas from the Orlando Sentinel test kitchen. Best of all, none requires playing bumper cars in a mall parking lot on Dec. 24. Priceless!!

1. Homemade cranberry vinegar. Combine 12 ounces fresh cranberries with 48 ounces white distilled vinegar. If desired, add crushed fresh mint or roughly chopped rosemary. Let stand overnight. Boil vinegar mixture, uncovered, 3 minutes. Fill sterilized jars with cleaned fresh cranberries. Using a long skewer, stuff a sprig of fresh mint or rosemary into the jar. When vinegar mixture is completely cool, strain liquid into containers. Let sit for a week and the red color will intensify.
Attach a card with instructions on how to make cranberry vinegar: This ruby-colored vinegar can be used in marinades, vinaigrettes or any recipe that calls for a red-wine vinegar. Store container in a cool, dark place 2 months or refrigerated for longer storage.

2. Homemade spice mix to pair with olive oil for bread dipping. In a sterilized jar, combine 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, 1 tablespoon dried basil, 1 tablespoon dried parsley, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon garlic-minced and 1 teaspoon salt. Shake well to combine.
On gift tag write: Spoon 1 tablespoon of mixture on a small plate. Pour extra-virgin olive oil over spices and mix together. Serve with warm bread to dip in the mixture.

3. Honey mint chocolate sauce. In a small saucepan, combine 11/2 cups honey, 1/4 cup creme de menthe liqueur and 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally; remove from heat. Cool 10 minutes. Pour into sterilized glass jars; seal tightly.
On gift tag write: Reheat sauce before serving and spoon over ice cream, fresh fruit or angel food cake. Store up to 1 month in refrigerator.

4. Chocolate dipped apricots. Melt commercial chocolate dipping disks as directed on package. Dunk dried apricots halfway into liquid chocolate. Let cool on parchment paper until chocolate hardens. Package in an airtight container.

5. Festive fruit jam. Sterilize 12 (8-ounce) jars and lids in boiling water for 10 minutes. Let simmer while making jam. In a saucepan, combine 21/2 quarts fresh or thawed frozen strawberries (roughly chopped), 12 ounces cranberries (chopped), 2 (2-ounce) packages powdered fruit pectin and 1 teaspoon margarine. Bring to a boil. Stir in 5 pounds white sugar. Return to a boil. Cook 1 minute; remove from heat. Quickly fill jars to within 1/2 inch from top. Wipe rims clean. Put on lids. Invert jars for 15 minutes to help them seal. Adapted from allrecipes.com.

6. Rum-soaked kumquats or apricots. Marinate chopped fruit in rum. Package in sterilized jars.
On gift tag write: Spoon kumquats over frozen vanilla yogurt or angel food cake. Store up to 2 months in refrigerator.

7. Scented hot pads. Between the batting layers in a homemade hot pad, stuff 1/2 cup whole cloves, whole allspice, broken cinnamon sticks, star anise or rosemary (or a prepared potpourri mixture).

8. Peanut butter truffles.Blend 1 1/2 cups peanut butter with 1/2 cup soft butter and 16 ounces powdered sugar. Roll into 1-inch balls. Refrigerate until chilled. Melt white chocolate dipping disks as directed on package. Using a skewer to hold the peanut butter ball, dunk the spheres into the liquid mixture. Immediately sprinkle with colored sugars or edible glitter (sold in craft stores). Let dry on parchment paper.

9. Peanut brittle. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. In a heavy-bottomed pan, over medium heat, bring to a boil, 1 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup light corn syrup, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in 1 cup peanuts. Set candy thermometer in pan. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 F. Remove from heat; stir in 2 tablespoons soft butter and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Pour onto prepared cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull mixture into rectangle about 13-by-14 inches. Cool to harden. Snap into pieces.

10. Butterscotch cookies in a jar. In a quart canning jar, layer ingredients in the following order: 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 cup white sugar and 2 cups old-fashioned oats. Fill container to top with butterscotch baking chips.
On a gift tag, write: Heat oven to 350 F. Empty cookie mix into a mixing bowl; thoroughly blend. Add 3/4 cup butter, 1 egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix well. Shape into 1-inch balls. Place on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for 11-13 minutes until edges are lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet.

11. Bean soup mix: Layer different colored dried beans in quart canning jar.
Attach a gift card that says: Soak contents of jar overnight in water. The next day combine soaked beans, 2 (15-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes, vegetable or beef broth as desired and seasonings to taste.

12. Cranberry white chocolate clusters. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Place contents of a 12-ounce package of white chocolate morsels in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium-high for 1 minute, stopping to stir. Microwave an additional 10 to 20 seconds if needed. Remove and stir until chocolate is completely melted. Add contents of a 6-ounce package sweetened dried cranberries and 1/2 cup chopped pecans. Stir until thoroughly combined. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheet. Let harden at room temperature or chill in refrigerator 15 minutes. Store in sealed container and refrigerate. Can be stored up to two weeks. Makes about 16 clusters. Recipe from Ocean Spray.

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