I’ve done the whole homemade gifts in a jar thing — now it’s time for some brutal, aggressive commercialism! With Hanukkah beginning this weekend, and Christmas not far behind, you’d better get crackin’. Here are some ideas for unusual, inexpensive gifts for the food lover in your life.
Sideswipe blade for KitchenAid stand mixers, made with silicone fins that can scrape the bowl and eliminate the need to stop the mixer to scrape down the sides. Cook’s Illustrated recommends and I am filled with desire, Santa.
2-quart Pyrex measuring cup. Put your stocking in it just to show how much it can hold. Seriously, this is one of the best gifts you can give a foodie — something they would never buy for themselves because they don’t realize how useful they are in making soups, canning, and even candymaking.
Pommery mustard, moutarde de meaux. Best mustard ever, perfectly balanced with vinegar and heat, with gorgeous brown and yellow intact grains. It’s imported from France in lovely crocks, and it’s a bit too expensive for the average Joe, so why not treat someone?
Excellent olive oil. I recommend Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Co. available in Eugene at Newman’s, for cooking and regular use.
Datu puti spiced vinegar. Smooth, slightly sweet cane sugar vinegar from the Philippines is punched up with garlic, onion, and hot peppers. “This will change your life,” said the gentleman who gave it to me as a gift. Bold to say to someone who makes dozens of vinegars a year, thought I, arrogantly. But it has. And he wasn’t kidding when he said they drink it neat at his house. Try it to deglaze a roast, or just to pep up some stirfried brussels sprouts. OMG.
Unusual heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, or, if you’re local, Eugene Local Foods, which offers an interesting red one and a white one. Looking at heirloom bean varieties is like having a Lush or BPAL addiction. So pretty, each a little different. You. Can’t. Stop. Ordering.
A giant hunk of manchego cheese. Spanish or PNW cheese (Quillisascut offers one out of Rice, WA, under the name Curado). I’m not sure why, but I’ve grown addicted to this mild, buttery cheese, which I snack on with dried Fellenberg prunes and homemade quince paste.
Robin Goldstein’s Fearless Critic Portland Restaurant guide, sparklin’ new. His team is brutally honest and opinionated. If you’re reading this, you probably are, too, so this would appeal. There’s something slightly unlikable and shiny-corporate about the guy (at least on paper), but he did gather a team of locals for research. And I *love* the honest reviews. Down with sentimentality in food writing!
Best of the “Best of 2009 Cookbooks” Condensed into One List (plus my PNW cookbook list will be out in the EW next week; will link). Will it be Ad Hoc, which promises an easily digestible Keller, or the entire cookbook dedicated to macaroons (why?), or the first comprehensive English-language Chinese cookbook in years?
Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. The one bread-baking book I hear consistently recommended. I haven’t baked from it myself, but I’d sure like to.
To replace a beloved Gourmet subscription, might I suggest browsing this list of food magazines (look at the comments, too, for more ideas). I picked up a subscription to Art of Eating, myself. Gastronomica is having their annual sale — buy up! (copy and paste code GAEM091 on the UC Press website when you buy a new subscription.) Also, check out the blog in which the link appears, Eat Me Daily. It’s my new daily amusement, food for thought.
Take that special someone out to a dinner at a small local restaurant. Stimulate the economy by stimulating your palate. In Eugene, I suggest Café Arirang for a bowl of spicy, warming kimchi tofu soup.
And for those who are having a hard time with Christmas cheer without the edge off:
Fascinating bitters from The Bitter Truth: Celery and Xocolatl Molé flavors. Expensive as hell, but so unique they will catapult your holiday cocktails into realms undreamed. Celery is an old flavoring for bitters; molé is new. Both are wonderful for holiday drinks: celery for something savory, grassy, limey, or peppery; molé for anything that could take a hit of chocolate and spice.
Clear Creek cranberry liqueur for everything else. Oregon Coast cranberries from the people who bring you pear-in-a-bottle brandy, raspberry eau-de-vie, and cassis that could break your heart with its sweet, sharp tang.
A make-your-own vanilla extract kit. Premium vanilla beans and a bottle of vodka. If that doesn’t scream Christmas morning, what does?
Images are from commercial websites selling products, plus one shot of my tuna and Rancho Gordo yellow-eye bean salad, and an outtake of cherries looking abstractly festive.