Jan Main’s holiday gift guide

Choosing Christmas gifts for people, especially those who have specific tastes, can be stressful. Remember, everyone has to eat. When in doubt, give food or a food related product. They are always appreciated. Here is a list of suggestions to make everyone happy, the giver and the receiver:

Gifts for the Cook

If you have a cook on your gift list, you are lucky; the choices for gifts are endless:

Cooks love a new cookbook. Especially an award-winning cookbook such as The Baker in Me by Daphna Rabinovitch of Canadian Living fame or Homegrown put out by the Professional Home Economists. These will be available at the Book City stores on Danforth and in the Beach near Queen Street East and Lee Avenue.

A quality ingredient is always a good choice. Oils, vinegars, chocolate, preserves, pastas, crackers or cheeses are essential to any recipe. Each year I make a trip to Vincenzo’s at Westlake and Danforth (an Italian family owned and operated grocery store with an excellent choice of quality Italian products. You may have your own favourite.) Here, I buy all the stocking stuffers for my children and know that they will be well received. In fact, one year, I included the recipe for a simple but tasty main course and bought all the ingredients for stocking stuffers.

If you have questions about an ingredient, Mary, an experienced cook herself and manager of this family run business, has a wealth of ideas. In fact, if you do not want to assemble the ingredients for a gift, Mary puts together tantalizing Christmas baskets for customers. You can telephone in requests at 416-422-3196.

Contrary to popular belief, cooks love food gifts from others. Think about it: they are curious about food and too often are the ones who are always cooking. They love homemade food items. Make your favourite recipe and include the recipe on a card. You will be a star. If the recipe requires a special baking dish, try to include that, too.

One of the best gifts I ever received was lavender salt made by a friend from her own lavender patch. She included suggestions for using the salt, on lamb chops and described how to make the salt. Once I used it, I was hooked. The salt was good on lamb but wonderful sprinkled on salads and fish too! It has become a regular ingredient easily made from my lavender.

Preserves of all sorts are treasures – jams, relishes, chutneys, pickles and marmalades. For me, homemade marmalade tops the list. Receiving a preserve is truly an act of love; I know how much work goes into making them. No food gift is ever too small.

For the fish and seafood lover, there are gift certificates from Seaport Merchants, 1101 Victoria Park, at 416-755-9960. They will also cook the seafood for you! Seaport also stock a host of East Coast gifts including knitwear, preserves and specialty candy during the Christmas season.

For the Person Who Has Everything

Chocolate, fish and seafood and of course, your own homemade specialty item – be it shortbread or your signature barbecue sauce, are all luxurious items suitable for this pampered receiver. The best place for chocolate, right in our neighbourhood, is The Belgium Chocolate Shop on Queen Street east at Kingswood Road 416-691-1424. Made on site, this divine chocolate is the ultimate in decadence, beautifully wrapped and ready to enjoy!

Cooking Equipment

A cook requires very little cooking equipment to do a good job in food preparation. However, a quality knife, box grater, parchment paper and a rasp, suitable to grate citrus rinds, nutmeg and hard cheeses make life a joy instead of drudgery. Many choice pieces of equipment are available at Loblaw’s, Lee Valley on Morningside, Homesense, the kitchen center on the main floor of the St. Lawrence Market and the Chinese Market on the west side of Spadina just north of St. Andrew. You are sure to find something special for the cook in these tempting places.

Gluten Free Bars

Evelyn Mackie, an excellent cook, has severe gluten sensitivity and came up with this yummy Christmas edition of rice krispie bars. They look good, taste great and can be frozen. Make ahead now for gluten-free giving! (Nature’s Path Krispie Rice, made of rice and corn, is available at No Frills.)

1/4 cup (50 mL) butter
8 oz (250 g) mini-white marshmallows
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
4-6 cups (1-11/2 L) Krispie Rice
1/3 cup (75 ml) each, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries

Prepare a 9 inch (23 cm) pan or a 11 x 7 inch pan by buttering well. Set aside. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in marshmallows and continue stirring until syrupy. Gradually stir in Krispie Rice, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds. Continue stirring until mixture is coated with melted marshmallow mixture. Spoon into prepared pan and pat down evenly with dampened hands (prevents sticking). Cover and refrigerate. Once well chilled may be removed and cut into small squares. Serve at once or keep refrigerated for up to 3 days; freeze for longer storage.

Jan Main is an author, cooking instructor and caterer. Connect with her at janmainskitchen@gmail.com.

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I’m surprised a list of kitchenware stores in a Beach newspaper doesn’t include the Beach’s only such store: Cook It, on Queen near Woodbine. (Aren’t we always being encouraged to shop local?)

Also, the “Chinese Market” on Spadina has a name: Tap Phong Trading Company.

Also, Seaport Merchants is an excellent shop, but at Victoria Park and St. Clair, it’s hardly the Beach. We do have the Beach Fish House, on Queen near Waverley Road. “Walk it. Shop it. Live it” — don’t drive miles to somewhere else.

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