Sunday, January 29, 2012

10 Valentine's Gifts...for Foodies!

I have a love/hate relationship with Valentine's Day. I love the idea of a holiday that celebrates love and romance. But giant red bears and drugstore chocolate are liable to send me into a fit of fury. The idea of commemorating something special with something so generic rubs me the wrong way. Especially when it's so easy to find something unique for a person that loves food. Although I give examples in each category, these are definitely things you can run with and personalize. So put down the Whitman's Sampler and get them something they really want.

1. Chocolate


This could be anything from good baking chocolate to truffles. My favorite truffles to date hail from Asheville, NC from a little shop called The Chocolate Fetish. Specifically, I like their dark chocolate European style Ecstasy truffles. I'm obsessed with one called 'Ancient Pleasures', which is dusted with cayenne pepper. They also have truffles infused with things like champagne, lavender, wine and rose water. You can customize an assortment of 12 online and have them delivered for about $35 including shipping. You can also add a complimentary gift message.

I've also heard fantastic things about Amedei Chocolate. Food and Wine said they make some of the world's best chocolate. I've been dying to try some of their single origin bars including the Chuao and Porcelana bars. They run about $12 to $16 plus shipping for a 1.75 oz bar through Chocosphere.

Up the romance factor by making chocolate part of a "sensual flavor pairing" by wrapping it up with a good bottle of wine that complements the chocolates.

2.  Culinary Tours & Supper Clubs

This is essentially a nice date that you can wrap up the tickets to. And it's more fun than a stuffy wine or cooking class. Lots of cities offer culinary tours that are walking tours that stop and sample the fare at several different restaurants. Often, the chef prepares and presents one of the restaurant's signature dishes. Atlanta Culinary Tours runs 5 different tours in the Atlanta area (I'm personally dying to try their Inman Park & Old Fourth Ward tour).

A supper club can mean a variety of things, but I'm thinking of the underground type that are popping up all over big cities.  They're run by home cooks and feature a set menu. You can often find clubs by googling, but seating is often very limited. You'll want to get on their e-mail list early and realize that smaller or more popular clubs can sell out an event fast. Here's an article from a couple years back about the supper club phenomenon and that lists some of the clubs in Atlanta. 

3. Homemade Delicacies

If my husband brought me some dried out cookies, brownies, or some such from the grocery store for Valentine's Day, I'd probably chuck them at his head. But if he made them himself and attached a cute note, I would love it. Bonus points for poems, a pretty write-up of the recipe, cute packaging, a handmade card, and elaborate frosting jobs. Browse recipe sites like allrecipes.com or food.com for inspiration. This White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake is from allrecipes.com.


4. Craft Beer, Wine, & Booze

Unless you're giving something very rare to a connoisseur, here's how to give alcohol the classy way. Instead of giving just a bottle of booze or champagne, give a signature Valentine's cocktail by attaching a recipe and a cocktail shaker or other gear they need to make it. As a person with a pretty extensive liquor cabinet, I'd love to get a more unusual liqueur like St. Germain with a recipe such as this Cherub's Cup

5. Cookbooks

Pick a good one and write a great inscription. Better yet, offer to make a dinner based on any recipe of their choosing. If you have a great collection of favorite recipes, you could also take this to the next level by creating and printing your own cookbook through an online service such as shutterfly.com.


6. Appliance & Tool Splurges

If you have more money to spend on your gift and you know the recipient really well, this could be an option. For example, if you're giving to an avid baker, how cool would it be to give a Kitchenaid stand mixer in their favorite color. If you think your sweetheart would be okay with it, you could also try to score a bargain by getting something used through an auction site like ebay or a classified site like Craig's List.

7. Coffee & Tea

You could go a lot of different ways with this one. You could pick up a hard-to-find coffee like Jamaican Blue Mountain (If you're in Atlanta, Your Dekalb Farmer's Market sells it for about $33 per pound) or give a coffee subscription like this awesome single origin subscription from Counter Culture Coffee.

For tea drinkers, there are tons of good online purveyors like Mighty Leaf that sell cool samplers of tea. Personally, I'd do a back flip if someone sent me this Chocolate Truffle Tea Collection.

8. Gadgets Galore 
 
I am not generally a fan of single use gadgets. Seriously, I have an apple slicer someone gave me five plus years ago that I've never used. However, if you know your recipient well, there are lots of cool and useful things for the kitchen. The top gadgets in my kitchen are my immersion blender, mandoline slicer, garlic peeler, and food scale. For bakers there are silicone baking mats, rolling pins that measure dough thickness, and cookie scoops. For carnivores there are meat mallets, flavor injectors, and meat thermometers with alarms. And the list goes on and on.    


9. Fancy Pantry Staples

Olive oil, vinegar, sugar, flour, and salt are all in the pantry of anyone who likes to cook. But what about ginger infused sugar, smoked sea salt, or blueberry balsamic vinegar? There are lots of fun and unique items that can be found in gourmet shops and at online retailers. The last time I was in St. Louis, I was delighted to find this shop, which sells a huge line of olive oil, vinegar, exotic salts, and infused sugars.  

10. Plants & Grow-Your-Own Kits

For gardeners, consider giving edibles. You could give simple herbs that could be grown in a kitchen window or even potted fruit trees. Meyer lemon trees, blueberry bushes, certain fig trees, and much more can be grown in pots on a patio or deck (no backyard required). Another cool trend I've recently become aware of is that you can grow your own gourmet mushrooms at home, often in something as simple as a bucket of used coffee grinds. This company sells a selection of mushroom starter kits.

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