We love to eat. And, we especially love to eat around the holidays when so many special goodies are available. Food is something that brings people together year round but it’s something that’s perhaps doubly (or even tripley!) true come the holidays.
If you are food lovers like us, we suspect you already have some go-to goodies, be it specialty foods from a favorite shop, or recipes that you save for this time of year. That said, if you fancy exploring the possibility of new favorites, or if you’re looking for something delicious to give as a gift, here’s a round-up of ten delicious foodstuffs we think are eminently worth trying and/or giving:
JUNE TAYLOR’S MINCEMEAT - When we eat mince pies, a little part of us is transported to Dickens’ England and the world he created in A Christmas Carol. Accompanied by a hot mug of tea, or a neat glass of sherry, a rich, fruity mince pie is hard to beat when the snow is falling outside your window. Making the pastry is actually the easy part, it’s sourcing good quality mincemeat that can be a challenge. Enter June Taylor, making of all sorts of delicious things from the highest quality fruit she can source. One of her holiday specialities is from-scratch mincemeat which, despite its name, does not actually contain meat as we tend to think of it (although some traditional mincemeat recipes do include a bit of suet for a luxuriant mouthfeel), but rather the “meats” of various fruits, marvelously combined and preserved. A jar of this stuff is not cheap but, then again, a lot of good quality ingredients, time and labor go into its making. We like to think of this magically delicious mince as an extra special holiday treat and feel the splurge is absolutely worth it. One jar, we have found, is just about the ideal amount for 12 mini (i.e. muffin pan) sized pies, perfect for a small wintery gathering or afternoon tea. Note: this is a seasonal product so may not be available/visible on June Taylor’s site unless it is in stock.
VACHERIN MONT D’OR CHEESE - For cheesemongers, Vacherin Mont d’Or is a harbinger of colder weather to come, of winter and, ultimately, the holiday season. Made in Switzerland (the closely related French version is called Vacherin du Haut-Doubs), this stunningly delicious washed rind cow milk cheese is pretty much a perfect party cheese in that (when ripe) it is almost like a little self-contained fondue pot. Ok, so maybe its paste is not quite that runny, but it is definitely uber spreadable. Vacherin Mont d’Or has a rich, buttery flavor that is made more complex by resinous notes from the spruce bark that is used to wrap its rind. To serve, you can either dig right in from the top, slathering spoonfuls of the cheese onto crusty pieces of baguette or, if the rind is a bit thick, peel it back and tuck directly into the cheese’s silky paste underneath. Serving this cheese at room temperature is critical to getting the maximum amount of flavor, not to mention optimal unctuousness. It is bound to be a hit at any party attended by cheese-lovers, whether the dress code is sweats and blankets, or black tie and diamonds.
WILLIAMS-SONOMA’S CROISSANTS - Picture this: it’s Sunday morning. You finally have the chance for a bit of a lie-in. It’s bitterly cold outside, but snug and warm under your duvet cover. What’s going to tempt you out of bed? Not much, we wager, except perhaps a top notch breakfast. Well, if you don’t fancy taking the time to make poached eggs, or whip up a batch of pancakes but would rather sit and read the paper while waiting for something delicious to appear, stocking your freezer with a batch of ready-to-bake croissants is über smart. Ok, it may not be exactly like picking up a fresh-out-of-the-oven croissant from a Parisian bakery, but it comes doggone close and is a heck of a lot cheaper than a trip to Paris, and a heck of a lot warmer than nipping out to a local bakery on a frosty Sunday morning. Williams-Sonoma’s croissants are made under the supervision of Brittany-born Jean-Yves Charon, who began apprenticing as a pastry chef at the age of 16 (!). All you need to do is remember to take them out to rise the night before and pop them in the oven the next morning. Treat yo’self and/or a family member to luxurious winter mornings with a box of fifteen, ready-to-bake croissants.
OLYMPIA PROVISIONS’ SWEETHEART HAM - Brined with juniper berries, fresh herbs, fresh garlic, and fresh onions for 10 days, then smoked over applewood for ten hours, we love these little hams. First off, and most importantly, because they taste sublime. Honestly, this ham, sliced thin, is basically our idea of what the perfect ham should taste like. Second, on a more practical note, one of these babies is not going to take up all the room in your refrigerator, overwhelming everyone with leftovers until, frankly, you want nothing more to do with anything pork-related products for the foreseeable future. So basically, in our humble opinions, Olympia’s sweetheart ham is really the perfect little package of flavor and convenience. Hosting a buffet dinner? Serve it Southern-style with fresh biscuits and a dab o’ mustard (or honey mustard). Alternately, it’s easily enjoyed solo, or layered into a satisfying sandwich after, say, coming home a wee bit tipsy from your company’s holiday party. Whether for yourself or for a loved one, a sweetheart ham will elevate the midnight snacking experience, or the party sideboard.
EHCHOCOLATIER PEPPERMINT BARK - We’ve raved about EHChocolatier’s peppermint bark before but we can’t not mention it again because it truly is the best bark we’ve tasted. It breaks easily but not too easily, it tastes of peppermint but not to the detriment of the chocolate, and it’s gorgeously chocolatey but not to the point where we can’t enjoy the peppermint too. Texturally, it melts in your mouth but also has a marvelous crunch, thanks to liberal sprinklings of peppermint pieces. To summarize: it’s perfectly balanced in terms of both flavor and texture. You may wish to order a box just for yourself, tucking it away in a secret hidey-hole (honestly, this stuff truly tests your capacity to share with others!) - or, make someone’s day week by giving a box as a gift.
CALVISIUS CAVIAR - We all know caviar can cost an arm and a leg. And, many of us (even if we had the wherewithal) will not shell out thousands of dollars for foodstuffs. That said, caviar can taste pretty darned delicious. Which is why we were a little bit thrilled to come across Calvisius caviar. Farmed in Italy, it is available at a much more reasonable price point than wild counterparts. As such, the flavor-to-dollar proposition is very appealing, perhaps even making it just the thing for a special occasions. Certainly, it still constitutes a bit of a splurge but it’s a gosh darned delicious indulgence - just the kind of thing for a one-off holiday treat. Their caviar is available at varying price points, primarily dependent on the sturgeon the roe was sourced from. Gift sets are available too if you fancy treating someone to a the taste of luxury.
SEAFOOD GOODIES - Champagne goes with pretty much everything, but we think it happens to go especially well with seafood. And, since this is the time of year when Champagne flows a bit more freely, wethinks it’s the perfect time to place an order for oysters and/or some of the gorgeously delicious tinned seafood that’s available. Oysters are grand as party fare, for example at a New Year’s celebration, but can also make a family meal extra special. If you don’t have ready access to seafood, expert oyster blogger Julie Qiu (aka In a Half Shell) has put together a great list of oyster farms that ship directly to consumers. As for tinned seafood - we know there may be skeptics out there, perhaps thinking back to soggy tuna fish sandwiches from childhood - but we swear, there’s some pretty darned luxurious (and stunningly delicious) tinned seafoods out there that can either make for quick and delicious party hors d’oeuvres, or easy peasy winter meals and snacks. We’re talking smoked mussels, octopus, squid, cockles and, yes, tuna too (As Do Mar tuna totally changed how we viewed tinned tuna!). Small toasts are really all you need, as a textural counterpoint yes, but primarily as a means of conveying the seafood to your mouth. And, if you’re eating seafood packed in oil, whatever you do, DO NOT THROW THE OIL OUT! It’s delicious drizzled on salads or mopped up with bread. An easy winter meal? Boil up some spaghetti, toss it with some smoked mussels (and a bit of the accompanying oil) and top it with some toasty breadcrumbs. Pair with a glass of wine (or bubbles) and boom, dinner is sorted. As to where to source fabulous tinned seafood? Definitely check out Cole’s and La Tienda.
SALAMI - Hands up if you treat yourself to a dinner of nibbles every now and again! By “dinner of nibbles,” we mean dinners that are a delicious assortment of lots of foods. Our assortment pretty much always involves cheese, along with a crusty baguette, some olives, maybe some cornichons (wee French pickles) and, if we can swing it, some charcuterie too - prosciutto, jamón, pâté or, most often, salami. The number of “nibble dinners” we have definitely spikes during wintertime, namely when the red wine comes out and classic movies start showing up on the telly. For that reason alone, we are adding salami to this list of top notch edibles available online. That said, if you’re doing a bit (or a lot) of holiday hosting, salami also makes for a superb party nibble: it’s delicious (check!) and only requires plating, so is about as low-stress as it gets (double check!). Some of our favorite salami makers include: Fra’Mani, Olympia Provisions, Salumeria Biellese and Olli.
COOKIES - The holidays and cookies are, for many folks, pretty synonymous. This is the time of year when favorite family recipes - be it on handwritten index cards or batter-splattered magazine clippings - tend to make an appearance. Not only are cookies delicious to eat, they often make for a wonderful group project, serving as a source of festive cheer. That said, if you are not a baker, or won’t have time for cookie-baking this holiday season, but still fancy some cookie-eating - or, if you know someone in that predicament - there are several top notch cookie makers out there that will happily bake and ship throughout the United States. After a few clicks, all you have to do is stock your fridge with some cold milk and wait for deliciousness to arrive by mail. Cookie bakers you may wish to check out include: Craftsman and Wolves, City Cakes, Bang Cookies, Big Fat Cookie and Deluscious Cookies.
PANETTONE FROM ROY - When someone takes the time to focus on only one thing and to do that thing to the best of their ability, chances are something pretty amazing is bound to be the result. Such is the case with acclaimed pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel. Having spent time learning from culinary greats such as Pierre Hermé, Ferran Adria, and Thomas Keller - and, after having opened and run his own bakery, Chef Shvartzapel decided to perfect the making of a single baked good, Italy’s traditional holiday bread, panettone. He worked for a good part of a decade, apprenticing with Italian master Iginio Massari before opening California-based Panettone From Roy where he makes stunningly delicious panettone that involve top notch ingredients and a 40-hour curing and proofing process. Chef Shvartzapel’s panettone are a treat year round but are especially conducive to holiday celebrations, family gatherings and/or wintery indulgence. Warning: flavors can sometimes sell out, especially around the holiday season so be sure to get your order in early!
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