Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Gifts and White Elephants

If you're looking for something unusual to take to a White Elephant Party or give your food loving friend, here's my list of ideas, all food related and easy to get online.

I've got 4-5 cookbooks here, followed by a few gourmet ingredients that are sure go be a surprise!


I'm going to tell you about the cookbooks, first. Not one of them is a healthy eating or diet cookbook. I don't really own many of those, so it's hard to comment on them. I do own Bobby Flay's Grilling for Life, which is a good father's day gift for dads who like to grill. It is a healthy cookbook (that's good anyway) and it's got some great tasting recipes that unsuspecting guests wouldn't even recognize as healthy. I love that book.

Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

This is a great book for someone who's new to cooking or moving out on his or her own. This was my go to book for cooking any cut of meat, any vegetable, or figuring out whatever cooking technique the other books failed to fully explain.

When I moved out on my own, people gave me The Joy of Cooking, but I always referred back to this book because it's easier to use, has better explanations, and good pictures. It's available in paperback or in a ring binder version, which lets it lay flat on the counter. I like that best. I love this book.

Best Ever Three & Four Ingredient Cookbook

I don't know about "best ever," but it's good and we own it. It's actually amazing how many great dishes they do with just three or four ingredients. The dishes are simple and tasty AND simple to make.

The pictures are good, too. I like cookbooks with pretty pictures.

Jamie's 30 Minute Meals

The most common complaint that I get from people who don't cook often is "I don't have time to cook." Jamie Oliver shows you how to make 50 complete meals, in 30 minutes each. He teaches techniques and organization, which we all probably need.

The recipes are real food meals, but this is no diet food. If your gift recipient is on a diet, then beware the calorie load. It's the learning experience, more than the meals themselves.

One huge plus is that Oliver is one messy chef, and even his presentation is messy. It looks delicious, splatters and all, and makes me feel better that I'm not so good at "clean as you go."

The Flavor Bible

The Flavor Bible is not a cookbook, but it's a great book for those who cook. It's a really big book on flavors that go great together. If you know someone who loves cooking and experimenting with food, I can't recommend this enough. Just look up some of the ingredients that you have on hand and you'll get quite a list of flavors and combinations that go great with it.

I use this book almost every day, as does Galya.

Gourmet Ingredients and Foods

Some of these foods are treats, but high quality, healthy treats. All of these foods are special in their own way, and deserve a place in your own pantry in addition to going under the tree. Might as well buy multiples and treat yourself to some of these amazing foods.

Truffle salt

I'm not a truffle expert, but if you've never had them, this could be a good starting point. Truffles smell amazing on things as simple as scrambled eggs! A little truffle salt is an easy and inexpensive way to try it out.

Exotic vanilla beans

Tahitian vanilla is a great gift for someone who loves to cook. This is really a lot of vanilla beans, so hopefully the person that you give them to will share a couple. Bakers will appreciate these beans, though. Tahitian vanilla is different from the ones you typically find at the grocery store. These are fruity and heady, and you can just stand there and breathe it in...

They will last a long time if stored properly, so send them this link, or maybe one for making their own vanilla extract or vanilla rum or vanilla vodka!

Real saffron
Each half gram of this saffron was made from the stigmas of well over 75 crocus flowers, all hand picked and dried in the same day.
Saffron is very expensive, and I don't use it often. That's why I love the way this powdered saffron comes packaged. Each half gram comes in four .125g capsules, which can themselves be resealed if you don't use it all in one day. This allows the saffron to last for a long, long time and still be pretty fresh and tasty.

The best chocolate, ever

Patricia started Choco-Vivo in her kitchen, selling at Farmer's Markets in Southern California, but she just recently opened her shop in Venice, CA!

Mayan Tradition is my favorite blend. It reminds me of mole, my favorite Mexican sauce.

“Tastes like Christmas” or “…like red hots”.  This is one of the most popular blends.  If you think you know what spicy chili and chocolate tastes like, you haven’t tasted this.  The depth of flavors from the various ingredients makes it taste like the mole of chocolate.  You’ll taste that cinnamon first and then those chilies will kick-in at the end.
These are the ingredients of Mayan Tradition, and the reason this is such an amazing blend.
Cacao nibs, Unrefined Cane Sugar, California Almonds, Ceylon Cinnamon Sticks, Guajillo Chilies, Pasilla Negro Chilies, Chipotle Chilies

Other Choco-Vivo bars (they are all good!)

Cacao nibs (also from Choco-vivo)

A cacao nib is the raw ingredient for chocolate.

When "they" say dark chocolate is healthy, it's the nib that's the healthy part of it. They are not sweet yet, because no sugar has been added. They are crunchy, nutty little guys that are good on a lot of things. Nibs are great ground up and used like cocoa powder, sprinkled on ice cream, tossed into trail mix, eaten as a treat, stirred into yogurt or oatmeal, blended in smoothies and shakes, mixed into a cheesecake's nut crust.

If you're going to go with nibs, I will once again recommend Patricia at Choco-Vivo. Patricia is a passionate craftsman of chocolate. She goes to Mexico and works with her farmers, who are craftsmen themselves. This stuff is carefully harvested, fermented, and dried, resulting in an amazing little treat. I've had the Choco-Vivo nibs and compared them to the ones from "health food stores." There's no comparison; these are seriously better.


Coconut and coconut products are a health craze these days, and for good reason – they are actually healthy. Just beware that coconut flour is so good that you will still eat a whole pan of brownies, and healthy or not, that's a lot of calories. Don't think it's a free ride because it's healthy.

It might seem like a weird gift for some, but take it to a White Elephant Gift Party and explain to who gets it how awesome it is. If you have a health conscious friend or relative, coconut is a great gift, particularly because good coconut products and raw ingredients can be hard to find, locally. Shredded coconut found in stores, for instance, is often ruined sweetened.

Tropical Traditions is my favorite place to get my coconut products, although they don't carry coconut milk. :(

Coconut flour

If you're going low carb, paleo, or gluten free, this stuff is a life saver. Gal makes all sorts of stuff with it. It's so good I might have to tell her to stop.

Shredded coconut (and flakes and chips)

From shreds, to flakes, to chips, you get whatever size you need. Shreds and flakes are great for baking, but the chips are good for snacking or in a trail mix, sprinkled on cereal, ice cream, made into granola, or even eaten as cereal.

Coconut oil

The Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil is the one that smells and tastes like coconut. It's amazing for cooking, and for imparting more of that great coconut flavor to your foods.

I also love their Organic Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil, which has no flavor. I use this instead of normal cooking oils like canola oil and the other unhealthy seed, nut, and grain oils that we typically find in cupboards.

Both are amazing for frying, because you can really crank up the heat without smoking the place out.

Comments and ideas?

If you have any great ideas along these lines, please share!

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