Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Cooking

A helpful guide to good host gifts

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Food brings us comfort and togetherness. And few communities compare to the City of Light when it comes to revering food.

My trips to Paris, including my most recent visit a few months ago, have provided the inspiration for many of the gifts I plan to deliver this holiday season. Food-themed gifts are particularly perfect for hosts. Below is a list of some of the pairings I have planned to take to party givers this month. A few also will be under the tree for my closest foodie friends.

My absolute favorite gifts this year are the beautiful aprons I purchased at a boutique in the St. Germain Arrondissement of Paris. The Pret-A-Tacher aprons are decorated around the neckline with colorful jewelry designs for women and medals for men. The jewels are designed from prints of pasta, seafood and cooking utensils. My favorite is a design of gold and silver forks, spoons and knives dangling from a thick gold, braided chain (approximately $40). All of the designs are available to view on the designer's website, pretatacher.com, but they are only sold in the United States through an Aspen, Colo., shop called Paris Underground (parisunderground.com). In general, aprons are a wonderful host gift that can be personalized to reflect any number of passions, from pets to political parties.

Another good host gift is a cheese knife. I found one from Sabre with a colorfully decorated handle on my travels; each piece is inscribed with "Paris" on the blade so it makes for a lovely souvenir. (I found them in the United States at didriks.com; $30.) Package a cheese knife with a block of cheese to give as a gift. One of the most popular cheeses at Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg is Moliterno Al Tartufo ($27.99 per pound), according to cheesemonger Hope Mauck. It's a marbled sheep's milk cheese from Sardinia infused with truffles from Umbria. "It's very sharp and trufflelike," she said. "When you open it, the flavor hits you in the face."

One lucky host will receive a silver olive oil pitcher from a Parisian shop called Premiere Provence Pression, also in the St. Germain neighborhood. I will be gifting the teapotlike dispenser with a can of Nicolas Alziari olive oil purchased locally at Williams-Sonoma. The French extra-virgin olive oil from Nice was the favorite in a 2005 Tampa Bay Times taste test. Judges liked the smooth, yellow color and the hints of citrus in the flavor. Williams-Sonoma and other kitchen shops also sell olive oil cruets. A variety of olive oil flavors also is available at places like Kalamazoo Olive Company in downtown St. Petersburg. Currently, the company is partnering with Savory Spice Shop and St. Petersburg's Craftsman House to offer a gift box called Flavors of St. Petersburg. The box includes a 7-ounce bottle of Frantoio/Leccino extra-virgin olive oil, a handcrafted ceramic dipping tray and three spices: Cuban Island Spice, California Citrus Rub and Parmesan Pesto Sprinkle. The box sells for $39.95 at all three locations.

Savory Spice Shop also sells one of the tastiest gifts I ever received and one that I definitely will replicate for friends this Christmas. I recently bought four 2-ounce jars of bold cocoa powders that I plan to pair with a couple of festive holiday mugs. My favorites are Dutch Cocoa Powder ($4.80), Mayan Cocoa ($6.05), Black Onyx Cocoa Powder ($6.45) and Mexican Cocoa ($6.05). I use the powder in my homemade hot chocolate and in recipes from fudge to brownies.

Owner Pam Timmons at the Cook's Cottage in Belleair Bluffs gave me several great ideas for host gifts. I picked up stainless steel Herb Scissors ($9.99), perfect for chopping, mincing and dicing herbs right over a pan or a dinner plate. Pair those with a fresh basil plant to make an herb-themed present. I also bought a box of ChicWrap Professional Plastic Wrap ($12.99). It's a decorated box of plastic wrap suitable for leaving on the kitchen counter instead of hiding in a drawer. It comes in several designs, including colorful vegetables and a retro kitchen pattern. The store sells the same line of boxes with aluminum foil and parchment paper.

And I always buy several boxes of toffee from Tampa's Toffee to Go. It's a treat most people don't buy for themselves and one that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. A half-pound of the holiday collection sells for $19 and comes in a holiday-themed box with ribbon. The assortment includes dark chocolate toffee with pecans, milk chocolate toffee with almonds and white chocolate toffee with macadamia nuts. The Tampa toffee was one of Oprah's Favorite Things in 2013. That year, we left toffee instead of cookies for Santa. If it was good enough for Oprah, I figured Santa would approve.

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