Monday, December 28, 2009

Homemade Gifts

I am going to our family Christmas party on January 1st (it's a tradition) and this year, we were all tasked with bringing 15 identical gifts. Now, if you were to buy 15 gifts, that could get expensive. Plus, it's also hard to find a gift that a whole family can enjoy and get use out of. Even if you spent $4 per gift per family, that is $60! I love my family to death, but with a new baby and Christmas over with, I was looking to save some dough.

I looked online for some clever gift ideas that I could make. A few years ago, I made cookie mix and soup mix and put them in jars. I wanted to do something similar but that would take less ingredients and less money. Enter cocoa mix. Who doesn't like hot cocoa?

I found a recipe online and what do you know? It made 15 cups of mix. If you multiply that by 3, that gives you 45 cups of mix. Enough for 15 quart jars with room leftover to add marshmallows or mini chocolate chips to the top of the jar.

The ingredients are very simple. Powdered milk, cocoa powder, sugar and dry dairy creamer. I figured that was easy enough and I could easily make 15 jars in an afternoon. Just add a cute bow or fabric to the top of the jar along with the instructions and that makes a nice gift.

Here is the mix all stirred up and ready to be jarred.

Here are some tips that I used to make this cocoa mix:

* Buy the ingredients in bulk. I went to our local grocery store and bought all the ingredients from the bulk bins. This saved me a ton of money. The dry ingredients (including the marshmallows) were approximately $34. Keep in mind that I have leftovers of some things such as the powdered milk and mini marshmallows.

* If you have time, buy the mason jars from a second-hand store. I didn't have enough time or energy to stalk the local Goodwill, so I bought new. They were $10 for a dozen and I happened to have 3 jars of my own that were from another homemade gift foray several years ago.

* Use a funnel. I don't have one, but I improvised. I made one out of cardboard and it worked really well. A real actual funnel would have been better.

* Make sure your mixing vessel is large enough. My mixing bowl is not that big so I used a giant stockpot.

* Wipe down the jars on the inside before you add the topping. This makes it look prettier and less "powdery". I think it makes a big difference.

* Wipe down the outside of the jars when you are done. I found that the ingredients were a little sticky and it made a mess of my kitchen.

Total cost to make 15 jars: $44 and some change. Less than $3 per jar! I don't think I could have bought a gift that everyone would appreciate for less than $3. I could have saved a little more money had I bought the jars used. With a good cleaning, they would have been good as new.

Keep in mind this mix goes a long way. Each jar has 3 cups of mix. Each cup of cocoa takes 1/3 of a cup of mix. That means there are 9 servings per jar. I don't think that's too bad!

All packaged up and ready to go! I just need to add ribbon and the instructions on how to make a cup.

You can experiment with this cocoa mix by altering the type of powdered creamer. I just used plain, but wouldn't it be yummy to substitute vanilla creamer or maybe even Irish Creme? If I make these again, I might try that.

Hot Cocoa Mix

10 cups dry milk powder
4 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cup powdered non-dairy creamer

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry milk powder, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and non-dairy creamer. Stir until thoroughly combined. Makes about 15 cups of mix.

2. For one serving, place 1/3 cup of the mix and add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir.

or, Pachey's method for jarring:

Pour approximately 3 cups of mix into each quart jar and top with mini marshmallows or chocolate chips to fill jar.