Valentine’s Day & Lunar New Year Gift Guide 2015
If you’re looking for gifts for your Valentine or a person who is celebrating Lunar New Year, here’s some ideas that might appeal to various types of people who like savory to the sweet but all in good taste (pun intended) and some items are luxe.
Chocolate & Confections
FIKA is a Swedish cafe and chocolate brand that opened its doors in 2006. Swedish tradition and appreciation of a coffee-centric lifestyle served as inspiration for founder and co-owner Lars Åkerlund who saw an immediate love connection between Sweden and New York.
FIKA is an award winning chocolate brand as well and for this Valentine’s Day, they released a 12-piece limited edition Date Night Chocolate Box ($22). Designed and handcrafted in Manhattan by the world-renowned FIKA Chief Chocolatier Hakan Martensson – the winner of Sweden’s 2008 international chocolate competition, each FIKA chocolate box comes with six different flavors of FIKA’s award winning chocolates: espresso truffle, popcorn infused truffle, goat cheese truffle. champagne truffle, spicy chili and lingonberry truffle, and blueberry/Kellogg’s Cornflake truffle chocolates. Each flavor is meant to take you on a chocolate interpretation of a perfect date night, including next-morning breakfast.
Recchiuti Confections is a San Francisco based luxury chocolate brand that started in 1997 by Michael and his wife, Jacky. Recchiuti uses adventurous new ideas alongside traditional European techniques, all influenced by the wealth of seasonal Californian ingredients.
Recchiuti has a beautiful Valentine’s Day collection. The two shown above are the Hearts in Motion ($26) are adorable yet exquisite burnt caramel truffles and the Armour Box ($45) is a sixteen-piece collection of their best sellers. The polka-dotted sesame nougat was one of our favorites. A crispy nougat paired with toasted sesame seeds offers a great crunch atop a pillowy milk chocolate caramel ganache.
Stella Leona Artisan Chocolates is a special chocolate brand started by Nancy Bontrager, based in Pettisville, Ohio. This shop is named after her grandmother and it all stemmed from her childhood memory of her father bringing home European chocolates from his business trips. All of Nancy’s chocolates are handmade and with local ingredients. What would truly put your Valentine in awe are the completely edible, handmade, hand painted, chocolate boxes (heart ($22.50) and the flat square box ($42.75 with 9 bonbons)) filled with delicious bonbons. The 4-piece round Valentine’s Day assortment ($7.00) consists of hand painted PB&J and Cherries Jubilee hearts. All beautiful and delicious.
Jonboy Caramel ($9.99 per 4 ounce box) is an artisanal confectionery company based near Seattle, Washington. In 2009, Jon Sue and Jason Alm came together with the idea of making the finest small batch caramels using the very best ingredients available. Their buttery fleur de sel caramels are delicious. Some are made with unusual flavors like molasses ginger or absinthe (sourced from Pacifique Absinthe) and black salt caramels are pretty darn special with the intense anise flavor of the absinthe and the minerally black salt.
Simply Brigadeiro is a boutique based out in Los Angeles, California creating this wonderful, fudgy Brazilian treat. Their classic brigadeiros are overall pleasantly sweet but not too sweet. For Valentine’s Day, they have a pretty pastel pink brigadeiros topped with little pink hearts that is strawberry flavored and dark chocolate topped with cute pink hearts. ($25 for the box of 12 brigadeiros)
Dulce Caramel Co. creates some incredibly delicious alfajores and the same cookie with a twist. Alfajores are an Argentinian treat made of buttery, crumbly cookies sandwiching a not too sweet, creamy dulce de leche and rolled in coconut. Their original alfajores is simply sublime. The variations of this cookie sandwich are dipped in white or dark chocolate or even covered and baked in meringue. The white chocolate heightens the vanilla sweetness of the dulce de leche. The dark chocolate makes it slightly sweet but a twinge of bittersweetness. The meringue adds a touch of sugary sweetness with a delicately, crumbly texture on the exterior as the meringue is baked. All were very good and it’s almost hard to choose a favorite.
If you want to give your something both very cute and cool from Japan, Skoshbox is your answer. This subscription service for Japanese snacks (savory and sweet) with an occasional kawaii inedible item like this month’s hedgehog mitten will have your recipient have his/her heart melt. February’s assortment has a mix of sour candies, fruit gums, and corn snacks. A subscription starts as low as $10 per month.
Kona Coffee Purveyors is based out in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Peaberry ($55 for 1 pound bag) is an intense, beautifully bright cup of coffee with notes of orange blossom, almond, light caramel, and tart cherries. It’s a great morning coffee (but of course, you could have it any time during the day). The Extra Fancy Blend ($45 for 1 pound bag) is round, deep, gently roasty, chocolate-y. Cedar, dark chocolate, a hint of rich grape-like fruit and fresh pipe tobacco in aroma and cup. It has a rich acidity and beautifully syrupy mouthfeel. Chocolate carries into a simple but resonant finish.
Onyx Coffee Lab is a mirco roaster and cafe based out in Arkansas. They roast beautiful coffee and the ones we had were the smooth, caramel-y Columbian La Palma Jose Forero Lot 25, while the Columbian La Palma Jose Reyes Lot 21 tastes more like a juicy, fruity red wine. Ethiopian Deri Kochoha that has a lot of bright floral flavors like bergamot and tropical fruit. Sugar Skull Blend is a full bodied coffee blend and it has a wonderful balance of chocolate and fruit flavor. (Roast sample box $25)
Palais des Thés has a healthy selection of Valentine’s Day gifts. Of the bunch, the canister of one of their signature blends Thé des Amants is a robust, fragrant blend of black tea, with dices of dried apple, almond, cinnamon and vanilla, spiced up with a hint of ginger found within the tea. It’s a splendid rich tea that would pair well with chocolates.
For someone who wants a little bit of variety for every pot, the Sweet Tea Set ($29) is a great idea. This set of five tubes contain the Thé des Amants, Montagne Bleue (a black tea with notes of honey, lavender, and berries), Thé des Concubines(a blend of Chinese green and black teas with notes of cherry and vanilla), Thé des Vahinés (rich blend of scents of vanilla, almond, marigold petals and rosebuds), and Mélange du Cap (blend of red tea, cocoa nibs and vanilla pods).
Encha is a new matcha tea brand that sells solely organic matcha sourced from organic farms in Japan and focuses on the healthy lifestyle. Their matchas are truly delicious and robust yet clean tasting with tea’s signature grassy, bitter notes. Encha carries four grades of matcha ranging from ceremonial, culinary grade to vegan.
Tequila Avión Añejo ($60) presents notes of roasted agave, sweet potato, vanilla, caramel, and baking spice. The deep golden tequila continues to offer more as it sits in the glass and Tequila Avión Añejo makes a strong argument for enjoying this tequila from a Riedel tequila glass. This is a classic tequila, and its nose alone tells one that this is something to be sipped and savored.
Carr’s Ciderhouse is a small family artisan cider maker up in Massachusetts that makes a mix of hard ciders like the delicious, oak barrel aged Pommeau brandy that is great to sip after dinner, as it’s not too sweet. They do have cooking or baking related ingredients like an intensely apple-forward, cider syrup. Think maple syrup but made with super reduced apple juice that would be great for cakes or drizzling on your vanilla ice cream. The cider vinegar is unlike any other cider vinegar we’d come across; much more fruit forward than the typical supermarket cider vinegars.
Shacksbury Ciders is another small batch cider brewer based out in Vermont. Their tightly edited line up of ciders are very food friendly and incredibly delicious. The Classic is fruit-forward, dry but not too tannic cider. The Hereford is a very unique, funky cider. It’s fruity yet peaty like you’d think of in scotch, full-bodied, soft sweetness and tannins, and has an unusual hint of smoky salinity. The Basque is a delicious, unfiltered cider that has this grapefruit rind quality to it with spices. The Dabbinet is an excellent, limited edition cider; smooth and full bodied with caramel, baked apple, and spice notes. (Some of their ciders are served in NYC restaurants like The Modern at the MoMA, El Born, Traif, etc.)
Bacardi, the internationally well-known, family-owned rum brand that’s been in existence since 1862. They released a new bottle design to recognize its long history and craftsmanship of the Maestros de Ron Bacardi that goes into every bottle. Don’t fret, the formulation has not changed of this beloved rum, just the label for something more modern yet a nod to its past.
Forbidden Traveler Beer Apple Ale is a crisp wheat beer brewed with real apple. It’s a light beer, almost shandy style, that smells like apple cider but drinks like beer. It’s good for drinking solo or paired with fried chicken.
Coney Island Brewing Company is a craft beer company whose mission is to capture the spirit, flavor and romance that is Coney Island. Their most recent beer releases: 1609 Amber Ale (4.8% ABV) is a bold, deep amber ale with a full malt, slightly nutty character and strong citrus hop nose that celebrates the discovery of Coney Island.
The Overpass IPA is their tribute to those artists, musicians and renaissance souls that staked claim and built community Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass (DUMBO). The Overpass is a deep golden, richly aromatic IPA with a crisp bitterness and big, juicy citrus and hop aromas.
Cheese & Charcuterie
Alemar Cheese is a small cheese farm started in Minnesota in 2009. They produce wonderful, award-winning French-inspired cheeses. The Alemar gift box that contains their Bent River (their flagship cheese made in the style of Camembert), Good Thunder a loosely inspired by Reblochon and washed in Surly Bender beer , a small tub of creamy fromage blanc, and Blue Earth a large wheel of buttery, Brie-style cheese. ($65 for this cheese gift box)
Daniele Foods started by Croatian refugees, Stefano Dukcevich and his wife, Carolina back in 1945 in Rhode Island. Daniele Foods create incredibly delicious, locally made salami and charcuterie. The uncured chorizo is wonderfully spiced and is balanced with the salt and paprika with a twang of acidity from the white wine. The sopressata and salame is a coarse ground pork like the chorizo but it’s easy to love as it does not have the spicing in case your Valentine isn’t into spices. The pancetta is great, cured pork belly. The mortadella is a delicious, sophisticated bologna. They are all wonderful meats for your sandwich or as a tasty charcuterie plate.
Oil, Condiments, Preserves & Jellies
Their namesake, Pago Baldios San Carolos Extra Virgin olive oil is an extraordinarily smooth Spanish extra virgin olive oil. It is made entirely from fresh, aromatic, green Arbequina olives harvested by mid-October. Intensely fruity with notes of fresh grass and an unmistakable touch of banana, this is a sweet and slightly spicy oil with absolutely no bitterness and an almond aftertaste.
The Full Moon Extra Virgin Olive Oil (black bottle) is made of Arbequina olives that are picked every year during the full moon in October, when the olives are sufficiently ripe, yet still green enough, to produce an oil that is unparalleled in flavor and aroma. The Clear Balsamic Vinegar is set in a cool, silver gray cube bottle. It has a velvety tartness associated with balsamic vinegar with the added benefit of a clean, light appearance. Fantastic for salads or even sauces that need a certain light tartness. The Grand Reserve Pedro Ximenez Vinegar (in a red bottle) naturally sweet-and-sour, made from the Pedro Ximenez grapes. Aged in Oak Casks for more than 12 years using the traditionally Spanish method of “Criaderas and Soleras”. This fantastic vinegar is very smooth, fruity and at the same time beautifully concentrated that makes it ideal for salads, meat and berries.
The Bacon Jams is brand that creates sweet-savory bacon jams. This will truly make the bacon lover in your life swoon. The original is a sweet, savory, bacon-forward jam; red chile & garlic bacon is the same as the aforementioned with a tiny bit of a spicy kick. The black pepper bacon jam is the sweet-savory with a black pepper kick. All of these bacon jams are tasty and great for a wide range of sandwiches and burgers to some vegetable dishes. (8 ounce jars, 3-pack $39.99)
Vermont Maple Sriracha ($9.49 each) is a small batch sriracha sauce brand started by two friends, Big Lenny and Jackson, in Vermont. They create from scratch and lightly sweetened by Vermont maple syrup. This sauce is aromatic of maple and the sriracha is pretty solid. Sharp red chili pepper flavor with a touch of acidity. It’s great for sandwiches (like my chicken sandwich topped with red onion and parsley) or almost any dish your imagination can take you, as long as you crave that sharp, spicy zing.
American Spoon is a preserves and condiment brand based in Petoskey, Michigan in 1982. They carefully prepare fruits by hand and cooks them with care in small-batch copper kettles. They work directly with a dedicated group of Michigan farmers who grow the varieties of fruits that are bred over generations specifically for their unparalleled taste and unique character. We adored the versatile savory condiments of a briny, dill and caper relish ($9.95) with a twang of fresh lemon that’s great for a simple grilled fish; roasted tomatillo salsa ($10.95) that has mild heat of roasted poblano chilies and the brightness of fresh cilantro that can be great for sandwiches or even on pizza.
The fruit conserves like the sweet with a hint of citrus, dark earthiness of the black mission fig conserve ($11.95); sweet-tart rhubarb marmalade ($9.95); and incredibly dark berry flavored, wild elderberry jelly ($12.95) are intensely fruity. The sour cherry spoon fruit ($8.95) just thick enough to be like spreading butter on a slice of bread but it’s great to eat straight with a spoon. We’ve done the latter without guilt since it’s not too sweet and bracing enough to get our palates excited.
Potlicker Kitchen specializes in Vermont beer and wine jellies and small-batch artisan jams. Their entire collection of jams and jellies are unique and not run-of-the-mill. The carrot cake jam ($7) is a sweet jam chock full of finely grated carrots, pineapple, and pears make this hearty jam. It’s sweet and pineapple forward but it still reminds you of carrot cake without the actual cake element and the cream cheese frosting. The coffee jelly ($7) is made of Blue Mountain Dark Magic espresso it’s in jelly form. This is great for schmearing on pastries or you can slather it on some big slab of meat and add extra spices and herbs and roast it to make a different take on your usual dinner. The alcohol based jellies like the oatmeal stout ($7), Hefeweizen with Orange Beer Jelly ($7), and spiced wine were fantastic and robustly flavored. The oatmeal stout is a dark jelly made from organic Oatmeal Stout and cane sugar. The Hefeweizen with Orange Beer jelly is a light and fruity beer jelly bursts with citrus undertones great for scones or muffins or even on a cheese plate. The spiced wine jelly is like having a very great, warm spiced, mulled wine during the holidays except we could eat it rather than sipping it.
La Tourangelle first began handcrafting oil 150 years ago in France, but thankfully their traditional process has remained virtually the same, only now the oils can be enjoyed fresh from California. Their new oil mill, located in Woodland, California, is currently producing oil from nuts picked on the orchard next door. The oil artisans painstakingly selects nuts of the highest quality and lets them sun dry to preserve their natural flavors. They then hand roast the nuts in cast iron pots, followed by a decanting process, cold-pressing and finally a light filtering. The result is an oil with elegant natural flavors, and a clearly discernible difference in quality from what is generally found in America.
Their pistachio nut oil is a favorite as it’s incredibly intense and vibrant pistachio flavor that is fantastic for one of my favorite pistachio cake in the world (as of the past few years) and other dressings that requires an intense punch of pistachio. Their pumpkin seed oil and hazelnut oil are as equally as great as the pistachio but of course, different flavor profiles that are suited for different purposes.
For the serious cook, a good knife is a must in the kitchen and it should be you (or your Valentine’s) investment piece. Wüsthof is one of the revered German knife brand that uses high-carbon-steel blade and it’s full tang. Full tang knives are generally better as it allows for increased force leveraged through the handle against the resistance of material being cut by the blade, an advantage when used against harder materials or when the blade begins to dull.
Wüsthof knives are fantastic at slicing, dicing, and carving your meats, vegetables or anything you need to cut before cooking. The Classic Ikon 8-inch Chef Knife ($160) and 8-inch Classic Ikon Hollow-Edge Carving Knife ($140) are notable for the beautifully curved handle that also has heft that it could give your cuts more impact. The Classic 8-inch Cleaver ($120) is a big, heavy knife that is great to butcher an entire animal. The cleaver is designed to break bone and works equally well for chopping and mincing tough vegetables.
Anolon is one of the several American brands of cookware and bakeware that are dependable and high quality, started in 1989. Anolon’s name is derived from hard-anodized, and the suffix meaning “one,” originally offered two hard-anodized nonstick cookware collections, one for the home chef, one for the more experienced cook. These days, Anolon has a wide range of pans that would suit almost every cook in mind (with various price ranges).
Anolon’s Advanced Bakeware Baking Set is a five-piece set that includes two 9-inch round cake pans, a 9-inch square pan, a cookie sheet and a cooling rack is great for your standard baking needs and it bakes my cakes evenly (like my pear crumb cake seen above) so far without the unwanted hot spots since it’s made with heavy metals. The Tri-Ply Clad 17 x 12.5-inch roaster is an excellent heavy pan to roast your large poultry or large cuts of meat. The 11-inch square deep grill pan is fantastic to grill your sandwiches, meats and vegetables when it’s not the spring or summertime. The Nouvelle Copper 3-quart covered casserole pan is fantastic to make a medium-sized (at least in my home) pot of soup or stews.
(New York City-based)
The famed, luxury Parisian tea room, Ladurée has a couple of delectable and gorgeous Valentine’s Day items to show your love and adoration. The statement maker of the group is the Saint Honoré Juliette ($19). A large round of flaky, puff pastry filled with raspberry and ginger jam, rose flavored light custard cream, fresh raspberries and rose chantilly cream, and decorated in red raspberry glaze, fresh rose petals and small golden hearts.
Some great things come in small packages. Ladurée’s divine heart-shaped macarons ($6.20) are about moist yet delicate three-bite macarons (larger than the norm) filled with intensely flavorful rose ginger jam. For the chocolate lover, the box of six heart-shaped chocolates ($28) should make him or her happy. Half of these chocolates are filled with pear ganache and the other half is filled with luscious pear caramel. (All available at Ladurée SoHo boutique at 398 West Broadway; macarons and chocolates are available at their Upper East Side location at 864 Madison Avenue or at their pop-up shop on the 2nd Floor of Bloomingdale’s flagship on Lexington Avenue)
Maison Kayser has released some of their Valentine’s Day themed breads and pastries later this February. Their whimsically shaped large baguette heart ($3) and the slightly sweeter La Bressane heart shaped brioche ($4 for plain and $4.25 for pink praline) would express your Valentine’s love of him or her as well as the love of expertly made bread (both items available on Friday, Feb. 13th).
The large French Kiss tarts ($36 that serves 6, available on Tuesday, Feb. 10th) comes in two flavors – mixed berry with almonds and chocolate and coffee. These tarts are set in a crisp, buttery crust layered with frangipane (an almond pastry filling), fresh whipped cream and layered with a mixture of the freshest raspberries and blackberries and candied almonds. The large hearts are firm whipped cream set in gelatin and coated in a red glaze. The coffee and chocolate is a richer, darker version with the gooey coffee custard, coffee beans and brownie cubes. There is an individual sized versions of the French kiss for $6.25.
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