Since I think of gift giving as an opportunity to impose my values upon others, it should come as no surprise that my loved ones usually receive one of three things: a food-related book, a restaurant gift certificate, or something edible. I make adjustments here and there for those not as food oriented as me, but for the most part, these are my go-to gifts.
At this past weekend’s Artisanal LA event, I managed to cross several people off my list thanks to the wonderful selection of local, sustainable, and handmade edibles for sale. These gifts not only taste great, but they also support the local economy and small-scale producers. Win-win, I say! Here’s a list of five fabulous food gifts and the talented vendors behind them…
The first two people that I had the pleasure of meeting at the event were Debra and Stephanie Shaiken. The mother-daughter duo run an up-and-coming pie business in Santa Monica. Crust by Stephanie Jayne specializes in homey and comforting creations that are executed with skill and refinement.
I tasted three of Crust’s pies this afternoon including the Fleur de Sel Caramel Tart (dark chocolate ganache, salted caramel, cracker brittle), the Missouri Butter Pie (a St. Louis classic), and the Campfire S’more Pie (milk chocolate ganache, homemade graham cracker, toasted from scratch marshmallows). All three were terrific, but my sweet-salty loving taste buds couldn’t get enough of the Fleur de Sel Caramel Tart. These 9-inch pies ($25) would be a great addition to any holiday spread and also make fine hostess gifts.
Next, I picked up several bags of artisanal brittle from Morning Glory Confections for one lucky person on my list. Max Lesser, Morning Glory’s owner and creative force, entered the brittle business two years ago after experimenting with various spices and flavor profiles while working as a private chef. His creations have been featured in the pages of Saveur and Martha Stewart Living.
My favorite brittle was the Thai Curry and Peanut variety (2 ounces for $5). Initially, it tasted like plain ‘ol peanut brittle, but after a few moments melding in my mouth, a plethora of flavors were unleashed. There were sharp notes of coconut, lemongrass, and kaffir lime, and toward the end, some slight spice from the Thai bird chilies.
I also picked up a bag of the Indian Curry and Pistachio brittle (2 ounces for $5), which was bursting with coriander, turmeric, and fenugreek. And lastly, a six-piece chocolate-covered brittle gift box ($12).
I wanted to snag a bag of bacon fat caramels with smoked Spanish paprika and Fleur de Sel for myself on my way out of the booth, but showed uncharacteristic restraint.
For my grandpa, I procured a jar of fine mustard from the SoNo Trading Company. Made in San Diego, these “mostly organic” spreads are brightly flavored, all natural, and best of all, have superior nasal passage clearing properties.
While I preferred the slightly sweet Spicy Hatch, I knew my gramps would appreciate the Hong Kong Habanero’s horseradish-y burn. A jar goes for $8 or 2 jars for $14. I think I’ll pair this with some gourmet salami for a complete package.
Rashida Purifoy, the chef and owner of Cast Iron Gourmet, makes small-batch bacon and bacon-inspired goodies with a slightly Southern bent. All of her products are made from fresh, sustainable pork belly that is flavored with hand-crafted rubs and smoked in hickory.
Cast Iron Gourmet had a number of intriguing products for sale including bacon fat pimiento spread and bacon chutney, but it was their signature Couch Mix™ that I loved the most. A blend of caramelized bacon, dried fruit, chocolate, and nuts, the Couch Mix fuels one on the couch as trail mix fuels one on the trails. Oh, yes! If this kit weren’t perishable, I’d get it for everyone!
My final stop of the day was at JD Cowles’ All Spice Cafe. Mr. Cowles makes award-winning, tongue-searingly hot products like Buffalo wing sauce, spicy popcorn, and spice rubs. I’ve become a bit of a chili head lately, so I was all over this booth!
I picked up a bag of Ghost Pepper popcorn made from the hottest pepper in the world ($4). I haven’t figured out who to give this bag of sweet, burning love to yet, but I’m sure it will come to me eventually. If not, down my gullet it will go. All Spice Cafe’s products are available for sale at select Whole Foods stores.
Happy holidays, everyone! Eat well.