Holiday gift shopping…2016

That time of year again! I’ve sworn off malls, and almost any shopping until after the holidays. I find I have zero tolerance for the chaos of parking lots and stores. Somehow those places really dampen any holiday excitement that I do manage to have: folks that can’t manage to allow two-lane traffic in a wide lane, bumps in the butt with shopping carts, and the like. Not to mention the choice of music in so many stores. But if you still need to do some holiday shopping….

  • For the cookbook lover who has an incredible library but is constantly cursing about not being able to find a recipe, a membership to Eat Your Books will let them search those books, as well as magazines, and blogs for recipes. (Membership information here.) It is definitely worth the bit of effort it takes to get you books on you searchable bookshelf.
  • Bull City Olive Oil specializes in fine olive oils, vinegars, and other provisions (shipping is available). If you are local (Durham NC) you can taste before buying. I’d not been a particular fan of infused oils until I tasted some there. The combination of herbes de Provence infused oil and lavender infused balsamic vinegar makes an awesome vinaigrette!
  • Cooks always love herbs and spices–if you don’t want to make the decision on what to give Penzeys will provide a great selection from which to choose. Personally  I love the small jars, especially for things you want to try, but may not use in huge quantities. Although I don’t keep many mixes on hand I wouldn’t  want to be without the herbes de Provence–it’s the jar that I reach for when I am rushed or just can’t decide what to use.
  • Spirits are always welcome gifts. My latest “booze” discovery is from The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits. They produce Krupnikas, Jabberwock, Zapod, Beatnik, and Beebop. I know I’ve mentioned these before, but I think they still make an excellent gift.
  • For someone who wants to learn more about cooking, The Science of Good Cooking presents techniques used in the kitchen with some good recipes; eat well while you learn to understand what goes on in the kitchen. In the same understand-what-you’re-doing vein there’s  Cook’s Science Cook’s Illustrated .com, Cook’s Country.com or a subscription to  America’s Test Kitchen membership that can give access to these last three sites.
  • For someone who wants to butter their toast without using cold, hard to spread butter, the Butter Bell crock, or the Emile Henry butter pot, or a plethora of others which work on the principle of using a water seal to keep the butter from air exposure. Caveat: you do have to remember to change the water every couple of days, but it’s a pretty small effort for soft butter. (Unfortunately, I’ll have to mention a solution that doesn’t work although it seems like a nice idea: the Cook’s Innovations Butter Mill. According to reviews some do work–mine didn’t–the fine threads just didn’t catch so the butter moved down to the “grating” surface.)
  • Your toast eater might also appreciate some topping for that buttered toast: varietal honeys from Old Blue Raw Honey–an impressive selection–including poison ivy honey.
  • For the cook who wants to explore using fresh herbs there are seed collections of basic culinary herbs: seed disc collections (complete with pots) from Johnny’s Select Seeds,  or just collections of herb seeds.
  • The potato of the month club from Wood Prairie Family Farm might suit for a “meat and potatoes” person. The variety of potatoes is absolutely amazing–and yes, they do taste different from what we’re used to in the supermarket.
  • For excellent citrus fruits Mixon Fruit Farms can provide luscious fruit shipped right to the door–grapefruit, oranges, lemons, or other. Even the white grapefruit will surprise you.
  • There is always a gift certificate for Kindle books  (or other e-readers) and a Lékué popcorn popper to provide a cozy, relaxing evening. Of all the microwave popcorn poppers I’ve tried this is a hands-down winner.
  • For some exotics like truffle butter, game, kits for making cassoulet, or charcuterie (which you might be invited to share) D’Artagnan can likely provide what you want.
  • Finally, another option for relaxation to go with the book or the Kindle gift certificate, a good cup of tea would add a final touch. Check out what’s available from Harney & Sons provides an incredible variety. One of the things I like so much about getting my tea from them is that for a small charge you can get samples of the teas–enough to brew a pot to really taste the tea. Frankly, I love trying different ones, so I’d be happy with a selection of samples as a gift!

Some other gift suggestions here, here, and here–there may be some redundancy, but some thing appreciated by cooks never change. My redundancy will probably give you an idea of what I’ve had to replace during the year–e.g. Krupnikas!

Disclaimer:  I have neither affiliate connection nor do I receive any consideration from any of the sources suggested above–they’re simply my personal preferences, so you decide. I’m sure that some of the things are available from other sources as well, perhaps less expensively.

Jabberwock

Jabberwok liqueurI love the names of the liqueurs from the Brothers Vilgalys. Jabberwock conjures up some interesting images for me–something dark, smoky,  and exciting, and maybe just a tad bit scary.

I can’t say which of these liqueurs I like best–they are all so different, so I  have them all, but this one is close to the top of the list–partly because I love strong, black coffee and I like the spice of chilies.

The ingredient list for this one includes coffee, chicory, lemongrass, eucalyptus, manzano & chipotle peppers. Just like the other liqueurs from Brothers Vilgalys the flavors just unfold as you sip. There is definitely some heat–it’s going to make your mouth feel warm. With the first sip there is the “brightness” of the lemongrass and the eucalyptus, then the heat starts to build, but the heat doesn’t hide the “dark” coffee and chickory. The lemongrass and the eucalyptus come through in the nose. There’s a long, warm finish where the smokiness of the chipotles lingers, even as the heat fades. Another winner!

(It’s a fantastic addition to hot drinking chocolate–the coffee and the chickory enhancing the chocolate flavor and the chilies adding some spice.)

Beets in a surprising place

bottle and glass of Beatnik

Beatnik liqueur

If you’re any sort of a “regular” here I’m sure that you are aware that I think beets are under-appreciated vegetables. I’ve posted a number of beet recipes that I’ve found on other blogs and that I like. Last week I got an unusual (I mean they don’t bombard you with emails) from the Brothers Vilgalys who produced the Krupnikas about which I posted.  Well the email introduced some new liqueurs. (Note that this is a liqueur; it is not a cocktail called beatnik.)

The first that I’m sampling is the Beatnik. I don’t know what that conjures up for you, but it is a fantastic taste.  (You aren’t surprised, are you? Not given my fondness for beets!)

I suppose that the last place you’d expect beets to show up would be in a liqueur.  I was surprised when I read the description, but I just had to try it.

So, here is a liqueur with beets in it, described in the email as “An unusual liqueur made with Beets & Savory Herbs. Draws a bit of inspiration from an old Estonian liqueur I read about. Goes great with Gin drinks.”

I can tell you it is awesome! The beets are tempered/seasoned with orange zest, rosemary, thyme, sage, and fennel. I doubt that you could pick each one out as they blend so smoothly.  I’m sampling it “straight” this evening, but I’m going to try a splash of seltzer, as I’ve found that the Krupnikas (for warm weather) does nicely with that.

There are three others. I had a telephone call from the Woodcroft ABC store this afternoon to let me know that these had arrived. The Beebop was missing (that one has rhubarb and other goodies), but Jabberwock (coffee, chickory and some spicy things) and Zaphod (which is a fruity, minty one) were available.  I’ll be reporting on those in the fairly near future.

I’m just entranced by the nose of the Beatnik. The beets are certainly not obscured by the herbs and the orange zest–it all just blends together into a lovely earthy, beety, resiny, woodsy flavor.  In a word, awesome.

It gives me some ideas for seasoning beets as a vegetable too.

Something warming–Krupnikas!

trees with snow

February snow

In preparation for the snow that was supposed to (and did) arrive last night, I had a few errands to run yesterday afternoon–there are some basic necessities for inclement weather: cat food, cat litter, TP, candles, and supplies to aid in keeping warm in case of power outage. (You will please note that bread and milk do not appear anywhere on that list.)  I stayed well away from the grocery store.

The important errand yesterday was to Wild Birds Unlimited for a huge bag of safflower seeds for the feeders which provide much entertainment for Frankie as well as for me. For keep-warm supplies, the was ABC store.

Quite recently while I was enjoying lunch at the Hope Valley Diner, another regular customer and I were have a very food-oriented conversation and Krupnikas was mentioned.  I’d not heard of it before. From his description of it I definitely had to remedy that oversight since I’m particularly fond of honey,  herb- and spice-based liqueurs such as Chartreuse (both green and yellow).

snowy deck

Snow day

Since the ABC store was conveniently (as in driving right past it) near the bird-food store, I thought this kind of weather would be ideal for trying some warming spirits while having relaxed bird-watching day and quality time with the cat.

Krupnikas is traditional Lithuanian-style  spiced honey  liqueur being  made right here in Durham, North Carolina! I thought it was necessary for me to try this one in the spirit of continuing education and experimentation. Thus, a stop at the ABC store. According to Wikipedia, krupnik or krupnikas (Polish or Lithuanian) was created by Benedictine monks–does this suggest why I might like this as well as Chartreuse? Bottle of Krupnikas located, bought, and carted home along with bird food. Errands completed.

While waiting for the snow to arrive last night, I poured myself a reasonable tot of Krupnikas–neat in a snifter since this was apparently the traditional way of serving it. Warmed by hands around the bowl of the snifter, the aroma was sweet, somwhat floral from the honey, with spices, and a bit of  orange-like citrus component that brightened up the warm spices.

The taste–wow–definitely warm, cozy,  almost cuddly, but certainly not fuzzy, though it feels very smooth and rich in the mouth.   The first sip gives warm brandy/cognac-like “burn” with sweetness, followed by floral honey sweetness and the spices that linger after swallowing. The spices are very warm and complex, without any one being dominant.

I’ve only tried this neat as a sipper, but if you check the  Facebook page and the website for The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits  there are suggestions using Krupnikas in mixed drinks.  I’m going to be trying it with coffee as you would brandy; the White Lithuanian sounds really good (as I do like brandy Alexanders occasionally).

For me, this is definitely a keeper that will live right with my bottles of Chartreuse! I can see it as an apéritifs and/or digestif, or as a sipper for relaxing with friends, or the cat and a good book. I’m glad I found out about this–especially as it’s made here in Durham. Another way to be a locovor!

As well as the Krupnikas made with neutral grain spirits, there is also Mystic Bourbon Liqueur (Barrister & Brewer)  and other products made here in Durham that need to be investigated. For those of you interested, this is available from distributors outside NC.  spiced honey liqueur