Top 5: Foodie Gifts
1. BT McElrath Chocolate Bars
Famed local chocolatier BT McElrath recently introduced a line of chocolate bars that might be considered a budget-sensitive alternative to his award-winning truffles. The bars come in cute little boxes (made with paper certified from the sustainable forestry initiative) with bold graphics and sassy copy written by witty local scribe Dennis Cass.
The plain dark and milk chocolate bars are fine, but the funkier ones showcase McElrath's strength of enhancing a chocolate's inherent flavors by layering on more of them. The Chile Limon bar, for example, has nice hits of smoke and pucker--it starts with a brightness and finishes with a hit of heat--though I felt they overpowered the chocolate a bit.
My two favorites flavors are the Salty Dog (dark chocolate with toffee and sea salt, so it's sort of like salty caramel combined with chocolate) and the Passion Fruit/Tangerine, which has these gorgeous, arty swirls of white and dark chocolate. A lot of dark chocolates have cherry/berry flavor notes but the tropical tartness of the passion fruit and tangerine makes it one of the most interesting flavored chocolates I've had in ages. Find the bars for about $3-$4 at places BT McElrath is sold, including Surdyk's, Linden Hills Co-Op, and Kowalski's.
2. Saffron's Spice Trail
Frustrated by the lack of availability of fresh, high-quality Middle Eastern and South Asian spices, Saffron chef--and Iron Fork winner--Sameh Wadi created his own line. His complex, nuanced Spice Trail blends come in four varieties--Ras El Hanout, Exotic Blend, Garam Masala and Tagine--and there's a gift set of all four (2 oz. each) selling for $35. I can't imagine that home cooks will ever be able to replicate Wadi's cooking wonders, but armed with his spices, it might be a feat worth attempting. Buy at Saffron or order at www.saffronmpls.com.
Think of this as a Stillwater-based Harry and David. FruitShare owner Everett Meyers contracts with growers to bring fresh, organic fruit from the farm to your table within days. It's not cheap--$29 for one order, $995 for a year full of 27 seasonal deliveries--but for someone who doesn't live close to a co-op, a box of organic satsuma mandarins grown by Alice Waters-endorsed farmers would be a serious upgrade on the St. Nick's orange-in-the-shoe tradition. Order at www.FruitShare.com.
Tim Fischer is selling gift boxes of his southern Minnesota pork--beloved by so many local chefs--in $50 and $100 boxes. The $50 sampler includes 8 pork chops, 2 packages of bacon, 1 package breakfast sausage, 1 ham steak, 1 maple coil sausage, 1 lb. ground pork, 1 lb ground sausage, 2 sirloin roasts, 1 package bacon brats--the price constitutes a nice discount from the individual prices. But you'll need to act fast: the ordering deadline is December 17. Contact Tim at 507.351.9910 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Monk's Blood San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery recently started contract brewing its Monk's Blood Belgian-style ale at Minnesota's Cold Spring Brewing. The 8.3% alcohol beer is brewed with eight malts, Belgian candi sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean, black mission figs--and then aged on oak. The name refers to monks' periods of fasting, in which they subsist solely on beer, or 'liquid bread." Having "blood" in the name may be a little off-putting to the recipient so gift carefully, but I'd bet this beer would be a good pick for pairing with rich, hearty holiday fare. Find Monk's Blood at beer-savvy liquor stores around the metro.
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