The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 17, 2013

Cheryle Finley: 'Perfect' homemade mixes are great gifts

By Cheryle Finley
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Christmas is the perfect time for giving homemade gifts. But what about the rest of the year?

There's nothing more special than receiving a gift that someone has put thought and time into, making it just for you. Have I given some homemade gifts where the recipient had to remember that it's the thought that counts in order to appreciate it? I have no doubt. But no more. I was recently the lucky bidder at a talent table for a bowl full of goodies, and the piece I'm most excited about is "The Perfect Mix," a book containing 90 ideas for giving gifts of bread, soup, dessert and other homemade mixes.

We have all seen the layered jars at the ready to create chocolate chip cookies. This book has that and much more. Dressings, dips, soups, rice, bread, pizza, pancake, cake and beverages each have a section with great ideas. Besides the directions for creating the various mixes, there's also helpful ideas for making gift baskets and other creative packaging. A bow or a piece of material can go a long way in dressing up a jar. Put the mix in a pretty, labeled airtight container, then supply an ingredient or two, or maybe a serving dish and pretty napkins. Give someone the tea mix with a pitcher or some iced-tea glasses and a few lemons.

The author, Dianne Phillips, suggests giving a mix in a large salt and pepper shaker, sealing the top under the lid with plastic wrap to insure freshness and avoid a mess. Fix up beignet mix with some French roast coffee, mugs and a shaker of confectioners' sugar. This mix caught my eye because my late friend Margaret Mullikin used to talk about making beignets all the time. She never proved it to me, but I don't doubt she used to fry them up in big batches. I think she just liked saying the word beignet. With all these gift baskets, the only limits are your imagination. There's sure to be one that can become your signature gift -- friends and family will look forward to it all year long.

At the suggestion of my friends at Abbey Title Co., I finally was able to try the pizza at Mohaska Farmhouse. With a delicious crust and tons of toppings, I see what they meant. The one I took to be supreme was my favorite, but the carnivore offered a variety of layers of meat toppings that made me smile. Sorry I waited so long to try it. Thank you to Janet Prins for the chocolate chip cake. It didn't last long!

I'm always happy when readers ask about my 8-year-old grandson, Atlas, because he always seems to be doing something I can share. The latest? A couple of weeks ago, I was taking Atlas and my daughter, Sarah, to their home, driving down River Street in Carthage. As we passed Euclid Boulevard, he told us he felt sorry for the kids who lived down that street because they didn't have a TV or any video games. We were confused, because it's a really nice area. So we asked him about his concern. He informed us that the sign on the street entrance said "No Outlet." It made sense, as he would certainly miss outlets. It was a good time for a discussion about dead-end streets.

For some of today's recipes, I turn to "The Perfect Mix." When giving someone a mix you have put together, don't forget to include a recipe from the book using the mix you have supplied. My basket included a jar of Cajun seasoning mix and the recipe for barbecued Cajun salmon. Using some fresh salmon steaks, I added 3 tablespoons of the mix to 1/3 cup olive oil, marinated the steaks for 20 minutes, then baked (directions call for grilling) about 12 minutes at 400 degrees and had a delicious entr┼Że in no time.

This seasoning is super spicy, which suits my taste, but it can be adjusted to satisfy those with sensitive tastebuds. I'm sharing this mix with you today. There's any number of dishes this mixture would add flavor to, so I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. For dinner gift-giving, there's the curried rice mix and the honey nut rice mix recipe. Packaged in a nice serving dish, either of these would be the perfect gift. Or mix it up for yourself and enjoy.

In celebration of the Twinkie returning to store shelves, I want to share a Twinkie cake recipe with you from my friend Carolyn Phillips. Because it contains pumpkin, it sounds like more of a fall dessert, but who says that's a rule? With its Twinkie "crust," this is yummy anytime and is nice and cool for warm weather. Have a wonderful week and happy eating!

Cajun seasoning mix

3 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons whole thyme

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon whole oregano

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients then place in airtight jar or container. Yields 2/3 cup.


Curried rice mix

1 cup long-grain rice

1 chicken bouillon cube, crumbled

1/2 cup roasted peanuts

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

In medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Store in airtight container. Yields 12/3 cups.

Honey-nut rice

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup honey

2 cups water

1 package honey nut rice mix

In medium saucepan, bring first 3 ingredients to a boil. Add the rice mix. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes. Serves 6.


Pumpkin Twinkie cake

1 can pumpkin

1 box Twinkies

2 small boxes instant vanilla pudding

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 cup milk

1 cup confectioners' sugar

2 small containers whipped topping

Cut Twinkies in half lengthwise. Layer, cut side up, in a 9-by-13-inch pan. Mix 1/2 tub whipped topping, cream cheese and confectioners' sugar together. Pour over Twinkies. Mix pumpkin, pie spice, pudding and milk together. Spread over cream cheese mixture. Top with remaining whipped topping and sprinkle with extra pumpkin pie spice. Yields 12 to 15 servings.

Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.