The food-obsessed friend or family member in your life is always on the hunt for something new and special. As a devoted foodie myself, I get it. We can be hard to shop for, even though there is SO MUCH OUT THERE, because how do you narrow it down if you aren’t fully invested? Thus, here’s my holiday gift to you: a list of things the foodies in your life will be thrilled to upwrap. I hope my family is taking notes!
Bring on the Spice!
Everything that Chicago’s Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard touches is culinary gold, and her new line of condiments is no exception. But her riffs on the classic chili crisp condiment are next level, and so darn FUNCTIONAL. I am drizzling it on absolutely everything, from scrambled eggs to salads, soups to roast proteins — tofu, pork, chicken, fish… it gives any dish a lift. This three-jar variety pack is the way to go. $39, thislittlegoat.com
Your grillmaster deserves the best, so head over to one of The Spice House locations and check out their Rodney Scott Deluxe Collection, with 8 delectable rubs from the James Beard Award-winning pitmaster. The Green Chile Lime Citrus and Black Garlic Seasme Gochugaru Rubs are particular favorites of mine. Throw in a sturdy Denim Apron ($40) to kick the gift up a notch. $96, Chicago, Evanston, and Naperville, thespicehouse.com
If your foodie is looking to recreate some of their favorite Chicago restaurant meals, Here Here Market offers this gift box featuring special sauces and seasonings. It includes Soul & Smoke’s Kansas-Style BBQ Sauce, Mott St.’s Miso Caramel Sauce, Kimski’s Chili Crisp Oil, Macha by Rishi’s Morita Salsa Macha, La Fournette’s Hazelnut Spread, Monteverde’s Garlic Salt and Lemon Pepper, and more. $108, hereheremarket.com
Get Your Sweet On
Boxed, made-months-ago panettone for the holidays? No, thank you. Chef Kevin McCormick’s panettone is made in Good Ambler’s West Loop kitchen using candied lemon and orange rind imported from Italy, rum-soaked raisins, and plenty of sugar and eggs. It’s made with their levain starter, not commercial yeast, and the mixing and baking process takes 3 days, including an upside-down rest to keep the dramatic height (10 inches). “That’s why it’s so challenging,” says McCormick. “Every step has to be done perfectly.” They only make about a hundred of these gems, so be sure to get your order in starting December 1. You’ll want to add some of their playful chocolate holiday items (pointy-hatted gnomes and the like) to your order as well. $35, 216 N. Peoria, Chicago; goodambler.com
Consuming chocolate is one of life’s greatest joys. Eating chocolate truffles that you made yourself? Absolute nirvana. Katherine Anne, one of Chicago’s foremost chocolatiers, has put together this super-fun kit that will be a great family activity, or one for you to hoard for yourself. No judgment here! The kit makes about 40 truffles and includes a pound of couverture fair-trade cacao chocolate, fillings, toppings, and more. You supply the heavy cream and they’ll supply the yum! Hazelnut, Salted Caramel, and Vegan Raspberry Truffle Kits all available. $48, 2745 W. Armitage, Chicago, katherine-anne.com
If you’ve been to Nashville, you know the lure of The Loveless Café and their legendary biscuits and jams. I was pretty jazzed to discover that I could get their biscuit mix, preserves, and even their kick-ass bacon sent my way! This is the perfect breakfast package in a box: 2-lb bag of Biscuit Mix, 3 pint-size jars of preserves (blackberry, peach, and strawberry), and a 14-ounce package of applewood-smoked country bacon. Fry up a few eggs and it’s party time! $60, lovelesscafe.com
Do you have a bourbon fan to gift? Look no further than this 3-month, whiskey-focused subscription from The Gage. Limited to only 50 members each year, your brown-liquor aficionado will receive 4 rare bottles from owner Billy Lawless’ “Bootlegger Stash” along with tasting notes and a recipe guide, 2 engraved whiskey glasses, invitations to private bottle release happy hours and priority access to spirits events at The Gage. Email email@example.com directly to order, or with any questions about membership. $395, 24 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, thegagechicago.com
Have an amateur mixologist in mind? This sleek, Mid-Century Modern-inspired wooden cabinet has everything – and I do mean everything – that one would need to go pro… or just heighten their obsession. Pretty enough to display, the cherry-stained acacia box includes stainless-steel jiggers, bar spoons, cocktail sticks, tongs, strainer, muddler, corkscrew, professional shaker, ice bucket and more. Just add booze and you’re ready to roll. $399, Skokie, Lincoln Park, and Highland Park, potterybarn.com
My Top 6 Cookbook Recs for 2022
Take it from me: There’s no such thing as too many cookbooks. Here are six from this year’s crop that I’ll be using on repeat — three of them with local ties. Look for these titles at your favorite local bookstore, including The Book Bin, a Best of 2022 Winner for Best Bookstore – Suburbs, or Women & Children First, Best of 2022 Winner for Best Bookstore – City.
Greg Wade is a full-on bread nerd, and he cops to that early on in this engaging and informative book on all things long fermented and baked. This James Beard Award-winning baker (Publican Quality Breads) begins with a primer on sourdough starters and progresses through breads, biscuits and muffins, galettes, cakes, and cookies. He gives you good, solid info on ingredients, how to troubleshoot, and how to riff on your own. Many recipes come with wood-fired oven and grilling variations for those who want to go experiment with baking beyond the standard kitchen oven. You’ll want to try your hand at homemade bagels, Oat Cinnamon-Raisin Challah, and Giardiniera and Goat Cheese Focaccia, among other scrumptious-sounding options.
Listen to Your Vegetables: Italian-Inspired Recipes for Every Season by Sarah Grueneberg with Kate Keddings
James Beard Award-winning chef Sarah Grueneberg (of the West Loop’s renowned Monteverde) is known for her fresh pastas and her way with seasonal produce. In this vegetable-focused cookbook, she lets those veggies shine, explaining her techniques and inspiration along the way. In 16 chapters, each centered around specific ingredients. For instance, you’ll find a Fully Loaded Broccolini Antipasto Salad with Peperoncini Vinaigrette in the Brassicas section; Corzetti Pasta with Chanterelle, Brown-Buttered Pecans, and Wild Greens in the Mushrooms chapter; and Hot-Smoked Salmon with Grapes and Celery Salad in with the Fruit. This is not a vegetarian cookbook – although you’ll find many recipes that fit that particular bill – but one that promotes and honors the hard-working produce that makes each dish sing.
You might know her from her smash Food Network show “Girl Meets Farm,” but did you know that Molly Yeh hails from Glenview? I’ve long been a fan of her mash-up of Jewish and Chinese cuisines, because I am also passionate about tahini, fried rice, matzo balls, and potstickers. Her new cookbook does not disappoint! She brings such joy to her cooking, which now includes nods to her husband’s Scandinavian heritage. So cue up the Cardamom Babka, the Cheesy Kimchi Fried Rice, and the Lefse Tot Breakfast Tacos, because I’m coming for them.
If I could only scour one blog for recipes it would definitely be Smitten Kitchen, my go-to for wonderfully written and straight-forward food I absolutely want to stuff in my face. This, Deb Perelman’s third cookbook (sure to be a best seller like the previous two) is filled with 100 such recipes that easily qualify for face-stuffing, like her Leek and Brie Galette, Toasted Ricotta Gnocchi with Pistachio Pesto, Skillet Chicken Parmesan, and Luxe S’More Bars. Is your mouth watering yet?
No less a literary luminary than Alice Walker declares this cookbook “an unusually moving read… steeped in the love of its characters… [and] each recipe is offered with a loving clarity that makes the reader hungry to try to make such a dish [themselves].” In her second book, Tanya Holland lovingly showcases modern soul food with a California sensibility, and the well-written recipes are all instantly craveable (oh, hello Gumbo Z’herbes with Dungeness Crab and Prawns, and Deviled Eggs with Andouille Sausage and pickled Okra). She intersperses those recipes with Black Maker Profiles and “Historical Detours” that detail the history of Black food and culture. A must-read cookbook.
Much like her first cookbook, Dessert Person, Claire Saffitz’ latest is an ode to everyone’s favorite course. But this book is even more approachable, an efficient take on sweet creativity. Her directions are precise, with level of difficulty (very easy, easy, or moderate), any special equipment needed, active/ total time, and potential pitfalls all clearly delineated. Yet this work is far from clinical; appealing desserts like Peach, Bourbon & Pecan Cake, Roasted Lemon Tart, and Mango Yogurt Mousse await you as you browse through the pages. Bake these recipes with confidence.
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Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.