Holiday Gift Guide 2012 – Food Edition
It’s that time of the year again to think about what to gift your friends and loved ones. It’s hard to believe that Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa is less than a month away!
Here’s a list of food products that I would recommend to give to the gastronome(s) in your life; just click on the header links to jump to the section you want to read. (Please note: This list is in no particular order and all the photos of this gift guide is at the bottom of this post.)
Chocolate & Confections
Chocolate & Confections
Dude, Sweet Chocolate is a Texas-based chocolate artisan brand created by Chef Katherine Clapner. Besides the fun and cool name, this kitchen creates the most unusual, bold, sweet-savory confections I’ve eaten so far.
Some notable items I had (but all were amazing) were the Fungus Amongus are thick cubes of porcini mushroom and pepita soft butter toffee that blew my mind. Fudge candy-like chewy texture with a subtle brown butter flavor that mingles with the savory porcini flavor with a crunchy note from the toasted pepitas. Albatross a dense, creamy, dehydrated blue cheese from Rogue Creamery, sea salt fudge, sweetened condensed milk, and Valrohna African Abinaio 85% dark chocolate. Notes of red fruit and sweet cream worked into the bitter chocolate wonderfully. Chocolate Almond “Salami” made of medjool dates, dried figs, cocoa nib, and California almond marzipan and rolled in Valhrona 72% South American chocolate then rolled in powdered sugar and packed like salami. It worked wonders with a recent cheese plate I served to friends.
Payard The third-generation pastry chef François Payard released a limited edition of luxurious Holiday Collection (shown here: 25-pieces, $52) filled with sublime holiday inspired chocolate bonbons of gingerbread with dark chocolate, mandarin orange, and caramel pecan that would delight the sophisticated chocoholic.
Antidote A Long Island City-based chocolate brand that makes raw and roasted cacao chocolate bars, who aims to be healthy yet delicious, to paraphrase their motto. It ranges with pure dark chocolate from Ecuador to unusual fruit and spice pairings and all in vibrant, beautiful recycled paper packaging. Some flavors include Mango + Juniper, Ginger + Gooseberry, and Rose Salt + Lemon. Seen here (photo) is the Ultimate Antidote, a 10-piece gift set, $72.
GODIVA Surely, you are aware, heard of and possibly, eaten this internationally known chocolate brand’s confections. This is my go-to for chocolates that would appeal to almost any chocolate lover. The box of Parfait Chocolates are layered truffles containing a few new flavors such as Brown Butter Hazelnut, Raspberry Cheesecake, and Salted Caramel. The Classic Gold Ballotin of their signature truffles would appease almost anyone. The Milk Chocolate Snowflake Lollipop and Gold Star Ornament are great stocking stuffers.
Komforte is one of those quirky chocolate brands that wanted to break away from the sophisticated mold and create chocolate bars that has comfort food in it.
Each bar is made with delicious chocolate and nostalgically comforting flavors like French Toast, Ramen, and Apple Pie. The crazy Savory Ramen ended up being my favorite – crunchy noodles, savory onion and garlic flavoring, and soy sauce tastes amazing!
EH Chocolatier is a small independently owned artisan chocolate and confection company in Somerville, Massachusetts. They create confections that might seem familiar but it’s fresh, robust flavored. Their passion fruit caramels are quite tart and vibrant. The caramelized white chocolate bar with cacao nibs (photo) is made of caramelized Valrhona Ivoire blended with crunchy roasted cocoa nibs and topped with fleur de sel that makes the white chocolate hater (like me) appreciate white chocolate.
Plush Puffs is a small artisan brand that creates high quality, all natural, deliciously flavored marshmallows, based in Los Angeles, CA. I love their adorable packaging and of course, their marshmallows are insanely good. Their holiday flavors of pumpkin marshmallow is delicately spiced and pumpkin-y and the gingerbread spice has balanced, warm spice flavors that I could imagine it would be great in a simple mug of dark hot chocolate. The larger “mugtoppers” does fit into a mug of hot chocolate comfortably but I do love snacking the wheel of this fluffy confection.
Süss Sweets uses finest all natural ingredients and each batch is handmade, poured, hand cut and hand wrapped. They come in 1/4-pound rolls that one can then slice into pieces. They are wrapped in the thick parchment paper and finished off with a lovely ribbon. The seasonal flavors of pumpkin and gingerbread were wonderful and I do admire the use of sea salt to balance the sweetness of the chewy, creamy caramel. The vanilla is a great flavor to have almost any time of the year.
Amella differs from other artisan caramel brands are because they make cocoa butter caramels with raw blue agave nectar instead of corn syrup. These candies are creamy and chewy with clean flavors of chocolate and complex caramel; the added toppings of almonds or a coating of dark chocolate make it a bit more indulgent.
Baked & Frozen Sweets
Shamsi Bakery is a dessert and catering company based in Atlanta, Georgia. They create some of the most delicious traditional Southern desserts I’ve had this year and it’s worth swooning over. Their cranberry almond tart was divine. Buttery, crisp crust meets sticky, not too sweet filling from the crunchy almonds and tart cranberries. Their Pecan Bites were tempting morsels of pecan bars and their pecan snowball cookies were dreamy buttery, nutty cookies rolled in lots of sweet powdered sugar.
Dana’s Bakery is a New York-based macaron bakery that takes the beloved French macaron cookie but filled with fun, American flavors like S’mores, Red Velvet, and Birthday Cake. These macarons (seen here) are very delicious and the texture and sweetness is spot on. A variety pack is $30 and some flavors are on rotation depending upon the season.
Potter’s Crackers is based in two locations – Wisconsin and California. These two locations have their own distinct menu of artisan crackers based on the local organic flours grown in its own area. My current rotation of crackers I’ve tried were the subtly sweet pumpkin graham, nutty Washington Island flax, roasted garlic, hazelnut graham, and caramelized onion. They’re great to snack on its own, made into a sophisticated s’more (for the graham crackers), or a good accompaniment to a cheese plate.
Laurie’s Pantry produces a wide variety of homemade gourmet granolas and mueslis, using only the highest quality, all natural, organic ingredients. The flavors are inspired by the seasons (Fruitcake and Hot Chocolate) and everyday foods like English Breakfast and Blueberry Crumb Cake. It’s a great addition for my morning cup of yogurt or a healthy, crunchy snack.
High Road Craft Ice Cream is an Atlanta, Georgia based an independent, luxury ice cream brand that creates luscious, balanced ice creams with high quality ingredients. Personally, I prefer their fruit ice creams more than their nut flavored ones. (Possibly, I’m missing summer and hoping that berries would come back soon and their strawberry ice cream does capture the berry’s flavor perfectly.)
Savory Snacks & Meats
Murray’s Cheese launched themed gift collections recently that would swoon every cheesehead, even the budding one. The New Yorker (photographed above; $125) is a lovely small crate filled with artisanal products made in New York State. The creamy Nettle Meadow Kunik, meaty Twin Maple Farm Hudson Red Cheese, and piquant Old Chatham Shaker Blue Cheese were delectable. The thoughtful accompaniments to the cheeses were wonderfully crisp Z Crackers, delicious Mast Brothers Chocolate cocoa nibs bar, and strawberry balsamic jam by Anarchy in a Jar.
Red Dot Kitchen is based out in California that makes Malaysian-style jerky called bak kwa (photo). Bak kwa is originated in China but the Southeast Asian countries adapted it with their own seasonings and flavor profile. When I had Red Dot Kitchen’s pork jerky, it reminded me of fond memories when I traveled to Hong Kong and Macau three years ago when I had eaten a pound of amazing jerky from a local Macau vendor while sweating my buns off walking on the hilly, cobblestone streets in the late spring. Red Dot’s bak kwa comes closest to memory for a very good Asian-style jerky.
Schiltz Foods is one of America’s leading geese producers located in South Dakota. Their geese products are of pristine quality and it’s great for any occasion. (In Chinese culture, geese are usually served during important holidays and special occasions like weddings). I love their Smoked Goose as they made my Thanksgiving dinner not as stressful if I have cooked the traditional turkey and the deep, rich smoky flavors worked wonderfully with the goose’s distinct flavor. Rendered goose fat is my substitution for butter for my Thanksgiving sides as it imparted a wonderful flavor and the Late Harvest Fatty Geese livers made amazing pâté.
Veldhuizen Family Farm is a small family-owned dairy farm outside of Dublin, Texas. What I love about their cheeses is the fact they use their cows’ raw milk and you can taste the beautiful floral, grassy flavors in the cheeses. The Caraway cheese is a semi-firm cheddar cheese that is mixed with spicy caraway seeds and aged for 6-12 months. It’s a fantastic cheese to go with red wine or in a Reuben sandwich. The Paragon is a semi-hard cheese, that is aged for 3-4 months, has a unique, slightly tangy flavor and is great on its own and melting. The Bosque Blue cheese has golden hue with a rich and mellow flavor, similar to Stilton, and blue veining throughout. It has a creamy, yet crumbly texture. It’s great in salads or as a dessert cheese served with Port. Their Bosque Blue is part of the Slow Foods Raw Milk Presidium, an honor reserved to just 32 producers. Parmesan is at least aged for two years that has an indescribable depth of nutty, floral flavors that I haven’t tasted in a while. Sharp Shooter Cheddar is a one-year aged, sharp cheddar that has a crumbly texture and very sharp flavor that its best eaten alone or in a grilled cheese sandwich that best showcases the complexity of this cheese.
To view more photos of this gift guide, please view the slideshow below (or CLICK HERE for my photo set):
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