Here is my 2012 Valentine's Day Gift Guide for the person in your life who appreciates fine food and drink. I've tested, tasted and experimented with these products and they get my unequivocal stamp of approval. Many of them debuted at the 2012 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. You can indulge your significant others with decadent treats or good-for-you grains and proteins. Here are my top picks.
Dancing Deer Baking Co., used with permission.
I love all the products from Dancing Deer Baking Co., but the chocolatey-rich brownies are definitely my favorite. And don't pass up the heart-shaped shortbread cookies decorated with red and white icing and lots of other yummy treats. Environmentally responsible Dancing Deer Baking Co. uses all-natural ingredients without artificial preservatives in their scratch-baked kosher products.
Biscottea, used with permission.
Here's a beautiful new line of gourmet shortbread in a variety of flavors baked with real tea and real coffee known as Biscottea and Bis*Coffee I think you'll enjoy. Biscottea are the brainchild of founder Laurance Milner who feels Italian-style biscotti don't really work with tea. There's even a gluten-free variety.
Walkers Shortbread, used with permission.
Walkers all-natural Scottie Dog Shortbread cookies actually debuted at the 2011 Winter Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C. This year beginning March 15, they will be available in an adorable Scottie Dog tin and Walkers Shortbread will donate 10 cents from the sale of every package of its "Scottie Dog" products sold in the U.S. to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals with a minimum guaranteed donation of $25,000. And, since Walkers products contain no artificial flavorings, colorings or additives and are certified kosher, that's a big-time win-win in my book!
Village Harvest, used with permission.
The Village Harvest company does a lot more than rice. They're into whole grains galore and the frozen pre-cooked line is my new best friend. We all know that whole grains can take a while to cook but, with this selection, all you need to do is heat or thaw. Look for Red, Quinoa & Brown Rice, Brown, Red & Wild Rice, Golden Quinoa, Farro & Red Rice, Wheatberry & Barley, Cranberries & Almond Creations, Corn & Black Bean Creations.
Mary's Gone Crackers, used with permission.
Mary's Gone Crackers uses organic, gluten-free and non-GMO ingredients in its vegan line of whole-food crackers and pretzel sticks, crumbs and cookies. No animal products are used to create these delicious taste treats you can snack on with impunity. Only whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, flax, sesame, chia, sesame seeds and millet are in the ingredient list. I served the crackers and sticks at a recent dinner party and they were quite the hit! The website also provides recipes.
Xan Confections, used with permission.
The LadybuG truffles from Xan Confections have long been a favorite of mine, and now with the Big Mouth and Jewel collections, I'm in love all over again. Big Mouths are made with crispy rice, caramel and peanut butter covered in milk or dark chocolate and truly are too big for one bite unless, of course, you have a big mouth! They also come in a S'mores variety. The Jewels can be savored in Ancho Chili Caramel, Butterscotch Caramel, Blueberry Caramel, and other caramel flavors. Xan products are all-natural and many are gluten-free. The packaging is stellar.
Perfect Puree of Napa Valley, used with permission.
Wow! I'm in love with The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley. The intensity of these fruit purées will blow your mind. While originally designed for mixologists and culinary professionals, the products are now available to the home cook in smaller sizes. I use them in pastries and El Corazon is one of my favorite blends of blood orange, passion fruit and pomegranate. The purées make dynamite cocktails.
8. Rise Bars
Rise Bar, used with permission.
So you think all breakfast bars are created equal? Think again. Rise Bar are moist AND tasty with visible chunks of fruit. No more dry, gritty bars that seem to grow in your mouth. Rise bars are all-natural, and free of trans fats, GMOs, preservatives, dairy, soy and peanuts. Crunchy Macadamia Pineapple is my favorite. But don't think Rise bars are only for breakfast. They come in protein bar and energy bar varieties specially formulated to keep you covered all day long. Cranberry Apple, Almond Honey, and Blueberry Coconut are just some of the other Rise flavors.
ThermoWorks, used with permission.
The Thermapen from ThermoWorks isn't new but it is to me. And I'm so glad I found it. This super-fast, accurate, splash-proof thermometer was originally designed for commercial kitchens, labs and manufacturing plants. But now it's available to home cooks. It's an instant-read thermometer, which means it doesn't start at zero and work its way up. The minute you turn it on, it displays a temperature, probably of your hand if it's hitting the probe. And I love Thermapen's versatility. It can be used on both savory foods, like meats, poultry, for bread and pastry work AND for deep frying and candy making. No more two different thermometers to get the job done. I'm a big fan.
Sea Fare Pacific, used with permission.
Sea Fare Pacific has a line of sustainable, wild-caught albacore tuna and salmon in an environmentally friendly pouch. No preservatives or fillers are used in these shelf-stable, gluten-free, U.S. products, only natural fish oils. They're available in several varieties -- sea salt, no salt, jalapeno, smoked -- and in 2-ounce and 1.5-ounce sport packs. In addition to enjoying the fresh fish flavor, you can feel good about eating this product because it's sustainable.
Corazonas, used with permission.
Corazonas snacks are not only heart healthy, they taste good! Consider the Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Squares, for example. They are low in sodium, high in whole grain, all natural, ring up at 5 g fiber, 6 g protein and contain no trans fat. In addition to the moist, tasty squares, Corazonas makes tortilla chips and potato chips that are heart healthy. Corazonas are available at most supermarkets. There is a store locator on the website.
Queen City Cookies, used with permission.
I don't know which is prettier -- the cookies or the packaging of Queen City Cookies. I've always dabbled in edible art -- gum paste flowers, chocolate roses, wafer paper cookies -- so I recognize quality and Queen City Cookies have what it takes. When your loved one opens a box of these beauties, it will take his or her breath away. Consider them for any holiday, wedding favor or for no special reason at all. There's a lot to love at Queen City Cookies -- from the hand-pressed icing, all-natural ingredients and whimsical cookie elephants to the company's community involvement and green way of doing things.