Shopping & Reviews

The 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

If you've got food-obsessed friends and family to shop for this holiday season, check out our favorite finds before you whip out your wallet.

Kitchen Gadgets/Accessories Even your most fashion-forward friends can shop for groceries in style, thanks to these graphic-laden and reusable shopping bags from Envirosax. The bags can be wrapped up and stored in a purse easily, and they're incredibly strong--each one holds up to 44 pounds. A pouch of five bags costs $37.95 and individual bags cost $8.50.
Spruce up an outdoor dinner or happy hour with Govino's shatterproof wineglasses. These stemless vessels make it easy to enjoy wine during a picnic and are a cinch to handle because of their ergonomic thumb notches. $11.95 for a set of four.
The Jessie Steele company is reviving the era of the domestic goddess with its fabulous line of retro-chic, vintage-styled aprons. Proving that aprons can be both feminine and functional, these figure-flattering garments come in a variety of patterns, from floral to houndstooth, to suit any cook's taste. $32.95 each.
Domestic Aesthetic, a New York-based company, commits itself to using only environmentally friendly raw materials, which means it not only produces visually stunning products, but it also contributes to a more sustainable world. DA's handmade bamboo tray is the perfect serving platter for sushi, appetizers, or even breakfast in bed. $80 each.
It's never too early to teach children proper dining habits. Royal VKB's colorful Kid Puzzle Dinner Tray makes mealtime fun by turning utensils, cups, and plates into interlocking puzzle pieces. Finally, there is an excuse to play with food at the dinner table. Available online at A+R for $55 each.
Taking lunch to school or work not only saves money; it's also a great way to eat those delicious leftovers from last night's dinner. These two bento box-style carriers are some of the best we've seen. The 100 percent-stainless steel [Duo by Lunchbots has two compartments that are just the right size for holding a sandwich and a snack. Zojirushi's aqua blue Ms. Bento Stainless Lunch Jar keeps lunches warm for up to six hours and comes with two inner bowls, a set of chopsticks, and a mini tote bag. The Lunch Jar is available online on Amazon for $35. The Duo is $14.99.
Donabes--Japanese ceramic pots--are ubiquitous throughout Japan and are becoming more common in American kitchens too. They're ideal for hot pot cooking, reheating, and serving soup straight from the stovetop to the table. Korin's Mishima Donabe is a steal at only $22.
Say good-bye to boring, one-color paper cupcake holders. These baking cups by Kalasform and Vestli House come in fun, colorful patterns (our favorites are paisleys and florals) and will delight baking enthusiasts. Both brands are available online at Bake It Pretty. $6.25-$6.95 each.
Passionate tea drinkers understand the advantages of loose-leaf tea over tea bags. Thanks to Floz Design's Tea Stick Infuser, having just a single cup of tea, as opposed to brewing an entire pot, is no longer a messy, complicated matter. The sleek stick holds the perfect amount of leaves for an individual mug, and does double duty as a stirring spoon. Available online at the [MoMA Store]( Stick Infuser_10451_10001_24457) for $24 each.
Royal Copenhagen's china is so elegant, it's fit for a queen¿literally. Louise Campbell's hand-painted ceramic Elements dish and platter are part of a flatware collection that's used for serving the Queen of Denmark. The pristine white platter is an eye-catching piece, ideal for serving hors d'oeuvres or petit fours during holiday cocktail parties. We think there's no better way to splurge this season. $150 each.
Home cooks will covet Kai's Tan Ren line of supersharp knives. The bread knife, with its heat- and moisture-resistant wood handle and razor-sharp edge, is designed to guarantee both comfort in use and precision. Available at Crate and Barrel for $84.95 each.
Entertainment In addition to her baking and blogging skills, the founder of Cakespy, Jessie Oleson, is also a talented illustrator, and has created a line of original artwork featuring such characters as Cuppie (the cupcake), Toastie, Pie Slice, and Doughnut. These framed and whimsical watercolors will add a bit of sweet kitsch to any kitchen. $25-$45 each.
A passionate foodie and an environmentalist, Louisa Shafia, shares her tips for earth-friendly cooking in her cookbook _Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life_ (Ten Speed Press, 2009). Recipes for dishes like roasted beets with persimmons over market greens and Indonesian corn fritters are categorized by season to highlight the freshest produce and local ingredients available. It's also packed with information about eco-friendly shopping and more. $22.50.
Forking Fantastic! (Gotham Books, 2009) by Zora O'Neill and Tamara Reynolds, the creators of a famed New York underground supper club, is a hilarious compilation of plate-licking recipes, foolproof menus, and playful anecdotes that will help even the most inexperienced cook entertain a group. $20.
Drink This: Wine Made Simple (Ballantine Books, 2009) by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a straightforward, witty guide that works to make wine accessible to everyone. Useful tips on buying, tasting, and serving wine are included. $26.
For pork lovers, it doesn't get much better than Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon (Zingerman's Press, 2009). From bacon trivia to surprisingly good recipes (bacon fat mayonnaise, anyone?), this read lives up to its name. $29.99.
For a chef, knife skills are paramount, and Marianne Lumb's Kitchen Knife Skills (Firefly, 2009) shows the home cook how to handle knives like a pro. Filleting a fish never looked so easy. $24.95.
Curious about the best way to prepare artichokes or bone a duck? Jacques P¿pin has the answers. The Complete Pepin: Techniques and Recipes>, a two-disc DVD set, features 41 recipes and dozens of time-saving techniques, plus plenty of face time with the lovable French master. $29.99.
I Know How to Cook (Phaidon), written in 1932 by a 23-year-old culinary prodigy, Ginette Mathiot, has long been championed in France; now, a new translation by Clotilde Dusoulier of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini, promises to inspire American cooks too. More than 1,000 recipes, including ones for cassoulet and tarte tatin, establish this book on French home cooking as one of the best. $45.
Italian-food lovers take note: La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy (Rizzoli, 2009) is a masterpiece of regional Italian cookery. Created by the founders of the Italian Academy of Cuisine, it contains recipes for everything from a Ligurian caponata (a flavorful eggplant relish) to a Sicilian timballo. $45.
Edibles Chicagoans will tell you that the Spice House, which has several locations in the city, is the place to go for high-quality spices, from the most flavorful cinnamon to hard-to-find crushed Aleppo peppers. Its spice collections, composed of four different spices, include a baker's set that features Chinese powdered ginger and ground nutmeg. You can also select customized gift boxes. Collections start at $19.95.
Move over, Lipton's. Tea Forte's Tea ChestTea Chest offers 40 pyramid-shaped infusers stuffed with loose-leaf tea in flavors like Formosa oolong and white ginger pear. $45 for the collection.
Chocolate is a holiday gift staple, and rightly so. This year, we've sampled dozens, and have come up with our top three choices. For your socially conscious loved ones who celebrate Hanukkah, Divine Chocolate's milk chocolate coins ($3.99 per bag) are sweetly perfect. These smooth and creamy coins, which are both kosher and fair-trade, look just like gelt. Teuscher, makers of high-quality Swiss chocolates, earn high marks for their champagne truffles (boxes start at $37.50), luscious milk chocolates filled with ganache and champagne cream. The chocolatier Jonathan Grahm's signature truffles ($40 per box, at left) ($40 per box), which he hand-paints in his Brentwood, California, store, are almost too beautiful to eat, but one bite of any of his lovely creations proves that these chocolates taste as good as they look.
Made in Fort Worth, Texas, these tamales from Hot Damn, Tamales! include both traditional flavors (ancho pork) and unexpected ones (spinach, feta, and roasted pine nuts). Frozen, they'll keep for up to four months and make a terrific snack or last-minute meal. $6 for half a dozen.
Truly Toffee, a small, Los Angeles-based company, makes exceptional versions of this holiday treat. The assorted flavors box includes four knockout flavors, including our personal favorite, white chocolate pistachio. $23.95 per box.
Specialty oils, like toasted sesame, avocado, and hazelnut, can be added to everything from salad dressings to baked goods. Adventurous home cooks will get a thrill from La Tourangelle's trio of artisanal oils featuring walnut oil, grapeseed oil, and an oil of your choice. $24.95 for the set.
Baking purists swear that there's no substitute for high-quality vanilla. The Vanilla Company offers Tahitian vanilla beans, ground vanilla bean powder, and little-known vanilla paste, which has three times the strength of vanilla extract and an enticing aroma. $27 and up.
Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread, and Wine is an excellent source for classic and farmstead cheeses. Its cheese medleys and gift collections, including the Round the World collection and the Fromager's Selection Medley, offer perfect way to sample elegant cheeses without breaking the bank. $34.99 and up.
Nothing symbolizes the holidays quite like ham. Here are our top three favorite ways to enjoy the glorious pig. For four generations, Allen Brothers has aged and smoked its honey-glazed ham (from $89.95); we think there's no better crowd-pleaser. Jamon iberico is the crown jewel of Spain's gastronomic offerings, but until 2005, it was available only in Spain. Luckily, companies like D'Espana Brand Foods have started importing it. For an authentic and indulgent taste of Spain, buy an entire leg of Iberico or Iberico Bellota ham, made from pigs that have been fattened for months on acorns. From approximately $700 (priced per pound). Dry-cured and aged using 19th-century techniques, the sausages and cured meats from Salumeria Biellese in New York City are in a league of their own. The company's sampler packages feature a range of its highly acclaimed sausages, including the Sopresata Toscana and Napolitana. From $49.95.
Hammond's Candies has been purveying handcrafted sweets since 1920. The company's hand-pulled ribbon candies range from clove-cinnamon to peanut butter, and its candy canes come in unlikely flavors like sugar plum and cranberry. They make perfect stocking stuffers. From $16.50.
Got a coffee fan in your social circle? Give him or her a Counter Culture Single Espresso subscription. On the first Monday of every month, subscribers receive two 12-ounce bags of the North Carolina-based company's ultrafresh beans, from Espresso Aficionado and Espresso La Forza to Decaf Espresso Rustico. Available in three-month or six-month increments. $76.83 and up.
Excursions ICE, the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, is not only a world-renowned school but also a place where home cooks can learn and have some fun. The school's recreational classes range in time from a few hours to several days. Perennial favorites like Essentials of Thai Cooking and Best Homemade Pizza, take place weekly and holiday classes include ones themed on holiday hors d'oeuvres and cookies . $80 and up.
Everyone loves to eat sushi, but how many people know how to make it? The California Sushi Academy conducts one-day basic sushi classes that teach students how to make popular rolls. The best part of the class is devouring your creations once the rolling is finished. From $80.
For coffee fans, nothing beats a perfect espresso or an artfully made latte. Now the most talented baristas are sharing their skills through the Chicago-based company Intelligentsia. Classes taught in two cities--New York Lab and Chicago Roasting Works--break down the intricacies of home brewing, milk steaming, and more. From $45.
Advocates of the farm-to-table movement will swoon at the chance to attend a dinner organized by the California company Outstanding in the Field The group works with chefs and local farmers to arrange five-course meals that take place at farms and make use of seasonal products. Participants can tour the farms and chat with the farmers, ranchers, and cheese-makers. Tickets go on sale the first day of spring next year (March 21) and range in cost from $180 to $220, depending on the location.

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