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Tasteful Giving

By Jennifer Kornegay

Food/Photography by Brooke Echols

“’Tis better to give than receive.”

That’s an admirable sentiment, but maybe not so accurate when you’re set to be on the receiving end of an edible gift. Who doesn’t love retrieving a little bundle from their mailbox or a bag at their front door, opening it and breathing in the scent of freshly homemade goodies? Maybe it’s the warmth and spice of a cinnamon-perfumed nut bread, the pure sweetness of brightly iced sugar cookies in festive shapes or the richness of something (anything!) enrobed in chocolate.

Gifting with edibles is great for the other side of the equation too. If you’re the one in your family who carries the burden of checking names off the gift list, you know how stressful and time-consuming coming up with a truly appreciated item can be. But everyone eats, and everyone loves a special treat (and they’re also “one size fits all”).

It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It doesn’t have to look perfect. It can be as simple as a few cookies in a cellophane bag tied tight with cheery red ribbon. The time and effort you put into it (even if it’s short!) means something more than the same amount of energy spent at the mall. So skip the traffic and the crowds, and just grab the things needed to whip up a few of these reader-submitted edible gift recipes on a regular grocery store run.

Make it Merry

Once you’ve made your edible gifts, try one of these fast and frugal ideas to package your delights with some flair.

  • Embellish plain brown paper lunch sacks with a few holiday-themed stick  ers, fold the top over a few times, thread some ribbon through two hole-punched holes and tie into a bow to close.
  • Stack small cookies in Mason jars. Hot glue some ribbon around the top’s metal band. Or ditch the jar’s top and instead, cover the jar with a red or green paper cupcake liner turned upside down and secured with ribbon or a colored rubber band.
  • Line plain brown cardboard boxes with tissue paper before filling with your goodies, and decorate their outsides with holiday stickers or holiday ink stamps.
  • Slide your treats into food-safe clear plastic baggies (found at most craft supply stores) and twist them closed. Secure with a piece of ribbon and adorn with a sticker gift tag.

Cook of the Month:

Denise Swann, Dixie EC

Denise Swann has always loved baking. She learned it from her grandmother and today, prefers it to any other kind of cooking. The retired teacher also loves the food culture and flavors of Italy, a country she’s visited multiple times, so she combined her two passions in her recipe for Cranberry Orange Almond Biscotti. “I really enjoy biscotti and I saw a recipe that I liked, but I tweaked it to make it my own,” she said. The change was the addition of blood orange’s bold zip. She’s not the only one pleased with the results, one reason she now gives these biscotti as gifts. “I have a friend who likes them so much I give her the entire recipe for her birthday each year, but for most gifts, I put about six pieces in a cellophane bag and wrap it up pretty,” she said. “They’re great for Christmas.”

Cranberry Orange Almond Biscotti

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Zest of one orange (I use blood orange, but plain is fine)
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup craisins
  • 1 cup whole roasted almonds 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar and zest until well blended. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs. Combine flour, salt and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in craisins and nuts by hand. Divide dough in half. (It is very sticky. I have water to dampen my fingers when forming the logs.) Form 2 logs on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the logs are light brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 275 degrees. Cut the logs on a diagonal into 1-inch thick slices. Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes or until dry, then cool. This recipe makes about 20 cookies.

Baby Ruth Bars

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup white corn syrup
  • 2½ cups crunchy peanut butter
  • 5 cups Special K cereal
  • 6 ounces almond bark (3 squares off the whole block)

Bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil. Remove from heat; add peanut butter and melted almond bark; blend well. Add cereal, stirring to coat. Pour into a 9×13-inch pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Cool and remove bars from pan. Cut bars into small pieces.

Peggy Key

North Alabama EC

Almond Joy Candy

  • 2 14-ounce bags coconut
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can or bag of almonds
  • 2 12-ounce bags chocolate chips
  • 1 bar paraffin wax

Heat butter and sweetened condensed milk until butter is melted; stir together. Add coconut. Cool completely. Form a small ball around each almond to form candy.  Melt chocolate chips and paraffin together until smooth. Dip each candy in melted chocolate and lay on wax paper to cool completely. Store in refrigerator until ready to bag or bowl for gifts.

LaCretia Bevel

North Alabama EC

Fruitcake Cookies

  • 1 pound mixed candied fruit
  • 2 cups nuts, chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1½ cups flour

Mix all together and spoon on cookie sheet or mini muffin pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Shanna Bryars

Baldwin EMC

Yee Haw Toffee

  • 1 10-ounce package saltine crackers
  • 1 cup of butter (no margarine)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 12-ounce package milk chocolate chips
  • 1 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Line cookie sheet with saltine crackers, edges touching. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar. Cook until mixture reaches 235 degrees on candy thermometer. Pour mixture over crackers and spread evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot toffee. When chips turn glossy, spread chocolate evenly with spatula. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Freeze 20-25 minutes, remove from freezer, break into pieces and serve.

Beth McLarty

Cullman EC

Crockpot Apple Butter

  • 3 pounds gala apples
  • 3 pounds fugi apples
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 6 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar

Remove cores from apples and chop into chunks (no need to remove skins) and place in a 6-quart crockpot. Combine rest of ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over apples and stir to coat. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour then low for 10 hours, stirring a couple of times throughout. Spoon mixture into a blender or food processor, leaving a vent open for steam to escape and blend to desired consistency. Allow to cool to room temperature then refrigerate or freeze. Makes about 5 pints.

Emily Nebrig

Joe Wheeler EMC

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal flour (Using a food processor, blend old fashioned oats to make 3 cups flour)
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons ground hemp seed (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons ground chia seed (optional)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter powder
  • 2/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 6 tablespoons milk

Whisk wet ingredients together. Stir in the dry ingredients. Mix in chocolate chips. Roll into balls and enjoy.

Carissa Pittman

Joe Wheeler EMC

Coming up in January…Slow Cooker Favorites!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

February: Spicy Foods | Dec. 8

March: Honey | Jan. 8

April: Bread | Feb. 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.