Gift Baskets

Springtime is often a time when we think of giving gift baskets. Weddings, graduations, Mother's Day, and Father's Day all take place in the next couple of months, and a gift basket is always a welcomed present. Gift baskets can be tailored for the person they are intended for, or you can make a general basket that could be given to just about anybody. Below are just a few great gift basket ideas (all of the recipes mentioned appear at the end of the article):

  • One basic idea that would be appreciated by just about anyone is to make cookies from a special recipe, such as the now-famous Neiman Marcus Cookie recipe. Fill a pretty basket with the cookies and include the recipe written out on a nicely decorated card. Then wrap the whole thing with colored cellophane. You can find all kinds of interesting cookie recipes on the Internet, but make sure you include some of your favorites. Quick breads like banana bread also work well for a gift basket like this.

    Alternatively, instead of baking the goodies, you can make up a mix for the cookies, breads, or pizza dough and sauces that could be stored in a jar. All of the dry ingredients could be included in plastic bags or in their respective containers and included in the basket. Any of these would make wonderful gift baskets for those who like to cook, and have the time, whereas the ready-baked goodies would be perfect for those busy or less-than-kitchen-friendly people on your gift list.

  • Weddings are another good occasion to give a gift basket. You could fill one with things that a couple might need for a new home, such as cooking utensils and gadgets, pots, pans, oven mitts, a recipe box filled with favorite recipes from you and your family or even the bride and/or groom's families.

    A basket filled with pasta, sauce, spaghetti pan with strainer, and utensils would be another good idea.

    For something more romantic, fill a basket with scented candles, champagne flutes, bottle of champagne, and a cd of soft romantic music for the newlyweds. Plan a special basket for their wedding night and include a split of champagne with glasses, some caviar, pate, and cheese with crackers and some fresh fruit, say grapes or strawberries. Pack it all into a basket into which you have set an ice pack to help keep things cool. Don't forget to include a caviar spoon and spreader for the pate.

  • Graduation isn't too far off for many of this year's grads. A basket filled with the essentials for the grad going to college and away from home for the first time is a great gift. Consider including a phone card, stationery, a gift certificate for movie tickets, towels, wash cloths, tooth paste, a travel soap dish, tooth brush travel carrier, a section of essential kitchen gadgets, a small box of laundry detergent, a couple rolls of quarters for laundry, or a gift certificate for your favorite store like Wal-mart or K-mart. This type of basket would also be useful for someone who is just moving away from home and into their first home or apartment.
  • Mother's Day is fast approaching, and many people usually fall back on the standby of flowers. An inexpensive alternative to flowers is a basket filled with Mom's favorite fragrance, soaps, and even bath salts that can be made with her favorite fragrance. You could also make some of the many homemade face scrubs (and include a copy of the recipe). You can also find some ideas for face scrubs at Creative Homemaking's article on scrubs and masks.

    Another good idea for Mom would be a basket filled with her favorite teas, or drinks, along with a mug or you could even include a nifty cake in a coffee mug.

  • Fathers, on the other hand, could be given a basket filled with car care goodies. Consider including Armourall, car wax, an air freshener, chamois, tire gauge, travel mug ... the possibilities are endless, just visit your local hardware or auto place.

    Dads also love barbeques, so how about putting some BBQ sauces, spices, marinades, tongs, lighters, mitts, and an apron in a basket.

    Another good idea for Dad, or any guy in your life, would be to put some sports bloopers tapes in a basket with some munchie-type foods, and maybe even tickets to his favorite sporting event, or coupons stating that they get to watch a certain game with friends.

  • Expectant mothers can sometimes be difficult to find useful and inexpensive gifts for. You could create a gift basket, filled with things like diapers, baby bottles, wipes, spit up cloths, rattles and diaper pins. You can decorate it with pink and blue ribbons or go with a more neutral color in green or yellow.

    Another great idea for a baby shower would be to create a diaper "cake". You take a package of disposable diapers and roll one up. In the center, you could hide a small rattle or a couple of pacifiers, or even a bottle brush, then roll the diaper up around it. Then put rubber bands around it to keep it from unrolling. As you add more diapers to the "cake", you can hide little trinkets in them like hair ribbons or barrettes or combs -- small things so that as the cake is unraveled they will fall out as a surprise. You could put this as the centerpiece of a basket then put in some bottles and baby blankets or other items that could be of use to a new mother. I recommend getting the size one or newborn diapers because not all babies come in the same size!

I hope this has helped you solve some of your gift giving dilemmas.

Neiman Marcus Cookies

  • 5 cups blended oatmeal
  • 2 cups butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. soda
  • 24 oz. chocolate chips
  • 1 8 oz. Hershey Bar (grated)
  • 3 cups chopped nuts (your choice)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Measure oatmeal and blend in a blender to a fine powder

Cream the butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla, mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and soda. Add chocolate chips, Hershey Bar and nuts. Roll into balls and place two inches apart on a cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

  • Yields: 112 cookies (Recipe may be halved)
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Bath Salts

  • 3 cups Epsom Salts (or sea salt)
  • 1 tablespoon liquid glycerin (can be found at Kmart in the pharmacy)
  • A few drops of fragrance (or essential oils, I like to use bubble bath)
  • A few drops of food coloring

First, measure out the Epsom salts in a large bowl. Then make sure all clumps are broken up.

In a smaller bowl, (I recommend stainless steel or porcelain) use a metal or hard plastic spoon to mix together the glycerin, fragrance, and food coloring. Pour the liquid mixture into the other bowl containing the salt. You can use the spoon to mix them together, but I like to place a plastic baggie over my hand and hold it on with a rubber band to mix. That way, I make sure I get them thoroughly mixed.

  • Yields: about 3 cups
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cake in a Coffee Mug

This gift idea was given to me by Seasoned Cooking's very own Rossanna Tarantini.
  • 1 cake mix, any flavor
  • 1 pudding mix, any flavor
Glaze Mix (for one cake in a coffeemug)
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dry flavor (powdered lemonade, powdered orange drink, cocoa powder, or vanilla powder)
  • (For the coconut cake include flaked coconut for sprinkling on top in a separate bag.)

First, place the cake mix and pudding mix in a large bowl and whisk well to combine. Place the mix into a sandwich bag letting it all collect in one corner; tie with a twist tie. The mix should make 8 - 9 packages.

Select large coffee mugs that hold 1 1/2 cups of liquid. (Make sure there is no metallic paint on them as they need to be microwaveable.)

Place one baggie of cake mix and one of the glaze mix into each mug. Attach the following baking instructions to the mug:

    How to bake a cake in a mug:
    Generously spray the inside of the coffee mug with cooking spray. Empty the contents of large packet into cup. Add one egg white and 1 tablespoon of water into the mix. Stir until combined, making sure that all of the dry mix is blended. Microwave on full power for 2 minutes. (Smaller microwaves may yield unsatisfactory results.) While the cake is cooking, pour the glaze mix ingredients in a very small container. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of water and mix well. When the cake is done, pour glaze over the cake in the cup and enjoy while warm!

Flavor combinations to try:

  • Lemon cake with lemon pudding
  • Yellow cake with chocolate pudding
  • Devil's food cake with chocolate pudding
  • Pineapple cake with coconut pudding
  • Butterscotch cake with butterscotch pudding
  • Yields: 8-9 mixes for cake in a coffee mug
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes