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Simple and delicious homemade food gifts to give this holiday season

Don’t most of us own too much stuff? That's where food gifts come in handy. (Getty Images)
Don’t most of us own too much stuff? That's where food gifts come in handy. (Getty Images)

You can fight the crowds and brave the mall. You can buy another scarf or a fancy bar of soap, pick up gloves or a new shirt. Everyone loves books. (See my recommendation for my favorite cookbooks of the year.) But honestly, don’t most of us own too much stuff?

There is another way to go about holiday gift-giving this season: Creating gifts from the comfort of your kitchen is an ideal to cross off everyone on your list.

Every year, without fail, I make chocolate and pistachio nut buttercrunch. It’s my December tradition, a ritual that lets me know it’s the holiday season. You can spice nuts or season salts, or you can bake cookies.

This year, I came up with three new recipes for gift-giving. The first is homemade granola — chock full of nuts, dried fruit, coconut oil and maple syrup. Then a spicy chile crisp that keeps for weeks. And finally, a simple chocolate sauce that is equally at home poured over ice cream, pound cake, or thick yogurt.

Spiced, nutty, fruity granola

Spiced, nutty, fruity granola. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Granola doesn’t sound like an extravagant gift, but you haven’t tried this one yet. If you can help start someone’s day in a better way, isn’t that extravagant? Here rolled oats are mixed with walnuts, pecans and pistachios, pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, sun-dried cranberries and a generous sprinkle of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and allspice. The mixture is mixed and moistened with coconut oil and olive oil. The granola is crisp, crunchy and equally at home on morning yogurt with fresh fruit or sprinkled over ice cream for a late-night treat. This batch makes about 7 cups. It’s easy to double or even triple the recipe if you want to give to a crowd.

This recipe is highly adaptable. You can personalize it and add only one favorite nut or add only raisins instead of apricots and sun-dried cranberries. Have fun with it and customize it to your favorite flavors.

Gift with: a variety of colorful cereal bowls, a jug of maple syrup or jar of local honey

Makes about 7 cups.


  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cup mixed nuts, like pecans, walnuts and salted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup unsalted raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • ½ cup maple syrup or honey
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon coconut oil *
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut chips or shredded coconut
  • ⅓ cup raisins
  • ⅓ cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
  • ⅓ cup sun-dried cranberries

*Coconut oil needs to be heated. Zap in a microwave for 1 minute to heat or heat in a small saucepan over low heat to liquefy.


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place a large sheet of parchment paper on an 18 x 13-inch rimmed baking sheet. Add the oats, nuts, pumpkin seeds and toss. Drizzle on the maple syrup, coconut oil, and olive oil and stir to coat the entire mixture. In a small bowl thoroughly mix the salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and cardamom; add to the granola mixture, stirring to mix well. Pat the granola down to create one packed layer.
  3. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove and stir the mixture. Stir in the raisins, coconut, apricots and cranberries and bake another 5 to 10 minutes until golden colored and crisp looking. Remove from the oven and let cool thoroughly. If you like a granola that comes out in clumps let it cook without stirring or breaking up the mixture. If you like granola that is separated, stir the mixture a few times as it cools, breaking up any clumps.

Will keep for about 1 to 2 weeks in a cool spot away from sunlight sealed in a tight container. 

Chile crisp

Chile crisp. (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

Chile crisp is one of the condiments I lean on most frequently. A mixture of chiles, garlic, onion, peanuts, sesame seeds, and ground Sichuan peppercorns, it’s a smoky, spicy, big pow of flavor. Chile crisp works equally well drizzled on morning eggs, to flavor stir-fries, served with dumplings, on top of a taco or burrito, or spooned over an avocado slice. In other words, it works with almost anything. And, as it turns out, it’s quite simple to make and will keep, jarred and refrigerated for months.

Seal in a mason jar, add some ribbons or raffia and add a card about ways to use it.

Gift with: a wok or a small wooden spoon for serving or an assortment of dried chiles.

Makes about 2 cups.


  • 1 cup neutral oil, peanut, safflower or canola
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion or shallot
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • ⅓ to 1/2 cup ground dried chile peppers, depending on how spicy you like it*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorns **
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2/3 cup roasted and salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons white toasted or untoasted sesame seeds

*I used a combination of 12 dried Arbol chiles, stemmed and seeded and 1 tablespoon of dried Aleppo pepper flakes ground in a spice grinder until the size of large chile flakes

**Sichuan peppercorns, which are the berries of the prickly ash tree and a member of the citrus family, give the chili crisp a flavor that tingles and adds great dimension. Find them in Asian food markets. Pound with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder until almost powdered.


  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the sugar and salt and then the chile peppers and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the Sichuan peppercorns and sesame oil and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanuts and sesame seeds. Cool thoroughly and place into Mason jars.

Chocolate sauce to get you through the holidays!

Chocolate sauce to get you through the holidays! (Kathy Gunst/Here & Now)

This is the chocolate sauce that can turn a dark, cold winter night into something warm and comforting. Spoon over ice cream, dip strawberries, pineapple wedges and banana slices into it, dip pretzel sticks into the sauce, candied citrus peels, and more. You can easily double the recipe. The sauce needs to be reheated before serving; you can simply reheat it in the microwave or place a jar of chocolate sauce in a pot of gently simmering water until it liquifies.

Gift with: a collection of good chocolate bars, candied citrus peel, a new whisk, ice cream bowls.

Makes about 3 cups.


  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • ⅔ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or Kosher salt


  1. In a medium saucepan whisk together the sugar and cocoa. Whisk in the heavy cream and corn syrup until smooth. Place over low heat and whisking, cook for about 3 minutes until slightly thickened and smooth. Add the chocolate chips, butter, vanilla and salt and whisk, cooking for another 3 minutes or so until smooth and the chocolate and butter are thoroughly melted and smooth.
  2. Serve the chocolate sauce warm. For gifting, place in 2 pint-size mason jars and seal tightly. The sauce will keep for several weeks refrigerated.

Find more ideas for holiday gifts here, here and here.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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