Start Stockpiling Now: Four Cheap Christmas Gifts to Make

Photo: lisafx

Look out! Here come the holidays. Here are four of my favorite recipes that make welcomed gifts, but won’t bust your budget.

Aunt Joyce’s Five-Minute Fudge

Start stockpiling: chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, nuts, and sweetened, condensed milk. The beauty of this recipe is that it really only takes five minutes to set up. I make a few batches when I get close to Christmas so that I have it on hand, ready to go. It looks extra-sporty packed in layers inside a Chinese food take-out box, available at craft stores.

  • 1 12-oz package chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 14-oz can sweetened, condensed milk
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

Stir and melt chips, milk, and vanilla in a heavy pan. When melted, add the nuts. Lightly spray an 8 x 8 pan with spray oil. Pour the fudge mixture into pan and place in refrigerator to set. Cut into squares when it has set up. Keep refrigerated.

Mom’s "Russian Tea"

Stockpile: instant tea, Tang, sugar, and small jars. I have no idea about the origin of the name of this stuff and yes, I doubt its Russian authenticity.  It looks sporty in a small jar with the directions on a label.

  • 1 two-ounce jar instant tea powder
  • 1 nine-ounce jar of Tang
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. cloves
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Add two teaspoons of mix to boiling water and stir.

Uncle Bill’s Kahlua

This is another gift that gets people pretty excited. Start stockpiling: sugar, instant coffee, brandy and bottles.

  • 3 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, diced
  • 2 oz. instant coffee
  • 1 Fifth of Brandy
  • 3 cups boiling water

Put vanilla bean in sterile bottle. Boil water, stir in coffee and sugar. Let cool and add brandy. Pour into bottle and cap tightly. Let set for thirty days. Strain and re-bottle in sterile bottle.

Chex Mix

I have never met a person who dislikes Chex Mix. It was something my mother made all the time in the 70s. A girlfriend once remarked that you could always find Chex Mix and Jell-o Squares at my house. Start stockpiling: Chex cereal, pretzels, and cans of mixed nuts. There are dozens of variations on the original, but I’m a traditionalist. The recipe for the real McCoy (as well as variations sent in by other Chex lovers) is found at Chex.

Make sure you pack the cooled, finished product in airtight packages for maximum freshness. And remember, the secret to not blowing your budget here is to get whatever you can on sale — not only the ingredients, but the jars, bottles, boxes, etc.

Readers, any family-tested inexpensive food gifts to share?

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Guest's picture

That fudge idea is great, as long as I don't eat ten pounds of it during the gifting!

John DeFlumeri Jr

Guest's picture

My family always had "Russian Tea" at Christmas too, same recipe. I'm sure it was some sort of midcentury attempt to approximate chai.

Guest's picture

MDP, I'm sitting here laughing about the tea. Sometimes I make it and people are like "what the heck is this?". Nice to know there is someone else out there who has had it. And: you are right -- it kind of is like chai!

John,I make so much of it, after the first batch I am not even tempted.

Guest's picture

Homemade limoncello (Italian lemon liquer)

2 bottles of 80-proof vodka (750ml each)
zest of 15-20 lemons
3 cups water
3 cups sugar.

Mix together the lemon zest and vodka, and let them sit in a sealed container for 2 weeks. Then mix water and sugar in a saucepan under low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the liquid is clear. Let this cool and then add to the vodka and lemon zest, and let it sit for another 2 weeks. Strain out the zest. Pour into pretty bottles with pretty labels.

This one can be made well in advance. I've seen some recipes that recommend letting the mixture sit for a full 6 months.

Guest's picture

My mom used to make that tea every year, too. It just smells like Christmas to me.
I have a couple of other standby gifts when I am running low on funds. I gave a friend a great orange-cranberry vodka that, like the Kahlua, needs to sit for about a month. But the all time favorite that everybody requests is "White Chocolate Popcorn". It is easy and so wonderful. (It even won Class Champion at our local county fair.) The only ingredients are microwave popcorn and almond bark. (This is the only time of year that our stores have almond bark so I stock up for the rest of the year.)

The ratio is 2 squares of almond bark per 1 regular size bag of microwave popcorn. (Lite or butter is fine, just not kettle corn.)

Pop the popcorn. Put the popped corn into a paper bag after you have removed as much unpopped kernels as you can. (I put them in a colander so as much chaff and kernels will go the bottom as possible.) Melt the almond bark in the microwave 20 seconds at a time, so that it won't burn, and stir each time. When it it mostly melted you can stir it and the remainder will melt the last chunks. (You can also use a double boiler, but the microwave is faster.) When it is melted, pour over the popcorn-close the top of the paper bag and shake like crazy. Then pour out onto wax paper or aluminum foil so that it can set. Once it has set, just break into clusters and eat. One of my former bosses called it "crack popcorn" because it is so addictive. I already have people requesting it for Christmas this year. Enjoy.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I just spoke with my Grandma the other day, and she was commenting about how large our family had grown. With over 15 great grandkids to shop for, she was welcoming the older ones asking for her Chex Mix gifts.  (It seems that once the boys reach a certain age, they are automatically gifted with round tins of Chex Mix, and the son-in-laws especially love it!)

She has to look year-round at thrift stores for the reusable metal tins (the kind that gourmet cookies come in), but once she has enough for every one, it's one day making a big batch, and she's done!

Super inspiration, Marla :)

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

1-2 vanilla beans for every cup of vodka you use (I find them pretty inexpensively at World Market, also check international grocery stores)

Just cut the beans into 1" pieces and put them into a nice decorative bottle. Add the vodka, stopper it, and in about 2 weeks, vanilla extract! After the vodka is gone, your gift recipient can even refill the bottle with more vodka - the beans are good for 2-4 bottles worth of extract!

You can even drink this stuff straight - I heard from a foodie friend who received it that this tastes wonderful!

Guest's picture

Actually, that tea does have Russian origins! I used to live in a large Russian expatriate community and they all used to drink something very similar, served hot, in the winter. I don't know that they used Tang, though.

Guest's picture

I love the Chex Mix but we call it Puppy Chow however its the same thing. Its great for x-mas gifts because it makes so much and fills up a basket or tin. We also do some different types of cookies as well in addition to chocolate covered pretzels, which are always a big hit.

Cooking gifts for Christmas is a great frugal way of giving that doesn't cost you a lot of money.

Guest's picture

Actually, when most people say "Chex Mix" they are talking about the salty, traditional kind. "Puppy Chow" is the recipe with chocolate and powdered sugar on it (it looks like the powdered milk-covered Puppy Chow made by Purina). Both are delicious and well-loved by most anyone; great gift ideas!

Guest's picture

I'm looking forward to making this fudge. It sounds delicious and easy!

Guest's picture

Thanks for the great fudge recipe. I'll be trying that this weekend.

And thanks also to Kim for the White Chocolate Popcorn recipe. That's on the list now too!

Guest's picture
Mary Lutz

I'm already thinking of everyone to give the fudge to and I can't wait to make the tea for me :) I love chai, and since it smells like Christmas I know it will be a great hit!!! Thanks!

Guest's picture

The idea of giving someone homemade Kahlua is amazing! Can't wait to see the look on my friends' faces... and it's such a cheap Christmas gift idea too.

Guest's picture

Thanks for these recipe, I love these specially the chocolate fudge which is my favorite, My in-laws would feel great seeing one of these in their Christmas Hampers
Thanks for these. Love it!

Marla Walters's picture

Thanks, Alohanet, for the comment! The fudge goes together really fast.

Guest's picture

Excellent idea. If i buy in bulk i could make it even cheaper