Please help me with Christmas gift!
My two closest friends happen to be a couple and I would appreciate if you guys could help me choose between Option A or Option B, or neither (in which case feel free to share your own ideas).
--A huge gift basket of assorted spices/herbs from Penzeys, good quality vanilla, and maybe a few little kitchen gadgets
Reason: They have me over every week for a dinner party (the other guests rotate) and they'll often ask me to make dishes I've served them at my house. Problem is, their spice cabinet consists of salt, pre-ground pepper, and dried oregano.
I would hand pick the Penzeys stuff. She loves Nielsen Massey vanilla, so I'd add a bottle of that. As far as kitchen gadgets, they both HATE chopping garlic so maybe a garlic press (?). She's always saying her roasts overcook so a meat thermometer might be good. And they only have one potholder in the house. So a set of those.
I thought it would be a nice gift they could actually use... The first time the man of this couple came into my kitchen, he oohed and ahhed at my spice/herb collection (which is really pretty basic) and called the girlfriend in to see it. He said "We need something like THAT."
--A set of Le Creuset stoneware bakers for her
--Monogrammed BBQ brand for him
She has just gotten into baking (from scratch), and I've been gifting her essentials for a while now (pie plates/weights, baking sheets, assorted pans/tools, mixing bowls, etc.) and she gets so excited. The LC bakers are a good size for brownies/bars or small casseroles and would match her newly redone kitchen.
He grills 3-4 nights a week and is an old-school meat and potatoes kind of guy--steaks and chicken, but mostly steak. He is obsessed with his behemoth of a Weber and spends good money on having his steaks hand-cut by the butcher down the street. I hope this doesn't make me sound nuts... But I was thinking of getting him a custom monogrammed cast iron grill brand. Knowing him for over a decade, I think he would get a huge kick out of it. Truth be told, I can't think of a single other thing to get him.
Thoughts? Other options?
My budget is not huge, hoping to spend under $100 for the both of them.
I love your idea of option A; it's clear they like your stash of seasonings and they need to start a collection of their own. Which has me puzzled as to why, if they spend good money on steak and have remodeled a kitchen they haven't already bought any other spices/herbs, they have the money yet the cupboard is bare in that dept....anyway, again, I'd go with A.
I'm not sure why their kitchen is so poorly stocked. She is very young and didn't really live alone until she and this guy moved in together. I get the impression she grew up on things like Rice-A-Roni or jarred pasta sauces from the way she cooks and what's in the cupboards. So I think she's still learning about cooking from scratch.
As for him, he was married previously and never cooked for himself. When he grills, it's either pre-seasoned/marinated by the butcher or just salt and pepper on the meat.
I'm getting excited browsing all the possible spices to get! And thanks everyone else for the suggestions regarding oven mitts and pepper grinders, etc. I could spend hundreds on this gift easily, but I'll have to figure out a way to keep it in budget!
We got a monogrammed brand for a friend back in 2009 -- cost $47.69 w/shipping. Price is same still (steakbrands.com -- had the best price when I was shopping around then) but the presentation box would be another $19 (we opted no). It was simply but well-made and he liked it but it's a bit of a novelty. It's a nice gift (and that company was responsive and quick ship) but would use up a chunk of your budget.
I lean toward option A. Some nice steak seasoning for him, her vanilla, some fancy-ass cinnamon.... oh man, spice shopping is so much fun. :)
If I might expand on Option A:
I've gotten salt samplers from http://www.saltsofthe7seas.com/
that were pretty and well-received. They have larger sizes that look quite counter-presentable also, and also now peppercorns; what's familiar may be a nice gift for your friends. Not the cheapest but a starting point.
If they enjoy beans at all, Rancho Gordo (ranchogordo.com) is a great source of heirloom beans and some spices, grains, chilies. I'm pretty sure the owner of the company has posted here on CH. The Mexican Oregano and Oregano Indio are fragrant and flavorful.
I think option A is a great idea, and it would be well appreciated. Not sure if Penzey's is organic, but I would recommend organic spices.
I'd go with A, but if you decide to go with B, instead of the monogrammed brand, I'd go onto Firecraft.com and order something like the drill-operated grill cleaning brush ($4.95).
Like most others, I say option A. Spices will make a bigger difference in their cooking (and her baking) in the long-term, and it sounds like they're just too intimidated to buy them on their own. If he's more into grilling, throw in one of Penzey's grill blends.
How about adding recipes for some of the dishes they've liked, too? Or a "certificate" for a prep lesson from you?
Option A. You are a very thoughtful friend!
Just an idea to maybe help stretch your budget: instead of Penzey's, take a look at Spice Sage online. I find their quality to be quite good and prices are right (I have no interest in them other than as a customer). Since it sounds like your friends don't have a lot of spice bottles (Spice Sage ships in zip-top bags), get a bunch at the craft store with some pretty labels. If you could find a LC baker that would work with the overall budget, maybe you could package in that using pot holders (kitchen towels too?) in place of tissue paper.
Yes, funny you all mention adding the LC baker. I was imagining making a "gift basket" out of the baker with some tissue paper in it, then the spice bottles in there and the other gadgets sticking out.
Would it be tacky to go to the LC outlet and pick one up? I got my mom a few LC pans from there years ago and they were in perfect condition--no chips or scratches or anything--but less than half price before Xmas. She loved them and uses them all the time.
Maybe I can do that to stretch the $$$. I remember getting a 10"x13" or so casserole baker for like $30.
Ordered my spices already from Penzeys (got too excited), but thanks for the Spice Sage suggestion. I'll look into that next time.
Can't remember everything off the top of my head but I got 10 or 12 bottles total: BBQ blends, pepper blend (3 types of peppercorns), several herbs, a Spanish/Mexican style blend, and cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, etc.
Knowing their tastes, I think these are the ones they'll get the most use out of and be able to "figure out."
Thanks for the rest of your suggestions--she has asked me several times for lessons on yeast breads and pastries, so maybe I can do that.
Any recs on a cheapish meat thermometer that can be used for the grill and oven? I don't eat meat much and have made due perfectly fine with one of those simple metal ones with a dial face.
I think A too. And I wouldn't shy away from getting a few spice blends from Penzey's, especially if they're just starting to build up a spice cabinet. I was never really a blend type person until I was able to go into a Penzey's and browse/sniff. Now Mural of Flavor, Sandwich Sprinkle, and Bavarian are all frequent fliers in my kitchen.