With Thanksgiving upon us, and December mere days away, everyone is starting to think about the next batch of holidays. Many of us have family, friends and business associates to whom we need to send or bring gifts at this time of year. One thing that I like to do, especially when sending gifts to friends and family in other parts of the country, is to pick local Chicago products as a way of giving folks back east a taste of my new hometown. Although I am a transplant to the Chicago-area — and sometimes I still wonder how I got here — after almost a decade in the Windy City, I am proud of how sophisticated Chicago is, particularly in all things culinary. Here are some of my favorite local food gifts — some well-known and some less so — to inspire your holiday gift-giving. I’ve even divided them into helpful categories for you.
For a Small Group: Mrs. Prindable’s Handmade Confections
Candy apple couture! If you want to send an elegant yet homey gift to a small group or a family, try one of Mrs. Prindable’s gourmet caramel apples. This is no county fair taffy apple. To the contrary, a Mrs. Prindable’s caramel apple is a sophisticated treat that revives childhood memories while satisfying your adult palate. Imagine a jumbo-sized apple covered in luscious caramel and drizzled with decadent chocolate. My husband and I shared the Triple Chocolate Jumbo Caramel Apple with my husband’s brother and his wife and we all loved it! (It says it serves 8-10 but the four of us polished off our apple in one sitting — oops!) The contrast between the firm, tart apple and the soft, achingly sweet caramel is amazing. Based in Niles, Illinois, Mrs. Prindable’s ships its confections all over the country in a distinctive purple box tied with a gold ribbon. Gifts start at under $25 and with their elegant appearance, they are a great way to make a big impression on a budget. (Triple Chocolate Jumbo Caramel Apple Gift: $22.95)
For a Large Group: Eli’s Cheesecake
Eli’s Cheesecake is known throughout the country for its amazing desserts and it hardly needs a small-time blogger like me to sing its praises. But I am doing so anyway because, frankly, it is a terrific local company that makes a world-class product. Eli’s Cheesecake is involved in many different philanthropic efforts in our community, including partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. My husband and I know Marc Schulman, the president of Eli’s Cheesecake personally, and he is truly a mensch. But even if you put all that good-corporate-citizen stuff aside, Eli’s Cheesecake makes a great gift to highlight the best of the Chicago food world because the cheesecake is sinfully good. One year, we sent Eli’s Cheesecake to friends in Brooklyn just to prove that it was better than the New York version of the dessert. If you are looking for a gift for an office staff, a faculty, day-care workers or any other deserving group, send them the Eli’s Chi-Town Sampler, which includes the most popular local flavors: White Chocolate Raspberry, Turtle and Belgian Chocolate. (Eli’s Cheesecake has gluten-free options too – more of that good-corporate-citizen stuff.) (Chi-Town Sampler Cheesecake for 14: $40)
For the International Crowd: Vosges Haut-Chocolate
In Paris, one of my favorite spots is the Place des Vosges, a remarkably well-preserved 16th century square located in the twisty-turny Marais neighborhood. In Chicago, my favorite indulgence is Vosges Haut Chocolat truffles. I remember first hearing about Vosges and its founder, Katrina Markoff, during my first years in Chicago. Back then she was a local wunderkind bringing her European training to the Midwest to create truffles in exotic flavors. Now Katrina is a full-fledged foodie celebrity and Vosges truffles can be found all over the country, even in your local Whole Foods. But all of Vosges’s products are still made by hand here in Chicago. And they are still the best truffles you will ever have. If you have someone with a discerning palate on your list, give them the Holiday Truffle Collection from Vosges Haut Chocolat. With unusual seasonal truffles like Plum Pudding and Eggnog and Jamaican rum, this elegant collection has a serious “wow” factor. It’s like giving a little piece of Paris right here in Chicago. (16-piece Holiday truffle collection: $43)
For the Cook: Custom Cutting Board from NoteworthyNotes
Okay, so this is not technically a food gift, but rather a cooking gift. Foodies love to cook, right? And what would make a better hostess or holiday gift for the Iron Chef-wannabe on your list than a customized cutting board? NoteworthyNotes, the North Side’s favorite stationery store, has a wide array of personalized gifts, which are a favorite of mine because giving one shows advance planning. The personalized cutting board is my hands down favorite. With a wide variety of prints and colors to choose from, you can find one for any taste. And you can customize it in a number of ways from a simple monogram to longer message like “Grandma’s Kitchen.” But here’s one idea: school colors. Chicago is Big Ten country. Sometimes it feels like everyone we know went to Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana or, in our case, Michigan. I asked Cindy at NoteworthyNotes if she could make the Rugby Stripe cutting board in blue and yellow and she said, “As in Michigan colors?” Uh, yep. The result is beyond cool. A cutting board customized with my and my husband’s names in the colors of the school where we met. Now, that’s a gift too pretty to hide in a cabinet. Cindy assures me that they can make a personalized cutting board with only a few days notice so you can look like a Master of Advance Planning with only a little actual advance planning. (Customized tempered glass cutting board: $50)
Hanukkah starts this week, so there is no time to waste! If you are looking for family Hanukkah activities, by the way, check out my latest post on CBS-2′s website.
Full disclosure time: I received several products free of charge for review purposes, including a Mrs. Prindable’s Apple, a box of Vosges Holiday Collection truffles and a cutting board from NoteworthyNotes. All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.