Today's column offers you simple recipes that you can create as gifts from your kitchen. Think about what and how your friends enjoy food. Be considerate of dieters and don't tempt them with candy.

Spicer and I have been quite busy testing and tasting recipes that I thought you might want to prepare to share with neighbors, friends, co-workers and family. (I do the testing and he does the tasting!) We are truly fortunate because so many of us have so much that trying to find appropriate gifts is very stressful. The presents that mean the most to me are the ones that give evidence of the fact that someone cared enough to think about something that I might be able to use and enjoy rather than just toss another scarf or candle into a gift bag. Besides, "shopping" in your kitchen is much less stressful than fighting the crowds and traffic in the stores.

Today's column offers you simple recipes that you can create as gifts from your kitchen. Think about what and how your friends enjoy food. Be considerate of dieters and don't tempt them with candy. Instead make up a blend of Santa's Seasoning Salt that they can sprinkle on their vegetables, salads or meats that are going on the grill. For your friends who really should be watching their salt intake, make up a batch of Santa Fe Seasoning Blend – no salt involved. Finding appropriate containers for these blends might seem difficult but just spend a little time browsing in Dollar Tree … or look for the smallest of Ball's "canning" jars. You'll need containers that are airtight.

A package of Gingerbread Pancake Mix should please a busy mom or dad who want to make a special Christmas morning or weekend breakfast without having to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I do keep a small bag of whole wheat flour in an airtight freezer bag in the freezer just for recipes like this one. The gift recipient just needs to "dump" the dry mix in a bowl and whisk in 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 1/2 cups whole milk and 2 eggs to make up the batter for 18 to 20 pancakes. You can even add a metal whisk from Dollar Tree and tie on a tag that reads "Whisking you happy holidays!" Teenagers who like to cook might enjoy this too!.

Only for Christmas, and only for very special friends, would my mother make her delicious caramels. This truly was a labor of love for her. Imagine how surprised she'd be today to realize that equally delicious caramels can be made using a microwave. The most labor-intensive task involved with this gift is in cutting up the little pieces of waxed paper that you'll use to wrap the finished individual caramels. (I've already made the mistake of thinking that Glad's Press and Seal Wrap might be a better substitute for the waxed paper – don't try it.)

More Gifts from your Kitchen ideas will appear next Wednesday, Dec. 12, so get busy thinking about who likes what and searching for cute and appropriate containers for your gifting needs.

To contact Judi Leaming, email

Santa's Seasoning Salt

1 or 2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

4 tablespoons onion powder

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons dried and crushed parsley

1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Combine all spices in the bowl of a small food chopper, food processor or coffee grinder and pulse a few times. Store for up to 3 months in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Sprinkle on eggs, vegetables or meats. For a quick chicken marinade, add 1 tablespoon Seasoning Salt to 3 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil; whisk to blend. Coat meat on both sides and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before grilling or baking.

Santa Fe NO SALT Seasoning Blend

Whisk together:

4 teaspoons ground cumin

2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds

2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder (check the label – some contain too many additives!)

2 teaspoons dried and crushed oregano

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Store in an air-tight container. Sprinkle on vegetables, eggs or popcorn. (I used 1/4 teaspoon of this per 2 eggs for scrambling.) "Yes – I know that this may sound like a strange blending but trust me!"

Gingerbread Pancake Mix

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all of the above ingredients and blend well. Spoon into a freezer-weight quart-size plastic bag and carefully squeeze out as much air as you can so that package is almost flat. Add tag to read: "Empty into a large mixing bowl. Melt 4 tablespoons butter and combine this with 2 cups whole milk. Whisk 2 eggs into the milk mixture then whisk this liquid into the dry mix just to blend well. Using an ice cream scoop, drop "puddles" of batter onto a lightly greased hot griddle. Cook just until air bubbles on the top start to pop. Flip over and cook until both sides are lightly browned. Makes 18 to 20 pancakes.

Microwave Caramels

1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup clear Karo syrup

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk (about half of a 14-ounce can)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Small pieces of waxed paper to individually wrap each caramel

Thoroughly butter the inside bottom and 2-inches up the sides of an 8x8-inch square pan. Melt butter in a large microwaveable bowl. Stir in Karo syrup, both sugars and the condensed milk. Microwave on HIGH for 6 1/2 minutes, stirring down and scraping the sides of the bowl every 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pan and refrigerate for 45 minutes – SET A TIMER! Remove from refrigerator and press a knife or spatula into the surface all the way to the bottom of the pan to form 1-inch squares. Return to refrigerator to cool completely. Remove; cut squares apart and wrap each piece in a small piece of waxed paper. Place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.