More cheer for less

Tips for homemade holiday gifts for the cook and kitchen

By Henri Bourride, Chico News and Review

Henri is completely flummoxed by all the fuss about the economy, particularly the hand wringing about stock going bad. Excusez moi!

What, are you people leaving it out on the counter? Can you say “refrigerator"? Or freeze it. It’ll keep for months!

Henri does realize, though, that people are cutting back on their holiday spending this year (Note to Colette: those Gucci loafers? On sale at Size 43.5 Eur), so I have some advice.

Of course the custom gift basket is a sure bet, and you can spend as little or as much as you like. Start with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. mustard, Lodestar Olive Oil and gift certificates to your favorite local shops and restaurants.

Even better: Make your own gifts from scratch—classic holiday cookies, candies and artisan breads. Or, try one of these three culinary gifts that you can make at home easily and inexpensively. Finish with your own custom labels or tags.


The coffee-flavored liqueur that keeps on giving. In the winter, it’s delicious in a cup of hot milk or chocolate. In the summer, pour it over ice cream, or add a quarter cup to a bottle of store-bought barbecue sauce.

Combine eight cups water and eight cups sugar in large pan, and bring to boil. Remove from heat. Add five vanilla beans and one cup instant coffee. Allow to cool to room temperature. Add one-half-gallon of vodka, and mix well. Pour into quart bottles, add a vanilla bean to each bottle, and seal. Makes six bottles. Ready to drink immediately. And it only gets better with age.

Bean Soup Mix

Layered in attractive sealed jars, this mix will keep indefinitely. It’s also very inexpensive: the ingredients less than $1, the jars $1-$5 (use pint Ball mason jars or Libby hinged jars with rubber seals).

Pour into separate bowls four or five different kinds of dried legumes, ideally with contrasting colors: kidney beans, navy beans, split green peas, red lentils, black-eyed peas, etc. (all available in bulk at S & S Produce and Chico Natural Foods). Layer beans evenly into jars, leaving a half inch at the top.

Make seasoning packets (one per jar) from 3 teaspoons bouillon (meat or vegetable) powder, 3 tablespoons dried chives (chopped), 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dried savory, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1 bay leaf. Combine into small plastic baggies, place on top layer of beans, and cover tightly.

Cooking instructions: Rinse beans in colander, removing stones. Let soak in pan of water overnight. In the morning, pour one cup strong coffee, and add two tablespoons kahlua. Enjoy with the morning newspaper. Later, rinse the beans again, and combine with packaged ingredients in large pot or Dutch oven and boil until beans are tender. Note: Optional ingredients are limited only by your imagination: celery, carrots, minced garlic, stewed tomatoes, a ham hock, etc.

Custom Chico Candles

No holiday table is complete without a seasonal centerpiece accented with softly flickering candles, and while tapers and votive candles are fine, you can make your own gorgeous hand-rolled beeswax-sheet candles easily, quickly, inexpensively—and support local business at the same time.

Dadant and Sons in Chico (15C Valley Court, 893-0921) sells sheets of beeswax (10 to a box: $11.55) in red, green, white and ivory. Cut the sheet in half with scissors or utility knife, and lay a wick (also available at Dadant) along one edge, leaving about an inch sticking over the side. Soften the sheet with a hot-air hair dryer, and then simply roll it firmly around the wick. Heat the seam with another blast from the hair dryer, and press gently to seal. When it cools, wrap the candle with clear or tinted plastic and a decorative ribbon. You can also add additional sheets for pillar or multicolor candles, or roll them in glitter. Get creative—while enjoying a white Russian (vodka, cream and kahlua over ice).

For decorative jars, check Collier’s Kitchen Supply, the Galley, Pier 1 Imports and World Market. For more ideas (and for links to printable labels, etc.), go to