1. Border Bourbon
Hot on the heels of the craft beer boom comes the craft spirits boom. Small distilleries are just beginning to show up in the metro area, but the crew at 45th Parallel has already been brewing their spirits for some time. How long? Long enough to have aged a beauty of a bourbon. The grains come from a 6th-generation family farm, raised minutes away from the distillery. Whereas most big-name bourbons all come from the same handful of companies, just sold with different labels, these craft beauties are exceptional sippers. Bottles are in limited editions, so inquire at the distillery or your local premium spirits retailer.
www.45thparallelspirits.com2. Dashfire Brandied Cocktail Cranberries
www.dashfirebitters.com3. Barrel-Aged Products by Blis
They hooked me with their bourbon cask-aged maple syrup, but I became a full-on devotee of the entire line of products when I first tasted the sweet-smoky heat of their hot sauce. Made in Michigan by a chef, these products elevate any dish they’re used with to an other-worldly gourmet realm. Drizzle that thick, dark maple syrup on a stack of flappers and kick that other stuff to the curb. It’s delicious thinned with hot water and used in place of simple syrup in drinks. The fish sauce comes with a Kablam! kind of flavor, upping the umami factor for dishes like cold-soothing Tom Yum or crowd-pleasing Thai fried rice. Because they’re aged, they are a little more expensive than their grocery store counterparts, but the lazy gourmet in your life will thank you.
Available at several local retailers including The Golden Fig.
www.blisgourmet.com4. Bowls by Rogue Potters
Every year I swear I’m going to get more art in my life and every year I inevitably wish that I’d followed through on that proclamation. This year, I’m filling my pantry with a few of these incredibly affordable works of usable art. Rogue Potters is a collective that fires their works in a little house out in the middle of nowhere, near Forest Lake. Their techniques result in beautiful earth tones accented with beautiful, metallic flecked lines. They’re almost too beautiful to use – almost. Rogue Potter’s pieces go from microwave to oven to dishwasher, all safely. Also, they make food absolutely stunning to photograph. This large bowl retails for around $40 and would make a perfect serving vessel for a fat batch of cassoulet. Look for them at Tangletown Gardens.
5. Amy Thielen’s The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes Cookbook
It was a remarkable thing to open to a random page inside this new cookbook and discover a mention of Sammy’s Pizza in Grand Rapids. Growing up, I ate there practically daily and I miss those pies! Paging through I found a dozen more highly personal food memories that this woman, who I’d never met, somehow managed to draw upon. This tome celebrates all that is wonderful about our regional cooking without any of the schtick or processed products. I’ve been working up to making every single item in this book, but first I had to start with replicating that ultra-thin pizza crust. For the holidays, I know I’ll be serving the smoked whitefish brandade and basically spending the rest of my year planning foods around this book’s ideas. It is an instant classic, tucked onto a shelf next to my Grandmother Gidgee’s old recipe box.
6. Smoked Salt from The Golden Fig
Did you know that it’s an old German tradition to give salt and bread as a housewarming present? I had no idea until a dear friend gifted me with just that. There are a million kinds of salt these days, but the one kind that I can’t be without (aside from boring old Kosher) is the Smoked Salt from The Golden Fig on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. It’s good in on just about everything. Grind it up fine and dust it over popcorn. Add to braises to give a BBQ bit of kick–I’ve even heard that this was the secret behind those fantastic ribs at 128 Cafe. It’s one ingredient that you never knew you needed until you had it. Just imagine what it could do for a roast turkey or prime rib? Pair with a baguette and you’ve got a perfect housewarming gift.
7. Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.
Do you have a friend who is far away that you wish you could share a holiday cocktail with? Why not send them the fixings with a little bottle of Jack Rudy’s small batch tonic? Just a half-ounce in fizzy water with a little lime juice will cure what ails you (and if that doesn’t work, throw some gin on it). With the craft cocktail boom it’s all about making this stuff yourself, but that is messy, expensive, and time consuming. Besides, this stuff is much better. It ships easily and you’re just a Facetime chat away from a drinking with a long lost friend.
Available at The Golden Fig.
It’s the stick that stirs! This lovely and genius utensil is made locally by John Danicic (you can find them at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market) in a beautiful array of wood tones. Whether mixing mac and cheese, scrambling eggs, or frosting a cake, this guy is the perfect implement. Oh…and it also fits just perfectly into a stocking! How nice.
9. MyDrap Tear-Off Placemats
This was my first year of hosting Thanksgiving and the amount of gear it takes to feed my whole family is astonishing. Nothing I have matches or comes without a blemish on it. Just recently I had exactly four placemats, until I discovered these tear-off placemats on a roll. They’re easy to use, washable, reuseable, and, best of all, they all match! (Actually, best of all, they are incredibly affordable.) Perfect for setting any table, easily and elegantly. Available locally at Bed, Bath and Beyond or online at places like West Elm (where they’re currently on sale for $9.99.
$36 (but usually found for around $10-15), 12 placemats per roll