Recycled cutting boards and gourmet cheese bakers, baskets of pasta and home soda makers. Brownie mix packages tied up with string — these are a few of my favorite things.
When you set out to do holiday shopping for the foodies in your life, remember that the shelves of local shops are stocked with hot new items sure to bring a smile to cooks of every skill level.
With only 48 Sodastreams ($99.99) left in stock, Art and Janet Learned, owners of Things Are Cooking in Concord, hope that will be enough to meet the needs of shoppers this season. The Sodastream makes 60 liters of soda in one carbon charge, averaging 25 cents a liter, Art Learned said.
“It is such a savings over what you pay at the grocery store for sparkling water,” Art Learned said. “It is also environmentally friendly … you don’t have to throw out plastic bottles and fill up landfills.”
The home soda maker carbonates tap water and allows the user to add flavors such as cola, root beer, orange soda, ginger ale, Fountain Mix (similar to Mountain Dew) and Pete’s Choice (similar to Dr. Pepper). All flavors, each sold separately, also come in diet.
For those who like using eco-friendly products in the kitchen, the shop also carries two “green” cutting boards.
The Epicurean cutting board, made with recycled paper, comes in six sizes ranging from $11.99 to $34.99. The recycled paper pizza peel goes for $32.99. Both are knife-friendly and heat-resistant to 300 degrees.
“People are always worried about their cutting boards being contaminated,” Art Learned said. “You can throw these in the dishwasher or sink. You can’t do that with regular wooden boards.”
The Architec Ecosmart Polyflax cutting board ($19.99) is made from flax husk and is also dishwasher-safe and easy on knives, Art Learned said. When the flax board is worn out, customers may send it back to the company, where it will be recycled.
And what is a cutting board without a good knife to slice with? A Kyocera ceramic five-and-a-half-inch santoku and three-inch paring knife set ($74.99) is great for cutting fruit, vegetables and boneless meat, Art Learned said.
“They stay hard 10 times longer than regular steel knives,” he said, adding that if customers send the knives back to Kyocera, the company will sharpen them at no charge.
To ensure that your gift recipients are using their knives properly, a “Hands-On Knife Skills” class is being offered for $55 by The Creative Feast in Hollis on Friday, Jan. 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Granite State Cabinetry in Bedford. During the class, chef Liz Barbour will teach students how to julienne, dice, chiffonade and chop as well as how to properly hold knives.
A “surprisingly” popular gift this season is the Fusion Brands Food Pod ($14.99), Art Learned said. The pod, a silicon holed bag, takes the colander step out of cooking, boiling eggs, vegetables, shellfish and keeping them together in the pot. A cord is attached to the pod and can be clipped to the pot rim for easy removal.
“Grab and go” gift packages, some made by the shop’s staff and some by Stonewall Kitchen, are holiday best sellers at Cooking Matters in Nashua.
“It is a lot of people’s intentions, especially with food, to buy different products and put them together themselves, but people are always short on time,” said Cooking Matters owner Tony Adams. The gifts, he said, are also great for last-minute shoppers.
Each pre-packaged arrangement comes with a reusable item; among them are a brownie pan wrapped up with a wooden spoon, Sticky Fingers brownie mix and a dark chocolate sea salt caramel sauce ($29.95), a metal strainer filled with imported pasta, Mario Batali tomato sauce and breadsticks ($39.95) and a package of The Republic of Tea loose tea with an infuser in a tea cup ($17.95).
Also for tea lovers, Cooking Matters sells Hues N’ Brews tea-for-one sets — a small teapot nestled in a matching teacup, some with built-in infusers for loose tea — for $24.95.
Olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars are great gifts to stash under the tree for the gourmet chef in your life.
“[Aged balsamic vinegar] is the perfect foodie gift,” said Kristy Ammann, owner of Butter’s Fine Food and Wine in Concord. “It is not something you could buy and use every day to splash on greens but rather to drizzle on Parmesan and indulge yourself in.”
Adams recommends two olive oils from California — Lucero, which comes in five varieties ranging from $14.95 to $23.95, and The Olive Press, with three varieties ranging from $19.95 to $22.95.
“They aren’t necessarily used to cook with but are finishing oils,” Adams said.
Butter’s offers two aged balsamic vinegars, five-year-old Leonardi ($99) and 25-year-old Giuseppi Cattani ($180).
“The longer they are aged, the more thick and syrupy they get. They get sweeter, more refined and smooth in taste, versus the salad dressing,” Ammann said.
Ammann recently brought in Italian imported desserts to her shop, which she said also make great gifts.
“It’s something a little different,” she said.
Her shop now sells three flavors of Flamigni panettone ($29.95 to $39.95) in citron raisin, cherry, fig and chocolate, torrone ($12.99) and tronchetto ($11.99). Other edible gifts include Winnipesaukee Chocolates toffees and barks ($4.95 to $8.95).
Looking for stocking stuffers? Harold Import Co. silicone toast tongs ($2.99 at Things Are Cooking) have a high heat resistance and slide easily into a toaster to grab your snagged slice or bagel without burning up.
“Hot” gifts at Cooking Matters can be found on a wall filled with shelves of hot sauces. Ranging from mild to ghost pepper (please read the warning!), the sauces each boast a label for every sauce fan. One blazing blend, West African Voodoo Juice, even comes complete with a voodoo doll and instructions for its usage.
For wine lovers, WineNot Boutique in Nashua offers a VIP Client of the Month Gold Card ($75), which gives the holder 15 percent off wine and cheese, 10 percent off gift baskets and accessories and 50 percent off the shop’s wine events during that selected month. A VIP Client of the Month Platinum Card ($100) includes the same discounts plus free admission to wine events. A VIP Client of the Year Card ($475) is also available and extends the benefits for one year.
Or share the gift of wine education by giving a gift certificate for WineNot’s six-week “Be Your Own Sommelier” course, which begins Friday, Jan. 21. The classes teach tasting techniques, the language of wine, grape varietals, food and wine pairing and complexity.