Recommended choices for gourmet ingredients [moved from Western Canada board]
Hi folks! I am hoping to get some help from you in putting together a basket as a gift for a foodie friend. He is a food lover and great cook but has a limited budget so we thought for a gift for him this year we would try to put together a bunch of ingredients that would be considered ideal or interesting or must-haves, and even if he already ends up having some, we could just add to his supply. Can anyone suggest items they would love to see included if they were to receive such a basket? Thanks!
Buying specific ingredients for a "foodie" is dangerous. My friends and relatves often think that I'll be thrilled when they buy me coffee since they know what a coffee freak I am. Problem is that none of them understands that what's sold to them as "gourmet" is what I consider to be "compost" (speaking of God-knows-how-old Illy in those expensive little cans especially). You're dealing with an even more difficult problem and if I were you, unless he has said something like "I wish had white balsamic but I just can't afford it," you're looking at the possibility of throwing good money at something that will never be used.
My suggestion is that you get him a nice kitchen tool. It doesn't matter how many knives he has or how good his knives are; he can always use one more. A good kitchen scale that can be zeroed would be an awesome thing. Silpat, really good quality potholders, a chef's jacket, a really good instant read thermometer... these are the sorts of things you can buy a chef.
re: John Manzo
I agree with John in the sense that it is dangerous. However, i think asking here is a good start :)
Also, my issue with buying tools and toys is that most obssesive type kitchen people already own all the tools they need. For example, i don't need anymore knives. I dont need any kitchen tools at all, except for a high quality espresso machine or a good ice cream machine - which i don't have space for currently. Maybe that's just me, but i know a few people who are at the same stage. Really will depend on the friend.
I agree with mkj, we could put together a better list if we knew what your friend likes to cook. I'd like a basket based on a theme, sushi for example, or a basket of pantry basics including good balsamic, olive oil, spices (that fave cooking styles)...
If you're in Calgary good sources would be: Lina's Italian Market, Sunterra Market, Planet Organic, Community Natural Foods, The Calgary Farmer's Market... Cookbook Company... T&T Supermarket(Asian)... and the list goes on. If we knew where you were and what he was in to we could make more specific recommendations.
Sorry, I guess I was a little vague. We are from Calgary. He is really an all-round cook, experimenting in many cuisines and flavors, from all over the map. We have never known him to stick with any one or to try to narrow his focus. We have been to almost all the markets you recommended and like them all, but are having trouble deciding which items might be best to buy. It is probably due to his being interested in everything that we are having such trouble. We are heading to Lina's this morning, so maybe we'll get a few ideas while we're there.
Sounds like you are thinking of it as putting together a mise. The big question is, did you want perishable, seasonal ingredients as part of the gift package, or more looking at staples? How much are you willing to spend?
For me, there are basic staples i would like that would be things like:
Great Olive Oil
A good sherry vinegar
I'd get these from the Cookbook Co.
A nice canola oil (i prefer Highwood Crossing...awesome stuff). Get it at CNF
If he doesnt have his own garden, maybe get him one of those wide potted plants filled with different fresh herbs. (There was a vendor at CFM, but i dont think they are there in the winter).
Essential seasonings and spices (saffron, fleur de sel, smoked paprika, vanilla beans, are some of the more useful, and expensive ones)
Truffle oil for decadence
A high quality parmesan reggiano
Then as everyone else has stated, depending on what ethnicity or theme you wish to follow, you can add different types of things. Curry pastes, garam masala, different seasonings and flavourings, etc...
No worries... Lina's is wonderful, and has a lot of Italian basics and a great selection of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
salt (sea salt/kosher)
whole black peppercorns
spices - long list, but ones that are pricier would be saffron, whole nutmeg, whole cinnamon sticks... and a pile of others specific to asian and middle eastern cooking...(yen, John, suggestions?)
vanilla or whole vanilla beans
(along with less expensive items like: rice, flours, sugars, canned tomatoes, dried beans...)
Good wine, nuts(whole cashews, pecans, almonds, pine nuts etc), chocolate and cheeses are also high value items that'd be nice in a basket.
Since his interests are so varied you could opt for a gift certificate, or go with a theme: asian, middle eastern, moroccan.... or focus on kitchen gadgets, or mix small kitchen ware with the theme...
Does he have a good pepper mill, set of knives, food processor, mixer, blender...? You could pair a pepper mill with a microplane (for grating fresh nutmeg etc) and other small kitchenware withthe peppercorns, nutmeg and nuts, cheeses, chocolate, & wine...
Or a sushi theme with rolling mats, chopsticks and dishes with nori, rice, pickled ginger and sake?
The more I think about it the more combinations I come up with... Let us know where you've decided to focus :)
I guess it would depend on what kind of food he likes to cook.
If he is really into Italian, you can get some really great stuff at Lina's Italian Market. If he likes Asian/Indian, some of the Asian groceries like T&T have some fun stuff. For just everyday ingredients, Suntera has a good selection.
I personally always like receiving exotic spices. Good Olive Oils and Balsamics are great gifts as well.