Kate presents Part Two of her Holiday Gift Guide 2010, including tasty treats like Hey, Sugar! Cookies, BT Baking's Brownies and Amy's Cookies, as well as kitchen gadgets like a Mini-Prep Knife and a Kitchen Scale plus picks a few favorite holiday recipes in What To Eat This Month.
by Kate Heyhoe
We started our holiday shopping months ago by testing a slew of cooks' tools and gourmet goodies. Our report to Santa: Stuff these goodies in your bag for this year's food lovers and cooks—and don't forget Part I of our guide for more gifts.
What's a holiday without sweets? We've discovered some artisanal, small-batch bakers whose cookies and brownies are rich, swoonable, and plump with fresh-baked taste—even after being shipped long distances. These aren't your everyday sweets, and you'll be smart to order some for your own family, or for Santa's visit. Also, if you can't finish these treats right away, no worries: we discovered their quality lasts for days and even longer if refrigerated or frozen, so you can savor their goodness over time.
Taste the passion in these sweeties. This Chicago owner bakes cookies at night, and works as a financial consultant by day (when does she sleep?). Let's hope she finds time to keep baking these gems, because they're worth quitting her day job over. Inside each assortment, these plump cookies come wrapped in pairs, to keep them fresh (nice touch). The Hey, Holidays! Assortment ($28) includes 24 cookies in three flavors: I Heart Ginger, a soft, chewy ginger cookie with real bits of crystallized ginger and sprinkled with ginger-sugar; Cranberry Starlet is buttery rich with cranberries, white chocolate chips, almonds, and a refreshing hit of orange zest; and Minty Choc3 packs mint and three types of chocolate. We like them for their true bakery-fresh tastes and textures. She has other flavor assortments, or mix and match by the dozen, too.
Order from www.HeySugarChicago.com website.
It's hard to pick a favorite from Amy's collection of more than 30 different types; some are butter-crumbly, some filled with jam, others nutty, and others deeply rich or deliciously delicate. Her Brooklyn bakery is famous for Amy-O's sandwich cookies: like Oreo's from another dimension, with intense chocolate wafers on the outside, soft buttercream or ganache inside (espresso or chocolate flavored), and in some cases, dipped in melted dark or white Belgian chocolate for that over-the-top touch. Amy isn't just a third-generation artisan baker, she's also a fine arts graduate from Pratt Institute. The Amy-O Collection contains 16 chocolate-sandwich cookies in four varieties ($25); or pick the Holiday Gift Tin ($48) for a fun sampler that includes ginger thins, raspberry-thumbprints, buttery crescents, pecan butterballs, and chocolate stars, to name a few.
Find them at www.amyscookies.com.
When does one brownie taste like four? You could easily devour a whole BT Brownie at once (with milk chaser, perhaps?). But these babies are so full of flavor and so large, we cut our BT Brownies into four solid chunks, for perfect bite-size accompaniments to tea, coffee, or ice cream. Try the Chocolate Brownie, rich with 70% dark chocolate and ultra-fudgy; and get happy with two flavors that are baked in layers over the same Chocolate Brownie: the Peanut Butter, and the Cookie Brownie (chocolate chip cookie dough). There's goodness in every bite: premium organic ingredients, no refined sugars, Fair Trade chocolate, and local, hormone-free dairy and eggs. Plus they donate 1% of sales to environmental organizations. "BT" stands for Better Together, the motto of the husband-wife team who left the corporate world for the sweet side of life (which in this case is Philadelphia, where lucky locals can buy BT brownies all over town).
Mail order their brownies at www.BTBaking.com.
If you served these treats at a party on a fancy cheese platter, no one would notice that they're actually dog biscuits. Seriously, they're made from ingredients as pure and wholesome as the best people-food. And don't good dogs deserve the best? Bocce's Bakery treats are free of wheat flour, preservatives, and added chemicals and contain only four to six ingredients, which are also organic, and where appropriate, free-range, grass-fed and antibiotic-free. Our gals Maggie and Koko go nuts for these crunchy treats, especially the Beef Bourguinon (organic rye flour, grass-fed beef, organic carrots and parsley, and cage-free egg whites, with nothing else). The PB 'n' J treats have just four all-organic ingredients: oat flour, peanut butter, non-fat yogurt, and blueberries. Three other flavors include Grandma's Apple Pie, Chicken Cordon Blue, and The Elvis (peanut butter, bananas and turkey bacon). The cost is $9.50 per 5-ounce bag, and the company ships nationwide.
Order at www.BoccesBakery.com.
...for tasteful, stylish gifts. I've got three personal gift suggestions, but Kir DeVries' online boutique has plenty more. Think: eye-catching, practical, well-crafted, and most with a good, green sheen.
First, the Weekender Tote zipper-topped bag is designed for quick getaways, but it's also handy as an everyday jumbo shopping tote, made from durable cotton canvas. It's got ample room for your handbag, jacket, change of clothes, and more. Inside is a sewn-in pocket/sleeve for sliding your laptop into (cool!), a zippered pouch (for valuables), and a biodegradable moisture-resistant lining. Outside, ten big pockets carry everything from mobile devices to scarves, gloves, shoes, and even bottles of wine for your hosts. Carry it by the short handles or a long shoulder strap. The Weekender Tote comes in six patterns and colors ($62). Brilliant idea: Use this tote as a gift "basket," with gourmet treats and wine bottles slid in the side pockets, or a selection of fancy toiletries and towels, or more goodies from Kir DeVries, like the ones below...
Buy the Weekender Tote Bag.
The Envirosax reusable shopping bags are another gift that can be multi-purposed. They're so pretty you'll want to use them as gift bags instead of wrapping paper. Their low price and light weight belies their sturdiness (ripstop, waterproof polyester; each holds up to 40 pounds) and at Kir DeVries, you can mix and match from dozens of colors and patterns. They roll up so compactly you can even fit one in your jeans pocket.
Pick any 5 envirosax bags for $39.95; or 4 bags for $34.95, both with a free carrying pouch. Individual bags in the same great designs are available for $8.95, and the kids' bags include cat, dog and bunny images.
As a stocking stuffer, or to drop in the pocket of your big tote, consider the Bambu Spork & Cork Travel Set ($9.95). The bamboo spork (a fork on one end and spoon on the other) slides into a cork sleeve (a little longer than a business card). Perfect for brown baggers or diners on the go, or for picnics. It also makes a nifty accompaniment to Kir Devries' bento boxes, and their lunch totes that look more like fashion handbags. Other stocking stuffers from the site include designer water bottles, business card cases, dip mixes, herb gardens, and more.
Buy the Bambu Spork & Cork Travel Set.
Living green is easy with these daily tips, from eco-expert Linda Mason Hunter. Put this page-a-day style calendar on your desk or hang it on the wall where everyone can benefit from its good green advice—like using gravel or sand to de-ice, rather than salt, which can damage plants and soil. Or a New Year's Resolution in four parts: Use it up. Wear it out. Make do. Do without. It's a practical and handy way to shrink your cookprint and your carbon footprint.
Buy the Earth Day Calendar.
Who knew a small cleaver-like knife with a 3-inch nonstick blade would be so handy, but it's great for use on small cutting boards and for quick-chops on small amounts. Set the Kuhn Rikon Mini-Prep Knife on the cheese board for hard cheeses. Mince herbs and chop garlic. The sharp, high-carbon, Japanese steel blade comes with a yellow plastic sheath for storage or carrying on a picnic.
Buy the Kuhn Rikon Mini-Prep Knife.
Today's dedicated cooks and bakers know the value of a digital kitchen scale, and EatSmart's Precision Pro is just right for the everyday kitchen. It includes a tare feature (so you can set a bowl on the scale, for instance, then zero it out before adding ingredients), and an auto shut-off. It weighs up to 11 pounds (5 kg), and runs on batteries. And since we all need more space, the compact footprint (and sleek design) makes this a good fit for any size kitchen. It comes with a guide for calorie-counting and portion control, too, which may be handy for post-holiday diets. (Tip: I also use mine as a postal scale.)
Buy the Precision PRO Kitchen Scale.
Our picks for books with a special point of view (click on the titles for complete cookbook profiles:
Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen—Another pro book that wannabe chef's will adore
Food Substitutions Bible, 2nd Edition—A must for every kitchen, now with even more info.
The Cook's Book of Intense Flavors: 101 Surprising Flavor Combinations—Creativity-seeking cooks will leap out of their ruts using these flavor combinations
Copyright © 2010, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified December 2010
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