Whether you need an appropriate gift for the in-laws or want to nudge your significant other into doing more cooking, the gift of food never lands you on the naughty list. We've compiled an easily-obtained list of fun foodstuffs, all priced in the budget-friendly under $100 category; we all feel the wallet pain this time of year. Buying gifts can be stressful but remember: if all else fails, you can always offer to wait on line for a Cronut.
Cheese Fanatic: Beecher's Box The dairy fanatics at this Flatiron cheese emporium turn out some seriously delicious cheese made on premises in their two-story shop and restaurant. Having seen the action personally and tasted their fresh curds, I know the quality of the product matches any of the big names in cheese but with the bonus of being made locally right here in NYC. The shop sends out all kinds of cheese boxes but I'm partial to the Just Add Wine collection, which boasts six different blocks of Beecher's in half pound wedges plus fruit spread, crackers and bread. As the name suggests, it's a great pre-assembled party kit, ideal for hosting one of the ubiquitous parties that roll around this time of the year. And if someone doesn't thank you for sending them a huge box of cheese feel free to rob them and rescind your friendship.
Home Cook 2.0: Cast Iron Skillet For those who've mastered basics like boiling water and cooking eggs, the cast iron skillet should be at the top of the list for taking their cooking to the next level. This versatile cookware can run the gamut from searing to frying to baking and can be used on all manner of cooking surfaces, including the open flame. These essentially indestructible skillets are sometimes passed down through the generations, but if you aren't fortunate enough to inherit Grammy's well-seasoned one, you'd do well to grab one from Lodge cast iron. The company is well-known for their pre-seasoned cast iron cookware; for newbies, go for the 10 1/4" model, which should fit most apartment-sized stovetops without much overhang. When it comes to cast iron maintenance, the company offers some great tips; as for me, I scrape off food bits with some kosher salt, wipe with vegetable oil and call it a day.
Gourmet Parents: Adopt An Olive Tree To truly trust your olive oil you should know its provenance, which should be easy if you have your own olive tree! Italian company Nudo let's you adopt a tree and reap the bounty in the form of olive oil shipped to your giftee of choice. It's a great choice for parents who either love great food, love Italy or like the idea of food sourced from small farms instead of Big Olive Oil. Gifters can select trees from all over Sicily and the east coast of Italy; growers provide tasting notes for their oils plus a little background about the grove itself. Each adoption comes with three, 17-ounce cans of oil from your tree, plus adoption papers; orders placed now deliver in April of 2014.
Nudo Olive Tree Adoption, $69 plus shipping
DIY Sweet Tooth: Make-Your-Own Macaron Kit Exalted pastry chef Francois Payard has mastered the delicate macaron, a sweet cookie sandwich made with egg whites and filled with luscious ganache. Without decades of experience, crafting the delicate cookie pieces could prove difficult, especially when egg whites threaten to deflate with even the slightest of breezes or over-harden with an inexperienced hand. Payard created DIY "Makecaron" boxes, which contain 40 cookie shells in chocolate, raspberry and vanilla flavors. Also included is a recipe booklet with four ganache recipes—though nobody would judge if you filled the cookies with Nutella or whipped cream!
Francois Payard Makecaron Boxes, $22 each.
Book Worm: Food History Of The LES Literary-minded foodies can get a taste of the city's historic eateries through their minds even if they can't visit the Big Apple. Last year, LES institution Russ & Daughters was immortalized in book form courtesy of a lovely memoir from fourth-generation co-owner Niki Russ Federman titled Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes From the House That Herring Built. Inside, Federman illuminates the history of the beloved smoked fish house and shares recipes for classic deli dishes.
Not to be outdone by their neighbor, similarly venerable LES eatery Katz's Delicatessen released a gorgeous photography book filled to the gills—just like their sandwiches—of scenes and eats from everyday life in the Houston street restaurant. Katz's: Autobiography of a Delicatessen showcases longtime employees, done-up diners and hundreds of shots of the institutions gut-busting fare.