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Holiday gifts from your kitchen

November 21, 2022 | Valerie Elwell
An assortment of chocolate bombs on a cutting board with white mug, peppermint spoon and red toy truck.
These giftable treats are so delectable and easy to make they could become a new family tradition. Photos by Jessica VanRoo/UCI Health

In the not-too-distant past, swapping homemade goodies was an honored holiday tradition with families eagerly sharing their trademark cookies, candies, breads and even more savory fare. With today's busy schedules, who has time?

These delectable DIY treats are quick to make and sure to delight friends, co-workers, neighbors and extended family alike. It's also a fun holiday activity that allows little ones to experience the joy of giving.

"Homemade edible gifts show an extra level of thoughtfulness and care and are wonderful to receive," says Katie Rankell, a registered dietitian and program director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. "I still counsel my patients to be mindful of portion sizes and calories over the holidays to prevent a complete derailment of their nutrition and weight management goals."

Whip up some holiday magic with these recipes created by Jessica VanRoo, executive chef of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health.

Christmas Jam

Makes 5 cups or 5 half-pint jars (Total cost: $10.03/$2 per jar)
Calories: 33 per 1 tablespoon serving

An open jar of Christmas jam next to a box of two other jars amidst fresh cranberries and mint.

This versatile Christmas jam is great on toast and rolls but give it a whirl as a topper for Brie, Chèvre or goat cheese. You may even consider serving it alongside the holiday entree as a fresh accompaniment to turkey, duck or goose.

Cranberries — a classic staple of holiday meals — are a member of the heather family and related to blueberries, bilberries and lingonberries. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, including manganese, copper and vitamins C, E and K1. They're also a major source of antioxidants that may be beneficial for heart health.

In fact, all the fruits in this recipe are high in fiber and vitamin C, contain antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties that help protect the body from harmful substances called free radicals.

Best of all, it's an all-natural alternative to most commercial jams that often contain corn syrup derivatives, dyes and preservatives.


  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 orange, zested, peeled, pith removed
  • 2 teaspoons of the grated orange zest
  • 1½ cups strawberries, fresh or frozen 
    (about 8 oz)
  • 1½ cups raspberries or cherries, fresh or frozen (about 7 oz)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon calcium powder dissolved in ½ cup water
  • 1½-2 cups sugar or sugar substitute, divided 1 cup, ½-1 cup
  • 2 teaspoons Pomona’s pectin powder


  • Place empty jars in pot of water filled at least 1 inch above the jar tops, boil at least 10 minutes.
  • Combine pectin powder with 1 cup sugar in a bowl.
  • Combine cranberries and peeled orange in food processor, pulse until coarsely chopped.
  • Add strawberries and raspberries (or cherries) and pulse a few times to mix, but do not puree.
  • Place fruit mix in saucepan, cook on medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add spices, orange zest and 2 teaspoons of calcium water, mix well.
  • Add pectin-sugar mix to heated fruit, stir well, bring to a boil.
  • Remove from heat when pectin is dissolved and skim off any foam that formed.
  • Fill sterilized jars with jam, leaving a gap of ¼-inch, seal with lids.
  • Place filled jars in boiling water that covers jar tops, boil for 10 minutes.
  • Remove jars from water, check seals and allow to cool.
  • Sealed jam can be stored up to a year but refrigerate once opened and use within 3 weeks.

Spiced and Candied Nuts

Makes 4 cups (Total cost: $16.78/$4.20 per cup)
Calories: 142 per ¼ cup serving

Open jar of spiced and candied nuts in by a gift box in front of a red truck.

Nuts are a tasty, nutritious and convenient snack that can be enjoyed on all kinds of diets — from vegan to keto.

One ounce of mixed nuts contains 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and selenium. 

Although they are high in fat, their fiber content helps you feel full and may reduce the number of calories you absorb from meals.

Eating nuts on a regular basis also has been linked to a reduced risk for diabetes and heart disease, as well as healthier cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In moderation, they're a valuable addition to a healthy, balanced diet.


  • 3 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
  • ½ cup brown sugar substitute (monk fruit brown sugar, coconut brown sugar, etc.)
  • 4 cups shelled, unsalted nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, etc.)
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste


These nuts can be roasted in the oven or on the stove.


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
  • Combine butter or coconut oil with sugar of choice in a medium-sized pot, heat until sugar melts.
  • Toss nuts in butter mixture until thoroughly coated, add spices and toss again.
  • Spread nuts on baking sheet, place in oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes.


  • Combine butter or coconut oil, and sugar in a pot and cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves.
  • Toss nuts in mixture, then cook over medium-low heat until you smell the aroma of roasting nuts, about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, stir in spices.
  • Spread nuts on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper.
  • Allow to air dry, then divide among containers, cover and store.

Chocolate Bombs

Makes 3 (Total cost: $5.23/$1.74 per bomb)
Calories: 327 per drink (using 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, without sprinkles or frosting)

Three chocolate bombs in a gift box with peppermint candy spoon.

Make your hot chocolate truly spectacular this season!

These chocolate bombs take a bit more time and effort to make but are so worth it when they dissolve and the marshmallows and other goodies float to the top of your mug of hot milk.

We've sung the praises of chocolate (especially the dark variety) many times. It leads the body to produce anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression.

It also contains flavanols, which help produce nitric oxide, relaxing blood vessels and improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. Better blood flow protects the heart and improves brain cognition.

It's a perfect evening drink because chocolate is rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps the body and brain relax and regulates melatonin for a better night's sleep.


  • 1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
  • 3 tablespoons mini marshmallows, vegan if needed.
  • Sprinkles and frosting (optional)


  • Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 20-second intervals, allowing chocolate to sit for 20 seconds before stirring.
  • When melted completely, stir chocolate until smooth.
  • In a six-dome silicone mold, spoon a little more than 1 tablespoon of chocolate in each dome.
  • Using the back of the spoon, coat sides of each mold with chocolate, let cool and fully set at room temperature.
  • Combine sugar and cocoa powder, mix well and set aside.
  • Once the chocolate has set, gently pop chocolate shells from mold.
  • Fill three chocolate half-shells with 1 tablespoon cocoa mixture and 1 tablespoon mini marshmallows.
  • Heat a microwave-safe plate for 30 seconds.
  • Gently place the three empty half shells onto the warm plate, edges down to soften them.
  • Set empty halves atop the filled halves. Melt extra chocolate if needed to help seal each covered bomb.
  • Decorate the sealed bomb with more chocolate and sprinkles, if desired.

To serve, place a chocolate bomb in a large mug, Heat one cup of milk of choice, slowly pour into the mug. Stir to melt the bomb and enjoy!

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