Because every magazine and website hawks their holiday gift guides this time of year, allow Chicago Foodies to convince you that ours is different. We promise not to endorse any brands of dense holiday bread (fruitcakes, panettone, etc.) that could pose choking hazards. We promise that these are products that we genuinely like; we bought them, and we'd be proud to give them as gifts to our friends and family. Lastly, these are gifts that could hopefully appeal to the die-hard food nerd as well as the average person with a love of good food and drinks. So unless you've already stuffed every stocking with the singing electronic Justin Bieber toothbrush on sale at Walgreens, read ahead to see what Chicago Foodies want most in our stockings this year.
Cuisinart Blend and Cook Soup Maker
The latest commercials just don't do this wonder appliance justice. Any good home cook knows that putting your homemade hot soup in a blender will result in a nasty explosion. This new blender will not only saute and blend your soup, it also keeps it warm until you serve it. We'd like to keep this one on our counter until summer to test it out on smoothies and frozen drinks.
$18 (Amazon, or at Girl & The Goat)
Boulevard Imperial Stout
$15-$18 (limited availability; try Lush Wines & Spirits or Binny's)
Ho ho ho! Santa's here early. We can't blame Kris Kringle for prematurely grounding his sleigh for a holiday treat with the Boulevard Brewing Imperial Stout around. It's just a shame for the big bearded guy that this delicious brew is going to give his bag of North Pole sourced goodies a run for its money as being this year's perfect gift. Whether you were naughty or nice or a bit of both you'll love this dark, bitter chocolaty bourbon barreled 11% stout that's got just enough smoky bourbon notes to let you know it's been half-steeped in Kentucky booze for two years, and sprinkled with some grainy undertones to keep it all in check. Even if no one's greeting you under the mistletoe this year you can cozy up by the fake fireplace and take in the winter wonderland with this dark Yule tiding. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good bourbon barreled stout.
Chances are, you're going to be drinking cocktails at some holiday party between now and January, and these locally-made syrups are a no-brainer hostess gift. Just a splash infuses drinks with bold, interesting flavor combinations that work just as well in non-alcohol drinks like Italian soda and coffee. In the mornings, replace mimosas with champagne and cardamom-rose water syrup; after dinner, spike your coffee with a tablespoon of spicy Cafe de Olla. For inspiration, see all the recipes on Jo Snow's website.
MetroKane 6600 Rabbit Super-Aerating Decanter
$40-$60 (Amazon or at select Macy's stores)
This decanter has a few things going for it. There's a thumb-shaped notch on the bottom that makes it very ergonomic. Though the spout shape looks mundane, for some reason it pours like a champ but the real benefits are the silver mesh filter and the mechanism for aerating. The pin-holes in the fragile, crystal insert splash your wine across the surface of the decanter very effectively and it cascades down in a pretty way. The increase in surface area as it flows must also decrease time needed decanting. Your wine should be ready to go faster.
Bon Home Air-Drying Dish Rack
A dish rack? As a gift? Yes. Seriously. As we previously mentioned, this drying rack seems like a silly kitchen gift but if it keeps dishes out of the dishwasher, it's doing something. The real reason to get this is if your oenophile friends use a lot of non-dishwasher-friendly glassware. The air drying takes minutes and nearly eliminates spotting.
Rare Bird Preserves
$10 each (online or at these retailers)
One of the unique aspects of the preserves from this Oak Park-based company is that they do not contain commercially-produced pectin, which is a gelling agent used to provide consistency in jams, jellies, and preserves. Naturally-occurring pectin can be found in apples, apricots, and citrus products, and Rare Bird uses apple and lemon peels from the same fruits used to make the preserves. The flavors are way more interesting than what you'd find on a Jewel shelf: think plum-apple-hibiscus and lemon-blueberry.
Charcuterie from Old Town Social
$12-$15/lb., available online or at Old Town Social
This restaurant-slash-bar on North Avenue makes some of the best charcuterie in the city, and if there's a carnivore on your holiday list, chef Jared van Camp is happy to provide all the house-cured meats he or she desires. For that bacon-addicted pal, we'd recommend the finnocchiona, a fennel and pork salami, sliced thin, which makes a beautiful addition to cheese plates.
B/B Apron from Winter Session
We first spied this incredibly utilitarian yet stylish denim apron at Dose Market. Luckily, Chicago-based Winter Session also sells them online. The apron is made from 12 lb. raw denim, so it can stand up to whatever sauces and heat cooks throw at it. A chest pocket and divided waste house all the spatulas, thermometers, and other cooking gear, and the quality stitching lets you know that the apron will last for decades. Suitable for men and women, it's one of the sturdiest aprons around.
This is the go-to stocking stuffer for restaurant lovers. The deck offers a $10 gift card to 52 Chicago restaurants, including heavy-hitters like Arami, Lula Cafe and Piccolo Sogno. If your gift recipient uses just three of them, it already pays for itself. Also a great choice for new residents to the city, since each card also offers a description of the chef-driven restaurants.