Make-Ahead Gifts from the Kitchen

Make-Ahead Gifts from the Kitchen

The holidays will soon be upon us, and that means finding the perfect gift for everyone on the list. I’ve got the answer for those hard-to-buy-for folks. Give them a gift from the heart and hands! It’s fun to gather friends and family in your kitchen to make irresistible edible treats. My easy, make-ahead limoncello recipe heads the list. With this limoncello recipe, you’ll be raising a toast and shouting “Saluti!”

For the holidays, nothing beats a homemade pound cake and the heirloom recipe I’m sharing has a wonderful, light almond flavor. The perfect cake to take to friends.

Salted chocolate clusters fill the bill when you want an easy, trendy candy that rivals its candy shop counterpart.

When time is of the essence (which is most days, right?) whip up the goat cheese log studded with cranberries, herbs, and pine nuts. With its holiday colors of red and green, it makes an unusual savory appetizer.

Easy Limoncello Recipe

I’ve traveled to Italy several times and on each of those occasions, I enjoyed limoncello. So I just had to develop a limoncello recipe to make at home.

This Italian lemon liqueur is expensive to buy and an elegant addition to your party or dinner drink offerings. The great thing about this limoncello recipe is it keeps just about forever in the freezer.  Make now for gift giving.


  • 2-1/2 to 3 pounds lemons**
  • 1 quart/liter good quality vodka
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2-1/2 cups water


  1. Pour vodka in a large glass jar.
  2. Remove peel from lemons with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Take off all of the pith — that’s the white part — from the peel as it is really bitter. If you can’t get it all off, do the best you can. Place peel in a glass jar with vodka and cover.
  3. Let sit at room temperature for at least one week to infuse flavor from the lemon peels. Some recipes recommend a dark place. I like to leave it out on my counter just to see the color change and smell the lemon aroma when I open the jar. The vodka will take on the color and flavor of the lemon as it steeps. You can leave the lemon peels in the vodka for a few weeks.
  4. After the infusion is complete, strain.
  5. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer and stir until the sugar dissolves and thickens a bit. Let cool and then add that to vodka mixture and stir until blended.
  6. Pour into bottles and seal.
  7. Chill a month in the refrigerator to cure, or two weeks in the freezer before using.

** Thick-skinned lemons work well in this limoncello recipe. They have more skin surface area and are easier to peel than smaller, thinner-skinned lemons.

Change it Up!

Sometimes I’ll add the peel of one orange along with the lemon. This double citrus makes the limoncello sweeter.

Lemon peels infusing in vodka.

So Many Ways to Enjoy This Limoncello Recipe!

Serve straight or over ice chips, mix with sparkling wine or mineral water and a lemon curl, toss with fresh fruit, serve over ice cream, frozen yogurt, or a simple cake.

Chilled limoncello.

Frangipane Pound Cake AKA Visiting Cake

This is a good keeper, covered, at room temperature. It sounds fancy — frangipane just means there’s almond flavor in the cake. This is a third generation family cake, and a nice cake to tote. We like to serve it with a glass of homemade eggnog.



  • 1 cup/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1-3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 can, 12-1/2 oz., almond filling (not almond paste)
  • 2 -1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄4 cup milk or half & half


  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons milk


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease and flour 10-inch tube pan or 12-cup Bundt pan.
  3. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time (beating well after each) and vanilla.
  5. Mix in almond filling until blended.
  6. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together.
  7. Add to almond mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until blended. Pour into pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  8. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.
  10. Whisk glaze ingredients together. Drizzle glaze on top.
Almond pound cake baked in a tube pan and cooling on a rack.
Glazed almond pound cake.


It’s important to grease and flour the pan to prevent sticking. After you grease the pan, toss in enough flour to coat bottom and sides. Shake excess out. Or use a baking spray containing flour.

Testing Baking Powder

If your baking powder has been hanging around in the pantry for a while, it’s best to test the leavening power before baking.

Just add a teaspoon of baking powder into a half cup of warm water. If it fizzes right away, the baking powder has leavening power; if not, toss it out and buy new.

When you open a new can of baking powder, write the month and year somewhere on the can. After opening, baking powder will last a year or so in a cool, dry place away from light.

Salted Dark Chocolate Nut Clusters

This is the ultimate cluster for the chocolate lover on your list.


  • 18 oz. pkg. bittersweet quality chocolate chunks
  • 6 oz. dried cherries, cut into small slivers
  • 6 oz. slivered almonds, toasted
  • 6 plump dried apricots, diced or snipped into small slivers with scissors
  • Coarse salt to sprinkle on top of clusters


  1. Roast almonds in a 350-degree oven just until fragrant and golden, stirring a couple times for a total of six to eight minutes. Be careful as they can burn easily.
  2. Melt chocolate in a nonstick pan over low heat or in a double boiler. Remove from heat when some lumps remain and stir until smooth.
  3. Stir in cherries, almonds, and apricots.
  4. Use a small ice cream scoop or spoon to scoop out and place on a sprayed parchment lined or waxed paper lined pans.
  5. Sprinkle very, very lightly with salt (just a few granules) and refrigerate until hard. I store mine in the refrigerator between pieces of parchment paper.
Salted chocolate clusters.

Goat Cheese Log with Cranberries, Pine Nuts, and Herbs

The cranberries add a sweetness to the pungent goat cheese. The nuts, herbs, and pepper add color and flavor.


  • 1 log, 8 oz., plain goat cheese/Chevré
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder or 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped fine
  • 2-3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (toasting optional)
  • Palmful fresh parsley, minced
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh or dried rosemary, chopped
  • Crackers, flatbread, or French baguettes


  1. Mix goat cheese, cream cheese, and pepper together.
  2. Place on a square of plastic wrap and roll up, enclosing in plastic wrap as you go. Shape into a seven to eight-inch log. This can be done a day ahead.
  3. Mix cranberries, nuts, parsley, and rosemary together.
  4. Roll log in the cranberry mixture, coating all sides and pressing gently to make the mixture stick.
  5. Cover and refrigerate one hour or up to 12 hours. Serve with crackers or bread.


Toast pine nuts in a dry, nonstick skillet over low heat for just a few minutes. Stir the nuts often, until you see little blotches of brown on them.

Properly toasted pine nuts.

Can’t seem to make a smooth log? After rolling in plastic wrap, place in a paper towel cardboard insert cut to fit the roll. With a back and forth motion, continue to roll the log until smooth.

An easy way to roll goat cheese log.
A goat cheese log.

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