Holiday Gift-Giving Guide

Well, the gift-giving season is upon us and people everywhere are rushing about to find the perfect gift for everyone on their list. Fortunately, those of us who are culinary inclined tend to be easy to shop for! Everything from a good skillet to an unusual spice blend can find its way to a gift box for an eager home chef.

With that reassuring thought in mind, we've put together a small guide highlighting some of our favorite holiday gifts. From ideas for the cook who seems to have everything to one just starting out, these themed gifts are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to holiday shopping for cooks. Feel free to mix and match ideas from this guide, alter suggestions to fit your style or try something completely different. We're just offering some favorites to get the creative juices flowing. The rest is up to you!

For the Adventurous Cook

  • Remember Aunt Joyce who is always talking about going on that fun-filled Mediterranean vacation, yet never seems to have the time or money to go? Why not treat her to a virtual trip to the region by preparing a special gift basket? Start with a rustic woven basket -- choose the size based on how much you're going to put in it -- and stuff it with a wide assortment of Mediterranean-inspired items. We humbly suggest choosing 2-4 plates and cloth napkins in blue and white, a bottle of White River Seasoning for Lamb and So More (available from the White River Lamb Company -- call 1-800-454-LAMB), a jar of Kalamata olives, a bottle of high quality olive oil, and a Mediterranean-inspired cookbook (we chose Mediterranean Cooking from Williams-Sonoma). Who knows? Maybe your gift will inspire Aunt Joyce to finally take that vacation she's always been talking about!
  • Do you know someone who is always adventure-bound? The type of person who is hiking one weekend and rafting the next? Well, if this person is also a bit of a gourmand, consider giving the gift of portable fine dining! The Picnic Backpack from Picnic Time combines the romance and sophistication of a traditional picnic basket (complete with plates, utensils, cloth napkins and a complete cheese service) with the ruggedness of a sturdy backpack. Who says you can't enjoy the finer culinary pleasures and hike up the side of a mountain!?! Some useful, but not necessary, additions to the backpack are a set of containers to hold cheese, pasta salad, trail mix or whatever else your adventure-bound friend might want to carry along, a bottle of fine wine to tote along in the wine holder included with the backpack, or a hiking guide to points of interest in your area or around the world. With a gift like this, you may find yourself invited to a gourmet meal at the summit of a mountain. We'll leave it to you to decide if that's something you want to accept!
  • Fondue is making a comeback! For those looking to recapture memories of bygone fondue days or those from a newer generation looking to make some new ones, think about giving the gift of a "fondue basket". Begin by choosing a good fondue set. The fondue pot itself can serve as the "basket". Add a cookbook about making fondue (we chose The Book of Fondues by Lorna Rhodes) and, depending on the circumstances surrounding the presentation of your gift, include some wine, garlic and cheese for making a classic fondue or the canned seafood for the Seafood Fondue in this month's Rush Hour column. Maybe you'll even be lucky enough to sample some top quality fondue from the recipient of your gift!

For Coffee & Tea Lovers

  • Anyone who has a serious relationship with coffee or tea will gladly accept a gift of quality beans or leaves nestled neatly in a mug of your choosing. The key with this gift idea is to choose an assortment of beans or leaves that you know will impress and tuck them into a mug with a very personal meaning to the recipient. You may want to choose a mug with a touching verse or a special inside joke. Be creative here!
  • Building on the mug theme, you can expand your gift by including a tea ball, chocolate-covered espresso beans, cinnamon sticks, biscotti or even any one of the large assortment of coffee or tea cookbooks available (we chose Totally Coffee Cookbook by Helene Siegel and Karen Gillingham). You might even want to include your favorite recipe for biscotti -- check the Seasoned Cooking recipe index for some of our favorites!

For Seasonally Themed Giving

  • Since it is the season for giving, why not treat someone to a gift that's geared towards the season itself? A holiday basket starts out with an appropriately-themed basket -- anything from a green and red woven basket to the shiny metal sleigh that's pictured will do the trick -- and is then filled with a selection of things that help make the season bright. We filled our holiday sleigh with Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook (although any of the numerous holiday craft or cookbooks will work), a assortment of our favorite chocolates (after all, what are the holidays without a few sweets?), some decorating sugar for adorning all the homemade goodies of the season, a festive shortbread cookie press and, of course, the traditional holiday treat -- a hefty candy cane. It's certainly a top notch way to spread a little holiday cheer!
  • Spices make great stocking stuffers -- especially if the stocking is also part of the gift! Why not treat your favorite cook to a beautiful velvet Christmas stocking (or any beautifully-made stocking) filled with some of the spices that are so much a part of the season? Include bottles or bags of ground or stick cinnamon (it's perfect in cookies or to mix warm cider), ground or whole nutmeg (it's a necessity for eggnog and is perfect grated over creamy coffee), whole star anise (the beautiful licorice-scented seed pods make great additions to potpourri), pure vanilla extract (an essential ingredient for holiday baking) and whole cloves (perfect for studding everything from whole oranges for decoration to smoked ham for Christmas dinner).

For Cooks Everywhere

  • For the person who loves to cook, but has little time, consider giving a custom slow cooker "basket". Start with the slow cooker of your choice as the "basket". Then add a roasting rack that fits the slow cooker, a cookbook with recipes geared towards slow cooking (we chose Best-Loved Slow Cooker Recipes from Publications International), and some choice spices to add some zip to slow cooked meals. All that will remain to be done is some shopping for ingredients!
  • Need a gift idea for a coworker who loves to cook? Try putting together a Seasoned Greeting! Choose any recipe (or group of recipes) from the Seasoned Cooking recipe index and print them out on festive cards. Pair the recipe(s) with an appropriate herb or spice from the ingredient list and a special holiday card.
  • A simple cook's basket can be enjoyed by any cook -- especially when you customize it to the recipient's tastes. Start with a woven basket of an appropriate size for holding the goodies of your choosing. Then, fill it with a wide array of cooking treats and helpers. Our basket includes The New Joy of Cooking (although any cookbook will do), a selection of specialty marinades, and an assortment of spices that are bound to inspire a masterpiece or two.

Gift Certificates For Cooks

For the person who loves to cook, but might be hard to shop for, gift certificates are a sure bet. They let the recipient know that you appreciate their love of cooking while allowing them to choose their gift. And, because they choose the gift, you just know it will be perfect! Some of our favorite places to look for gift certificates include:

Whatever gifts find their way under the tree this year, we at Seasoned Cooking would like to wish you all a joyous and festive holiday season and many more to come. Happy Holidays ... or, as we like to say here, Seasoned Greetings!

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