Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday Gift Guide--Deals and Splurges

Last year I posted a holiday gift guide with many of my favorite products. I am still enjoying those goodies and continue to give them as gifts to friends and family. But this guide is all-new. No matter what your price range, there should be something here to satisfy. Don't forget! Today is, generally speaking, the last day to order online for Christmas delivery...

Al Dente
Sometimes you need a gift in a hurry. Not only does it cook up in 3 minutes, Al Dente pasta is something you may even be able to find in your local grocery store, and it is really delicious. It's the closest thing to freshly made pasta and it would fit wonderfully well in a gift basket. Most packages are only $3!

You can't find a much better bargain than a one year subscription to Saveur magazine (9 issues) for less than $5! Be sure to use the code DCMPS15D to get the discounted price.

Wine Passport
If you are looking for a bargain, look for wines from Portugal. They are often fairly inexpensive, food friendly and feature unique varietals. If you love Portuguese wines or barely know them at all, the WinePassport: Portugal I wrote for SmartsCo is a great little gift at a great little price, only $8.50 Use the code HOLIDAY to get an additional 25% off your purchase.

Olive oil is a staple item, but it can also be a luxury product. I'd like to recommend three brands of olive oil I like very much. Each is a little more expensive than your typical store brand, but use them sparingly as a finishing to dishes where the flavor will really make the dish. From Stonehouse I like the olio nuovo because it reminds me of the unfiltered olive oil I enjoyed when I lived in Tuscany. I also particularly like their blood orange olive oil. It's really great on salads and with seafood. Prices are reasonable for these oils.

Next up is Yellingbo extra virgin olive oils. The mild, buttery/creamy and fruity flavor of these Australian olive oils really appeal to me. I use them almost everyday. Find them at Whole Foods Markets or online.

A bit more expensive but really lovely for gifts are both the O olive oils and vinegars. Available in skinny bottles, having a stash of these on hand makes experimenting in the kitchen a breeze. Particular favorites of mine include the Champagne vinegar, the pomegranate vinegar, the Meyer lemon olive oil, and the Ruby grapefruit olive oil. The O olive oil site has lots of great suggestions for how to use them check out the recipes link.

Rancho Gordo
I don't know whether they are a splurge or a deal. It's true, Rancho Gordo heirloom beans are sometimes up to 5 times more expensive than regular beans you buy at the supermarket, but the truth is, they are at least 5 times tastier and beans aren't all that expensive begin with. If you are making something special, treat yourself to these beans, they will make your dish something very special indeed. Though I haven't tried them all, my favorites are the Anasazi, Good Mother and the Flageolet.

CMB Swets
CMB Sweets jam is freshly made and tastes homemade and bright. My favorite is the tangy Apricot Aficionado, but I also like the Strawberry a lot. The jars are also a hoot with little smiling fruits on them. Sweet!

Lehua honey
I wrote about my weakness for honey earlier this year and then I got an email from the folks at Tropical Traders. They sent me samples of their organic Christmas Berry and Lehua honey. The delicate butterscotch flavor of the Lehua really won me over. If you are fond of honey you'll enjoy it on buttered toast or vanilla ice cream.

Freed, Teller & Freed
When it comes to tea, I have been buying it from Freed, Teller and Freed forever. Sadly they no longer have a retail shop, but their knowledgeable staff can tell you about current crops and make recommendations. I love many of their blends and regularly order my own blend from them. Their prices are good, even with shipping, especially for the quality they offer. They will even send you little samples with your order if you'd like to try something new or make up your own blend. Some of my favorites are the Blood Orange black, Bourbon Vanilla tea, Teaberry with little blue cornflowers and the herbal tea from Africa, Honeybush.

Another tea company I only learned about recently that has a huge selection of "fresh teas" is Lupicia. In fact they carry over 400 varieties of tea. Their teas are high quality and are sold in bulk or in tins that are particularly well-suited for gift giving. The Christmas collection is very "sweet" with fruity flavored teas with the essence of apricot, white chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and more. Lee is crazy about their second flush darjeeling. Many of their teas are shipped at no additional charge.

The last tea company is one that used to be in New Orleans but relocated after Katrina. Like Freed, Teller and Freed they are building a non-retail, internet business. Indonique makes a variety of different chai products and the one I tried was really good. I've made my own chai from scratch, and it's a bit of a bother so I really love the convenience of their product. It's got tea and the spices in it and you brew it up with water and milk then strain out the bits and sweeten to taste. It tastes much more like the chai I love in Indian restaurants than anything available in a tea bag or a powdered mix. Also their packaging is lovely.

When it comes to online shopping I have two in my luxury category and two in the bargain category. Even when I don't have the money to spend, I still love perusing the goods at Zingermans and Le Sanctuaire. Zingermans is all about old world flavors and Le Sanctuaire is about the cutting edge ingredients chefs are using today. I could spend hours just checking out what they have online! They are great places to find really unusual, special ingredients and treats.

If you are looking for a nice selection of less "chefy" stuff I liked all the gourmet goodies I got a chance to try from Armsteads Porch, a homey online store for gourmet products that often has good sales. Also in the less chefy category is Penzeys, the spice purveyor. When buying in bulk their prices are reasonable.