Holiday Gift Guide (2017)
This year flew warp speed for me that it’s hard to come to terms with reality that it’s almost the end of the year! It’s the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season so here’s some of my picks for the holiday gift guide:
If you really want to impress your giftee with one of the ultimate and most luxurious food items in the world—fresh truffles from Gourmet Attitude. When the delivery person walks up to your door with the package of these tubers, you can smell the intense, earthy aroma (prices start at $50 per ounce and up). Shave the truffle tissue thin on top of fresh pasta, creamy scrambled eggs or even on ice cream! The latter might sound weird but give it a whirl on the best vanilla ice cream you can find (or homemade is even better) and let the distinctive, complex flavors of the truffle meld and resonate on your palate.
If that’s out of your price range, you have other options of their wonderful black or white truffle oils, truffle honey (it’s sublime on a cheese tray), and truffle carpaccio (black truffle slices in olive oil).
One of my favorite chocolate brands, La Maison du Chocolat has a beautiful Christmas collection. Creative Director Nicolas Cloiseau and two artists Alex & Marine designed the gift boxes of his “Starlit Night.”
Starlit Night Gift Box contains an assortment of signature flavors, there are five new creations: pure Brazilian ganache, kumquat/kalamansi duo, Mara des bois/orange blossom, chocolate almond paste, and creamy mendiant praliné. They are delectable as they sound and it’s hard to pick a favorite.
The Starlit Night Bouchée Mendiant Gift Box is a quartet of mendiant chocolates with different flavors and chocolate types. The star is pure Brazilian dark chocolate, pine nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Reindeer is pure Brazilian dark chocolate, candied lemon, roasted almonds and pistachios. Owl is a blond chocolate, moist cranberries, roasted almonds and pistachios.
The advent calendar is designed to be a Christmas calendar for 24 days of daily chocolate surprises before Christmas ranging from almonds dipped in milk and dark chocolate, almonds coated with gianduja and dusted with cocoa, caramelized split almonds dipped in milk and dark chocolate, plain and the brand’s famed flavored chocolates.
If you want to impress your guests for the holiday table, Breads Bakery got you covered – at least for the baked goods portion of the feast.
Breads Bakery is famous for their chocolate babka and their pie-shaped babka is sold only for the Thanksgiving holiday. Buttery, chocolate-y, dense and flaky all at the same time and it’s delicious. For a savory alternative of the babka, they created a savory harvest bakba. The savory babka is addictive to eat since it’s deceptively lighter in texture than its sweet counterpart and the diced squash makes it feel slightly healthy.
Their pies are a great addition to your table. The options to choose from are the classic deep dish apple pie, bourbon pecan, and pear cranberry tart. The apple pie has a pleasant acidity and not spice driven. The pecan pie was splendid with the not too sweet filling and it’s loaded with pecans. The pear cranberry tart was wonderful with the bright bites of cranberries and the buttery crumble topping.
Savor Fine Foods is a small, artisan bakery based in Connecticut that specializes in shortbread cookies. What makes Savor’s shortbread cookies great is the unusual and unique flavors they create and tries to utilize local ingredients. There’s no plain vanilla, butter or chocolate cookies here. They have candied ginger and lavender. A really unique one is the Naugatuck that is a flavor combination of birch extract mixed with maple syrup and candied cranberries. It kind of tastes like a gentle hint of root beer cookie mixed with those two flavors that really make me think of autumn. The Firefly is a sweet-spicy cookie made with hot Salemme pepper, that is grown exclusively in Cheshire, CT and it would go well on a cheese plate.
The North Carolina-based artisan nut butter brand, Big Spoon Roasters released a limited batch Jacobsen Salt Co. + Bee Local Nut Butter 2-Pack collaboration set. They created a special limited batch fresh-roasted nut butters: Peanut Butter made with Jacobsen Sea Salt & Bee Local Honey (a delicious balance of fresh-roasted NC peanuts, Bee Local’s Oregon High Desert Honey, organic virgin coconut oil, and Jacobsen Sea Salt with a uniquely coarse-ground, addictive texture.) The Peanut Hazelnut Butter made with Heirloom Oregon Hazelnuts, Jacobsen Sea Salt & Bee Local Honey is made with fresh-roasted NC peanuts, Barcelona and Clark variety Oregon hazelnuts, hand-harvested Jacobsen Sea Salt, and Bee Local’s Oregon High Desert Honey. Both nut betters are delicious on its own or on anything from toast to fruit to cake.
The upscale Belgian chocolate brand, Neuhaus released a limited-edition seasonal Noble Nuts Pralines collection (24 pieces). Delicate Belgian chocolate cubes are filled with a perfectly balanced smooth praline and enhanced with a whole superior origin nut on top. The pralines are beautifully presented in a special round gift box for fall and winter gifting. Flavors include milk chocolate with California almonds, dark chocolate with Black Sea hazelnuts, milk chocolate with Texas pecans, and dark chocolate with walnuts from Périgord, France.
Beverages – Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic
Le Palais des Thés has a lovely holiday collection of Festive Teas. Part of the holiday collection there is the Advent Calendar that provides a surprise tea bag each day in December. You may get to have a flavored tea blend, an exceptional single-estate tea, or a delectable herbal infusion for the day. It makes for twenty-five days of teas that could expand your tea horizons to enjoy. The 2017 Holiday Tea blend (comes in a tin or boxed with tea bags) is a smooth black tea with notes of almond, cherry, and cranberry. The festive box of 54-tea bags contains a collection of their famous No. 25 Holiday teas, 2017 limited-edition Thé des Gourmets, and a selection of five of their most popular teas.
The venerated Japanese tea brand Ippodo created a beautiful assortment of green teas that’s beyond the current darling of teas on the internet, matcha green tea. The set of three teas that includes Matcha Horai-no-mukashi (20g), Kuki Hojicha (roasted stems; 10g) and Gokujo Genmaicha (20g).
I’ve recently gotten into Old Forester thanks to one of my perennial favorite restaurants, Momofuku Ssäm Bar. They made an incredible Old Fashioned I’ve had in recent memory called the Bonji Old Fashioned when I was dining at the bar one evening with a friend for dinner. I’ve asked the bartender, what bourbon do they use for that cocktail and he told (and shown) me it’s the Old Forester Signature 100 Proof.
It is a 100-proof expression of the standard Old Forester Classic (bottled at 86 proof). It uses the standard Old Forester mash bill. Old Forester is a venerable brand, apparently the first whiskey sold in sealed bottles to the public that started in 1870 by George Garvin Brown.
On the nose, graham crackers and brown sugar dominate the nose. On the palate, it’s hot (from the high proof), but there are definite sweet flavors of peaches, ripe banana and plantains on the tip of the tongue as well. The back of the mouth gets hints of oak and butterscotch, but this is not an oak-forward flavor profile. It’s a great bourbon for retailing at $40 for both mixing a cocktail or drink on its own.
The 1920 Prohibition Style bourbon honors of Old Forester’s historical significance as the only bourbon to be manufactured by the same company before, during, and after The Failed Noble Experiment, Brown-Forman launched the Old Forester Whiskey Row Series. The inaugural bourbon in this series was the 90 proof 1870 Original Batch, released in 2014. The second expression, released in Fall 2015, was the 100 proof Old Forester 1897 Bottled-in-Bond, a nod to the passage of the BiB Act of 1897. This year’s release — Old Forester 1920: Prohibition Style — celebrates the longevity of the brand and its historical significance during Prohibition.
It is a 115 proof bourbon. On the nose, the initial whiff of soft leather, dark brown sugar,and cherry and a touch of oak. On the palate, it’s sweet and hot at the same time, this comes in with a powerful first sip laden with brown sugar, graham cracker, and vanilla. That quickly gives way to oak and dark fruit like plums and cherries on the mid palate, and then to black pepper and oak on the rear of the tongue. Despite its relatively high proof, this never takes on an ethanol characteristic. It’s viscous and mouth-coating on the tongue, and the finish lingers for a good while with pleasing notes of cinnamon, pie crust, and black pepper, with a hint of powered dark chocolate.
This year I’m “discovering” spirits that are experimental, especially in the general category of gin.
Escubac is a liqueur, made of sweetened grain alcohols that tastes closest to gin (but it is not gin). It is an impressive liqueur produced as a collaboration between Sweetdram (a collective of distillers in East London) and Combier (a long-running French distillery in Saumur). It’s a re-imagining of a traditional, long-forgotten French liqueur, featuring notes of caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, coriander, lemon, licorice, sweet and bitter orange, nutmeg, star anise and vanilla. Excellent as an aperitif, this can be enjoyed over ice or with tonic water if you prefer a longer serve.
For something a little unusual that is not really an alcoholic beverage but kind of taste like one is Seedlip. This beverage newcomer is catching on with the wave of people who wants to have a drink without the alcohol for whatever their reasons are. It’s a distilled beverage that is treated almost like the “white spirits” (e.g. gin or vodka) but it’s neither. I know it reads a little funny and the idea sounds a little crazy but they do make for an interesting non-alcoholic drink without feeling tipsy or making me feel like I’m missing out on my white spirits. They come in two flavors: Garden 108 (herbal and vegetal) and Spice 94 (aromatic and spice-driven)
Danzka Vodka is a stylish Danish vodka contained in aluminium bottles. The vodka has a mild flavor, with hints of citrus and whole grains. It has been produced since 1989. It is made from the finest whole grain and pure water.
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon has a profile involves a mash bill of 60% corn, 35% malted rye and 5% malted barley, along with yeast blends that reflect fruity, vanilla, and caramel flavors. It is 100 proof and aged for 10 years.
In the glass it has a light amber color, and its nose is surprisingly light as well, with echoes of honey and vanilla. On the palate, despite the high proof, its gentleness continues onto the palate, with a slight spice and bite, though it fades fast and gallantly. It has almost a savory quality. It’s great to drink neat or on the rocks or a simple cocktail like an Old Fashioned to let the bourbon shine.
Zirkova Vodka is an ultra premium vodka brand that handcrafted in two expressions – Zirkova One (to be sipped straight, neat, on the rocks or in a martini) and Zirkova Together (which marries the flavors with which it’s mixed for cocktails), and is produced by merging centuries old techniques with modern day technology, using quadruple distillation, the purest spring water, and the finest center-cut Ukrainian wheat and rye spirits. And yet, Zirkova One+Together the premium grain vodka with a quality and characteristic that is distinctive and all its own. Both are very smooth, clean vodkas to sip on.
Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur is a new coffee liqueur produced in Australia. Mr. Black is as black as an ink bottle. It goes well with dark spirits, with its waft of Arabica beans from Brazil, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea, and works with lighter spirits too. Bitter and intense, it is perfectly balanced with the sweetness of toffee and chocolate and is the apt product of a culture that adores both coffee and booze.
Mr. Black was created by Tom Baker and distiller Philip Moore, who took great care in developing a process to create this spirit. This process includes in-house roasting of coffee beans sourced from Ethiopia, Brazil and Papua New Guinea, and cold-drip steps to produce a full-flavored coffee sans the bitterness. And then, of course, there’s the addition of a pure grain spirit straight from Down Under.
Mr. Black won a gold medal in the 2012 International Wine and Spirits Competition, and it tastes beautiful both neat and in cocktails. It’s also the perfect liqueur for crafting an impressive espresso martini.
Cordier is a Bordeaux-based winery started in 1886 by Désiré Cordier. These trio of wines are a good option to serve on your holiday table. The 2015 Bordeaux is ripe wine, mainly from Merlot, showing fruit that is jammy and almost sweet. With attractive acidity to balance, it is soft, smooth and ready to drink. The Pinot Noir 2016 is a tart wine with notes of currants, raspberries and spices. It’s a soft and smooth. The Bordeaux Blanc 2016 is a white Bordeaux wine made with Sauvignon grapes. It’s a fresh, not too acidic wine with -flavors of citrus and pineapple.
For more than 200 hundred years, the humble town of Kilbeggan produced a whiskey beloved the world over. As Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery since 1757, Kilbeggan has always been more than just a stone building with a water wheel to power it and its copper pot stills. It has been the townspeople’s heart and soul, their pride and joy.
For a drinkable, easy on the budget and underrated wines for the holiday table, I’d suggest Wines of Sicily. The Villa Pozzi, Grillo Sicilia DOC is a night-harvested and fermented wine, in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness. With a straw yellow color, it exhibits aromas of exotic and white flowers with fresh and fruity notes of mango and pineapple on the palate. It is medium bodied and well balanced with delicate acidity and a persistent finish. This wine is great with fish and light pasta. Also perfect on its own as an aperitif. The Planeta, La Segreta, Nero d’Avola La Segreta Il Rosso takes its name from the forest surrounding the vineyards. It is produced with Nero d’Avola, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc grapes, picked and carefully selected by hand. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 25 ° C for 10-14 days. The wine is characterized by a ruby red color, with purple reflections. The nose opens with scents of mulberry and plums, enriched with pleasant spicy notes of cocoa and tobacco. On the palate it comes with a fresh alcoholic structure and a well-balanced tannis. Perfect for accompanying first courses of meat sauce, it is ideal in combination with red meat and game.
Kilbeggan Single Grain Irish Whiskey is an 86 proof and non-age statement spirit. The notion that “single grain” describes a whiskey made with just one grain is a common misunderstanding. Rather, the term refers to whiskey made in a single location using malted barley and at least one other grain. Kilbeggan Single Grain is made of 94% corn plus 6% malted barley.
On the nose, it’s clean, warm and malty with a lot of tight, high notes of toasted grain. When a sip is taken, it’s smooth and mellowed. Any trace of rough edges are beautifully softened with the kiss of fortified wine cask aging. No heavy citrus or vanilla here, just a highly drinkable easy-going Irish. The finish is medium short. No one flavor dominates, the only lasting impression is of faint vanilla.
Citadelle Gin Reserve is one of the only wood-aged gins out there at the moment the only others being Seagram’s and Kensington (aged for two years in wood but can’t find anywhere anymore). Imported from France with a four-times distilled wheat grain base and a blend of 19 botanicals from all over the world. The production of this gin is absolutely unique – not only the wood aging which is rare but the fourth distillation is done using equipment and methods no one else uses anymore.
The gin is a complete departure from your usual gin. As with the original Citadelle Gin, the juniper presence is mild but present nonetheless, however the Reserve has a fuller spicier nose. The gin is not necessarily one for the purists but worth a try – particularly if you are fond of Genever-style spirits and are keen to have a look at what gin might have been like in yesteryear.
Cookware & Tableware
Emile Henry is founded in 1850, and located in Marcigny, a small town in the province of Burgundy, France, Emile Henry has established a worldwide reputation for manufacturing the finest quality ceramic ovenware, gourmet cooking products, and bakeware products. Still owned and operated by the Henry family, the company today manufactures all of their new cooking products from Burgundy clay using their proprietary high resistance oven ceramic state-of-the-art manufacturing process.
Personally, I am very excited to use the baguette baker and cloche baker this holiday season (and onward) to bake many loaves of fresh bread.
Finex recently released (in October) a 15″ Lean Grill Pan. True BBQ-width grill ribs give you the best cross-hatch grill marks whether on the stove, grill or over the coals. It features a domed interior surface that drains fat and grilling juices to the margins of the pan, ensuring that grilled foods gain flavor while losing fat. It also has an oversized grilling surface leaving room to flip the largest cuts and quantities with ease, while its low profile, rectangular shape makes it easily stored in drawers or cupboards.
Circulon has a vibrant 1.5-Quart Sunrise teakettle to boil water for your tea (and coffee, if you do pour-overs). The BonJour 4-Cup Stovetop Espresso Maker (also known as a moka pot) is as old-school as one can get to make and have espresso at home without the fancy espresso maker and taking up precious countertop real estate.
Anolon‘s Vesta Cast Iron 5-Quart Dutch Oven is a workhorse for the kitchen since its volume could handle soups, stews, braises and the cast iron material makes for great searing. The Tri-Ply Clad stainless steel pans (seen here saucepan and French skillet) are timeless, professional-quality cookware pieces feature durable tri-ply stainless steel construction with an encapsulated aluminum core for optimal and efficient heat distribution.
The Bonjour 27-ounce Harmony Teapot and 8-cup Chevron French Press are beautiful yet functional pieces to the table for tea and coffee, respectively. What I personally like about them is the minimalist look.
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