Del Maguey single village mezcal
Widely available, Ron Cooper's single village mezcal collection under the Del Maguey label would make a fine gift for any spirits lover. We're partial to the one from Chichicapa, a village southwest of Oaxaca, for its complex smokiness and sweet tropical notes. The maker is Faustino Garcia Vasquez. For sipping, not shooting, and too fine for cocktails. $66 at www.delmaguey.com.
Acacia wood paddles
Still using wooden spoons? Why? Paddles are so much more useful. With their flat blades, you can scrape the bottom and get into the corners of pans much more easily than you can with a rounded bowl. Cookbook author Michael Ruhlman, who has created a minor sideline creating cooking products he wished he had, sells a set of three in different sizes. Three for $29.95 at shop.ruhlman.com.
Country ham is a troublesome beast. It needs long soaking, it needs scrubbing and it needs careful roasting. The best examples have a tendency toward salt, funk and extreme smokiness. So if you're going to put all the work not just into cooking country ham but loving it, you may as well go with the best. Col. Bill Newsom's ham was an obsession of James Beard, and the ham now made by his daughter, Nancy Newsom Mahaffey, has become one of ours too. The best part about country ham is eating it fried with red-eye gravy the morning after the feast. $100.64 for a 15-pound ham at Newsomscountryham.com.
Corti Bros. “Exquisite” Whiskey
This is a real oddball drink — not really whiskey-like at all, aged by Amador Distillery in old barrels from sweet Mission del Sol dessert wines. The result has been described as a combination of Bourbon and fortified sweet wine. One taster's description: "Easily the most exciting and unique whiskey I've tasted this year. And one of the few moments in recent memory — if not the only moment — where I've looked at the price and said, 'That's it?!'" $49.99 for a 750 milliliter bottle, $29.99 for a 375 ml bottle from Corti Bros., (800) 509-3663.
Lovers of pho can declare their allegiance with this beefy 100% cotton T-shirt from Sonoma-based illustrator and wine writer Hawk Wakawaka. The hand-drawn design shows all the elements that go into a bowl of the Vietnamese soup and is available at her Etsy shop. $25 for adults, $18 for children at www.etsy.com/shop/HawkWakawaka.
Nancy Silverton raved about this in one of her Master Class columns. It's as good as she promised — just the right blend of sinus-clearing and sweet. It's the horseradish we've always wanted other horseradishes to be like. Keep a couple for yourself and give the rest as gifts. Put the "warming" back in housewarming. $11.97 for three (6-ounce) jars, at Amazon.com.
Smoked Tasmanian ocean trout
The same exquisite smoked Tasmanian ocean trout used by famed Sydney chef Tetsuya Wakuda of Tetsuya is now available from Kai Gourmet, the L.A.-based seafood company that delivers to your door. Serve the delicate smoked fish from the remote southwest coast of Tasmania on its own or on thin slices of rye — and the next morning on a bagel or bialy with cream cheese. $32.50 per 1.1-pound pack at www.kaigourmet.com.
Panforte from Emporio Rulli
Panforte is dense, chewy, a little sweet from honey and slightly bitter from cocoa, rich with winter spices and studded with candied fruit and almonds. And, as you can probably tell from that description, making it yourself is a real project. Thank goodness for Bay Area confectioner Gary Rulli. His version is among the best around. $27.50 for an 18-ounce cake at www.rulli.com.
La Quercia Guanciale
Straight from Iowa, La Quercia's guanciale is like seriously upscale bacon made from Berkshire cross pigs. Not only don't you have to worry about the stuff spoiling (it won't last that long anyway), but you can put it in almost anything: pasta, pizza, omelets, or just shaved with bread and cornichons. $17.50 for ½ pound at www.zingermans.com, or you can upgrade to their "Acorn Edition" Tamworth for an extra 50 cents.
Rancho Gordo gift box
There are dried beans and then there are Steve Sando's Rancho Gordo beans, heirloom legumes that Sando has found, often in Mexico and Central America. This box combines five 1-pound bags of various beans, plus a cloth tote bag and an autographed copy of Sando's cookbook (full of soups, stews, posoles, etc.). $57.27 at www.ranchogordo.com.
McConnell's ice cream
Just because it's winter doesn't mean that your friends don't crave ice cream. The Santa Barbara-based, family-owned ice cream company makes custom gift packs (they ship with dry ice), so choose your favorite flavors (salted caramel chip, Eureka lemon and marionberry, Turkish coffee or holiday peppermint stick) and add a free customized message. $40 for a four-pack, $60 for a six-pack (shipping cost not included) at www.mcconnells.com.
This is the end all, be all gift for bacon lovers. The wooden crate is stuffed with bacon jerky, bacon popcorn, bacon salt, Sir Francis Bacon peanut brittle and bacon sunflower seeds. And it comes with a mini crowbar you'll actually need to open the crate. $59.99 at www.mancrates.com.
What's not to like about receiving a panettone for the holidays? And there may be no better version of the festive sweet than the one from pastry chef Luigi Biasetto in Italy's Veneto region. It's expensive but made from a mother yeast that has been nurtured for 60 years, organic eggs, organic honey from the Alps and candied fruits from Sicily. And if you consider that a panettone is consumed over a period of days, the price doesn't seem quite as daunting. The online supplier of all things Italian and delicious, Gustiamo, is the source. $70 for a 1.6-pound pastry at www.gustiamo.com.
Chocolate of the month club
Nothing says I love you like a box of chocolate. But if you have a real chocolate lover on your list, the Compartes chocolate-of-the-month club will keep him or her fully stocked with handmade chocolates all year round. For April, a selection of Easter-themed treats. July means sweet summer berry- and fruit-studded chocolates and truffles. And during the holidays, gingerbread and cinnamon latte truffles and more. $499 for full year at compartes.com.
E Waldo Ward "California Treasures" gift collection
Send someone the flavors of California with this gift pack of products made right in Sierra Madre. The collection includes Santa Rosa Plum Jam, Blackberry Preserves, Old Fashioned Chili Sauce (a ketchup replacement), Triple Citrus Marmalade, Pomegranate Jelly and Three Fruit Preserves (a blend of peaches, plums and apricots), all in 10-ounce jars (the chili sauce is 8 ounces). $51.70 at www.waldoward.com.
Red Boat salt
Fish sauce may be the secret to Southeast Asian cooking, and it's no secret that Red Boat fish sauce, or nuoc mam nhi, is a cult favorite among chefs. Red Boat has now added a flavored salt to its lineup, cured in mango wood barrels that have stored Red Boat Fish Sauce for more than a year. The finely grained salt adds a nice hint of umami to vegetables, meat, fish and poultry. $15 for an 8.8-ounce bag at redboatfishsauce.com.
Fresh California olive oil
Talk to Italian olive oil lovers and before very long you'll probably find them rhapsodizing about olio nuovo — the fluorescent green, vibrantly flavored just-pressed oil. Unfortunately, it's tough to find, and by the time it arrives in our stores it often has lost that freshness. Fortunately, California Olive Ranch, one of the best-value oil producers around (their Arbequina is our house pour), has a solution. Its Limited Reserve is really terrific. And it comes to market just in time for holiday giving. $19.99 for a 500 ml bottle at californiaoliveranch.com.
Vesta candle sticks
Los Angeles artist Kelly Lamb's Vesta cast bronze candle stick holders are an elegant addition to any tabletop surface. Available as a set of three, the geometric trio is $425 at kellylamb.net.
Designed by Nobuhito Nishigawara, this line of subtly beautiful dinnerware glazed in palest gray is made in the sculptor/potter's Orange County studio and sold at Tortoise General Store in Venice. The collection includes bowls, plates, dishes, serving bowls, pitchers, cups and mugs, and a gravy bowl. Each comes in three sizes (large, medium and small). $14 to $38 at tortoiselife.com/tortoise/artists.
Game lovers may very well swoon over the hand-printed backgammon set from Los Angeles design studio Wolfum. Each kit includes two sets of checkers and two sets of dice, and with its colorful design it makes a statement whether open or closed. Available in four different styles. $110. Available at the L.A. County Store (lacountystore.com), Burro in Venice (burrostyle.com) and the Santa Monica Museum of Art gift shop (www.smmoa.org).
Ojai artist Rene Norman's one-of-a-kind ceramic face vases for Wren Ceramics were a hit with readers when we featured them in a shopping roundup earlier this year. Norman also designs wall hangings, bowls and platters, jewelry and small plates for condiments. Starting at $158 at wrenceramics.tumblr.com/#.
Colorful Tentacle Wall Planters are a whimsical way to cheer up your favorite plant lover's interior or exterior living space. Available in three sizes as wall planters and standing planters in orange, green and blue. Starting at $45 at www.pottedstore.com.
For a last-minute gift that will last all year, stop by the arrangement bar at Rolling Greens in Culver City or Hollywood for a custom planter. Arrangements start as low as $10 depending on what plants you choose on site and you are free to bring in your own vessel. 9528 Jefferson Blvd. Culver City, 7505 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, www.rollinggreensnursery.com.