Kitchen Focus

In an age when everyone is running ragged and getting gifts becomes more of a chore than a treat, perhaps it's time to think about giving gifts that allow us to stop and smell the roses -- or cookies baking. In this spirit, I'm offering some of my favorite holiday gifts from the kitchen for you to make and enjoy giving to family, friends ... even the mailman!

Hot Chocolate in a Jar

What could be better than a piping hot mug of hot chocolate on a cold day? How about one that's made from a mix that you made yourself and gave as a holiday gift?
  • 1 (6 oz.) can dry chocolate milk mix
  • 1 (8 qt. size) box non-fat dry milk powder
  • 1 (10 oz.) jar dry coffee creamer
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

Mix the above ingredients together and place in a resealable glass jar. Tie with ribbon and attach the following directions:

To make one mug of cocoa, place 4 rounded tablespoons of this mix into a large mug. Add 1 cup of boiling water and stir well to dissolve. Top with marshmallows or whipped cream if desired and enjoy!

  • Yields: 100 servings
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Cranberry-White Chocolate Cookies in a Jar

This mix is pretty in a jar and makes a great gift for those that love to bake. To make it a little more special, combine it with some wooden mixing spoons and some new oven mitts! Just remember to attach a label that gives directions on how to make the cookies!
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chunks
  • 2/3 cup flaked coconut

Mix the flour, baking soda and salt together. And set aside.

Starting with the brown sugar, layer the ingredients in a 1 liter sized glass jar in the order given -- ending with the flour mixture that was premixed. Attach a card with the following directions:

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line one baking sheet with parchment paper.
    2. Empty the contents of the jar into a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon blend the mixture until well combined.
    3. Using you hands work in 1/2 cup softened butter or margarine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
    4. Beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 cup milk. Still using your hands or a wooden spoon blend the egg mixture into the dough until well combined.
    5. Drop teaspoon sized mounds 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 14 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Place cookies on a rack to finish cooling. Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.

Give as housewarming or holiday gifts as needed and watch the smiles pour in.

  • Yields: 1 liter jar
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Chocolate Spritz Cookies

If you've got a chocolate lover on your list, layer these pretty cookies between sheets of waxed paper in a nice holiday tin and you'll be sure to have someone's gratitude.
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate -- coarsely chopped
  • 2 1/4 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. butter -- softened
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the chocolate in a microwavable dish by microwaving it on HIGH for 30 seconds at a time, mixing the chocolate after each cooking.

Combine the flour and salt in a small bowl; stir to mix.

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and extract. Add the chocolate and beat again. Gradually add the flour mixture while mixing.

Fit a cookie press with your desired plate and fill the press with the dough. Press the dough 1 inch apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake the cookies for 7 minutes or until set. Remove them to a wire rack and cool completely. Store tightly covered at room temperature.

  • Yields: 60 cookies
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Cheddar Pepper Bread

This highly flavored bread is a perfect companion to soup and would make an excellent hostess gift as you attend parties and gatherings during the holidays. Wrap each loaf in brightly colored plastic wrap to insure freshness and festivity.
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 container (8 ounces) plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup butter -- melted
  • 2 eggs -- lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Combine the flour, baking powder, pepper, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the cheese.

Stir together the yogurt, melted butter and eggs. Add the yogurt mixture to the flour mixture; stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon the batter into a buttered and floured 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Bake for about 35 minutes or until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan. Serve warm or toasted, if desired. This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled.

  • Yields: 1 loaf
  • Preparation Time: about 1 hour

Enjoy your holiday planning and gift giving -- whether you take advantage of your kitchen. In a month devoted to get togethers and filled with cool weather, your kitchen will find a way to shine whatever you put under the tree!

If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .

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