In the previous installment, I focused on perfume and scent themed books, while today I would like to offer a few suggestions on flavors. A book like The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg might be equally fascinating for cooks and fragrance lovers. It outlines different combinations of flavors, pointing out what foods go well together. Another great book from the same team is What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea – Even Water – Based on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers. The Flavor Thesaurus: A Compendium of Pairings, Recipes and Ideas for the Creative Cook by Niki Segnit is similar in premise to The Flavor Bible, but it goes further by classifying different flavors and explaining why some combinations work.
Related to both fragrance and flavor is Herbs & Spices: The Cook’s Reference by Jill Norman. It is one of the best books on the subject. The explanations of different spices and herbs, along with interesting cooking suggestions, make it a fantastic resource.
As an inspiration for someone who loves scents, I would choose cookbooks focusing on cuisines that make the use of spices and flavorings an art. Some of my favorite cookbooks recently have been Australian imports (available through Amazon.com). I love anything written by Greg Malouf and Lucy Malouf, but their latest work, Saraban: A Chef’s Journey Through Persia, is splendid. Filled with gorgeous photographs and interesting stories, it also offers excellent recipes, both traditional and modern. Greg Malouf is a Melbourne based chef, and he has written extensively on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. The bulgur pilaf with orange and dried fruit from Saha: A Chef’s Journey Through Lebanon and Syria as well as the pomegranate olive salad from Turquoise: A Chef’s Travels in Turkey are among the dishes that have become a part of my culinary repertoire. For other interesting cookbook ideas, I would recommend Kitchen Arts and Letters, an independent cookbook store (click on Newsletters to see their most interesting offerings).
Spice mixtures, cookies, jams…. Some of the best fragrance gifts I have ever received were homemade jams or other treats. My Iranian friend’s quince syrup, which is delicious over ice cream or simply diluted in mineral water, is so aromatic that I am tempted to use it as perfume. For my part, I make gingerbread flavored with a variety of spices, and it is a popular gift among my friends. Here are a few ideas:
Vanilla extract (needs to be planned in advance)
If your gift recipient is a gourmand or a serious cook, they might appreciate an interesting spice or some other special ingredient. Some of my favorite fragrant gifts are vanilla and saffron. Buying from a specialized shop or from the producer is the best way to ensure freshness and to obtain the best price. For high quality Bourbon vanilla beans, Amadeus is a great source and for true Tahitian vanilla beans try Vanilla from Tahiti. Tahitian vanilla has a beautiful floral fragrance, with a heliotrope sweetness, while Bourbon vanilla is smokier and warmer.
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, but high-quality product really goes a long way. As a gift, it is definitely special. Kashmiri saffron is perfect for dishes like custards, rice puddings and other preparations where the flavor of saffron will stand on its own. I buy my saffron from Penzey’s, and all three varieties (Kashmiri, Spanish and Iranian) that the store offers are excellent.
Tea and Coffee
A selection of different teas or coffees is a wonderful present. Ten Ren and Adagio offer ways to create your own gift box, as does Counter Culture Coffee. For those who prefer flavored tea, interesting and beautifully packaged options are available from Le Palais des Thés, Mariage Frères and Hédiard.
Unusual Candy and Chocolates
Few people can resist a delicious candy, and I love indulging my friends. Moreover, an elegant box of chocolates is a classical gift. The chocolate selection in the US is quite impressive today, and one can find good candy quite easily. What follows are just a few of my personal favorites. La Maison du Chocolat and Jacques Torres Chocolate are invariably excellent for truffles and ganache filled candy. La Maison du Chocolat also has delicious macaroons and pastries. French confectionary Ladurée has opened a US location (864 Madison Avenue New York, 10021(646) 558-3157,) and its macarons and chocolates are available for both pick up and mail order.
I am also addicted to Spanish sweets and I often include them in gift baskets. Turrón, a nougat like candy made with almonds and honey, mouthwatering Mantecados and Polvorones cookies, and dark hazelnut chocolate are among my favorite choices. On a recent visit to Spain I discovered Frutas de Aragón, a traditional confection of candied fruit covered in bitter chocolate glaze. In the US, I buy all of these specialties from La Tienda, a website devoted to Spanish foods.
Another interesting sweet gift idea is to shop at an ethnic pastry shop. For instance, Mexican stores can be a source of fantastic candied fruit, Middle Eastern bakeries offer an impressive array of nut filled sweetmeats and cookies, while Indian stores sell unusual milk based candies. While the holiday season can feel hectic and stressful given all the planning and shopping, it is easy enough to add some fun and adventure to the mix.
Photography by VeraKL