Tag Archives: Gourmet Food Gifts

Candy We Love for Christmas

Whether for a great gift, a holiday get-together or your own personal enjoyment, tis the season for candy.  There’s no doubt our list of awesome artisan and gourmet candies will continue to grow, but we have some great options to make your holidays just a little sweeter.  No matter what your taste or budget, there are things on our list that you will love, too!

Karen and Jim found Brooke’s Candy Co. Old English Almond Toffee.  Brooke is a recognized Indiana Artisan, and her 2-ounce handmade toffee bar was off-the-charts good.  Brooke has a beautiful assortment of Belgian chocolates that would make delightful gifts.

Without a doubt, Dillon’s Gourmet Peanut Brittle is the best we have ever tasted.  It is so very hard to stop eating this chock-full-of peanuts, thin and delicate brittle!

While not an artisan product, yummy and budget-friendly Kirkland Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are wrapped in holiday-red foil.  A 60-ounce bag would provide ample candy for children’s gift bags or an office candy jar.

I’ve already bought Sweet’s Milk Chocolate Orange Sticks for my mom’s Christmas stocking!  She and I share a love for all things chocolate and orange, and we love Sweet’s vintage look and taste.  Try their raspberry or cabernet sticks, too.

Kopper’s Milk & Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels would be perfect for a holiday gathering because in one bag, you can satisfy both milk and dark chocolate lovers.  The caramel and sea salt combo is simply amazing.

Would Christmas be complete without candy canes?  We think not.  Hammond’s Peppermint Candy Canes are handmade, and bring a traditional touch to the holidays.  Hammond’s has other candy cane flavors to choose from, too.

John Kelly Chocolates will rock your Christmas with their luscious truffle fudge bars.  Whether you go with classic peanut butter or a creative chile-chocolate combo, these truffle bars are decadently delicious.

Santa, please leave some Sconza Chocolate Caramelized Cashews in my stocking! Rich cashews, a thin toffee shell, smooth milk chocolate and sea salt make these irresistible snacks.

Toffee Treat’s White Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Toffee is a delightful departure from the usual milk chocolate toffee, and owner ML Dubay’s commitment to give part of her proceeds to cancer charities means your purchase helps make a difference in a cancer patient’s life.  Sweet!

Finally, if homemade candy is on your schedule, buy some Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips and try this Cappuccino Fudge.  It’s an easy and impressive treat!

Which one of these goodies will be on your Christmas list?  Leave a comment on or before Wednesday, December 12th and one person will be chosen at random to receive a special Christmas treat from Foods We Love!

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Toffee Treats White Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Toffee

Toffee TreatsMary Louise (ML) Dubay ‘s Christmas traditions included making toffee from a “secret” recipe with her grandmother each year.  She continued the toffee tradition for years, gifting friends and co-workers with her sweet treats during the holidays.  Many of them encouraged her to start a toffee business, but she was happy in her corporate career.  A change of direction often comes unexpectedly, and for ML, one was precipitated by a cancer diagnosis.  She left her corporate position, spent some time volunteering for Legacy Brain Foundation, a Texas organization that raises funds to provide financial assistance to cancer patients and their families, and she made her special toffee.  Along the way to a successful candy business, she was encouraged by her husband, Chef Duane Dubay, and Food Network celebrity Paula Deen.

I love toffee, and I’m pretty convinced that people who don’t like it just haven’t had good toffee!  However, finding said good toffee can be a bit of a challenge, and we have had our share of disappointments.  I was excited to find Toffee Treats at Central Market, especially because the package I picked up had some of my favorite ingredients: white chocolate, cranberries and pecans!

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The toffee has generous measures of fruit and nuts.  The toffee layer is superb — perfectly golden brown without even the slightest hint of stickiness.  The buttery caramelized sugar base is complemented by luscious, creamy white chocolate.  Could this get any better?  A bigger box of toffee, perhaps?  Fortunately, Toffee Treats’ website has lots of options.  You can select from several flavors in addition to the white chocolate cranberry pecan:  milk chocolate almond, dark chocolate almond, or Hatch chile dark chocolate almond.  ML offers package sizes from 1/4 pound to a full pound of toffee, and she has a combination box with several flavors.  Her creativity is evident, not only in the lovely toffee we tried, but also in chocolate almond “olives” in a martini glass.  Check it out on her website.  I can imagine setting several of these on a holiday buffet table.

If you have been following our blog for any amount of time, you know we love a good product with an equally good back story.  ML’s courage in battling cancer, her generosity in donating part of her profits to cancer charities, and her scrumptious toffee totally hit the mark for us!

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Spoonful of Comfort Chicken Soup

Karen has been fighting the respiratory crud that seems to be plaguing people coast to coast.  We had it at our house for a couple of weeks before finally kicking it.  One of Jim’s business partners heard she was sick, and sent her a most thoughtful gift..chicken soup.  Karen found a box from Spoonful of Comfort on her front porch containing a cold-pack wrapped jar of chicken noodle soup, dinner rolls and cookies!  Chicken soup has long been prescribed by mothers and grandmothers for their loved ones with colds and flu.  For many years, the health benefits of chicken soup were considered more myth than medicine, but now researchers believe chicken soup reduces the symptoms of a cold by inhibiting inflammation of tissues in the nasal passage.  Karen said that simply smelling the warm soup started clearing her head.  The soup definitely looked homemade with large firm noodles, pulled chicken breast pieces, chunky carrots, celery and onions.  Karen thought it was very flavorful without being overly salty.  The soup is handmade in small batches, just the way it is made at home.

Marti Wymer created Spoonful of Comfort to honor the memory of her mother who had terminal lung cancer.  It was especially painful for Marti to deal with her mother’s illness because she lived in Florida while her mom was in Canada.  She felt a sense of helplessness, and the traditional gifts she could send, like flowers or fruit, seemed inadequate to express her love and concern.  Her thoughts kept going back to the chicken soup her mother made for her when she was a child and didn’t feel well, but she wasn’t with her mom to provide that same loving care.  She was comforted by the fact that during her mom’s final few weeks, her siblings and friends in the area provided her with food and care, and she wanted to create a way for people to show care and concern from a distance.

Karen and I can relate to Marti’s frustration because we both live some distance from our parents.  I’m several hours away from my mom, and Karen is more than a day’s drive from her mom and dad.  Although we have siblings who live close to our parents and help out when needed, it isn’t the same as being there ourselves.  Spoonful of Comfort provides the ability to provide a satisfying, healthy meal along with a message of concern to someone who needs it.  Marti’s passion for communicating that concern is clear on the company’s website, and is demonstrated in the cheerful product packaging and personalized note that accompanies each gift.  A portion of the company’s profits is donated to the American Cancer Society in memory of Marti’s mother, so each purchase provides a double blessing.  Keep Spoonful of Comfort in mind when you want to provide someone with a comforting meal and a sincere reminder of your concern for them.

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Hammond’s Peppermint Candy Canes

Aren’t candy canes the quintessential Christmas candy?  I stopped short in the grocery store last week at a beautiful display of candy canes in multiple flavors — root beer, cinnamon, cherry, strawberry, and of course, peppermint.  On closer inspection, I was amazed to read that the candy canes were handmade.  I grabbed a peppermint candy cane and hurried home to do some research and tasting.

Hammond’s Candies opened in 1920 in Denver.  When Carl Hammond announced on his first day of high school that he didn’t need any more education, his mother allowed him to quit school on the condition that he get a job.  He found a job as an apprentice candy-maker, which set the course for his career.  Like the owner of many new business ventures, Carl did it all.  He developed the recipes, made the candy, and sold it.  As demand for his candies grew, so did the company.  Hammond’s gained national status in 1995 when Williams Sonoma offered the handmade candies in their stores.  Three generations of the Hammond family led the company until 1999.  The current owners have expanded the company while continuing the handmade traditions, and maintaining the high standards of quality that were important to Carl.  Company tours (fun!) became part of Hammond’s operation, with an annual Candy Cane Festival in December being the high point of the year.

I’ve been doing some extensive taste-testing as I have been working on this post, and there’s just something about a candy cane that brings a smile to my face.  It isn’t just that I love the taste of peppermint, although Karen and I had both a major obsession with peppermint candy when we were in high school.  Candy canes bring out the kid in all of us, no matter our age.  Hammond’s peppermint candy canes are simple perfection.

You can find Hammond’s candy canes in many fine retailers, or order directly from their site.  They have many other varieties of candy to choose from, but this time of year, it’s all about the candy cane!

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Koppers Milk & Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels

Do you start thinking about the holidays as soon as the weather gets cool?  As magazines and store displays tempt us with holiday decor and goodies,we start thinking about our own plans.  Candy is always part of the plan — a big part.  Karen makes her pecan pralines, and I make caramel pecan turtles, but sometimes gift lists run long and time runs short.  This year, I’m looking for quality candies to help round out gift bags and for holiday gatherings.

I recently found a bag of Koppers milk and dark chocolate sea salt caramels in a specialty shop, and of course, it called my name.  These candies are a real treat.  The caramel strikes the perfect balance of creamy chewiness, the sea salt counters the sweetness of the caramel. and yummy, creamy chocolate covers it all.  Kudos to Koppers for pleasing both milk chocolate and dark chocolate fans in a single package!   The chocolate sea salt caramels would be great for a dessert buffet, in a gourmet gift basket, or as a simple stocking stuffer.

Koppers Chocolate was founded in 1937 in Greenwich Village, New York.  Seventy-five years and three generations later, the company is still family owned and operated.  They pride themselves on combining the best of old world quality and modern techniques, and are recognized as innovators in the industry.  I was very surprised to learn they were the first to manufacture small disks of chocolate covered in colorful candy shells – the predecessors to M&Ms!  They started drenching espresso beans in chocolate more than 40 years ago.  Their current incredible array of chocolates includes such unusual selections as chocolate covered pink peppercorns and eggnog cordials.  Be sure to check out CNN Money’s report on this historic American candy company on Koppers website.

Koppers offers some of their most popular candies on their website, and there is an even wider selection available on Amazon, although many selections are available only in 5 or 10-pound bags.  That might not be such a bad thing!  Koppers also customizes candies for weddings and other events.

Footnote:  As I did a final review of this post, we were watching news reports of Hurricane Sandy moving into the New York area.  I started to reschedule the post since Koppers is located in New York City, but decided to publish it as planned.  Koppers and many other artisan, specialty and gourmet food producers in the path of the storm could be facing some big challenges just as the busy holiday season begins.  Power outages can cause loss of perishable inventories, flooding can damage or destroy facilities and equipment, and employees who face their own personal and family challenges may not be able to focus on their jobs.    Food businesses that can resume operations quickly after the storm may face reduced demand from customers in their immediate areas.  Please support food artisans in the northeastern seaboard area this holiday season.

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Sweet’s Milk Chocolate Orange Sticks

If your name is Sweet, perhaps you are just destined to be in the candy business.  Leon Sweet started his candy company in Portland, Oregon in 1892, and five generations later, the family is very proud to be a Salt Lake City based, American owned and operated business. Handmade taffy was an original signature item, and although the Sweet family’s candy-making processes have been modernized over the years, the company is still recognized for its fresh, quality products.

We tried Sweet’s milk chocolate orange sticks, orange jelly candies smothered in smooth, delicious chocolate.  It was love at first bite.  The bright citrus flavor is a natural with chocolate, and they offer a dark chocolate variety as well (YUM!).  My mom shares my obsession for orange and chocolate combinations, and she gave an enthusiastic vote of approval for Sweet’s Orange Sticks.

From the packaging to the products, Sweet’s products have a retro Americana vibe.  The website even offers patriotic options – red, white, and blue sour stars or taffy wrapped in classic red, white, and blue paper.  Taffy, jelly beans, cinnamon bears, licorice, and candy fruit slices take us back to more simple times.  Imagine how pleased the more “mature” people on your holiday gift list would be to receive these vintage candies from their childhood.  Or how much fun it would be to introduce children to “old-fashioned” candies?  Move over, Starbursts, Nerds and Skittles!

Sweet’s website has great search features, allowing to choose your candy by type, color, or occasion.  You can “mix your sticks” choosing from orange, raspberry, or even Cabernet fillings!  Taffy purchases can also be mixed to your preference.

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Mother Rucker’s Cinnamon Cookie Brittle

Karel (aka “Mother”) Rucker’s co-workers and colleagues were beneficiaries of her passion for baking before she “turned pro”.  Karel finessed her family recipes and created new ones for cookies, brownies, truffles and other confections.  In 2006, Karel and a colleague, Greg Raynes, launched Mother Rucker’s Sweets in Fort Worth, Texas.    The company has grown its catalog of cookies and sweets to an impressive array of specialty and corporate gift boxes.

Karen and I found Mother Rucker’s Cinnamon Cookie Brittle on Central Market’s shelves.  Opening the foil-sealed package released the spicy cinnamon aroma, instantly alerting us that these unassuming little cookies were going to be something really special.  This is one treat you will simply have to try yourself because words can’t convey how crisp and delicious they are.  The cookies are buttery rich with a topping of crunchy sugar.  Although stellar on their own, we immediately starting thinking about how they could be used.  Allen immediately thought they would be excellent with coffee (his highest dessert accolade).  We decided they would be fantastic crumbled over ice cream.

And then — we made s’mores!  We spread one cookie with melted dark chocolate, topped it with a toasted caramel and sea salt marshmallow and another cookie.  Dessert heaven!  I don’t know if I will ever be able to eat s’mores with ordinary graham crackers again.  The only thing better than finding these cookies is knowing there are two more flavors to try–almond and lemon.  And try them we will.  Mother Rucker’s website has more dessert ideas for their cookie brittles, including cobblers using cinnamon cookie brittle with apple pie filling, almond brittle with cherry pie filling and lemon brittle with blueberry pie filling.  How quick, easy and fantastic would those be?

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Brooke’s Candy Co. Old English Almond Toffee

Karen and Jim’s visit to The Indiana Artisan Marketplace last spring provided lots of leads to follow in the quest for fabulous foods.  Brooke’s Candy Co. was a standout for handmade Belgian chocolates.  Brooke got her candy-making start at 14 when she made mints for her sister’s wedding, and promptly received an order from a neighbor.  In 2004, Brooke and her mom, with assistance from her sister, started Brooke’s Candy Co. in Dana, Indiana.  Like so many artisans who are passionate about giving back to their communities, Brooke chose the town of Dana for her base of operations because it had lost several of its businesses and needed an economic boost.

We tried Brooke’s Old English Almond Toffee.  The two-ounce bar is wonderfully rustic with bits of roasted almond topping creamy Belgian milk chocolate.  It definitely earns its “handmade” status, and the taste delivers, as well.  The chocolate is smooth and decadent, while the toffee is rich, sugary, caramelized perfection.   Brooke’s website  offers handmade truffles, turtles, raisin peanut clusters, fudge, toffee, cookies, brownies, caramel apples, Belgian chocolates and more, including the mints that gave her business its start.  Karen and Jim highly recommend Brooke’s fudge!  There is a very nice selection of truffles for holiday giving.  Brooke and her mom also have a retail shop in the 1900’s style plantation home that Brooke grew up in.

If our recommendation isn’t enough, Brooke is a recognized Indiana Artisan.  This elite group of Indiana craftsmen has been selected by food and art experts as artisans of the highest quality in food and art in the state.  We heartily concur with the judges’ decision.  Brooke’s Candy Co. is a winner.

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Wackym’s Kitchen Margarita Cookies

 

Life is sweet ~ eat great treats

Now, that is a corporate slogan we can all get behind, right?  Wackym’s Kitchen Margarita Cookies were an impulse buy during a trip to Central Market, and these sweet and savory treats exceeded our expectations.  Margarita flavored desserts are plentiful, especially in Texas and the Southwest.  So often, they are super-sweet confections that have more lime than margarita flavor.  Not so with these cookies!  A serious dash of salt balances the lime sweetness, reminding us of (surprise!) a margarita.  The cookies are perfectly crisp and rich, and could easily become an addiction.  No hangover worries, though!

Wackym’s cookies are made from fresh ingredients with no artificial flavors or colors.  The website offers seven flavors in addition to margarita:  lemon, peanut crunch,  chocolate snicker doodle,  mocha chocolate chip, oatmeal walnut currant, salted caramel, and rosemary cornmeal shortbread.  Is your mouth watering yet?  The gift collection is very reasonably priced with some classy options, including a keepsake bamboo box stuffed with seven bags of their most popular cookie flavors.  Even better, Wackym’s Kitchen will bake to your order, so corporate gifts or special occasion cookies are just a mouse-click away.  Wackym’s Kitchen cookies are also sold at numerous retailers in Texas.

Paul Wackym, the Chief Cookie Officer,  was a food product development manager for Neiman Marcus before he opened his own kitchen.  What a training ground!  As he learned the business end of successful food development and production, he realized he wanted to have his own products.  He develops his own recipes, using the foods he loves, working with flavor combinations that intrigue him, and some that baffle him!  Paul is also the marketer-in-chief for his delectable treats.  Wackym’s Kitchen’s Facebook page lists his promotional appearances at various markets in Dallas and surrounding areas.  I hope I run into him before his seasonal Hatch Chile Chocolate Chip cookies are gone!

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