Get ready. The holidays are already swinging and you still need to tackle the best part of your list. Of course you do—you always save the best for last. Wicked Tasty Harvest has drawn up a list of must-have and very-cool things to please anyone who loves food and local goodies. How do we know they'll love all of these things? Because we would. (Side-note to our stumped loved ones: Read on and stop fretting over which sweater we'd look hottest in. This season, we're all about the local treats.)
These amazing local treats make stunning gifts, and fill gift baskets and stockings deliciously well. If you arrive in style at the next holiday party with one of these in hand, the hosts will gush. These local favorites are all tasty, well-made, and sought after.
Homemade jams and preserves from Bonnie's Jams in Cambridge. Flavors like apricot-orange, raspberry and strawberry-ginger elevate breakfast toast into something special. $10.95, Formaggio Kitchen, Savenor's Market, Russo's and more.
Effie's Oatcakes and Corncakes from Hyde Park, MA, are the perfect biscuits for tea and cheese lovers. These crisp, crunchy and rather addictive biscuits are slightly sweet and salty—and they're just right for tea time or snack. They're also fantastic as a cracker with cheese. Try them with cheese and apples, a dollop of jam, or just plain. The oatcakes are a favorite for straight-up snacking and the corn is perfect for cheesy accompaniments. $6, at your local specialty store or at Whole Foods. Or buy them direct.
Taza Chocolate, made in their Somerville factory, offers a wide variety of tasty treats, from bars to nibs to hot chocolate scented with almond. They say they're the only American chocolate-makers offering stone-ground organic chocolate, employing a traditional grinding method from Oaxaca, Mexico. They work closely with growers to ensure top quality and fair pay. You can find the chocolate at many area stores, including holiday packages at Greenward, but if you need to buy in bulk (and who doesn't?), they're now offering free shipping on purchases of more than $50.
Lake Champlain Chocolates, made in Vermont, have some particularly appropriate holiday offerings, including a bag of silver- and gold-wrapped disks of dark chocolate and peppermint dark chocolate. They also have a lovely box of Chanukah gelt (and they're kosher), much tastier than what you ate in Hebrew school. Buy them at Whole Foods and Sherman Market in Somerville, starting at $8.
Perfect for someone who prefers sour to sweet: Root Cellar Preserves, local pickles that sell in stores around town such as Formaggio Kitchen, Harvest Coop, and Russo's. We particularly love their sweet and spicy pickle mix, $8.
Ask your neighborhood cheese purveyor for some lovely local cheeses. Some of our favorites include Cabot cloth-bound cheddar, Twig Farm Tomme, Vermont Butter and Cheese Company's Bijou aged goat cheese, Great Hill blue cheese, and Shy Brother's Farm's Hannahbells (pictured). Check out our holiday cheese plate primer or let your local cheese shop select a great combination of cheeses. Formaggio Kitchen and Farmstead (Providence, RI) both do amazing cheese baskets—and they ship. Don't forget about the Concord Cheese Shop and the delicious and deftly edited selection at Central Bottle. Cheese-lovers on your list are well-cared for in this area.
Traditional Goat's Milk Caramel from Fat Toad Farm is crazy delicious. It's like dulce de leche, but it's made from goat's milk, like cajeta. You can taste the flavor profile of goat's milk instead of the slick sweetness of cow's milk (also good, but different). Fat Toad Farm is a small family-run dairy in Brookfield, VT, and they make several flavors of their caramel: original, vanilla, cinnamon, and coffee. The original is awesome on ice cream, tea cakes, or a spoon. $9 at Formaggio Kitchen, Cambridge Naturals, and Farmstead (Providence).
One of the Wicked Tasty team lives very close to L.A. Burdick. Deliciously close. Too close. Burdick's chocolates rival those of the well-known European chocolate houses (and we're well-studied on those). A clear favorite is the truffle filled with caramelized lavender honey. The mouse and penguin chocolates may be too adorable to eat, but you'd never let that deter you from picking up a quarter-pound box. Heck, make it a full pound. Then, warm up holiday visitors with hot chocolate made with their shaved dark, milk and white chocolate. They're made in Walpole, NH, and they have a lovely café in Harvard Square. Boxes start at $15.
Made by Maureen Gallagher at the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center, the Sassy Sauces line includes an addictive rum caramel sauce, spicy dark chocolate sauce (Valrhona chocolate, chipotle, Vietnamese cinnamon and cayenne), milk chocolate caramel, bittersweet chocolate, peanut butter fudge and vegan butterscotch. All are sublime over ice cream, with fresh fruit or breakfast treats, or straight out of the jar. Recently, Wicked Tasty got to try the Vera Cruz sauce (the first savory Sassy Sauce product and so new that the labels were handwritten). We seared salmon on both sides then simmered it in the sauce to finish. Easy and delicious! Sassy Sauces are available online and at Bacon Street Farm in Natick, Savenor’s Market, and select Whole Food Markets in the Boston area.
Drink is one of our favorite bars, and with good reason. There's no cocktail list...but there are gift certificates for your friends. And for a mere $10, the bartenders will whip them up a custom libation based on their tastes (whiskey or gin? citrus or bitters?) and, better yet, indulge their inner cocktail nerds by happily dishing on the drinks' origins (often pre-Prohibition) and variations. We find it's best to stick to our favorite base liquor and ask the exceptional staff to steer us seasonal. Recently, we've enjoyed a twist on the traditional Frisco (made with homemade pumpkin simple syrup) and the Leather Coat, which employed Scotch, apple butter and sage to a heavenly, fragrant end. For Christmas in a glass, ask for the Lion's Tail: bourbon, allspice dram, lime juice, simple syrup and angostura bitters.
Once the lovely staff at Drink have sent you home with a few handwritten recipes, you'll find the corner packie not up to your new liquor-buying needs. Hit Brix—with shops on Broad Street and Washington Street in the South End—to source Luxardo maraschino liquor for homemade aviations, small-batch bourbons, and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram for that Lion's Tail. The shop also has a well-curated wine selection and handsome gift baskets capitalizing on that to boot. Next hit up The Boston Shaker—online and opening any day now in Davis Square, after starting as a mini-store within Grand in Somerville's Union Square—for the dash that makes the difference. The store has the most extensive selection of bitters we've ever seen (celery, cardamon, Xocolati mole, whiskey barrel, Peychaud's and many others), along with a strong supporting cast of simple and shrub syrups, heirloom-quality muddlers and perfectly sized 5-ounce cocktail glasses.
Gift card to Craigie on Main. Though perhaps
better known for the delectable food out of the kitchen, the bar has
gained acclaim for creative, delicious libations using small-batch
spirits and local produce that change with the seasons.
Sometimes a cook needs some new and gorgeous things.
A slate cheese board from Brooklyn Slate Company is ideal both for a festive party or a regular Tuesday night dinner. Brooklyn Slate Company gets the grey, black or red slate from the family quarry in Upstate New York and offers the non-porous, food-safe pieces with a rough-hewn or clean edge. They also add in a soap pencil to write cheese names right on the board. They're very lovely and at a very reasonable price. Find these gorgeous cheese slabs at Formaggio Kitchen and Wasik's Cheese Shop in Wellesley. 7" x 12" boards, $20; 10" x 14" boards, $24.
When it comes to recipes, we often find that
weight is more reliable than volume or size. After all, what does
"three large potatoes" mean? Are the ones I've selected large enough?
Some recipes today offer both size/volume and weight (for instance:
"one medium-sized squash, or 2 lbs of squash"). A food scale is an
incredibly handy tool, especially if you love cookbooks printed outside
the US, where weights are the standard format. Make sure you get a
scale that can do both pounds and grams, so recipes in metric are no
problem. Electronic scales make taring a breeze. Try your local hardware store or cooking goods
shop for one, like this Salter Baker's Dream scale that has an 11-lb
limit and switches units with the click of a button. $39.95, Tags
Hardware in Cambridge, and other kitchenware stores.
It's good to eschew plastic water bottles in lieu of tap and filtered. But what if you prefer bubbles? Then it's either plastic bottles or glass ones shipped at a high carbon cost, right? Not so. In looking for a local soda water delivery service, we found this iSi soda siphon. Like their whipped cream canisters, you charge the filled water canister with CO2 cartridges, making the tap bubbly and wonderful. The soda from the siphon is not short on bubbles, either. It makes a fierce soda water, which is lovely. Since Boston-are tap water is very good quality, the end result is very tasty, indeed. No more bottles, no more shipping our beverages from Italy, and yet no compromising on the brisk drinking experience. If you're so inclined, you could add flavors or juices right into the siphon. $69.99 at Tags Hardware and local cooking goods stores.
iPhone app is not really a gadget at all,
but still a completely cool tool. This program transforms your iphone
into a cooking assistant based on Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio, which
offers up the ratios of ingredients needed to make nearly anything
without a recipe. You can store the recipes you devise and share them
on Twitter and Facebook. $4.99 on iTunes.
We love a bit of class. Cooking class, that is. An evening of cooking (and learning, and eating, and drinking) is a great gift for someone you love—or or yourself. Two of our absolute favorites would be the highlight of anyone's holiday.
Get a gift certificate or sign someone up for a specific class at Stir Boston, Chef Barbara Lynch's fantastic demonstration kitchen and cookbook library in the South End. We've gushed about the classes there before and with good reason. The small-sized classes not only show you foods and techniques up close, but also provide an evening of stellar food and amazing drink as you taste it all and chat with chefs and students. The food you eat is on par with No. 9 Park, Barbara Lynch's flagship restaurant, but you leave knowing that you can do it in your kitchen, too. The cost may seem high but think of it as dining at the chef's table while asking your chef friend to ply you with wine and share his or her secrets. Totally worth it.
Learn to cook with local produce and meat from Ana Sortun, award-winning chef at Oleana and Sofra Bakery. Sit in Sofra's cozy dining room and watch and learn as Sortun and pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick guide you through a handful of flavorful recipes—and you then enjoy the tastes of their labors. The recipes are fantastic when made in a home kitchen, too; we've know, because we've tried. Ana even offers an entire class in the spring focused on making the most of your CSA.
Craft of Cooking, by Tom Colicchio. Sure, Top Chef-viewers love him. You
know why he's really loved? Because his food is so damn good. A trip to
NYC is lacking if not for a stop at one of his many Craft incarnations.
This cookbook gives you the simple tools to transform lovely
ingredients into stunning food with some simple techniques and ideas.
Your home cooking will get easier and tastier after reading this book.
It works so well with the CSA/local ideas because the recipes make the
most of quality ingredients.
Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition, by Barbara Lynch. This local chef (and head of her own growing No. 9 Park empire) has a cookbook that just came out this fall. It's named after her South End demonstration kitchen and it has some of her signature dishes. Check out how to make your own ricotta and some of her amazing pasta dishes that have made tables at her restaurants a hot commodity.
At Wicked Tasty Harvest, we love eating local and getting to know neighborhoods through their food. That's why Savoring East Somerville: A Taste-Based Guide to the Neighborhood is on our wish list. The new cookbook from East Somerville Main Streets promises recipes and full-color portraits from 26 East Somerville restaurants and business owners and family-cooking traditions from 25 neighborhood residents. Recipes from large Italian families, Salvadorian cooks and Brazilian bakers? Um, yes, please! Order your copy (gift wrapping and shipping available).
I Know How to Cook, by Ginette Mathiot. Not only does it have a fantastic pink cover and a title that offers a fun variety of dramatic readings (I know how to cook, I know how to cook, I know how to cook), this book is a wealth of awesome French cooking techniques. This tome has been a standard for French women for decades and was on every French woman's grandmother's shelf. It's recently been translated into English and is a sort of French version of The Silver Spoon. It's full of wonderful recipes updated by Clotilde Dusoulier. French food, we find, does very well with the excellent produce, fantastic meats, and gorgeous dairy we have in New England. Might as well know how to do it the way it's been done in French homes for decades.
Gifts are more than lovely little things that make our lives delightful. They're also about those gifts that make the world a better and safer place. What gift guide could be complete without including organizations that are doing their part to improve the reality of the world. If you're giving gifts this season, consider a gift to an organization that is out there changing the world. And if you're getting this season, think about passing along some of that great feeling to others in the world.
Gardens for Health is a Cambridge-based organization that provides tools, seeds, equipment and assistance to people living with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda. It helps them create food co-ops where they can grow food, improve their nutrition (which in many regions of the world is lacking in people suffering from HIV/AIDS), and earn income when they might otherwise have no jobs due to illness. This organization helps stop the cycle of poverty, malnourishment, and illness. Like Heifer International, your gifts are paired up with actual tools and supplies: $4 for a hoe, $180 for 100 plum tree seedlings, $500 for 8 wheelbarrows.
Share Our Strength is trying to end childhood hunger by supporting school breakfast and year-round meal programs, improving access to fresh produce to families, encouraging farmers' markets to accept food stamps, and creating programs that teach families how to make nutritious healthy food on a limited budget. You can make a donation, order gift cards to share with other people, or buy tickets to their benefit, Taste of the Nation. The benefit is set for April 2010 and will feature Andy Husbands of Tremont 647, Jody Adams of Rialto, Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley's Bistro, Jason Santos of Gargoyles and about 70 restaurants and wineries. Tickets to the event and silent auction are 20 percent off by January 1 when you enter the code JINGLE10.Here's to a Tasty New Year!