Holiday Gifts From The Kitchen

Wayne shares homemade gifts from his family and friends

Wayne Johnson

Homemade gifts always add a nice touch during the holidays.  They tell those who receive them that you’ve taken a little extra time to create something special.  Giving a little of yourself is always appreciated. 

This year, in addition to my recipes, I asked some of my professional and facebook friends to share some of their homemade gifts from the kitchen.  I received quite a few and I thought I share them all with you.  Here’s a list summary followed by all of the recipes.  I’ve tasted everything and it’s all quite delicious.  I hope you enjoy exploring them.

Rum Balls
Red Hot Popcorn
Peanut Butter Cups
Hearty Holiday Fruitcake
Caramel Sauce
English Toffee
Mama Fannie’s Sand Tarts
Harvest Rice Packets
Stelle di zucchero
Snowman Poop

Rum Balls
courtesy  of Alma Karas


2 1/2 cu Nilla Wafers, finely ground
1 cu Powdered Sugar
2 tbl Cocoa
3 tbl Corn Syrup
1 cu Finely Chopped Pecans
1/4 cu Rum


Combine ingredients and shape into balls about 1” in diameter.  Store in an airtight container.  Note: Alma likes to wrap each one in tin foil and tie yarn around the top.

Red Hot Popcorn
couresy of Ann Cook


3 bags Natural Microwave Popcorn, 3.5oz size, popped with all the "old maids" picked out
1 1/2 sticks Butter or Margarine
1/2 cu Karo Syrup
9.5 oz bag Red Hots


Melt butter, karo and red hots on the stove. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile put popped popcorn into a large greased roasting pan (I use one of those disposable turkey pans). Pour syrup over the popcorn and stir. Bake for 1 hour at 250 degrees. Stir every 15 minutes. When done, pour onto wax paper to cool. Break into pieces and store in a sealed container or bag.

Peanut Butter Cups
couresy of Ann Cook


1 pkg Hershey's Milk Chocolate Chips, 12oz size
1 tbl "Crisco"
1/4 cu Smooth Peanut Butter
18 small Paper Candy Cups (note: I used 1 1/4" wide by 3/4" deep cups)


Combine chocolate chips and shortening in a double boiler and stir until melted and creamy (can also be done in microwave).  Place small amount of chocolate into the bottom of the candy cup - just enough to cover the bottom of the cup

Make sure the Peanut Butter is soft (microwave it if necessary).  Place a dab of the peanut butter into the center of the cup.

Cover with chocolate.  Let cups sit until chocolate hardens.  Store in airtight container.

Hearty Holiday Fruitcake
Recipe courtesy of The Hearty Boys and Hearty Restaurant


2 cups golden raisins
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup dried Mission figs, sliced
1 cup pitted dates, sliced
1 cup glazed cherries
Zest of 2 lemons
2 cup pecans, chopped
2 cups almonds, chopped
1 ½ cups tawny port
1 cup orange juice
1 pound butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
8 eggs
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
Port Crème Fraiche, recipe follows


Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Prepare a bundt pan by spraying with cooking spray and lining the bottom with parchment paper.

Put all the dried fruits and the lemon zest into a saucepan along with the port and orange juice. Place over medium heat and simmer until the fruit has absorbed all the liquid. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until well mixed. Stir in the almond extract. Next fold in the flour and salt and mix well. Fold in the fruits and nuts, stirring until well combined. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan until the pan is ¾ full. If there is any batter left over, pour it into a prepared loaf pan. Place in the center of the oven. Place a small pan of water in the oven along with the cake. Bake 2 hours until golden brown or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Port Crème Fraiche

1 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup tawny port

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Serve on the side to be dolloped onto the cake.

Caramel Sauce
Courtesy of James Melnychuk
Rave Review Catering
Great for bread pudding, ice cream and any dessert that

Makes 2 cups


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream, heated to luke warm in microwave (30 seconds)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream, heated to luke warm in microwave (30 seconds)
1 teaspoon vanilla

**optional 2 Tablespoons Brandy or Dark Rum


In a medium sauce pan, add sugar and water. 
Stir and cook on medium-high heat until the sugar syrup starts to change colors around the outer edge to an amber-brownish color, or if using a candy thermometer  350 degrees.

Remove from heat immediately and using a wooden spoon or whisk, quickly stir everything to keep the sugar water from burning.  Your simple syrup should be a golden brown.  Continue stirring, pour in 1/2 cup of warm heavy cream and butter.  When the cream makes contact with the sugar water it will start bubbling violently.  Continue to stir until the sugar crystallization dissolves.  Finally, add 1/4 cup of additional warm heavy cream (and brandy or rum if desired) until caramel sauce is nice and smooth.

Transfer to a heat proof jar and allow the sauce to cool on the counter slightly covered with plastic wrap for an hour or two. 

Store in the refrigerator.  Will keep several months.
If caramel crystallizes, reheat in microwave on medium heat and stir lightly.

English Toffee
courtesy of James Melnychuk
Rave Review Catering


1 lb unsalted butter ½  cup water
  2   cups sugar ½   teaspoon salt
16   ounces milk chocolate chips
1  Cup Finely Chopped Pecans or Almonds, optional (may be done in food processor)

Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil over high heat in a 2-quart saucepan (nonstick works best) and stir constantly until temperature on candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit (approx 10-13 minutes). Mixture will look medium tan in color and very become viscous and bubbly.  Stir carefully, watch for scorching on bottom of pan. Pour into an ungreased 10x13 inch baking sheet and spread evenly to coat. Will begin hardening immediately so move quickly. Let hot toffee mixture rest for a few minutesto cool slightly before placing chocolate chips on top. Sprinkle semi sweet chocolate chips evenly over hot toffee and wait a couple of  minutes until they soften and melt. Using a rubber spatula or pastry knife, spread softened chocolate evenly over entire pan (like frosting). Dust with Finely chopped Almonds or Pecans and lightly press into chocolate to secure the bigger pieces. and chill for 2 hours. Slam pan once on counter to crack and break apart into about 2-inch or smaller pieces. Store chilled in a sealed plastic bag or container and bring to room temperature while sealed before serving.  (this will prevent sticking and beading of moisture on surface of chocolate and the candy)

Mama Fannie’s Sand Tarts
my grandmother’s recipe with a few variations


2 cu All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of salt
1 cu Pecans Pieces
1 cu Unsalted Butter (2 sticks) plus 2 tbsp, softened
1 cu Powdered Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
Powdered sugar and cocoa for coating cookies


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized bowl mix fl our, baking powder, salt, and pecans. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, blend butter with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Gradually mix in 1 cup of powdered sugar. Add vanilla extract. Add fl our mixture in small amounts until combined. If dough is too soft to roll in your hands, refrigerate for an hour before using.  Spoon about two teaspoons of dough into your hand and roll it into a ball.  Place it on a cookie sheet and repeat with remaining dough, keeping them at least 1 1/2" apart.

Bake for about 12 minutes until cookies just start to brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

These cookies are very delicate right out of the oven and can break if you handle them too soon.  Let them rest on the cookie sheet until they have fully cooled.

Put 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in a large container.  With half of the cooled cookies and working in small batches, drop them in the powdered sugar to fully coat.  Shake off the excess and place them in an airtight container.  Add 1/4 cup cocoa to the remaining powdered sugar.  Mix thoroughly and then drop the remaining cookies in this mixture to coat.  Store in a separate container.

Harvest Rice Packets

These rice packets are easy to create and can be altered to your taste any way you like.  The basic idea is to prepare about 1 1/4 cup mixture of rice and other dried ingredients and spices.  Place the ingredients and a simple card with cooking instructions inside a sealable plastic bag.  Place the plastic bag in a brown lunch bag and roll it up.  Put a label on the bag (or simply write the name of the mix with a marker) and tie it together with a piece of twine.  Cooking times will veary depending on some the ingredients you chose to include (wild rice will take a bit longer than brown rice).  You might have to do a little experimenting.  But, be creative with your ingredients and the names.  Here’s a quick sample of three I’ve created:

Mix #1: Azi Bahar
3/4 cu Brown Rice
1/4 tsp Saffron, ground between your fingers
1/4 cu Cous Cous
2 tbl Dried Shitake Mushrooms, chopped
2 tbl Pine Nuts
pinch of Salt and Pepper
Cooking Instructions: Combine with 1 1/4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of butter.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Mix #2: Longhorn
3/4 cu Wild Rice Mix (I got this from the bulk section at Whole Foods)
2 tbl Yellow Split Peas
3 Chile Japones (dried red chilies)
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/3 cu Dried Portobello Mushrooms, chopped
pinch of Salt and Pepper
Cooking Instruction: Combine with 1 1/2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of butter.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  Remove from heat but leave lid on for an additional 15 minutes.  Remove chiles before serving.

Mix #3: Fungi Fungi
1/2 cu Brown Rice
1/4 cu Wild Rice
1/3 cu Dried Mushroom Combination (Morels, Shitake, Portabello), chopped
2 tbl Pecans
pinch of Salt and Pepper
Cooking Instructions: Combine with 1 1/4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of butter.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cover and simmer for 35 minutes.

Courtesy of Melissa Rockwell


10 1/2 lb Fuji apples, peeled, cored and chunked.
Juice of 1 Lemon
3 shakes of nutmeg
6 good shakes of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of honey.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Toss apples in lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.  Place in a roasting pan and add remaining ingredients.  Toss to combine.  Cover with foil and roast for two hours.  Remove cover and mash ingredients with a potato masher.  Return to the oven, uncovered, for an additional hour.  Remove from oven, mash again (or use a food mill or food processor if you like).  Allow sauce to cool.  Store refrigerated in small jars or place in quart size freezer bags and freeze.

Stelle di zucchero
Italian Cookies courtesy of Giovanni Lugli


2 cu Potato Starch
4 cu Corn Flour
3 1/2 cu Sugar
5 Eggs
1/2 cu Sassolino or Anisette Liquor
Zest of 1 Lemon
Pinch of Salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix ingredients together in a large bowl to make a dough.  Roll dough out to about 1/4" thickness.  Cut cookies using any shape you like, like stars.  Place them on a lined cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from oven and lightly brush with beaten egg yolk and then sprinkle granulated sugar on top to coat.

Snowman Poop
courtesy of Linda Lundquist Aleman

This is such a simple and fun idea.  Place a small amount of miniature marshmallows in a plastic bag and seal it.  Affix a little note to the bag that says the following:

“I hear that you’ve been naughty...
So listen - here’s the scoop;
Santa’s low on coal this year,
So you get SNOWMAN POOP!

Give these to friends and family members or just leave them on the desks of fellow co-workers.  They are a big hit.

Mrs. Prindables Gourmet Apples

I was also treated to a Mrs. Prindable's Gourmet Holiday Apples.  It's a nice reminder that you can create your own caramel apples for gift giving if you like or have someone do the work for you!  This giant apple in its purple gift box makes a nice presentation.

Thanks to my family and friends for contributing ideas and recipes for this segment. Pick and choose the ones you like and make someone happy this holiday season!  If you have any questions or comments, please send me an email at or follow me on facebook.


Hearty Restaurant

Rave Review Catering
Hearty Boys Catering
Gift Bags: The Container Store
Foil Wraps: Sur La Table
Gourmet Apple: Mrs. Prindables


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