I'd like to send a gift package to some lovely people in a rural part of the Midwest who hosted us this weekend. They love to cook and are open to all cuisines, but don't have access to ingredients. I'd love some suggestions for things that I can send in the mail. Thanks!
I just shopped at a new Middle Eastern grocery store the other day and came home with za'atar (which can be variations on the theme but mine has dried thyme, corriander, anise, fennel, sesame seed, salt), sumac (which is a tangy citrus powder), and pomegranate molasses (in a jar). Although I haven't cooked with any of it yet, I've tasted them all, and I'm excited about trying them.
Also, a container of saffron might be nice. Vanilla beans.
I live in a rural area, and things that I would love to get would be: smoked paprika, various kinds of salts, good arborio rice, Asian seasoning and non-perishables, herbs, really good chocolate, high quality oils and vinegars, truffle oil, pretty much anything that I can't find at the local grocery store. If they are interested in a particular regional cooking (such as Italian, Asian, etc) maybe some of those items?
How about ingredients around a theme or particular ethnic cuisine. For ex, Italian: sundried tomatoes, dried porcini mushrooms, olive oil, artisanal pasta, etc. You can always through in a gadget or cooking utensil - wooden spoon, pasta stirrer, dish towel.
2nd for the vanilla beans, saffron.
If they like to cook Indian, maybe a gift package of Indian grocer staples:
A few diff garam masala blends
Maybe some of the spice mix blends like Shan -
Seriously, you'd still be under 15.00 here so far.
Couple that with a standard intro to Indian Cook Book.
I recently did a "pan asian" gift box_
Small btl of toasted sesame oil
Small btl of toasted sesame/hot chile oil
Small btl of oyster sauce
small btl of lwo sodium soy
small btl of ponzu
small btl of mushroom soy
small btl of unagi sauce
two cans of coconut milk
four different maesri curry paste cans
pkg of nori
tin of wasabi powder
sml btl of rice vinegar
2lb pkg of nishiki
bamboo sushi mat
few pairs of nice chopsticks
small box of chocolate pocky sticks
generous sprinkling of Japanese gummy candies
So, I got all this from an Asian mkt, and spent right around 21.00. Needless to say it was well received, and many ppl at the party were absolutely amazed at it.
There are lots of good sources for herbs and spices, not the least of which is Penzey's which has a web site and a great mail order service. Kalustyan's in New York (I think I have that spelled correctly) is a great source of many ethnic staples. But you might also think in terms of unusual or hard to find kitchen tools, like shortbread or springerle molds. Or how about a nice knife from Warther's in Ohio?