Have you been a good foodist this year? Have you expanded your culinary skills, indulged in edible conquests and patiently put off buying that new $369 Japanese mandoline in hopes of a merry holiday surprise? Have you fed your friends and family with pan sauces, duck breasts, 20-ingredient moles and gotten your money’s worth out of the Le Creuset dutch oven you got last Christmas?
If so, you may be interested in a few other local (and not-so-local) food-related goodies that St. Nick (or your non-denominational winter gift-giver of choice) may leave next to your brand new Dacor 48-inch dual convection stainless steel oven with digital touch and gas range (available online for $9,799). Hint. Hint.
Little Ticket and Mostly Local
Beekind Chai Honey: I’ve become a pusher of this local honey, addicting friends left and right. Infused with spicy Indian Chai spices, it’s perfect for everything from sweetening tea to drizzling on spiced honey nuts, incorporating into recipes and eating straight off a spoon. $6.50 – $18, 921 Gravenstein Hwy S Sebastopol, 824-2905.
Sonomic Vinegar: My annual(ish) bottle of this sweet, syrupy balsamic-style vinegar gets drizzled on salads, roasted veggies and into pan sauces. it gets a place of honor next to my olive oil, verjus and spices as a quick flavor-picker-upper. Around $18, available at Sonoma Valley Portworks (613 2nd Street, Petaluma, 769-5203) or Oliver’s grocery stores.
Grape Seed Flour and Oils: Whole Vine Products (a collaboration by wine-giants Barbara Banke and Peggy Furth) upcycles vineyard cast-offs like the skins and seeds into nutrient and anti-oxidant-rich oils and flours for cooking and baking. They take a little getting used to, but the health and environmental benefits are worth it — plus you’ll be the toast of your dinner group when trotting out this not-even-in-stores-yet local product. Available at the Kendall -Jackson tasting room or online at wholevine.com. 5007 Fulton Road Fulton, 571-8100.
Lemon Curd Butter: Cheesemaker Sheana Davis makes infused-butters including fig, rose petal and blue cheese, along with the lemon curd butter at her Sonoma shop. Stop in for a tasting flight or purchase an 8oz container for $9.95. 122 West Napa Street, 935-7960.
Jimtown Store Spicy Pepper Jam: A snack of cream cheese, crackers and a bottle of this sweet, slightly spicy, full-bodied jam are among my “desert island” necessities. Who needs a knife?
$10, 6706 Hwy 128 Healdsburg, 433-1212.
DaVero 30 Weight Utility Olive Oil and Line Lube: If you’re using your good extra-virgin olive oil for cooking, you’re crazy. Invest in really high quality EVOO for salads and dipping. For sauteeing, DaVero mixes its extra-virgin with other oils from California and Spain for a tasty, but more-affordable cooking weight oil. $24, available at davero.com/order or at the tasting room, 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 431-8000.
Sample Box of Grains from Rancho Gordo: Most folks know about the heirloom beans from Napa’s Rancho Gordo — the yellow Indian woman, Runner Cannellini and Goat’s Eye to name a few. Perhaps more exotic are Rancho Gordo’s ancient grains gift set with hominy, quinoa, wild rice and amaranth. The fun is in figuring out exactly how to prepare them. Fortunately, there are instructions and recipes included. $44, ranchogordo.com. Beans available locally at Jimtown Store, Epicurean Connection and Oliver’s markets.
Exotic Spices from Savory Spice: If the smell doesn’t lure you inside the wooden screen door, let me embarrass you into taking a look at your “vintage” spice rack. And by vintage, I mean you may as well be sprinkling dust on your food if your spices are older than a year or so. It’s tempting to just pick up a bottle of cinnamon on the grocery aisle, but transformative to taste freshly ground Vietnamese, Mexican and Chinese cinnamons side by side, and the difference it will make in the flavor of your holiday baking. Plus, you can buy one-ounce sampler bags at a fraction of the price to test out anything — from mole mix, sweet paprika and ghost chiles to garam masala and organic oregano — in your next dish. 317 D Street, Santa Rosa, 284-1310.
Guy Fieri Pacific Rim Sauce: Guy knows how to kick up everyday fare with a hit of sauce, so it’s not a huge surprise that his new line of commercial sauces are right on target. No, really. I love this stuff. I’m partial to the Pacific Rim version, that’s got a mix of ginger, soy, chile and even a hint of fish sauce in the mix. $3.99, available at Safeway stores.
Asian Pear and Ginger Conserve from Gabriel Farms: From toast to appetizers, this local farm makes preserves that aren’t so sweet you’ll need a dentist afterwards. Share Exchange, 531 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 331-6850.
Chicharrones from Fatted Calf: When I’ve been a good girl, I usually find a bag or two of these upscale pork rinds from 4505 Meats in my stocking. Spiced with a sweet-hot fire, they literally melt in your mouth. Fatted Calf, 644 1st St # C, Napa, 256-3684.
Presto Fry Daddy: Stop laughing. With purse-strings tight, our family has put the brakes on fast food. But we still love the occasional splurge. Using fresh veggies, taters and herbs, we’re psyched to experiment with our own mini fryer (the boss says my own Henny Penny is out of the question this year). Around $28 at Walmart, Target or other major retailers.
Big Ticket Items
Pressure Cooker: You can go really simple or really luxury here, but pressure cooking is all the rage these days. From cutting cooking time for beans and meat to mere minutes to safely canning, they’re worth their weight in gold. $29.99 to $79.99 at Hardisty’s Homewares, 1513 Farmers Lane Plaza, Santa Rosa, 545-0534. Luxury versions (All-Clad, Fissier) for $200 to $500 at Sur La Table, 2323 Magowan Drive Santa Rosa, 566-9820. Want to learn how to use it? Check out local chef Jill Nussinow’s new book, “The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes” at Share Exchange.
SousVide Supreme Water Oven: Santa, if you’re listening, I’m jonesing for my own sous vide machine. From slow-poaching meat to my newest obsession — the 63-degree egg — this is the closest I’ll come to the kitchens of the French Laundry. Available at Sur La Table.
Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer: A perennial food-lover’s dream, these powerhouse mixers are a necessity if you’re serious about baking. The Artisan models are okay, but if you can afford a little extra (or just hold out for a good sale), grab a Pro series that will churn through bigger batches of cookie dough, bread dough and hold up to serious usage for decades. Available online at amazon.com or Macy’s. Artisan Series available at Hardisty’s ($299).
Shun Bob Kramer Knives: Obsessive chefs and home cooks drool over the carbon steel knives that this master bladesmith makes in Olympia. But with an extensive waiting list and a cost of several hundred dollars per blade-inch, they’re hard to come by. Sur la Table is selling signature lines from Henckels and Shun starting at $189 for a utility knife and quickly going into the stratosphere. Available at Sur La Table.
Vitamix: I invested in one of these luxury blenders a few years ago, and never looked back. More than a status item, these 1380-watt shredders can covert even the toughest, most fibrous veggies into a pulp in seconds. It turns ice into ice cream, pounds grains into flour and creams vegetables into instant soups. They’re tough as nails, and take some pretty serious abuse without complaint. Plus, they’ll last you 5 times as long as that piece of junk on your counter that balks at bananas. $499-$700 at Sur La Table.
What do you want under the tree? Shout out…