Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Somehow this year, time flew by and marketing started to talk about Thanksgiving and Christmas much earlier than I anticipated. Then when you look at the calendar, Thanksgiving is next week(!) and that officially kicks off the holiday shopping rush. To those of you who needs some gift inspiration, here’s my list of gifts that would be great for anyone in your holiday gift list.


To make navigating this list a bit easier, here’s the jump links:

Chocolates, Confections & Desserts
Coffee, Tea & Other Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Other Food Items
Wines & Spirits
Cookbooks


Chocolates, Confections & Desserts

Wonderful fresh pies from Daly Pie (Brooklyn, NY) - Lumberjack Pie, Vermont Maple Pecan Pie, Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie, and Honey Fig & Blue Cheese Hand Pies

For wonderful, handmade pies that could be delivered to your door, Daly Pie is a fantastic option. Daly Pies is owned and operated by Meghan Daly in Brooklyn, NY. Her pies are rustically beautiful and the pies are absolutely delicious. Hearty, intensely flavorful, and a few daring flavors (like the honey, fig and blue cheese hand pies) are great for any holiday table — or for me, any time of the year. The mentioned hand pies were my favorite, as I love the sweet-savory flavors with a whiff of pungency of the blue cheese. Other pies I’ve had were the gooey meets crunchy Vermont pecan maple pie. The chocolate bourbon pecan was richer, darker with a subtle hit of boozy bourbon. Lumberjack pie is a gently spiced, pear pie topped with large knobs of coarse, buttery oat and walnut crumb crust (the latter is my favorite part besides the sweet fruit). The pumpkin pie was textbook perfect with super creamy pumpkin purée with the expected spices of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. All 10-inch pies and the hand pies are sold by the dozen are $30.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

An unorthodox alternative to pies is cupcakes. Sprinkles Cupcakes does deliver or have many retail shops around major cities around the West Coast and New York City to swing by and pick up their regular cupcakes or their limited flavor offerings like their salted caramel and pumpkin. This cupcake is practically a 1:1 ratio of cake to frosting, which is great for those who love their frosting.

Robin Chocolates - Bonbons, Molasses salted caramels, Chocolate covered caramels with fleur de sel and Chocolate caramel lollipops

But if want a more portable version of sweets, of course there are lots of great chocolates made by small, artisan chocolate and candy makers.

Robin Chocolates is based out in Colorado. Robin Autorino is the owner of Robin Chocolates. She is an award winning chocolatier and has been named by Dessert Professional as one of the Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America in 2013. She creates beautiful and delicious batches of bonbons, tasty, pleasantly chewy and not too sweet, molasses salt caramels, and intense chocolate caramel lollipops that even satisfies my huge sweet tooth.

Woodhouse Chocolates and a chocolate Santa in a vintage car

Woodhouse Chocolates based out in Saint Helena, California. It is a family business with proprietor John Anderson and chocolatier Tracy Wood Anderson creating the unique flavors and inventive expression of their confections. What’s great about these delectable treats is that you get a whiff of nostalgia and at the same time having a modern chocolate creation.

If you want to give something sweet, the hollow chocolate figurine of Santa in a Car ($12) is great to give to children or adults who are still a kid at heart. The s’mores ($8) are the stuff dreams are made of. Fresh graham crackers sandwiched in a cube that is half fluffy house made marshmallow and creamy, dense ganache then enrobed in either dark chocolate or milk chocolate. No campfire needed. The chocolate bonbons and chocolate enrobed caramels are divine and the former had unique flavor combinations.

Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates

Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates calls themselves a micro-batch artisan chocolate brand that’s based out in California. They use fresh, local ingredients and make delicious and pretty filled chocolates and some are unique like Bourbon, Naga Chili, and Caramel coffee.

Veruca Chocolates

Veruca Chocolates is a luxury chocolate brand based in Chicago, IL and owned by Heather Johnston. Veruca is a small-batch candy company that operates out of a Logan Square storefront. She and her employees—two to eight, depending on the season—hand-make candy by the hundreds: bonbons, truffles, turtles, salted caramels, and gelt. Her confections are sold online and in about 20 retail locations nationwide, including two Provenance Food & Wine stores in Chicago.

Dick Taylor Chocolate Bars

If you are (or buying for) the minimalist chocoholic, Dick Taylor Chocolate is an excellent brand to pick. They are a small batch bean to bar chocolate maker based out in Arcata, California. Their chocolate bars are superb. I adore how the relatively high cacao percentages these bars give so much flavor and the ones that have an addition of flavors like the dried fig, added a crunchy texture as well as working with the red wine-like flavors of the chocolate.

Tea-rrific Ice Creams

I love ice cream year round. It should never be restricted to summer. I think of the winter being a good time to eat ice cream because it won’t melt as fast. At any rate, for those who crave tea in your ice cream, Tea-Riffic Ice Cream is a great brand that makes not too creamy but intensely flavorful tea infused ice cream. Their ginger matcha was ginger forward and the matcha stayed in the background supporting the spicy rhizome. Chamomile has notes of apple and honey from Egyptian chamomile flowers. Masala chai was nicely spiced and balanced with the Assam black tea, rooibos tea, cardamom, ginger, clove, and several other spices and peppercorns. ondon Mist was malty and citrus-y from the Earl Grey tea enhanced with a hint of vanilla. The Chunky London Mist is like its smoother sibling, London Mist but there are flakes of semi-sweet Belgian chocolate and buttery roasted pecan chunks. The holiday edition flavor is Brown Butter Sticky Toffee. It definitely makes you think of the holidays with the dark molasses, brown sugar flavors of sticky toffee but the brown butter added an extra layer of rich flavor.

Mavli Marshmallows - Raspberry Hibiscus, Spiked Espresso, Vanilla Salted Caramel, 80% Chocolate, and Mint Chocolate

If you like marshmallows sandwiched in chocolate shortbread cookies, Malvi Marshmallows is your ticket to happiness. The brand’s name is is short for malvavisco, which is the Spanish word for marshmallow. Their natural marshmallows are firm yet fluffy and holds up to the buttery cookies. The signature marshmallow is the pink, tart, floral raspberry-hibiscus marshmallow meets deep, dark cocoa cookies. The mint malvi, vanilla salted caramel, and spiked espresso malvi are classic, delicious combinations.

Coffee & Tea

Matcha Starter Kit

Duo of Kimmo-No-Mukashi & Wakamatsu-No-Mukashi Matcha
Ippodo’s Matcha Starter Kit & Duo of Kimmo-No-Mukashi & Wakamatsu-No-Mukashi Matcha

Ippodo started in the heart of Kyoto, Japan. It has been providing the highest quality Japanese green tea for nearly 3 centuries. The brand opened the first U.S. shop in New York City in late 2013.

This year, some of their matcha green tea gift sets offerings are the duo of Kimmo-No-Mukashi & Wakamatsu-No-Mukashi Matcha ($47) – two grades of Matcha – a high-quality and extra-premium variety. Both types are rich in umami and boast a mellow, earthy sweetness and nuanced grassy flavor. The Matcha Starter kit ($84), seen at the top of this section, includes a high-grade matcha, a hand-made serving bowl, traditional wooden whisk, tea ladle, and signature cloth so you can recreate bowls of ceremonial tea at home.

Christmas Around the World Tea Set

Another pedigreed luxury tea house is The Wellness Group (TWG), established in Singapore, founded in 2007. TWG’s Tea’s fine harvests are directly sourced from plantations in every tea producing country, and TWG Tea creates its own exclusive handcrafted tea blends. Unfortunately for us, they do not have a tea boutique in the U.S. but Dean & Deluca carries some of their wonderful teas but they recently launched its e-Commerce website and provides shipping across the U.S. You can place their orders up to December 15th for shipping just in time for Christmas!

This year, the brand’s holiday themed tea set is called Christmas Around the World (roughly $105 USD), inspired by the various major cities around the globe during this festive time of the year. This set includes five tea blends – Noël in Paris (a decaffeinated green tea with bright lemon and sweet French spices), Noël in New York (a comforting black tea that’s sweet and notes of cinnamon and pine), Noël in London (decaffeinated black tea with citrus, hint of chocolate and spices), Noël in Vienna (aromatic black tea with notes of spices, cream, and wild strawberries), and Noël in Singapore (blend of black and green tea with notes of spicy ginger and gently sweet mandarin orange).

Mariage Frères - Christmas Pudding & Paris-Marais tea

Mariage Frères is a French gourmet tea company, based in Paris. It was founded on June 1st, 1854 by brothers Henri and Edouard Mariage. They are sold in the U.S. (limited selections) in Dean & Deluca.

This holiday season, Mariage Frères has released the French Noël. Shown here is the Christmas Pudding in a striking tall, red tin with gold caps. The tea itself that has warm notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar, candied orange, cherry, apple, and vanilla. The Paris-Marais tea is a collaboration between the city of Paris (France) and the tea house. Paris-Marais tea is a refreshing and invigorating green tea, enhanced by fruity ginger giving it a touch of spice, balanced with fresh rose petals and a hint of citrus fruits.

Palais des Thés - Muslin Tea Bag Set, Thé des Moines Color Tea Can, .7 Citrus Russian Blend

The French luxury tea brand, Palais des Thés has an assortment of tea gifts for a tea lover to choose ranging from Muslin tea bag set (40 individual tea bags; $47) to their colorful, charming tins filled with their signature blends of loose leaf teas like the Thé des Moines (called Colors of Tea; $21). All of their teas are wonderfully fruity and balanced.

Big Island Coffee Roasters

For those who love their coffee more than tea, fresh coffee beans (roasted and unroasted) from Hawaii like Big Island Coffee Roasters are a great option (ranging $13-$30 for 12 ounce bags). In 2013, one of our Puna coffees won Grand Champion in the Hawaii Coffee Association’s Statewide Cupping Competition. Their high grade, delicious coffees are wonderful to start your morning or any time of the day.

Doi Chaang Civet Coffee & Social Medium Blend Coffee with my chocolate coffee cakes

One of my favorite Thai coffee brands is Doi Chaang. They grow exclusive single-estate, certified-organic Arabica in the Doi Chaang Village in Thailand. I always adore their rare, floral, medium roast civet coffee (50 gramsm $55). Their newest release of coffee blends. I tried their Social Medium (340 grams, $11.99) is a medium roast coffee blend of Doi Chaang and Sumatran beans that’s sweet and earthy.

Huckleberry Roasters - Ethiopia YirgZ & Mexico Ixhuatlán beans

Huckleberry Roasters Ethiopia YirgZ coffee is a “zero defect” offering from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia. The washing station and exporter in Ethiopia worked extra hard to go above and beyond Grade 1 standards (Ethiopia’s highest), taking approximately eight times as long to select, sort and dry the coffee for YirgZ. This has a delicate body and clean, juicy flavors of lime, melon, tea, and honey. The Mexico Ixhuatlán has balanced, chocolaty, with unexpected notes of berry, tropical fruit, and creamy, mouth-coating body. This cup of coffee is good with a splash of milk.

Grady's Cold Brew Coffee

Grady’s Cold Brew is a New Orleans–style coffee concentrate that’s brewed and bottled by hand in Brooklyn, New York. Each batch is made by steeping a special blend of freshly roasted coffee and chicory in water overnight, then removing the grounds using a two-step filtration process. What you get are cups of bold, velvety-smooth liquid concentrate that can be mixed with milk or water — served over ice or heat it up.

They also have cold brew bean bags for those who are the lazy DIY coffee person. The beans are ground and pre-weighed for your convenience. All you’d have to do is get a medium-large pitcher, fill it with room temp to cold water and set it in the refrigerator overnight to let the water infuse with coffee. The bottled ready-to-drink cold brew are various shops in New York City or you can order both mentioned products directly through them online (link is on the brand’s name).

Wood Burl Coffee

Wood Burl Coffee is a small independent coffee roaster out in Dayton, Ohio. The Kenya AA was incredibly light and had a natural fruity delicateness that opened up on the palate in a way that left you wanting just a little bit more. The Ethiopia Aramo is a fantastic full-bodied medium roast. The roasting of the bean gets high marks as it allows for the natural citrus flavor to come through the body of the bean. The nuances of stone fruit and syrupy body from the Columbia Matambo makes it a great sipping cup of coffee.

Joia Life All Natural Sodas
The entire range of Purity Organic juices

Purity Organic Juices and Joia are both all natural non-alcoholic beverage brands that are welcoming to the non-drinkers of the family and friends.

Purity’s Superjuice line (seen here) may be a possible version of a cleanse juice or a healthier juice to complement your meal. All are tasty despite it being vegetable based juices.

Joia’s natural sodas are unusual in the best way. Personally, I’m picky with my soda. (I haven’t touched the corporate brands for over a decade because I don’t like what they put in that carbonated syrup.) What make Joia stand out is the unique flavor pairings of fruit and herbs so it’s more than just a fruit flavored soda. To me, it almost comes across as a very nice carbonated cocktail without the booze. It’s dry enough to work with food.

Other Food Items

SeaBear Wild Sockeye Smoked Salmon
Herbed crepes with lox and herbed sour cream

SeaBear Smokhouse is based out in Anacortes, Washington and uses only wild salmon for all of their tasty smoked products. Their Sockeye Smoked Salmon (1.25 pounds $59.99) is a cold smoked salmon, also known as lox. We New Yorkers love our bagels with lox and cream cheese for breakfast. However, come the holidays, it’s nice to entertain in an elegant fashion with like slicing the lox thin and roll it in homemade, thin herbed crepes with a thin layer of sour cream.

Manchester Farms Quails - Semi-Boneless and Whole Quails
Quail eggs from Manchester Farms
Roast quail stuffed with sticky rice and mushrooms
Deconstructed stir fried rice with chicken (dark meat) and topped with a sunny side quail egg

Manchester Farms is a quail farm. They originally started to sell frozen quails to restaurants in the South; in the 1990s, they expanded to retail. Manchester Farms produce one of the best quails and quail eggs around. For the European-style semi-boneless quail, you may stuff and roast these little birds (what I have done is with sticky rice and mushrooms) or if you prefer it whole, you can roast it like a tiny chicken.

When it comes to their adorably small quail eggs, the limit is your imagination. You can pan fry those eggs and top it on top of fried rice (like seen above) or on a personal sized pizza. They are very fresh eggs and delicious.

My oyster mushrooms grew!

For something unusual not edible (at least in the beginning), Back to the Roots has a mushroom kit ($19.99). The mushrooms this kit grows are called Pearl Oyster mushrooms. You need to be patient with this particular kit since you need at least 1.5 weeks of letting it soak in water and spraying the block containing of recycled coffee grounds soil and mushroom spores with water at least twice a day and in indirect sunlight to grow your mushrooms. When your mushrooms finally busted out from that box, you can harvest them and cook almost anything with these silky, mostly neutral flavored mushrooms.

Wines & Spirits

Travel Around Bordeaux: The Discovery Red Wine Gift Set from Millesima

Millesima Travel Around Bordeaux: The Discovery Red Wine Gift Set ($99) includes Château Lilian Ladouys 2009 in Saint-Estephe, Château Picque Caillou 2001 in Pessac-Leognan and Château Grand Corbin-Despagne 2004 in Saint-Emilion. The Château Lilian Ladouys is a dark, woodsy, fine and spicy Merlot with the Cabernet tannins to give complexity. The Château Picque Caillou is fruity, clean, intense, classic, and shows its oak-aging well. The color is a straightforward and lively red, while the palate shows a good structure, well-balanced, with a slight Médoc accent of solid tannins. The Château Grand Corbin-Despagne 2004 is a powerfully rich, woodsy wine, with a good texture, spice from the Cabernet Franc, and some firm, dark tannins. The wine could be aged and evolve in the bottle for another 10 years.

Various Champagne Jeaunaux-Robins

Champagne Jeaunaux-Robin was started by Michel Jeaunaux who was a vine grower in 1965. In 1973 with his wife Marie-Claude, they installed the first press (traditional) of the house. Since then, the fermenting room and the cellar were built. In 1999, Cyril, their son, joined them, and in 2003, a second traditional press is installed. Of 500 bottles produced at the beginning, the house endeavors from now on to vinify approximately 45,000 bottles.

The house’s Selection and Prestige Brut are very classic Champagnes with a well-fruited profile of green apples and orchard pears, adding some suppleness to bone-dry acidity. Mostly Pinot Meunier, with some Pinot Noir and a touch of Chardonnay, this is a taut Champagne worthy of cool, refreshing appetizers, like poached lobster with chervil, or tarragon on endive. The Brut Rosé has soft but luscious fruit aromas. The palate is really soft with impressive light yeastiness and a creamy texture. Creamy and elegant finish, with nice minerality and acidity that builds and builds long after swallowing. It was luscious on the palate, but after 30 seconds what’s left is a really surprising cutting sensation on the tongue. Back to the lusciousness with another sip, and then to the cut at the end. It’s a fun wine to sip. The Champagne Jeaunaux-Robin Les Grands Nots Millesimé Brut Sparkling 2014 is a rich and opulent wine that blends together toast and fruit aromas with fresh, lively acidity. It has weight and substantial depth and concentration. It should age well for another few years, but this impressive wine can be drunk now as well.

Casa Noble Tequilas

Casa Noble tequilas are generally affordable but very well made tequilas. Their Crystal (or Blanco) ($40) is a very smooth tequila, immediately impressive. Agave is muted, with a playful sweetness, honey-like, with fresh bread characteristics. It’s one of the easiest-drinking blancos I’ve ever had. The Joven (a Reposado) ($60) is rested in French oak for 364 days — making it almost as old as most anejo tequilas on the market (that category kicks in at the one-year marker). Unlike most reposados, which usually get the minimum two months of age and just hint at wood, this is serious stuff: Dark cocoa and vanilla character with a whiff of leather. There’s some agave and heat in the finish, surprisingly — more so than the blanco. Still, an excellent tequila and definitely worth a try if you’re an añejo lover. The Añejo ($67) is a very fine tequila, matured in French White Oak barrels and aged for 2 years. Notes of chocolate, coffee, and rich oak complimenting the sweet agave, citrus, herbs, and spices. You’ll understand why this tequila is an award-winner.

Plantation Rum, Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch, Pierre Ferrand 1st Cru de Cognac, Citadelle Gin, Bowmore Small Batch Scotch

Plantation Rum 3 Stars is a rum blend from three different Caribbean Islands in order to achieve the correct balance between flavor and character suitable for a cocktail rum bearing the Plantation name. These three Islands (Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad) are considered by the folks at Cognac Ferrand to be the three “star” producers of the Caribbean, hence the name “Plantation 3 Stars” was chosen for the rum. The rum has a sweet push of fruit filled candy. Tropical flavors of banana, coconut, and orange peel all seem to be mingled into the delicious rum. There are bits of mint, and cotton candy and a real impression of brown sugar riding through the flavor as well. I even taste some of that Jamaican funk that the creators of the rum were careful to incorporate, a light swath of oak. Overall the flavor is very delicious and very interesting.

Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch is triple distilled and matured solely in American bourbon casks. The idea is that the American whiskey will lend something of its character to the Scotch. Sipping neat, this whisky is dry and slightly woody. The cereal malt is more pronounced in the taste, along with some of the flavors you’d expect from bourbon, such a vanilla and light spice. The flavor is definitely Scotch all the way.

Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac (its original formula) is a “revival” Cognac, blended and aged in an attempt to emulate what a 19th century style Cognac might have tasted like — hence the name. David Wondrich and Ferrand’s Alexandre Gabriel worked from a well-preserved bottle of Pinet-Castillon Cognac produced in 1840. This is a lively and fresh Cognac, made specifically to be used in cocktails, as Cognac was frequently drunk in its heyday of the 1800s. Hence the bottling at 90 proof instead of the usual 80. The extra alcohol smooths out the brandy’s rough spots, since this after all a relatively young, VS-class spirit.

The Cognac is, with lots of apple and vanilla flavor on the nose and body. The finish offers wood character, some cinnamon and caramel notes. This tastes both young and refined at the same time, without a hint of that raw alcohol flavor that is so pungent in many younger Cognacs.

Citadelle Gin is imported from France with a four-time distilled wheat grain base and a blend of nineteen botanicals from all over the world. Overall, it’s a unique gin crafted lovingly and with minute attention to detail. The payoff is a full flavored but subtle gin. This gin is a London Dry style gin with the juniper present among the other botanicals. Cardamom, licorice, cassia, savory, and other flavors wrap around nutmeg and citrus peels, with star anise lingering around the edges extremely complex, savory and luscious bouquet.

Bowmore Small Batch Scotch is floral with a touch of sweet aromas like vanilla and cream soda. Eventually the gentle smoke and oak gradually appears on the palate. Remarkably light and delicate for a Bowmore but certainly delicious.

Innis & Gunn ales

Innis & Gunn is an awarded-winning beer based out in Scotland. What makes them stick out compared to most beers is For example, their Original brew is matured for 77 days before bottling that gives these ales amazing body and sweet, deep flavor. The Toasted Oak IPA is a good India Pale Ale and usually I like the fuller bodied beers. This IPA has refreshing beer with wonderful toasted oak and zesty, lemon-y hops with a touch of sweet malt.

La Clandestine Absinthe

La Clandestine Absinthe is a Swiss La Bleue, or clear, absinthe brand produced by Artemisia-Bugnon distilleries. Claude-Alain Bugnon, who had built an “underground” reputation for absinthe sold online, was the first Swiss absinthe bootlegger to go legal in 2005. This absinthe is based on a 1935 recipe and uses all natural ingredients. Hand distilled, labeled and bottled, don’t see that much anymore.

It is an anise-flavored, distilled liquor containing the herb wormwood, and when prepared with cold water will louche. It’s awarded the gold medal several times in competitions. At first sip, it’s intensely anise-y, lemon balm, verbena and a host of others making for a heady bouquet. Even with the authentic high proof the alcohol is quite mellow and subdued by all the herbal ingredients. At full strength it is quite drinkable, unlike some absinthes. The taste is nicely anise flavored with other herbs playing nicely in the background. A somehow subtle but notable wormwood bitterness with hints of mint and a large but not overdone contribution from the lemon balm, fennel, and anise make for a very pleasant finish. There is also no need to use sugar.

Drinking absinthe undiluted (or straight) in a shot glass amount isn’t advisable due to its high proof nature. I have taken a few sips of it to get the flavors of the aforementioned. If you want to have your absinthe in a slightly larger amount, mixing La Clandestine in cocktails like an absinthe eggnog or a Death in the Afternoon with Prosecco.

Yamamoto Honke Matsu no Midori .Junmai Daiginjo & Yuzu Omoi

Yamamoto Honke is located in the heart of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, the first Genbee Yamamoto established Yamamoto Honke on the grounds of Fushimi in 1667. Since then, Yamamoto Honke has been brewing sake with the best quality for over three centuries and eleven generations. Their Matsu no Midori Junmai Daiginjo is a light, elegant but earthy, not too dry sake. This sake may be served chilled or warmed. It’s great paired in a meal that doesn’t have too much spices (think seafood).

The brand’s Yuzu Omoi is an excellent digestif. A saké made with yuzu extracts. Yuzu is a citrus fruit that’s very lemon-lime like. It’s nicely sweet, excellent chilled and wonderfully refreshing just as a citrus sorbet would be after a hearty meal.

Hiro Sake - Junmai Ginjo Sake (blue) and Junmai Sake (red)

Hiro Sake produces the award-winning Taiyo Sake Brewery in Murakami, the northernmost town in the Niigata Prefecture. Inspired by the ancient recipe of Hiroemon Takeda, the renowned Samurai and sake connoisseur, Hiro is crafted by the brewery’s renowned Toji (master brewer) using only specially polished rice from the Niigata Region. The Hiro Junmai Ginjo (in blue cap) is a medium bodied sake with a bright nose of banana, spiced pear custard with aromas of vanilla and maple which leads to a crisp, fruit-forward palate. Enjoy chilled, over ice or in your favorite cocktail. The red capped Junmai has creamy vanilla, peppered pear, and banana aromas. It has a silky, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a melon, tapioca, and white pepper accented finish.

Dutch Caramel, Double Espresso, Pomegranate Van Gogh Vodkas

Van Gogh Vodka has a very good line up of flavored vodkas to color and flavor your holiday bar, as Van Gogh is one of the top shelf vodka brands.

If you remember the pomegranate craze of a few years ago you will remember the influx of pomegranate vodkas that hit the market. When Van Gogh got a hold of the idea they rushed development and released the spirit. Not totally satisfied with the results (though they were astounding), the Master Distiller went back and perfected it, removing some sweetness and adding the fruit’s natural bitter qualities.

008 release of Van Gogh Espresso and Double Espresso vodkas has yet another story. This one comes from the fact that coffee is the most consumed drink in the world, just behind water. It’s a very smooth espresso vodka and makes a great espresso martini.

The Dutch Caramel vodka with its 2009 release, it has increased the vodka company’s list of infused vodkas to 19. While most of those are fruits it is the Dutch interpretation of chocolate and, now, caramel, that bring sweet to vodkas.

This caramel vodka from Van Gogh is nothing short of delicious, it is almost addicting and were it not for it also being intoxicating it would be a treat that anyone of any age could fall in love with. One of the best ways to enjoy Van Gogh Dutch Caramel is well-chilled and I suggest keeping the bottle in the freezer, or at least the refrigerator. This gives you the option of a quick, cold sipper if poured straight into a glass, or to mix it up in what could be an endless list of delicious cocktails like a Caramel Latte

Partida Tequila, 2010 Nipozanno Riserva wine and Amarula liqueur

Partida Tequila is produced in Jalisco, the heart of tequila country. This is the Blanco (a.k.a. Silver) expression of this particular line. Bright silver in the bottle and faultlessly clear in the glass. Lovely medium-to-heavy (for tequila) body. On swirling, it leaves a very light coating on the glass, with legs forming slowly. It has a great mouth feel, light entry, slightly oily or alkali slipperiness to it with a touch of vanilla bean, vegetable alkaloid type notes, sweet brine, touch of lemon grass with Provence herbs. Finish is at first oily then drying with sweet and alkali, minerals, nut butter, leather, apricots and tobacco. Light lingering finish.

Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riserva 2010 is a lovely ruby-red. The nose opens with dark wild berries and cherry, hints of candy floss and pleasant floral notes of lilac and chocolate. The spicy component emerges with nuances of clove and green peppercorn. The palate is characterized by a distinct tactile approach in which the stamp of the terroir is underlined by a lively minerality. The tannin texture is tight but not sharp which is also an expression of the uniqueness of the soils of Nipozzano. The finish returns to the intense fruity notes already identified on the nose. It’s great paired with barbecued meat and beef stews, or aged cheeses.

Amarula is a South African liqueur. It has heavy scents of vietnamese cinnamon, toffee, and ginger with flowery notes. On the palate, flavors of Vietnamese cinnamon, allspice, toffee, butterscotch, and cardamon. The slight nip of spice at the end to keep your interest, and a dangerously mild alcohol presence. This liqueur makes a great substitute or base for eggnog or you can substitute it for the many recipes for other cream liqeurs. Great with ice cream as a frozen drink or milkshake.

Cookbooks

My copy of Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes by Dominique Ansel and Thomas Schauer Sugar Rush by Johnny Iuzzini
Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes by Dominique Ansel and Thomas Schauer & Sugar Rush by Johnny Iuzzini

This year, cookbooks are great for bakers. The biggest buzz is from the Cronut™ master Dominique Ansel’s cookbook, Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes (Publisher: Simon & Schuster). This particular book is really for the baker who has the basic skills down pat or the one who is willing to challenge herself to make Ansel’s beautiful pastries (and the photographs by Thomas Schauer are absolutely stunning).

Another great baking book that I would highly recommend would be Sugar Rush by Johnny Iuzzini (Publisher: Clarkson Potter). I adored his desserts back in the day when he worked in Jean Georges in New York City. When it comes to Iuzzini’s book, his recipes are approachable to the average baker and some of the flavor pairings are quite interesting.

Bar Tartine Techniques & Recipes

Bar Tartine is a casual restaurant run by the same great people of Tartine (the life changing bakery in San Francisco). Bar Tartine, the book, draws on time-honored processes like fermentation, curing, pickling, and a core that runs through the cuisines of Central Europe, Japan, and Scandinavia to deliver a range of dishes from soups to salads, to shared plates and sweets.

Cookbooks from Phaidon - Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef by Massimo Bottura and Cookbook Book by Florian Böhm and Annahita Kamali

Notable cookbooks from the publishing house Phaidon, are Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef by Massimo Bottura and Cookbook Book by Florian Böhm and Annahita Kamali. The former is a tribute to Bottura’s twenty-five year career and the evolution of his restaurant Osteria Francescana. It’s divided into four chapters, each one dealing with a different period, the book features fifty recipes and accompanying texts explaining Bottura’s inspiration, ingredients and techniques.

The Cookbook Book is an anthology of recipes from 125 important cookbooks that’s been published for the past hundred years. I recalled seeing recipes like Julia Child’s French recipes and David Chang of Momofuku’s recipe being published there as well.

Nick Malgieri's Pastry and Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose

Another very good baking cookbook is by Nick Malgieri’s Pastry: Foolproof Recipes for the Home Cook. Malgieri is a celebrated cookbook, award-winning cookbook author and Institute of Culinary Education baking program director, so he knows his stuff. What Pastry does is to provide home cooks the knowledge of how to bake most pastries from scratch. Beyond a few cakes, breads, and cookies that he does cover, he even provides you a recipe and photographs of how to make baklava from scratch, even the phyllo dough. Though for me, the baklava is a weekend project in itself, I find it very fascinating from someone who loves that Greek pastry but never really gotten deep enough to making the phyllo.

Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose is a naturalist’s approach on baking. How I mean is, Rose minimizes the use of refined white sugar and tries to use ancient grains or whole grains in her beautifully rustic cakes.

Cookbooks - Sweet Things by Anne Rigg, A Visual Guide to Sushi-Making at Home by Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, Sweet Alchemy Dessert Magic by Yigit Pura

Sweet Things (published by Kyle Books) by Anne Rigg Sweet Alchemy Dessert Magic by Yigit Pura (published by Chronicle Books) are both books that mainly focuses on the small delightful sweets but Pura’s recipes has more complexity as he is a pastry chef.

To those of you who would like to know the basics of making sushi at home, A Visual Guide to Sushi-Making at Home by Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani (publisher: Chronicle Books) is a great book. Mr. Sone informs you of the ingredients and pantry items you should have to make good sushi and the proper technique of slicing and rolling.

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