Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Olive and Vine – I did a blog post on this incredible place and yet I still struggle to put into words how stunningly delicious their products are. Think forty different varieties of extraordinarily fresh extra-virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars from around the world to be considered with their unique tasting notes in the same way that vinophiles consider wine! For example … a single-origin oil from Chile called “Arbequina” – described as having mild intensity, grassy and smooth with a lovely floral aroma and a slight pungency. Or consider an “infused” oil such as the Rich Roasted Garlic – a delicious all-around cooking oil that enhances almost any dish – truly the heart of Mediterranean cooking. Then there’s the Balsamic Vinegars aged up to 18 years including the classic made in Modena Italy … dense, smooth and complex with perfectly balanced acidity. But I truly nearly cried over the infused vinegars – the strawberry infused, the honey-spiked ginger and the lemongrass “white” balsamic … I could go on and on. By the way, you can taste everything in the store and everything is bottled on the spot to guarantee freshness. Located in CityCentre; http://oliveandvineshop.com/
Salted Caramels – I’ve eaten plenty of salted caramels (in the name of research!) and I’m madly in love with the Celtic Sea Salt caramels from www.bequetconfections.com. The creamy/buttery intensity combined with the salty finish is sheer heaven. I can’t imagine that any of the other varieties suck, either (like the chipotle butter caramel).
Nescafe Dolce Gusto by Krups – essentially this cute little machine provides an inexpensive, easy way to enjoy Italian coffee drinks without an espresso machine utilizing the little “pods” that have become so popular (in this case, by the Nestle brand and referred to as capsules). I was shocked by the portability, ease of operation and the tastiness of the drinks (even the “crema” capsules providing the!). You can also enjoy a “plain” cup of coffee via the “Café Americano”, Espresso, Caramel or Vanilla Latte Macchiato, Mocha, Chococino, Cappucino Ice … you get the idea. You can pick one of these up for under $100 on Amazon and a 30-pack of the capsules (including a display carousel) for $19.99. I’m a nut for Amazon Prime shipping, by the way … $70 for a year of two-day shipping. Of course you can get the capsules elsewhere … Target, Walmart, etc.
Spices – I have been a fan of Penzey’s Spices for many years, via their catalog long before they had a retail location here. I figured market research spiked by my own purchases helped us to get a store in fact. They have a zillion different gift packages – everything from the “Baker’s Assortment” to “Some Like it Hot” … packages for making chili, flavors of Asia, Steak Seasonings, Indian Curries (sweet curry, hot curry, maharajah curry powder w/ saffron, tandoori chicken seasoning and Rogan Josh!). Gorgeous peppercorns, sea salt, vanilla and the most amazing cinnamon you’ll ever discover. Order online at www.penzeysspices.com or visit the awesome store to experience more than 250 spices and seasonings at 516 W. 19th St. in the Heights.
Le Creuset cookware – the new location in Rice Village is a pleasure to visit – you’ll never see so much Le Crueset in one place, in every color of the rainbow. The room is filled with heirloom-quality pieces any cook would love, made from the legendary cast iron coated in a porcelain enamel glaze (sigh) along with bake ware, accessories and awesome cookbooks. Each Le Creuset piece passes through the hands of 15 skilled craftsmen. You can’t go wrong. 5515 Kelvin in Rice Village.
Garrett Popcorn – I made my Mom stand out in the freezing Chicago rain with me, in line for more than a half hour waiting for a bag of this magical munchie knowing that she’d stop thinking I had lost my mind once she took her first bite of this amazing, handcrafted gourmet popcorn. The “Chicago-Mix” is the mixture of CaramelCrisp® with the savory CheeseCorn™ - it will blow their mind. Numerous “tins” and other gift options abound at www.garretpopcorn.com. It ships fresh … trust me … we know from experience around here since we don’t get to Chicago nearly as often as we need this popcorn.
Chocolate – This could really be its own list. I truly love really wonderful chocolate (and I’m not the least bit tempted by inferior chocolate). If you have a true chocoholic on your hands … take heed:
Araya Chocolate – fresh, gorgeous chocolates made in Katy (retail shops in Katy and on W. Gray) using only premium Venezuela chocolate, cream, natural fruits, nuts, infusion, honey and liquors. They are as beautiful to look at as they are stunningly delicious and with flavors like “Moroccan Tea” (intense dark ganache infused with a Moroccan mixture of mint and black tea), they’re far from the ordinary. Love. www.arayachocolate.com.
Mast Brothers Chocolate – Experience “craft chocolate” … made with beans from a single farm, village or province; organically farmed, fermented and imported to New York where they masterfully create the single most amazing bars of chocolate I’ve ever experienced. No butter, oils, vanilla, soy, preservatives of emulsifiers added. The “Almonds and Sea Salt” (made with 74% cacao, organic almonds roasted in olive oil along with Maine sea salt) was profound in its pure simplicity of flavors and insane texture. You can order 10 Bars for $80 at www.mastbrothers.com .
L.A. Burdick Hot Chocolate – I’ve tried a lot of hot chocolate mixes and this is the best I’ve found made from a unique blend of shaved chocolate from the Caribbean and South America. I prefer the dark chocolate but they also have milk chocolate and white chocolate in bags from 12 oz. to 5 lbs! Now that’s a stocking stuffer! www.burdickchocolate.com. While you’re at it, get some fresh/amazing Queen Bee Marshmallows (available at Central Market or various area famer’s markets). They come in amazing flavors like Vanilla Bean or Peppermint Swirl. Their cocoa mix is good, too!
Vosges Haut Chocolate – Katrina Markoff, founder of Vosges is a visionary and a personal hero of mine … google her inspiring story! It has probably been about a decade since her chocolates first blew my mind and she continues to create astonishing flavor combinations and products including her famous “Mo’s Bacon Bar” (available in milk and dark – and she was doing this way before anybody else was doing bacon with chocolate and now in a pancake mix!); another favorite is the Barcelona Exotic Candy Bar with hickory smoked almonds and fleur de sel sea salt in deep milk chocolate (and I typically don’t care for milk chocolate). In addition to the bars, there are gorgeous truffles, intensely flavored caramels and the completely addictive Caramel marshmallows – dark chocolate, vanilla bean marshmallow, caramel and toffee crumbles (I’m clapping now). There is an insane assortment of gifts on their site and everything is beautifully packaged. www.vosgeschocolate.com
Queen Bee Marshmallows/Cocoa Mix – These fresh, beautiful marshmallows come in flavors like Peppermint and Vanilla Bean. They also have a “Cocoa for Two” package featuring their signature Vahlrona chocolate cocoa mix and chocolate pearls for a delicious hot chocolate topped off with the fresh marshmallows in your choice of flavors. They’ll love you for it. You can pick it up at Central Market or at most all of the Urban Harvest Farmer’s Markets.
The Grateful Bread- The maple-cured slab bacon (named “best in Texas” by Rob Walsh) is truly a thing of wonder along with the artisan Pancetta and Guanciale, Artisan aged Worcestershire Sauce (aged 3 months - great in a Bloody Mary), tart cherry mustard and pretty amazing vanilla extracts, vanilla paste and more. You will find Al Marcus and his gourmet goodness at various Urban Harvest Farmer’s Markets or you can order online with free delivery within 10 miles of downtown for orders of $35 or more. www.thegratefulbread.com
Fluff Bake Bar – pretty much anything award-winning pastry chef Rebecca Masson comes up with would melt the heart of any foodie. She makes a mean French macaron in a variety of flavors and her her infamous Fluffernutter cookie (oatmeal/peanut butter cookies sandwiched with peanut butter cream and marshmallow fluff). My current obsession however is her take on the classic Oreo. Dark chocolate cookies with a hint of salt sandwiched with a white buttercream filling and I’m also huge fan of her ginger cookies, with their intense flavor and raw sugar crunch. Available within Revival Market or by special order at www.fluffbakebar.com.
Michael’s Cookie Jar – These all-butter cookies are a hit any time of year but they are especially precious for the holidays. With a variety of holiday-specific offerings like peppermint shortbread and beautifully delicious gingerbread men, an even cleverer gift idea is the “cookie decorating party pack” of a dozen cookies, sprinkles, sugar and icing supplies for onsite decorating – a guaranteed hit. 5330 Weslayan Street (behind Petco). www.michaelscookiejar.com
The Path of Tea – Houston’s only totally organic tea shop featuring more than 145 varieties of premium organic , fair-trade teas. The friendly staff are happy to guide you through a fun, sensory experience to choose the best gift – perhaps a beautiful Green tea, Oolong, Chai or Roobios tea. Or consider a gift certificate for a tasting class with owner Thia McKann – Texas’ only certified “Tea Master” (one of only 14 such experts in the country!). Lovely tea pots for perfect brewing are also available. 2340 W. Alabama. www.thepathoftea.com
Revival Market – fresh foods sourced from local farmers, ranchers, cheese makers and food artisans as well as house-made stales like vinegar, pickles and jams plus local Katz Coffee. Their housemade charcuterie is outstanding and they always have a variety of cheeses from the Houston Dairy Maids and Blue Heron Farms. I love the olive oils sourced from the Hill Country (available in bulk or by the bottle) and the Rancho Gordo dried heirloom beans. They’ve got awesome baskets ready to go or you could create your own and they’ll package for you. Such a happy place. 550 Heights Blvd. (@White Oak). www.revivalmarket.com
Cooking Classes – For the foodie who loves to cook – consider a gift certificate for a cooking class (think “knife skills” for the novice cook … life changing). We actually have a number of resources in Houston – check out these options:
Posted by Jodie Eisenhardt at Tuesday, December 20, 2011