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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. FromSaltworks, 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).

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+.

Photo courtesy of Petites Bouchées.

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.

[Next Tuesday: Gifts of giving]
[Last Tuesday: Gifts of books for cooks]
[Previously: Gifts of art and craft; Gifts from travels near and far; Gifts for kids who love to cook; Think outside the box]

Balsamic mustard

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. 

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More gifts of food recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Lemon-currant biscotti
Rhubarb-apricot chutney
Tomato-nectarine chutney
Ginger-apricot biscotti
Dry rub for steak
Cocoa-cumin-allspice rub
Marinated bocconcini

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Great ideas, Lydia! I'm a huge fan of Tahitian Vanilla, something that many cooks can't find, but is such a special treat. It has an exploding flavor almost like cotton candy...

Julia: Although they don't have it all the time, Trader Joe's often carries Tahitian Vanilla extract. A very similar vanilla is also grown and produced in Hawaii and is available on line. I find both have a subtle cherry undertone to the vanilla taste.

These are all very high end gifts, which is fine if that's your end. There's also the Trader Joe's end of things -- TJ's offers some really good purpose-made gift boxes and lots of giftable things. Consider the nice boxes of chocolate covered raspberry jelly, ginger, dried fruit, or more exotic centers -- $3.49 to $5.99!

Love vanilla beans! I've been looking for a replacement for my balsamic vinegar and the rubio sounds delicious.
And thanks so much, Lydia for mentioning my macarons! :)

I like reading blogger excitement about Zingerman's--I can see it from the front porch of my apartment! They have such delicious food, even though it's a bit pricey. The advantage of living nearby is purchasing half-off pastries after 5 pm, and the half-dozen free bagels on one's birthday.

Thanks Lydia for such a great idea---Balsamic Mustard, YUM!!! Happy Holidays from Panama with love :)

Love your balsamic mustard. ;-) Wonderful gift ideas!


My Cousin Martin is a connoisseur of vanilla extracts and, lucky me, he brought me a good stash of vanilla from Tahiti. I'm going to look in Trader Joe's now, though (see his comment below).

Cousin, thank you! I love all the vanillas you've brought me from around the world.

Mae, Trader Joe's is a great source for those lucky enough to live near a store (our first Rhode Island Trader Joe's opened just last month). In these posts I'm highlighting gifts that can be purchased online -- or made at home.

Veron, I'm completely in love with Rubio. I first discovered it on a walk through Boston's North End some years ago, and even after moving to Rhode Island, I have it shipped to me because I think it's the best.

Deena, if I lived within hailing distance of Zingerman's, I'm sure I'd wander in there every day. You are so lucky.

Melissa, sending holiday greetings to you, too.

Paz, mustard is one of those gifts that lasts for a long time, and improves with age.

I'm a huge planner too, Lydia. This year I'm planning to give away small stolen, the fruit stuffed breakfast loaf. I made it last year and we loved it!

Only two weeks! I gotta get moving! Those are some good gift ideas.

They look like great gifts, I love flavoured mustards, and vinegars.... and salts!

Oh, what a fun gift to give! I would also love to receive ANY of the gifts you suggested, thanks for the ideas!

I would give (and take!) everything on this list as gifts this season. What a wonderful round-up you've presented here!

that mustard would go perfectly on a nice pork roast, would make such a nice crust with a bit of sugar, oh the caramelization!

Awesome ideas and thankfully my parents have gotten smart and just give me cash because they realize buying me exactly what I want is next to impossible since I am to picky about ingredients I use.

Oh I'm salivating over the mustard... I am a mustard whore.

Aimee, the people on your holiday list are lucky indeed!

Kevin, Jason, Sandie: may the people who buy gifts for you read this post and give you everything you ask for!

Natashya, I remember the photos of your salt rack in Other People's Pantries. It was truly amazing.

Dawn, EB: good to know there are other mustard lovers in Pantryland. I probably have close to a dozen types of mustard on hand at all times.

Jeff, your parents are very smart. Most cooks really want to choose their own ingredients, don't they?

Hello Lydia
My first time here.
The balsamic mustard sounds divine- absolutely what my husband and I would enjoy. I have a question. Doesn't one need to refrigerate it('cause of the garlic)? And how long can you keep it?

Bharti, it's definitely good to refrigerate it after it's bloomed, though it can keep for a week or so at room temperature.

Check out www.salttraders.com ---- fabulous collection and marvelous products!

SO VERY GLAD to have come across your wonderful foodsite, Lydia!

Just what I needed to give my tired ole chicken-chops a spur in the side.

Thanks for all the insight and great ideas, I'll be even better prepared now on my next visit to Chinatown.

cheers from Paris,

: J

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