One of my favorite things about this time of year is that you can shop your heels off (literally—it happened to me last Saturday) and no one will blink an eye. Because, let’s face it: as great as it is to get (check twitter @VerucaChocs over the next several weeks for my wish list), giving is where it’s at. I love being in-the-know with food and I get invited to a lot of parties, so I always look for gourmet host gifts that pair perfectly with a box of Veruca to bring along. Whether it’s for a holiday cocktail party, a cookie decorating brunch, or the Meal of the Year itself (have I mentioned I LOVE Thanksgiving?), below is my list of top gift ideas from around Chicago. You'll be the hit of the party, Veruca-style.
Pro tip: Get two of each. Why should you suffer!? Thank me later.
The Chopping Block: Holiday Cocoa Mix ($10.95)
Of course, chocolate is my thing. So IMHO the Holiday Cocoa Mix at The Chopping Block is perfect. It’s lazy-Sunday-winter-morning-perfection in a jar: Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate + Belcolade white chocolate + Valrhona cocoa powder + vanilla + sugar + a touch of salt = yes please. The people you love NEED this. More importantly, YOU need this. Just mix in whole milk for the perfect hot cocoa… and for movie night, a splash of liqueur wouldn’t hurt. Just saying.
Inside Scoop: It’s made at The Chopping Block right here in Chicago. “This cocoa mix is just like your grandma used to make,” says Chopping Block owner Shelley Young. “It’s rustic and full of natural ingredients with nothing processed. It’s best enjoyed with your family around the fire during this holiday season.”
The perfect gift for the littles and the bigs. Viola!
KOVAL Distillery: Whiskey Gift Pack ($49.99)
When I gift a friend with spirits, I do it right. So the holiday gift pack of artisanal whiskeys from KOVAL Distillery was my first choice. My friends at KOVAL make their whiskey from beginning to end, grain to bottle. This gift pack includes three varieties: rye, bourbon and four-grain—all single barrel of course.
Inside Scoop: “Our gift packs give you a good sense of the range of whiskeys we make at KOVAL, each with a distinct flavor from different organic grains,” says KOVAL president, Dr. Sonat Birnecker. “You can taste a spice kick in the Rye, a bit of sweetness from the millet in the Bourbon, and a banana nose, creamy palate from the heart cut in the Four Grain. There’s really something for everyone in the sampler.”
See? You can’t go wrong.
Metropolis Coffee: Hullabaloo Holiday Blend ($17.50/1 lb & $33.50/ 2 lb)
Coffee fuels my life. It’s as simple as that. First I saw the packaging for Metropolis Coffee’s Hullabaloo Holiday Blend (it’s beautiful!) and I nearly passed out; then, I tasted it and I’m pretty sure I did lose consciousness for a minute or two. It’s 70 percent beans from Kenya, 30 percent from Mexico. It’s got a stout chocolate base (because chocolate, always) with delicate, jammy notes of apricot and fig. Also, it’s only available through the end of the year, so get it while you can.
Inside Scoop: “It’s different every year,” says Tony Dreyfuss, owner of Metropolis Coffee Company. “We work to find the best coffees we can find in this season and then build a custom blend. It needs to be delicate but also sturdy and full bodied with a lot of depth given the time of year.”
If you love craft-roasted coffee in Chicago, you’ve probably heard of Metropolis. They roast amazing beans, have a social conscience and are generally one of the sweetest, most loving companies I’ve ever experienced.
Foodease Market: Chocolate & Coffee Gift Basket ($65)
When I was a kid, I was all about myself, but as an adult I’ve learned that it’s almost as much fun to give as to receive. However, in the case of the Chocolate & Coffee Gift Basket from Foodease Market, I’m pretty sure it’s better to receive. It’s filled with goodies like: Intelligentsia Beatrix Blend coffee, Bee’s Knees Mexican Chocolate Almonds, Terry’s Toffee, Foodease Chocolate Covered Pistachios, and more. Seriously…who wouldn’t love this?!
Inside Scoop: “This holiday season, we are featuring local artisan gift baskets filled with unique specialty items,” says Foodease executive chef Janet Kirker. “We have specialized pre-crafted options or you can build your own with items like Veruca Chocolates. These are a great gift item and pair nicely with our sparkling wine, prosecco and Champagne collection".
It’s a one-stop shop for Holiday Goodness. Plus, it’s at Water Tower Place so super-convenient for holiday shopping. You know I’m all about multi-tasking.
Southport Grocery and Cafe: Hand-Made Christmas Cookies (Large Box, $16.50; Cylinder, $8.50)
There aren’t many foods that scream Christmas as loudly as Christmas cookies. Some of the best we’ve found are at Southport Grocery and Cafe. FYI one of the best brunch spots in Chicago (I die for the Sweet & Savory French Toast) so plan accordingly. Owner Lisa Santos pulled from her own family traditions to create the most scrumptious butter cookies you’ve ever had. They come in various flavors and icings: candy canes, checkerboards, peanut butter with chocolate on top (chocolate, always and forever). Skip the baking and just buy these. Trust me.
Inside Scoop: “It’s all about the details and the memories that come from making these cookies,” says Santos. “We make them by hand like we do most things in the store. By sharing our traditions, we hope to help our customers create new ones.”
BTW while you’re there, stock your own pantry with these should-be-staples: Southport’s own Smoked Onion Marmalade (SO good on burgers and in omelets) and Apple Butter (Southport’s Apple Butter + Almond Butter = Happy Me).