Christmas Gifts for the (Port City) Foodie in Your Life
SANTA IS A FOODIE… Last minute gift ideas for the foodie in your life.
So if you’re anything like me, you’ve been so busy trying out all the amazing restaurants in the Port City that Christmas has snuck up on you. And if you’re anything like me, you’re sitting five days out from the big day and haven’t done much (or any) shopping. Yeah, yeah, I know…. proper prior planning, early bird gets the worm, blah blah blah.
But no need to fear or freak out (there’s enough of that going on in the mall parking lot), because Santa is a foodie and he gave me the inside scoop on three AWESOME gifts that are super easy to get your hands on that will please ANY foodie on your list. I’m writing this from personal experience and if it worked for me, it’ll work for you. And you can just sit back and bask in the compliments of how you were so thoughtful to give such amazing gifts. Don’t worry, I won’t tell your secret that you pulled it all together with only a couple days to spare.
So without further adieu, let’s take a look at these awesome gifts that will keep you in high regard with every food loving person on your list.
1. ANTONIO CARLO HOMEMADE MARINARA SAUCE
This may not be in the Christmas spirit but I’m not a huge fan of bottled marinara sauce. I mean, yeah some are good but in my opinion, there’s nothing that compares to Mom or Grandma’s sauce. Out of all my travels around the world, to include Italy several times, I have yet to find a sauce that is as good as my Mom’s.
Until a few days ago.
I came across Chef Antonio Carlo at BLUE MOON Gift Shops on Racine Drive while furiously trying to find a gift to keep me off the naughty list. I’ll be honest, I passed by him and his table with all of his gourmet sauces and didn’t pay much attention because it wasn’t on my gift radar. But, free samples being what they are and since I hadn’t strapped on the feedbag for a few hours I figured what the heck. Well, those words are exactly what I thought when I tried the first sample. Big Capital O-M-G! Now I don’t care if you call that delightful red blanket of flavor that you put over pasta “spaghetti sauce,” “gravy” or the more accurate “mari-nada” the stuff that he was selling was delicious in any of those terms.
After taking far more samples than the average potential customer should, and starting up a conversation with him, I figured out why I liked this sauce so much. His third generation recipe is straight from his “Nonna” in Genoa, Italy and he’s been perfecting it himself for more than 50 years. Ragu this is not. And quite honestly, this sauce could be served in any fine Italian restaurant and classically trained Italian chefs or the hard to please Italian Nonnas eating there would all smile and enjoy it.
This sauce comes in four varieties – Original, Tomato Basil, Roasted Garlic and Spicy Arrabbiata. I sampled all four and left with one of each, they’re that good. And if I’m being honest, I kept aTomato Basil and an Arrabbiata for myself. Grab a couple jars either for yourself or for that foodie on your list. I met him at Blue Moon and I know his sauces are for sale there and at Fresh Market, Earth Fare and Lowe’s Foods but he has a website too if you’d rather get all the cool points for such a thoughtful gift without having to get out of your jammies. It’s www.antoniocarlo.com.
After I blew through my own jars of the sauce, I stalked Chef Carlo on Facebook and found him at “Antonio Carlo Home Made Marinara Sauce.” His Instagram is “antoniocarlo6.” So whether you go to Blue Moon Gift Shops, meet him in person or connect via all of the interwebs, grab a couple jars and you’ll bring a smile to all of your foodie friends. I’m pretty sure you could even play it off like you made the sauce yourself to impress your friends, family or someone special the next time you have pasta for dinner. Just hide the jars or you’ll get busted and don’t worry, he’ll never know.
2. OUR TABLE IN CROATIA cookbook by Amanda Marshall
Okay, I’ll put it out there, I know very little about Croatia. I know even less about Croatian food and had I not received this as a gift myself I probably wouldn’t have known much about it to this day. But, lucky for me, I have friends who are far more organized and thoughtful than me and can not only do their Christmas shopping, but wrap it and deliver it to someone like me who sheepishly accepted and made up a fib about how I had their present at work. Don’t you dare tell on me!
I have lots of cookbooks that span the culinary spectrum but I didn’t have a Croatian book so my buddy and his wife got major cool points for knowing that. Unless of course they were rummaging through my cabinets but hey, I have an AWESOME cookbook now, so rummage away bro!
I realize that a gift that is meant as a Christmas gift should have been under my tree waiting patiently until the 25th. Or maybe the 24th. It was not my buddy, and certainly not his wife’s intention for me to open it up almost two weeks before. But hey, I did. Sue me. The photos are gorgeous and since we eat with our eyes first, this book had me at hello. It’s divided into seasons with dishes appropriate for any time of year. Being the rebel that I am, I totally bypassed the autumn and winter food selections and landed on a summer dish called CEVAPI. I’ve never had this dish but the photo looked surprisingly like a Croatian taco and since tacos are my spirit animal I figured that anything Croatian that looked like a taco deserved to be made in my kitchen.
I don’t know how to say “holy cow this is amazing and I need this at every meal” in Croatian but if I could figure it out, I would. They look like tacos but they aren’t. They’re more like little pita envelopes of all that is good and holy to carnivores worldwide.
As I made this dish, yes I do actually cook and not eat out at EVERY meal, I read a little about the CEVAPI and learned that they date back to the Ottoman Empire. Something going that strong is certainly worthy of making, right? They’re meat sausages and thankfully full of garlic, onion, parsley and of course MEAT! Yes, pork and ground beef get together with their accompanying seasoning and make what is absolutely delicious in ANY language! I really liked that the recipe was easy to follow and that it actually turned out amazing!
The book is legit authentic as the writer is from Croatian roots and not someone who just threw together a couple recipes. Her writing is every bit as interesting as the food promises to be from the recipes and both left me wanting more so as I look into the crystal ball, I see some serious Croatian recipes coming out of my kitchen in the future.
Cookbooks are an easy pleaser when giving gifts to foodies, but instead of the same old tired “cast iron” or “one pot” or “five ingredient” version that always seems to end up with a lukewarm smile upon receipt, I say go for the gusto and give that foodie or cook something different. I can honestly say that I’d never even thought of a Croatian cookbook but this is straight up awesome and one heck of a thoughtful gift that I’m certainly going to use a lot in the future. I’ve also resigned myself to the fact that whatever I give my buddy and his wife is gonna be pretty lame compared to this gift they gave me. But hey, nondescript “summer sausage” or “smelly wax thingee” burners are timeless, right?
I got my book as a gift but you can stay in your jammies from ordering the marinara and get your own (or for someone else) on Amazon. It’s on there, I checked. And since I stalked Chef Carlo, I had to do the same for Amanda Marshall. Her website is www.marshallsabroad.com and I found her on Instagram at “amandasuzannemarshall.”
3. INSTANT POT. Descended from heaven.
Let me go on record saying I don’t work for Instant Pot, although I could and would if they’d let me. I love that magical piece of culinary equipment THAT much. Some might say that I have an unnatural love for my Instant Pot and I might be inclined to agree but I’m okay with it. I mean, come on, how can you NOT love one?
Oh you don’t know what an Instant Pot is? You don’t have one in your kitchen yet? C’mon…. get out of the stone ages and embrace all that is the Instant Pot. I first heard about the Instant Pot a couple years ago when a coworker was babbling on and on about it and to say it fell on my deaf ears is an understatement. She sounded like she had joined some sort of cult as she spread the gospel of this wonderful piece of machinery. I was less than enthused and eventually succumbed to her hyperbole and checked out a YouTube video. That was my dive into the cult and I’m so glad that I did.
So what is an Instant Pot? Well, let’s just say that you could pretty much ditch every cooking appliance in your kitchen and the Instant Pot could do it all. A hybrid between a pressure cooker, a crockpot, and some sort of sorcery, this thing does it all. No, really, it does it ALL. It will cook rice, steam vegetables, sautee’, you can cook beans, and that’s just the basic stuff. There are people who make yogurt in them, make bread in them, and about a zillion other things. I’d be willing to bet that when they find the cure for cancer the Instant Pot will be involved.
So what’s so darn special about the Instant Pot you might ask? I dunno, do you want to make an amazing meal for your family in 9 minutes? Do you want to have perfectly cooked, super delicious meals that taste like they took hours to make? Do you want to cook masterful dishes and only dirty one pot? Then the Instant Pot is for you.
The Instant Pot can be a little intimidating at first, I mean it has buttons and a timer and this whole steam release thing going on but trust me, if I can do it, anyone can. And besides, there are about a gazillion Instant Pot pages on your choice of social media platforms and a bazillion Instant Pot cookbooks to help you along the way.
I’ve had the most amazing mac and cheese EVER come from the Instant Pot, super tender pot roast, Indian curry dishes to die for, Mexican flan, soups that tasted like they had cooked in a crock pot all day long, Cuban arroz con pollo, and the list goes on and on. I’ve bought Instant Pots for friends and everyone seems to love them.
Instant Pots have been around for a few years now and have such a devout following that you don’t need to believe me, just ask any of your friends who have already seen the light and embraced this gift from heaven. If you haven’t done any shopping and you have someone special in your life that likes food, loves to cook, maybe hates to cook because it takes too long, busy families, busy single people, college students, single parents, pretty much any human being who enjoys food and doesn’t want to spend all day and night trying to prep and cook meals, will appreciate this. And after they’ve made a few dishes in it and get addicted to it themselves, you’ll most likely get lots and lots of dishes sent to you as a thank you and they’ll undoubtedly sing songs or name constellations in your honor. Bottom line is that if you get an Instant Pot for your foodie friends you’ll knock it out of the park and they’ll have a gift they’ll really use and appreciate and you’ll get the bragging rights as the best gift giver in the history of Christmas.
Instant Pots are available just about everywhere. I got mine at good ol’ Wally World but you can find them in just about any store that sells cooking gadgets. If you’re still in your jammies racking up cool points as you check off your shopping list, add an Instant Pot because Amazon and lots of other websites have them available. Then again, if you’re in your jammies, you could trot on down to Wally World and you’ll fit in just fine and no one will raise an eyebrow.
By all means, these three ideas are not meant to be an all-inclusive list of what every foodie wants. But I can assure you that you’ll get mucho cool points by giving any of these to your foodie friends. And next Christmas instead of setting out boring cookies and milk for Santa, he’ll appreciate the fact that you made him a great pasta dish with Chef Antonio Carlo’s sauce, something really cool from your new Croatian cookbook or some sort of culinary magic from your Instant Pot that you either bought for yourself or received as a gift during Christmas 2019.
Contributing blogger: Ed Walsh grew up in Las Vegas, the son of an accomplished chef. Traipsing all over the world to more than 35 countries during a 21 year Marine Corps career allowed Ed to sample and appreciate all types of food from grass hut family dining to Michelin star rated fine dining restaurants. “I know my way around a dinner plate and I just like what I like,” he says. Asked what his absolute favorite dish from all of his international travels was, Ed quickly says it was his Mom’s spaghetti. Ed is single, and loves long romantic walks to the taco truck. He also loves spending time with awesome food – almost as much as he enjoys spending time with his awesome kids.