Are we getting down to the wire? Yes, we are getting down to the wire. The sun is rising mighty close to 8 a.m., which would be mighty close to 9 a.m., for those of you still fighting the daylight savings shift. And if the days are that dark, it means we’re barreling toward Christmas, New Year’s, and all things celebratory. Are you ready?! Ready or not, here it comes, and so to help you live your holiday season to the max, here’s my list of superb local food gifts, for yourself or your very best friends and best mom:
1. Char-cuts platter from Haute Dish:
Last day to order is Dec. 15, but this is huge. You can get a party-sized platter of Haute Dish’s phenomenal, renowned, critically acclaimed (by me, and everyone!) charcuterie to take home. Included: chicken liver pate with truffled madeira jelly; country pork pate with cornichons and Dijon; head-cheese with apples and pickled mustard seeds; bacon and cranberry rilletes with cranberry mustard; and a cheese ball with piquillo peppers, French cheddar, Espelette pepper, and Marcona almonds. I have nearly done cartwheels with joy over these in the restaurant—and for $75 you can get a platter to serve 10 to take home. Now all you need is a little wine, a little beer, a little lording it over everyone you know. Seriously.
2. Christmas cookie platter from Bars Bakery:
Bars Bakery in St. Paul makes the most buttery, elegant, and innocent, yet professional, and dressy cookies in town. For $52 you can get the large platter, which serves 20. There’s a $30 one to serve 12. Call ahead to order those big platters. But if you’re feeling more spontaneous, they have a cookie box of 18 cookies for $12, ready to go, at all times.
3. Appetizers from Lucia’s:
Impromptu holiday party? That’s no problem with chef Lucia Watson in your corner. She’s offering tequila-cured gravlax for 15 to 20 people for $175, Tim Fischer bacon-wrapped shrimp ($30 a dozen), Tim Fischer orange glazed bone-in ham ($7.50 a pound, hams are around six pounds and serve 12-15 people,) and lots, lots more, such as their famous pies, breads, and cakes.
4. Kegs or Growlers of Beer:
I put this in here more as a brain-tickler, but: Remember our brewing boom? Remember how Harriet, Steel Toe, Fulton, et al are selling growlers of their beer? That’s a rare, new, affordable, welcome gift for your buddies. What’s that you say? Your buddies drink a heck of a lot more than a mere growler? Well, you do know that Four Firkins has local kegs, right?
5. Ham at Big Daddy’s:
Are you tired of Christmas being barbecue free? It doesn’t have to be! This year Big Daddy’s, the St. Paul barbecue king, is rolling out a whole holiday menu: Smoked ham ($5.49 a pound), smoked turkey, and, if you order in advance, whole sweet potato pies. All the regular Big Daddy’s sides, such as collard greens, baked beans, and potato salad, are available as well, by the pint.
6. Swedish gingerbreads from Fika:
The new Swedish-leaning café at the American Swedish Institute is selling small gingerbread loaves for $4 a pop—get there now and you’ll have time to soak them in your own brandy for a very traditional Christmas. They’re also selling walnut teacakes and krumkake.
7. Christmas Geese from Heartland:
Why are people in Victorian England always eating Christmas geese, and you’re not? Chef Lenny Russo at Heartland is changing that starting now. You can order a fresh Christmas goose from his Heartland Farm Direct Market! $10 a pound, most are 9-10 pounds, they come in from Wisconsin on Dec. 18 and can be picked up any time after that. Add a heritage ham and an apple, pumpkin, or pecan pie, and tell everyone you know that you’re having a Dickensian Christmas—in the best possible way.
8. Panettone from Cossetta’s, panettone from Patisserie 46, fruitcake from Sun Street.
11. Buche de Noel and brioche men (manala) from Patrick’s Bakery:
This time of year lots of bakeries make the buttercream jellyroll cake in the form of a Yule log called buche de noel. But my favorites come from the bakery helmed by a genuine French superstar chef working on the Edina/Richfield/Minneapolis border, Patrick Bernet at Patrick’s Bakery. He is offering four versions this year, my pick is the mocha, but perhaps yours is the double-chocolate L’Ambassadeur, or the vanilla raspberry? While you’re there you can sign up for a full ham dinner to-go ($89, for 6) or buy yourself a traditional Alsatian Christmas treat, a little man made of brioche, called a manala, to dunk in your morning coffee. Adorable.
12. Bacon or a smoked chicken or duck from Bar 5:
Who gives bacon for Christmas? Why not you? I maintain that Bar 5, the Arlington, Minnesota farmers, make some of the country’s best bacon and smoked duck. They also provide truly extraordinary smoked chickens. I got one the other day and it was an extravagance of big, chickeny flavor, almost ham-like in its concentration and deliciousness. (And stock made from the carcass made the whole house smell like kielbasa—bonus! The stock makes fantastic split pea or miso soup.) The smoked duck—oh heavens—red as a berry, winey, sweet, just glorious. And the bacon is beyond words, too. Lacy and salty and lush. Bar Five will be at both the big downtown Minneapolis and lowertown St. Paul farmer’s markets this Saturday the Dec. 15 and Saturday Dec. 22, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., selling everything they’ve got. The best way to guarantee something special—a crown roast of pork, leg of lamb, smoked duck, freshly smoked ham, and so on—is to call the farm: 507-964-5612. You can also just show up and take your luck.
Happy holidays everyone! When I take stock of my year I’m grateful to live in America’s breadbasket—and bacon basket. What better way to celebrate the year than to appreciate the great and good food around us.