Written by contributor Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship.

Natural cooking and handmade gifts? Well. When I saw those two topics here at Simple Organic for the month of November, you can imagine how excited I was.

I spend a ton of time in the kitchen, and if I must give a gift, I do love it to at least have a personal touch, if not homemade all the way.

I’m often known to give food gifts, and since my whole foods conversion kind of disallows the rock candy that was my former yearly trademark, I’ve had to branch out a bit. It’s been fun to give family and friends healthy and fun foods for their unwrapping enjoyment. Here are my top 3 favorites for everyone on your list:

For the Bakers…

Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you open my casserole dish cupboard, you’ll be whomped with the scent of vanilla, because I’ve got about ¾ gallons of homemade vanilla extract perking along for Christmas gifts this year.

I’m so excited that it seems to be working, and it really only took about 20 minutes to get the jars going (plus a few hours research and ordering supplies, which I’ll distill into 15 minutes for you here).

I’m trying both a vodka-based and bourbon-based vanilla extract. Bourbon is a dark liquid already, but here’s how the vodka looked on day one, on the right:

Photo by Katie Kimball

And just one day later:

Isn’t that such fun?

If you want to make homemade vanilla, most recipes would tell you you’re a bit late for Christmas gifts for this year. Some say you can be ready to go in four weeks, though, so if you’re fast, you might make it!

You could also make individual bottles with vanilla beans in them like my friend Jodi did, and then even if the vanilla isn’t ready, you could always wrap them and present to friends with instructions about when to use the gift.

Here are the resources I used:

  • Best vanilla      recipe, bourbon      homemade vanilla
  • Ordered      little brown jars from here (and darn, aren’t they too cute?)
  • Decided on a half pound of vanilla beans from      Amazon after a bit of price checking, taking shipping into account      (free if you need at least one more item)
  • I used my own half gallon jar, but you could buy big jars at the same source I      got the little jars (note: shipping for gallon jars is about the same as      the cost of the jars)

I think the time I spent scraping and cutting the beans is responsible for the deep color that happened so quickly, but if you want a quicker project, and especially if you have 4-6 months for the process to perk along, you could just snip down the middle of the bean with kitchen shears or a knife and drop them in the jar.

For the Eaters…

Homemade Salad Dressings

I keep an eye out all year long for appropriately sized glass bottles and jars to put my homemade dressings in. I love avoiding plastic and re-using, and I’m always especially pleased when I can give a gift that (a) increases my loved ones’ nutrition and (b) is consumable, therefore not cluttering a house or a landfill.

My favorite dressings to make and share include basic Italian and Ranch, Caesar, Asian Toasted Sesame and Greek.

Photo by Katie Kimball

I make a big old mess of the counter and whip up a bunch of jars batch cooking style. See my post on making homemade dressings as gifts here. Last Christmas my sister-in-law and  her husband told me I could give them dressings for every holiday and they’d be happy. My in-laws threw away the Caesar because it seemed thick (which is what olive oil does in the fridge). Sigh. You win some, you lose some!

For the Drinkers…

Homemade Irish Cream

Photo by Christopher Cornelius

As consumable holiday gifts for adults go, a bottle of wine or nice liquor is a classic. Adding the extra touch of making your own makes the gift really special. A few years ago when we presented my husband’s godparents with homemade Irish Cream Liqueur, they were totally impressed and kept saying, “We didn’t know you made your own booze!”

The secret: we didn’t, really.

You don’t need a distillery (or any special equipment, for that matter) to make homemade Irish Cream that rivals the name brand. The recipe I used was from a book from the library called Cheaper and Better, and it uses store bought vodka as the base.

My marked up recipe, alas, is all packed up because we’re trying to make my tiny kitchen look bigger to sell the house, but I found someone else who had made the exact recipe here. (Here is a different version using Irish whiskey.)

I went one step cheaper and used the recipe for homemade sweetened condensed milk from the same book, similar to this one but with a bit of added vanilla, I believe. There’s dry milk in that recipe, which I don’t usually use, but I think once you’re pouring a whole bottle of vodka into a dish, you can’t get very nit-picky about healthy ingredients, right? (wink)

If you want to try Irish Cream for this year’s Christmas gifts, now is the perfect time to prepare. You’ll want to make the recipe as close to one week before giving the gift as possible, as it’s supposed to sit at room temperature in a dark place for seven days. Stored in the refrigerator, it lasts three months, at room temperature, one month.

It’s possible that my husband and I still tried it mid-summer and it was just fine, but don’t take my word for it!

Now you can help people eat a great salad, bake a dessert and serve drinks. They’ll love your simple, healthful, homemade gifts.

What’s the best food gift you’ve ever gotten?