Looking for gift suggestions? Here is my holiday gift guide, chock-full of product recommendations for you and your loved ones. I was lucky to discover some amazing small businesses this past year, businesses with guts, grit, and a lot of determination to continue their journey in the midst of pandemic-driven uncertainty. This holiday gift guide is dedicated to them – I hope my recommendations will convince you to give these businesses a try 🙂
1. Book gifts
- America’s Test Kitchen’s The Chicken Bible
A book makes a great gift, and the following 2 examples are a case in point. Chicken is a home cook’s best friend, and it’s the star ingredient in various cuisines across the country and around the world. You can cook it any way you like: grilled, fried, roasted, baked, braised, etc. Still, sometimes chicken can feel more like an obligation to cook, rather than something you are excited to eat. Enter America’s Test Kitchen’s The Chicken Bible:
The Chicken Bible features close to 600 foolproof recipes, as well as step-by-step technique tutorials, food safety information, seasoning tips and tricks, brand recommendations etc. There is a chicken and turkey parts chart, with photographs which break down the various cuts, and give you helpful information on the best ways to cook them. You’ll also find chapters on how to cook chicken in an Instant Pot, sous vide, and air fryer. For smaller meals, you have the “Cooking for Two” chapter. Indeed, the chapters are organized based on the cooking method or type of meal (easy dinners, roasts, braises, simple sautés and stir-fries, breaded and fried, pastas and noodles etc.). Over 180 of the recipes featured in this book can be made in 45 minutes or less, yay!
I tested many recipes from The Chicken Bible, and while going through the book I got very excited about these super saucy Slow Cooker Sundried Tomato & Basil Turkey Meatballs:
I sauteed the veggies with tomato paste instead of microwaving them. Also, I didn’t have fresh basil, so I used dried basil, and fresh thyme for decoration. These aside, I followed the recipe to the letter, and it was a big success. I served the meatballs with Monteverde’s artisan gnocchetti – the perfect sturdy, wholesome, reliable “vehicles” for this super saucy goodness. Lastly, I took the liberty of adding freshly grated parmesan, bought from another extraordinary small local business, Caputo Cheese (you can read my comprehensive review of their cheeses here). De-licious!
- Volta Voloshin-Smith’s Watercolor Snacks
From a syrup-drenched stack of fluffy pancakes and a golden-brown flaky croissant to an overflowing bowl of comforting ramen for lunch, and a three-layer frosted strawberry cake for dessert, Watercolor Snacks: Inspiring Lessons for Sketching and Painting Your Favorite Foods by Volta Voloshin-Smith details everything needed to create mouthwatering images for every meal of the day.
Perfect for food lovers, beginning artists, and anyone who wants to explore the world of watercolors through easy and accessible prompts and exercises, Watercolor Snacks is a colorful guide that walks you through basic techniques and how to apply them to create beautiful, delicious-looking paintings. Artist and instructor Volta Voloshin-Smith shares step-by-step lessons for sketching and painting 35+ foods for breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, dessert, and drinks.
Voloshin-Smith, who grew up in Moldova during the dissolution of the Soviet Union before moving to the US in 2002, is the founder of Color Snack, where she makes ready-made prints and commissions. “I love painting foods because it’s a way to celebrate people’s culture and create community,” she said. “My favorite part about food is being able to share a meal with someone else. Food brings people together and I try to celebrate that fact and also the ingredients with watercolor illustrations and animations.”
The first of its kind, this book also includes recommended watercolor supplies, basic watercolor techniques, color theory basics, and common watercolor problems and solutions. I have found Voloshin-Smith’s book a joy to the eye and the heart, and I believe it would make the perfect gift for foodies and non-foodies alike who have a penchant for watercolors. Superb book, detailed info, and overall an amazingly immersive learning experience!
2. Spectacular seafood
- Sitka Salmon Shares
If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know my love for Sitka Salmon Shares runs deep (you can read my previous posts here, here and here). I cooked with Sitka Salmon Shares’ fish many times this year, and as always I was moved by the flavors and freshness of the fish as much as I was by the underpinning values of the company. This festive season, Sitka Salmon Shares is offering a range of Holiday Boxes of different sizes to suit all occasions, which come with a variety of salmon, whitefish or shellfish and exclusive recipes to make holiday entertaining easier. You can order their boxes here.
I recently made this salad for lunch, which features Sitka Salmon Shares’ wild Alaskan Coho salmon (pan fried with Aleppo pepper), red cabbage, carrots, cucumber, homegrown chia microgreens, pumpkin seeds, and holiday grapes (my faves!) for a delightful seasonal touch.
Flaky, melt-in-your-mouth moderately spicy salmon, cool and crunchy veggies, tender greens, and thirst-quenching grapes, ending with splashes of freshly squeezed lemon juice – you must try this combo, mmm…
3. Artisan gifts
- Here Here Market
On Here Here Market consumers can discover bespoke artisanal foods and/or the perfect gifts for foodie friends while supporting local and emerging culinary talent. As stated on the Here Here Market website, “From our iconic spicy jerk sauce to our divine chai and coffee, there’s nothing like artisanal cuisine. And we can deliver it right to your door—or to a friend as a gift—through our online marketplace (…) Secondly, we want to secure the hospitality industry’s future by strongly supporting our local culinary talent, as well as democratizing industry opportunity and access.”
You can read all about my beloved spice cake and get the recipe here and here. You are also welcome to check out these fabulous artisan products (and many others!) on Here Here Market. I was pleased to find a few new local favorites on their site, and I hope you’ll find yours too, this holiday season and beyond!
- Nguyen Coffee Supply
“Grown in Vietnam, roasted in Brooklyn,” Nguyen Coffee Supply was founded by Sahra Nguyen, first generation Vietnamese American and daughter of refugees, with a mission to tell the story of Vietnam’s coffee, and of its robusta beans in particular, in the most delicious and inclusive way possible.
Vietnam is the the world’s second largest coffee producer and number 1 producer of robusta beans, and yet, Sahra noticed that Vietnamese coffee had been “rendered invisible on the international markets, which leads to lack of transparency and representation.” The time was ripe for a change!
If you’ve never tried Vietnamese coffee before, I encourage you to do so- I was blown away by its complexity! Brewed slowly in the special Phin filter, enriched with sweetened condensed milk (or not!), this coffee needs to be experienced to be understood, its flavor providing a wonderful work of sensory beauty.
According to Treviso-based Tiramisu Academy, tiramisu “is considered a symbol of Italy’s gastronomic and cultural heritage.” While its origins are still debated, what is certain is that this dessert has withstood the test of time through a variety of interpretations which have added to its mystique and deliciousness. Here I used Chef Fabio Viviani’s recipe to provide my own fusion approach, by dunking ladyfingers in strong Nguyen Coffee Supply’s spectacularly strong fragrant coffee. The coffee added a distinctive robustness, which made the tiramisu a real “pick me up.” For balancing and seasonality, I used pomegranate arils and homemade pumpkin powder in lieu of cocoa powder.
I think you don’t need to be a coffee lover to appreciate the wonderful journey through coffee culture provided by Nguyen Coffee Supply. At a time when pure pleasures are in short supply as a result of the pandemic, taking the time to appreciate purposeful coffee storytelling can be a soul-fulfilling experience. I invite you to celebrate coffee as story and as art with Nguyen Coffee Supply!
- Tea Runners
Do you want to make sure you have the newest and most coveted teas on hand for you and your guests this holiday season? Look no further than to Tea Runners, a tea club whose members receive a curated collection of some of the world’s best loose leaf teas, along with tasting notes and brewing instructions, delivered to their door every month.
Tea Runners was created by Charlie Ritchie and Jewel Staite, who tasted hundreds of award-winning teas in their search for tea excellence. Many of the teas offered by Tea Runners are award-winners from the Global Tea Championship Awards, and almost all of their teas are USDA Certified Organic when bought from their suppliers.
Tea Runners offers a choice of four boxes and three delivery schedules, and the boxes can be customized from 15+ selections offered every month. If you’re not looking for a commitment, you can also shop individual teas.
All of the Tea Runners tea I tried were brimming with robust flavors, which indicated quality and freshness. The Mulled Wine variety (a complex blend featuring black tea, hibiscus, rosehip, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, clove, orange peel, and calendula) was my favorite. Described as strong, with “a kick from ginger and star anise,” this tea variety is sophisticated and charismatic. While cinnamon, orange peel and clove give it “the character notes of a tart mulled wine,” hibiscus and rose petal “smooth it into a fruity finish.” I was excited about the inclusion of cardamom, which made a fundamental difference to my overall enjoyment. Warm, spicy, seductive, the cardamom elevated this tea to new heights, while at the same time complementing the delightful sweetness of the treats I enjoyed in combo with the tea. Superb tea, highly recommended to brighten up your day, your season, and any sweet treat you pair it with 🙂
- Nuvo Olive Oil
Nuvo Extra Virgin Olive Oil was created in 2012, when Josh and Nathan, two brothers born and raised in Michigan, decided to visit their parents, who had retired and were living in Chico, California. While visiting, they became aware that their family owned a 125-year-old olive orchard in the area, but unfortunately no one was taking care of the trees. At one point there was even talk of bulldozing the olive orchard and selling the land! Thankfully, this plan didn’t succeed. Instead, the brothers soon met an Italian Master Miller, from whom they learned “craftsmanship the old-fashioned way, on the classic stone mill and vertical press systems.” As stated by josh and Nathan on their website, “With his profound know-how and with our entrepreneurial spirit, we truly believed we could save the olive orchard. We asked our parents to give us a chance and let us keep the orchard. We promised we would pour our heart and souls into saving the trees and would bring high-quality oils to our community.” And just like that, a wonderful small business was born.
Nuvo extra virgin olive oils are first cold pressed in a vacuum, unrefined, and extracted without the use of chemicals, to create some of the highest quality EVOO in the world. They contain abundant polyphenols/antioxidants (primarily beta-carotene), vitamin E, vitamin A, and other omega fatty acids.
In addition to EVOO, Nuvo also makes an excellent range of infused balsamic vinegar thanks to a partnership with a producer from Modena.
I have lost count of the dishes I made this year using Nuvo EVOO and balsamic vinegar, and I can’t wait to write a detailed post with all my recipes soon. In the meantime, here’s one of them, a savory oatmeal bowl which featured organic oats, sauteed Swiss chard and red bell pepper, nutritional yeast, oven roasted pumpkin seeds, baby kale, and fresh herbs. The kale, chives, thyme, and lemon balm in this bowl were from my garden (I hope to be able to grow peppers, too, one day). I finished off my savory oatmeal with Nuvo’s Taggiasca special edition EVOO. Sooo delicious, so fulfilling, so perfect!
- Erin’s Elderberries
I hope you agree with me when I say that everyone needs cookies during the holiday season 😉 If you don’t have the time to make your own, I recommend you try Erin’s Elderberries, a small business which specializes in elderberry jelly Christmas cookies and Linzer cookie kits – and so much more!
Erin’s Elderberries was born when PhD veteran former intelligence analyst (😯) Erin Mann decided to switch to natural remedies in an attempt to heal her young son. She discovered elderberries, started making elderberry syrup, started sharing the syrup with moms in her local community in Virginia – and the rest was history, as they say.
Erin sent me her Linzer cookie kit to try. These kits include step-by-step directions, as well as all of the dry ingredients (USDA Certified Organic) and the tools you need to make the cookies.
The Linzer cookie cutters come with the kit, and so does your choice of jelly!
The Linzer cookies were a huge success. Erin’s passion and desire to see you succeed were obvious to me- the instructions were super detailed, and I could really hear her talk to me while reading them (such a warm, personable writing style!) The resulting cookies were perfection, the delicate buttery layers held together by Erin’s delicious, life-affirming elderberry jelly 🤤
4. Cooking classes
- Spicy Affair
Instagram has been my social media of choice ever since the start of the pandemic, and I was blessed to find many amazing creators on this channel. One of them was Sunita Mistry of Spicy Affair, a culinary instructor born and raised in England currently living in Canada, who has a passion for sharing her rich Indian cooking heritage with the world. Growing up, Sunita had amazing role models to aspire to: “Friends, family and guests would compliment my mom’s cooking and ever since I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the wonderful aroma and sounds of her cooking. She is an amazing cook and I wanted to learn as much as I could from her on the traditions of Indian cooking. Fortunately for me not only did I have the same passion to learn but I had two amazing mentors to teach me, my Mom and my Ajima (maternal grandmother).”
I had the pleasure of connecting with Sunita on Zoom for a live cooking class this past summer, and it was such a great experience! During our session we made the following dishes, most of them vegan: Bombay Aloo…
Coriander Avocado Chutney…
Savory Chickpea Cake…
… and Pistachio and Cardamom Bliss Balls.
Sunita is very involved in her classes, and her instructions are easy to understand. She is also a great problem solver, skilled in successfully addressing the issues which might appear during a live Zoom cooking class. Her recipes are approachable, and the food is delicious and gorgeous!
Each dish was a delightful excursion through flavors, and a fabulous testament to the versatility and sophistication of Indian cuisine. I highly recommend Sunita’s cooking classes for the hands-on approach, the helpful tips, the easy to understand instructions, the resulting delicious dishes, and last but not least for Sunita’s one-of-a-kind personality. A wonderful holiday gift for the heart and the mind 🙂
*Disclaimer: While I received complimentary products to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.