There are many wonderful possibilities for gifts to give to cooks and food lovers from garlic presses to exotic chocolates. Items can be practical, like a spiral slicer or fanciful like jellied fruit candy. They can range from boxes of fresh fruit, like pears from the Pacific Northwest to fancy espresso machines. The problem isn’t the availability, it’s making a decision.
In creating a holiday gift guide, I pondered not only what, but how, to choose, and decided that I’d select from among my personal favorites. In some cases, the item is something I’ve enjoyed over the years, and in others, a new discovery.
All the things on my list are local to the wine country and the Bay Area except one, making for easy shopping. The vendors at their shops and online, have large selections of similar items to explore beyond my personal favorites listed here.
Rancho Gordo Pozole Set
Steve Sando, from Rancho Gordo, packages his newest book, Pozole, along with a pound of white corn pozole, a pound of heirloom blue corn pozole, and a jar of Mexican oregano. The boxed set makes an ideal, ready to use gift for anyone who loves to cook, eat, and read about food. Steve’s style is witty, his recipes well-researched and time-tested, and his ingredients impeccable. I made pozole for the first time using Rancho Gordo Pozole, following one of Steve’s recipes, which is now incorporated into the book. Easy to do, incredible flavor, and many happy diners.
Rancho Gordo -1924 Yajome St. Napa, www.ranchogordo.com
New West Knifeworks Petty and Teton Knives
Over a year ago, the Petty utility knife was given to me as a gift, and I use it nearly every day. The Teton Edge Santoku knife is a new acquisition, and I got it just in time to make three terrines to serve at a harvest lunch. The blade flew through the meat. It makes me happy to feel the weight of these knives in my hand, to admire the swirl of colors in the handles, and to see the clean work they perform. They come in leather sheaths, which makes them easily portable. I took the utility knife with me on a recent camping trip, where, in the last rays of daylight, I sliced up tomatoes for salad. The knives are made near the Teton Mountains in Idaho, and there is a store in St. Helena.
New West Knifeworks—1380 Main St., St. Helena, www.newwestknifeworks.com
Cowgirl Creamery Classic Cheese Collection
Three cheeses, each named for an iconic aspect of Marin County, come in this Cowgirl Creamery Collection. Devil’s Gulch, dusted with dried sweet and spicy peppers from a Marin County farm is the creamery’s special winter cheese, and one I wait for each year. Mt. Tam, a buttery triple-cream is my perennial favorite, though it’s in competition with Red Hawk, another triple-cream, with a lush, brine-washed orange rind. Cowgirl Creamery, originating in Marin County and offers world-class cheeses. The collections are available only online, but cheeses can be purchased individually at various locations.
Cowgirl Creamery and Cantina – 80 Fourth St., Point Reyes Station, and Cowgirl Creamery & Sidekick Café – 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, www.cowgirlcreamery.com
Elsie Green Vintage French Cutting Boards
Each French vintage cutting board brings with it a story, its unspoken history. For 50, 60, 70 years, that board had pride of place in someone’s kitchen, maybe in a stone farmhouse, maybe in a tiny Parisian apartment. You can imagine the dishes it was used to prepare – Pot au Feu, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Ratatouille among so many more. My kitchen is well-stocked with French vintage ware and I need look no further than Elsie Green to find more. Elsie Green’s collection of French vintage cutting boards — and loads of other French vintage ware — is the result of owner and founder, Laurie Furber, seeking them out at the flea markets, brocantes, and estate sales of France and shipping them back to her warehouse. From there, they are at her stores and online.
Elsie Green Oak Grove -2954 Treat Blvd, Concord, and Elsie Green The Barlow, 6770 McKinley St., Sebastopol, www.elsiegreen.com
June Taylor Company Artisan Christmas Cake
English-born June Taylor specializes in hand-crafted jams, marmalades, candies, and syrups made from carefully sourced organic fruits and other ingredients. However, she outdoes herself at the holidays with her traditional Christmas cakes. They include four different grape varieties, which she dries herself to make the raisins that go into the cake. She candies her own citrus peels, dries seasonal Elephant Heart plums, Golden Sweet Apricots, and so much more. The fruits are rehydrated with aged port from Prager’s Winery and Port Works in St. Helena and the cake is soaked in plum brandy from St. George Spirits in Alameda. Dark and dense with an array of flavors and texture, the cakes are made by hand in small batches at Taylor’s workshop, The Still-Room. It’s there, too, that she hand paints the green and red cake wrappers before having them letter press printed with gold in a design inspired by “The Book of Kells.” June Taylor’s Christmas Cakes are a work of art and passion and make a special gift.
The Still-Room, 2207 4th Street, Berkeley,
Carter & Company, 1231 Main St., St. Helena.
Winter Market, November 30-December 1, Native Sons Hall, 1313 Spring St., St. Helena,
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, every Saturday, San Francisco
Bi-Rite Markets, 2639 18th St, San Francisco and 550 Divisadero St, San Francisco
Mighty Bite 5 Pound Vertical Sausage Stuffer
This stuffer, made in Ohio by Lem, is the real deal. It has proved a life-saver when it comes to making sausage at home which we do throughout the year, often just 5 pounds at a time. The hand crank is easy to turn, and the simple system quickly delivers perfectly stuffed sausages, regardless of whether they are the soft mousseline of boudin blanc or a coarse and spicy Italian sausage. The stuffer comes with three different sizes of tubes, available in stainless steel or plastic. The version with the stainless steel tubes is slightly more expensive. For an extra gift companion, I’d suggest the excellent book “In the Charcuterie,” by Fatted Calf owners, Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller.
—Lem Mighty Bite—www.lemproducts.com
“In the Charcuterie” by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller—Fatted Calf, 644 First St. Suite C, Napa and Fatted Calf, 320 Fell St., San Francisco.
Apricot – Pistachio Bars
These soft, almost chewy bars are redolent with the scents of the Middle East: apricots, pistachios, cardamom and mace. They are tartly sweet, rather cake-like and pack nicely into decorative tins or boxes for gift-giving.
1 teaspoon butter plus 1 cup (2 sticks), at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
2 cups coarsely chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried currants
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees
With the teaspoon of butter, grease a 10- by 15-inch baking pan.
In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the 1 cup butter and the sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending well. Add the orange zest and vanilla and beat again, blending well.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, mace, apricots, currants and pistachio and stir to mix well. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture and blend well. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes.
To make the icing
In a bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar and orange juice and mix to a medium-firm consistency. Spread on the top of the still-warm, uncut cookies in the pan and let stand until the icing sets. Cut the cookies in 1 1/2 inch squares.
To store, place in a single layers, separated by sheets of waxed paper, in an airtight tin or other container. Store for 2 to 3 days.
Makes 60–70 squares
Candied Grapefruit Peel
Batons of candied grapefruit peel make an elegant, seasonal gift. The amount of sugar in this recipe makes a relatively soft peel. If you want a firmer candied peel, use 2 cups of sugar to make the syrup.
2 large grapefruits, ruby or other variety
3 quarts plus 2 cups water
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
Cut a thick slice from the top and bottom of each grapefruit. From the top to the bottom, cut through the outer skin and thick, whitish pith to the fruit inside, spacing the cuts about 1 inch apart. Peel the grapefruits, keeping the skin and pith together.
Cut each of the peel sections lengthwise into long strips 1 /2 inch wide. You will have about 3 cups. Reserve the fruit for another use.
Pour the 3 quarts water into a saucepan and add the peel strips. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, until only an inch or so of water remains, about 1 hour. Using a slotted utensil, remove the peels from the pan and set them aside in a bowl.
In a stainless-steel or other nonreactive saucepan, combine the 2 cups of water with 1 cup of the sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Remove from the heat and stir the still-warm peels into the syrup. Let the peels stand for 6 or 7 hours at room temperature. Return the pan to low heat and cook the peels until they have absorbed all of the syrup, about 30 minutes. The peels will become translucent and amber. During the last stages of the cooking, keep a close eye on the peels to prevent scorching or burning.
Remove the cooked peels from the pan and spread them in a single layer on a piece of aluminum foil or waxed paper. They will be very sticky and supple. Let the peels stand for about 12 hours to dry slightly.
The next day, roll the peels, one by one, in the remaining ½ cup sugar. Leave them at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours to dry. Pack the candied peels into tins, boxes or glass jars in layers separated by waxed paper. Store in a cool dry place. The peels will keep for up to 2 months.
Makes about 3 dozen pieces.