Back to the Kitchen: Get a Jumpstart Making Homemade Gifts Early This Year

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Yes, I am serious.  Despite the fact that it’s fall and over 100 degrees! I love the bountiful autumn harvest, but frankly it is just too darn hot!

But the weather does not affect shopping inventory. I was at Costco last month and not only did I slip on a Halloween clown, but I turned the corner and ran into a Christmas tree that looked like it was a pefect size for Time Square. Just as I moved to the next isle I ran smack into a reindeer! YIKES!

I decided that since the weather is so hot, I am just not ready to jump into stews, braising and all of the amazing seasonal apples, pears and squashes I could get a good jump on my holiday gifts from the kitchen. I know, I know, but stay with me.

Get started now with at your planning.  Some of these need to sit for over a month so it is good to get started early. You can leisurely  move through these recipes and choose the ones you want. This week I am focusing on homemade liqueurs and next week homemade jams. Then I will give you a much-needed break and give you, cookies, desserts and bread a little closer to December. I know that we are in really busy times, but the beauty is that as it gets closer to more hectic days, your gifts are already made.

Where to find supplies: You can find bottles here (375 liters is a great size for gifts); Free label downloadsHandmade vintage labels

So, if you are in L.A., just sit on your porch and sip a long cool drink while you plot and plan your holiday gift list. Nothing is better than a gift from the heart and your kitchen!

Homemade Amaretto


4 cups granulated sugar

2 cups packed brown sugar

4 cups water

8 cups vodka

½ cup almond extract

¼ cup vanilla extract

Dissolve sugars in water in a pan over medium heat. Heat until boiling and all sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Add vodka, almond extract, and vanilla.
 Store in a sealed decorative bottle for two to four weeks.

Pear Brandy

1-pound pears (find sweet and juicy ripe pears)

3 apples

3 cups brandy

1-teaspoon cinnamon

1teaspoon ginger

1-teaspoon nutmeg

3 cloves

1-cup simple syrup

Slice pears and apples ad mix with brandy and spices. Stir gently and let steep in a cool dry place for 3 weeks. Strain and filter. The purpose of these two steps is that you get the cleanest finish. So you can strain by using a regular strainer lined with cheesecloth. Filter by putting a coffee filter in a funnel and pour brandy through it. Let steep for 3 more weeks and strain and filter one more time. Pour into bottles and it is ready to give away.

Simple Syrup

1-cup sugar

1 /2 cup water

In a medium saucepan over medium heat bring to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes until the sugar completely dissolves. Remember that if you do not let it cool completely the heat will evaporate the alcohol.

Kenneally’s Irish Cream

6 eggs

2 tablespoons vanilla

1 tablespoon almond extract

1 cup chocolate syrup

2 cans (14 ounce each) condensed milk

4 cups Irish whiskey

In batches combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Let stand for a month in the refrigerator. Pour into bottles as gifts.


This coffee liqueur is sweeter than the commercial brand, but is amazing in coffee with real whipped cream!

2 cups water

1-cup instant coffee

4 cups sugar

3 cups brandy

3 cups vodka

1 vanilla bean

10 coffee beans

In a large saucepan combine water, sugar and coffee over medium heat and bring to a full boil. Skim off the foam and let cool completely. Add vodka, brandy coffee and vanilla beans. Steep in a cool dark place for 1 month. Strain and filter and it are ready to bottle and give away.


25 lemons

2 (750-ml) bottle vodka

8 cups water

4 cups sugar

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use). Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith. Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher. Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap. Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for seven days at room temperature.

After the seventh day stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 2 days. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels. Transfer the lemoncello to bottles. Seal the bottles and let set or at least 2 weeks.

Spiced Orange and Honey

20 oranges

4 cups orange juice

3 cups sugar

1-cup honey

1-tablespoon allspice

1-teaspoon whole mace

1-teaspoon whole clove

3 sticks cinnamon

¼ teaspoon whole juniper berries

½ teaspoon black peppercorn

6 cups vodka

Wash the oranges off with cold water and make sure they are clean, then dry with paper towels. Peel 12 of the oranges and add the peels to the pot. Juice all of the oranges and add the juice to the pot. Add the sugar and the honey to the pot and bring everything to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add the spices. Continue to stir. Let cool. Transfer to a sanitized gallon jar. Add the vodka.

Label and date the jar. Shake daily if possible. Let macerate for at least one month, three would be better. Taste and tweak if necessary. Strain the liqueur and transfer to smaller bottles.

Quince Liqueur

10 large quinces

1-liter aquavit or vodka

20 almonds

4 sticks cinnamon

12 whole cloves

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Grate the quince, put in a large glass bowl and mix with aquavit or vodka Add almonds, cinnamon, cloves and grated nutmeg. Cover tightly so the alcohol won’t evaporate and set in a dark cupboard for 6 weeks. Strain, discard the pulp and spices, and then filter the liquid again (pour through a double layer of coffee filters). Apart, boil sugar with water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cool. Then mix the cooled sugar syrup with the filtered alcohol liquor, bottle, and serve.

Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. She is the co-founder and master baker at Magpie Gourmet Mini Pies.  Check out her websites and  Her Sweet and Savory Cookbook is available through AMAZON .

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.