Gifts for food lovers: Food! (Recipe: balsamic mustard)
Part Six of an eight-part series.
The holidays are still two weeks away.
Ted has just begun to make his list.
I've checked mine twice. Twice a week. For the past couple of months.
Whether you're more like Ted, who loves the excitement of last-minute shopping, or more a plan-ahead type like me, here are ten great ideas for gifts of food that will please the food lovers on your holiday list.
Salt. From Saltworks, the Ultimate Salt Collection lets your favorite food lover taste salts from around the world: Australia, Hawaii, France, Portugal, Bali, the Pacific Northwest ($138 for 12 salts). I'm partial to Zingerman's Portuguese flor de sal ($14 for 250 g). Right here in Rhode Island, artist Peter Morse blends French sea salt with lemon, rosemary, and other herbs from his garden to create Mor-sels ($8.50 per 2.5-oz tin).
Pepper. Every good cook deserves peppercorns. Spice House sells a four-peppercorn gift box (Tellicherry black, Muntok white, Mysore green, and a blend), $19.95. A four-ounce bag of their Ecuadorian Organic Black Peppercorns would make a nice gift, too, $8.28 for a one-cup jar. For peppercorns that aren't really pepper, World Spice Merchants' sichuan (szechuan) peppercorns will please the Asian-food lovers on your list, $2.00 per ounce.
Oil. Two wonderful gift options offer cooks a variety of flavor profiles: Zingerman's Tour de Oil, four half-sized bottles of small-producer oils from Italy, Chile and California, with a loaf of peasant bread for ripping and dipping, $100; O & Co.'s trio of mini specialty oils (basil, lemon and chili), $39.
Vinegar. My absolutely favorite gift, to give or receive, is this balsamic vinegar sample set of four balsamic vinegars (aged for 8, 10, 20 and 40 years) from Zingerman's. $33. But I'd be thrilled to find Rubio, my go-to balsamic condimento from Salumeria Italiana, under my Chanukah tree, too. $38 for 8.5 oz.
Chocolate. Oh, where to start? With Venezuelan dark Cuyagua from Amano Artisan Chocolates ($89.95 for 10 bars in a presentation box)? Or a small gift basket of Equal Exchange fair-traded organic dark chocolate minis ($33 for 12 oz)? Or with the Ultimate Chocolate Lover Six-Month Plan from Jacques Torres, who personally selects an array of chocolate bon-bons and/or his newest chocolate delicacies to ship each month ($240)?
Vanilla. For the bakers in your life, nothing beats the gift (and aroma) of a bundle of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans ($14.95 for .13 lb), or my favorite small-production vanilla extract from Baldwin Extracts ($38.78 for 16 oz).
Spices. Penzeys sells more than two dozen gift boxes, from the four-spice collections (hot chocolate, taco seasonings, baker's assortment, Indian curry, etc. $20-30) to the eight-spice boxes (salad lover's, American kitchen, grill and broil, spicy wedding, etc. $32-52), to the fabulous wooden crates filled with spices from Provence, salts and peppers, pasta and salad seasonings, and, well, everything you could want for your pantry. $53-220.
Samplers and gift baskets. Introduce your food lovers to foods from Spain with a gift basket from La Tienda ("Gathering of Friends" sampler, includes Serrano ham, chorizo, olives, piquillo peppers, almonds, $75; save 10% before 12/31/08 by entering the discount code PERPAN08 during checkout). Dean + DeLuca has ready-to-go gift baskets, and also lets you create your own gift basket from their huge selection of gourmet food products. $35-250+.
Artisan foods. No food lover could resist a box of Petites Bouchées Christmas macarons, green and red shells filled with bittersweet chocolate ganache, pistachio buttercream, salted butter caramel and spiced vanilla buttercream (cinnamon, nutmeg, rum), from Virginia food blogger Veronica Perez; $18 for 12/$35 for 24, order by December 12 for holiday delivery within the US.
Foods from your kitchen. Fruit leather, beef jerky, biscotti, jam, chutney -- or a chocolate-cherry fruit cake -- whatever your specialty, share it with the food lovers on your gift list. Or, buy dry spices in bulk, and mix up your own spice blends; then, include a recipe or two, on free recipe cards printed right from your computer.
I love to give jars of this mustard, and I hope you will, too. Don't use the most costly balsamic vinegar, though, or your Rubio; get to Trader Joe's, or a supermarket, and buy an inexpensive "everyday" balsamic. Makes 3 cups.
1 cup light or dark mustard seed
4 Tbsp dry mustard powder, lightly packed
1 cup water
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
6 Tbsp white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
4 Tbsp sugar
4 tsp salt (or less, to taste)
2-4 cloves garlic (or more, to taste)
Grind the mustard seed finely in a spice mill, blender, or mortar. (If using a blender, add the mustard powder to facilitate the grinding.) Combine ground mustard seed, dry mustard powder and water in a bowl, and mix thoroughly. Let stand, uncovered, for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours, and stir occasionally. Scrape the mixture into a blender or food processor and add the balsamic vinegar, white wine or rice vinegar, and the sugar, salt and garlic. Process until the garlic has been incorporated and the mustard is fairly smooth. Store in clean, dry jars, tightly capped, in a cupboard. The mustard will be ready to use in a few days.
More gifts of food recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Dry rub for steak