We've provided several gift guides over the years that offer gift ideas for your significant others, Secret Santa participants, or family members that come in at a reasonable price. But there is another, much harder group of people to figure out presents for. Those folks like your boss, co-workers, extended friends and family are difficult to shop for, especially without shelling out $20-$30 on each one.
What's the one thing almost everybody likes, regardless of gender, age or financial status? Ice cream.
Didn't see that coming, probably, but it's true. Of course, people like money and other such things, but they don't make great gifts, and you can't give your boss thirty bucks if he's making double your salary.
This isn't just any ice cream though. It's homemade – handcrafted gifts always go over well – and this ice cream is personalized for each participant.
“Wait, wait, wait,” you say, “my boss is going to make fun of me if I hand him a jar of chocolate ice cream and wish him happy holidays.” Yes that's probably true, if you handed him plain old chocolate ice cream. “Who cares?” right? But if you hand him Double-vanilla, bourbon and salted pecan ice cream (because he's a drinker, and snacks on nuts all day in an effort to stay healthy), he's going to think you're a badass who pays attention.
And at only a couple of bucks per jar, it's an incredibly frugal way to give lots of thoughtful gifts without dropping a ton of money or time.
Combinations and flavors are truly endless, and even cursory knowledge of someone is enough to come up with a unique, thoughtful flavor.
Take your best buddy: He's into fitness, so you make him a jar of Lowfat Chocolate Milk Protein Peanut Butter Swirl. High in protein, low(er) in fat, and makes an awesome alternative to full-bellied ice cream on cheat day.
Your mom loves Kit Kats, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Nutella? Easy. Done and done. AND, you're unlikely to find that combination in a store. (And she'll think it's cute that you pay attention.)
When seeking out a good, affordable ice cream maker I looked no further than America's Test Kitchen. They put several models to the test that used two different mechanisms and came at varying prices. They concluded that the Cusinart ICE-21 provided the best ice cream texture, at a mere $50, practically the cost of 1.5 normal gifts you'd have to shell out for. It's also got a 4.5 star average on Amazon with over 600 reviews.
The maker is simple to operate. Place the mixing bowl in the freezer until frozen, then put it on the base, insert the mixing paddle and pour in your ingredients. Twenty minutes later you've got a finished treat with the consistency of frozen yogurt. For a traditional ice cream hardness, just place it in the freezer for an hour or two.
The base ice cream mix is created with 2 cups of heavy whipping cream (or half and half for less fat), 1 cup of milk, and 3/4 cup of sugar. Add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract for a vanilla base and mix in whatever special ingredients you want to add 5 minutes before the ice cream is done.
I've had the pleasure of experimenting with a few recipes that cover a range of flavors to start you out for inspiration.
Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Swirl
Start with the vanilla base and simply add crushed peanut butter cups and 2 tablespoons of hot fudge (unmelted) 5 minutes before the ice cream is finished.
Chocolate Milk Protein and Peanut Butter
The important note for this one is that the ice cream is only going to taste as good as the protein you mix into it. I really like Extreme Milk Chocolate. Add 2 cups of whipping cream or half and half, a half cup of milk (the protein powder makes it pretty thick) and 3 scoops of protein in a mixing bowl and whisk until mixed. Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and a few minutes before it's finished add a heaping tablespoon of softened peanut butter.
Double Vanilla Almond & Chocolate Chip
Use the vanilla base but add an extra tablespoon of vanilla extract. Make the base as usual and add chopped almonds and mini semi-sweet chocolate chips a few minutes before it's done in the ice cream machine.
Nothing makes the holiday season like some eggnog. Pick up a carton of cinnamon eggnog at the store, take 2 cups of it and mix with one cup of heavy whipping cream. Of all the recipes I tried, this super simple one was a huge hit.
Dairy-free & Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Split
Those souls who can't drink milk or don't want the extra fat won't be left out. The use of whipping cream and milk is what gives us the creamy texture of regular ice cream. If there's not enough fat in the mix (like the time I tried just regular chocolate milk) ice crystals will develop, and it will be rock hard if you put it in the freezer. To make up for it in this dairy-free recipe we'll use two ripe bananas to give us the texture we need.
Whisk .5 cup of vanilla almond milk with 2 heaping tablespoons of chocolate cocoa and 2 tablespoons of sugar. Microwave for 30 seconds. Place the mixture, the 2 bananas and 1 cup of almond milk in a blender and puree for about 10 seconds. Pour the combination into the ice cream maker as usual. Drop in a tablespoon or two of peanut butter. As someone who loves all forms of milk and isn't a vegan, I was very surprised at how good this tastes.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. The Cusinart ICE-21 is available on Amazon for $45, and if you're in a rush, anywhere small appliances are sold like a department store.