It’s that time of year again and the holiday season means parties and get-togethers.

Having a stash of something delicious on hand to bring along makes life easier when it’s time to bring something gifty to a party. 

And something homemade is far more satisfying for kids who want to do something special for teachers, coaches, relatives and friends.

Homemade vanilla extract

Vanilla extract can be expensive. Making your own is not only cheaper, but better, and you can replenish your stock with vanilla beans and vodka or bourbon as you use it. 

Warming the alcohol (gently!) first jump-starts the steeping process, so you can have ready-to-use vanilla in as little as a week.

  • Whole vanilla beans
  • Vodka or bourbon

Cut each vanilla bean open with the tip of a sharp knife; scrape out the seeds into a jar. Add the vanilla bean to the jar (or jars) as well.

If you like, gently warm the vodka or bourbon in a saucepan set over medium heat. Pour over the vanilla beans, seal and store for a week to a month, shaking now and then. The flavour will intensify and the colour will darken the longer it's stored. Makes as much as you want to.

Homemade vanilla

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Christmas granola

Use melted butter instead of oil for particularly decadent granola, or add some flax oil to boost Omega 3s.

  • 4-5 cups old-fashioned (large flake) oats
  • 1 cup sliced or slivered almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts or a combination
  • ½ cup shredded coconut
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup honey, Roger’s Golden Syrup or maple syrup
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla or coconut extract
  • ½ cup green pumpkin seeds
  • ½-1 cup dried cranberries, raisins, slivered apricots or other dried fruit

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat. In a large bowl, mix the oats, nuts, coconut, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the oil, brown sugar, honey/Roger’s Golden Syrup/maple syrup and vanilla. Pour over the oat mixture and stir until well coated.

Spread out onto one or two baking sheets, making clumps by squeezing some of it together if you like. Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring two or three times, until golden. Remove from the oven and stir in the pumpkin seeds and cranberries. Cool completely, then package in jars or sealed bags. Makes about two litres.

Christmas granola

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Cranberry vodka

Brilliant red cranberry vodka takes minutes to make, and is more interesting to bring along to a party than the usual bottle of wine. It also makes for festive cocktails if you keep a bottle for yourself. (Adapted from BBC Good Food.)

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 L vodka
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • strips of orange zest (optional)

Prick each cranberry a couple of times with a fork and layer with the sugar in a large sterilized jar or bottle. Pour over the vodka, add a strip or two of orange zest if you like, and leave for two weeks shaking the jar each day. Strain and decant into decorative bottles. Seal and label.

Cranberry vodka

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Anna Olson’s Holiday Fruit Compote

This combination of red fruit, pear, orange and spices is easy to make. Bring to a simmer until the cranberries pop, and it’s ready to pack into jars. Serve it on toast, dollop it on oatmeal, or serve it atop a plain cheesecake for a festive presentation.

  • 4 cups peeled and diced ripe Bartlett pears
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries 
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon 
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ cup orange liqueur (optional)

Bring all ingredients up to a simmer in a large, heavy- bottomed saucepot stirring often. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until pears are tender and cranberries have popped. Pack into sterilized jars and seal, or store refrigerated for up to four weeks. Compote can also be frozen for up to three months. Makes about eight cups.

Fruit compote

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Milk bones with wheat germ

For our canine friends (or parents of canine friends), homemade milkbones are a welcome holiday treat. Try adding a spoonful of peanut butter to the dough, or a small handful of grated cheese. If you have a donut cutter, try cutting the dough into rings, then loop a ribbon through a stack of baked biscuits for a festive presentation.

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup wheat germ or oat bran
  • ¼ cup skim milk powder
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup chicken or beef stock, milk or water
  • ¼ cup canola or other vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tbsp. honey or molasses

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, wheat germ, skim milk powder and salt. In another bowl stir together the stock, oil, egg, and honey. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until well blended.

Gently knead the dough a few times on a lightly-floured surface, and then roll it out ¼" – ½" thick. Cut into desired shapes, in sizes suitable for the size of your dog, with a cookie cutter or knife. Transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet and prick each cookie a few times with a fork.

Bake for about 20 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the cookies, until pale golden and firm. Turn the oven off but leave them inside for a few hours to harden as they cool. Makes two to three dozen milkbones.

Milkbones

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)

Multigrain pancake mix

Dry pancake mix is simple for kids to stir together — pack in a decorative jar and decorate with ribbons for an easy make-ahead gift. Attach a label that instructs the recipient: to use, whisk a cup of milk, an egg and a tablespoon of oil into each cup of mix. 

  • 4 cups flours – any combination of all-purpose, whole wheat, barley, oat or quinoa 
  • flour (unless you’re going for gluten-free, make sure you include some wheat flour 
  • for structure)
  • ¼ cup wheat germ
  • ¼ cup oat bran
  • ¼ cup ground flaxseed
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt

Whisk everything together in a large bowl, then divide into jars or zip-lock bags. To use, whisk a cup of milk, an egg and a tablespoon of oil into each cup of mix.

Pancakes

(Courtesy Julie Van Rosendaal)