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Perfect Gift: Make-Your-Own Mixes

Looking for a creative homemade gift to give this season? Chris Kimball, the editor in chief of Cook's Illustrated, and host of "America's Test Kitchen" is here with some ideas for make-your-own Hot Chocolate mix, Pancake mix, and Italian Salad Dressing mix.

You make these "better than the box" mixes, package them in a pretty container and give them as a gift, along with the recipe for making the actual cocoa or pancakes (add 1 cup hot milk to the cocoa mix, etc).

Not only do these make unique gifts that are a nice change from cookies and chocolates, Chris says the final products taste much better than if you used a store-bought mix.

COCOA -- Chris's cocoa mix is a combination of cocoa powder, nonfat dry milk, confectioner's sugar and white chocolate chips.

  • Nonfat dry milk adds a sweet dairy flavor.
  • Confectioners' sugar dissolves easily (vs. regular sugar) and the cornstarch which is added to the powdered sugar helps thicken the cocoa.
  • The white chocolate gives the final drink a soft, creamy texture.

    You combine all of these ingredients in a food processor so the chocolate chips wind up dispersed throughout the powder. To enjoy, mix into a mug of hot milk. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

    PANCAKES - "The original Aunt Jemima box mix pancakes were not just about convenience. They included several types of flour and were meant to make a better pancake. With that in mind, we developed our own make-ahead mix, one that is better than regular homemade pancakes," Chris said.

  • A mix of half all-purpose flour and half cake flour achieves a softer texture.
  • Malted milk powder (made from malted barley that has been evaporated) adds a sweet, nutty flavor.

    The mix does contain butter, so it needs to be kept in the fridge. It will keep for up to two months. When ready to make the pancakes, Chris suggests using buttermilk to create fluffier pancakes.

    ITALIAN SALAD DRESSING -- "This is interesting, personally, it would never occur to me to give salad dressing mix as a gift, but it's a great idea," Chris said. "Something that people use regularly, and so much better than the bottled stuff. You combine powdered lemonade mix, dehydrated minced onion and garlic, some spices and pectin (Sure Jell brand). Pectin is the ingredient added to jam and jelly to make it thicker."

  • Lemonade mix helped strike the right balance between tangy and sweet and means not having to have a fresh lemon on hand.
  • Sure Jell pectin created a thick, emulsified texture that helps the dressing cling to the lettuce.

    When ready to use the salad dressing mix, you combine it with some red wine vinegar and water, then pop it in the microwave for 15 seconds or so. This softens the dehydrated garlic and onion. Once it's cooled, you whisk in the olive oil.

    RECIPES

    Italian Dressing Mix
    Each batch of dressing makes about ½ cup, enough to dress 16 cups of greens
    Serves 6-8
    Makes 1 cup of mix, or 10 batches of dressing

    1/4 cup powdered lemonade mix
    3 tablespoons dehydrated minced onion
    3 tablespoons dehydrated minced garlic
    3 tablespoons pectin
    1 tablespoon dried oregano
    2 teaspoons dried basil
    1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    1 tablespoon salt

    Whisk all ingredients in bowl until well combined. Store in airtight container for up to 3 months. To make salad dressing, whisk 1 ½ tablespoons mix, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon water in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until garlic and onion are just softened, about 15 seconds. Cool to room temperature, then slowly whisk in 6 tablespoons olive oil.

    Better-Than-The-Box Pancake Mix
    Makes about 6 cups of mix

    2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 cups cake flour
    1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
    3/4 cup milk, malted powder
    1/3 cup sugar
    2 tablespoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 tablespoon salt
    12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter…cut into ½-inch pieces

    Process all ingredients in food processor until no lumps remain and mixture is texture of wet sand, about 2 minutes. Freeze in airtight container for up to 2 months.

    To make 8 pancakes: Whisk 2 cups mix, 2 lightly beaten large eggs, and ½ cup buttermilk in large bowl until smooth. Pour 1/4-cup portions of pancake batter onto lightly oiled large nonstick skillet or griddle and cook over medium-low heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining batter as desired. Serve. (If you don't have buttermilk, make clabbered milk by whisking ½ tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice into ½ cup whole or low-fat milk and letting the mixture thicken for 10 minutes).

    Best-Ever Hot Cocoa Mix
    Makes about 20 servings

    3 cups nonfat dry milk
    2 cups confectioners' sugar
    1-1/2 cups Dutch-processed cocoa powder
    1-1/2 cups white chocolate chips
    1/4 teaspoon salt

    Combine ingredients in large bowl. Working in two batches, pulse ingredients in food processor until chocolate is finely ground. Store in airtight container for up to 3 months. To make hot cocoa, stir 1/3 cup of this mix into 1 cup of hot milk. Top with whipped cream or mini marshmallows.

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