Stores fill their end caps with heaps of cheap and nasty bubbly wine for the holidays. Do yourself and our state's economy a favor by buying a bottle or two of Michigan-made beverages. May we suggest estate-grown and -bottled sparkling wine from the Leelanau Peninsula? L. Mawby wines are made using the traditional methode Champenoise, and some are aged more than three years before being sold. If you're a frugal shopper, try their M. Lawrence brand of sparkling wine produced by a faster fermentation method and with less aging but still delicious. If you'd prefer something more unusual than wine, Uncle John's Fruit House Winery offers ciders in apple, perry (pear) and apple cherry, as well as a superior cyser that combines apple wine with Michigan wildflower honey. And, running the gamut from sweet to dry, the hand-crafted products from Ferndale's B. Nektar Meadery make for a memorable holiday toast.
As avid gardeners know, winter is a time of considering next year's garden, poring over seed catalogs, settling down to wait for the next growing season's luscious tomatoes or crunchy cucumbers. Why not help the winter gardener in your life dream by giving a book of recipes that kick up the punch of fresh produce without overpowering it? None other than chef, TV personality, restaurateur and author Emeril Lagasse is ready to assist with his Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh (William Morrow Cookbooks, $24.99). The 152 recipes will help stoke some internal warmth, including roasted beet salad, creamy turnip soup, and gumbo with smoked ham and wild rice. The cheesy creole tomato pie's savory crust will take full advantage of sweet, ripe juicy heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes fresh off the vine. Dream on.
When it comes to toting food — whether to a picnic or a cubicle — it's hard to beat the tiffin carrier: a sort of lunchbox used widely in India. These stylish, tiered, stackable containers resemble various-sized pots, and they allow you to keep the tastes and textures of each course separate. A sturdy latching system means you choose how many containers you want to carry. Entirely reusable (and thus a bit kinder to the environment), they also have ingenious features: One comes with a fold-down handle and a lid that serves as a plate. It's just $24.95 at kitchenworksinc.com.
We all know that one person who's out there grilling until the fire freezes. This list of gift ideas should keep things hot a bit longer.
1. When it takes forever for the coals to get hot, turbocharge them with an Andis RC-2 Ionic 1875W Ceramic Hair Dryer ($20).
2. Let Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue! (Workman Publishing, $22.95) guide you through 309 grill-ready recipes from 60 countries.
3. Freshly ground spices bring more flavor. With the Rikon Classic Grind, you can toast whole spices in a skillet — until the aromas permeate the kitchen — then grind your own rub fine or coarse.
4. No recipes here, but the photos in Wyatt McSpadden's Texas BBQ (University of Texas Press, $39.95), are evocative of legendary, moist, slow-smoked Texas brisket.
5. As seen on TV: The Grill Daddy can clean that grungy grate: Just fill the gizmo with water, heat your grill, then turn a valve and start brushing, steam-cleaning away cooked-on mess in seconds.
Few winter joys beat a crackling fire in the hearth. So why run up utilities cooking over a hot stove when you can cook over the hot embers in your fireplace? An iron pot sitting on a grate or hanging over the fire looks good and is a perfect way to cook a pot of chili or a stew. For bigger jobs, such as braising a pork butt to perfection, you can actually set the pot on top of coal and shovel them on for all-around heat. Lodge cast-iron cookware lasts forever and, compared to most other high quality pots and pans, is reasonably inexpensive. Dutch ovens can be found at lodgemfg.com or many area retailers.
When you cook with garlic, fish, onions and many other delicious foods, they leave an odor on your hands that can become unpleasant in the dining room. Regular soap and lemon juice often just don't work well enough. However, Orka Deos Stainless Steel Soap works every time, using oxido-reduction, a natural property of steel (who knew?), to remove strong odors — all without abrasives that chafe your hands. It even has a nail cleaner on the tip of the distinctively designed teardrop-shaped bar. (Some customer testimonials emphasize the importance of cleaning under your nails to fully eliminate the problem.) What's more, this remarkable item is so sleek and attractive that it has been on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Is there somebody in your life who's so pazzo for pizza they want to try making it themselves? No matter what they're in the market for, from a simple black pan — which makes the deep-dish variety so crisp — to a pizza oven to cook it in, much of that can be found in local stores or online at sites like equippers.com. But what about somebody who wants to fine-tune their pizza-making skills? If they're ambitious enough to consider making brick oven pizza, they'll need to use a hot surface that draws the moisture out of the dough, creating the crunch. In that case, an Emile Henry pizza stone can help; it withstands high oven temperatures so well it can even be pressed into service on a gas or charcoal grill. Of course, making pizza can get messy, with all the bubbling cheese and delicate ingredients. If anything gets cooked on too tough, it may call for the ultimate surface scraper: The hard resin "SkrAPr" can be used to remove burnt food from almost anything, including pizza stones — without scratching. It comes with a lifetime warranty at theskrapr.com or qvc.com. For more pizza ideas, consider a new magazine from Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood.com fame: Pizza. The Sterns have ferreted out obscure restaurants on their coast-to-coast journeys and put together this consummate guide to American pizza. But if you're trying to find a gift for the piazzolo who has everything, we'll bet that the Pizza Boss 3000 pizza slicer will make them smile. The cute little doodad looks like a miniature circular saw, so you can slice through dough, cheese and any toppings with authority. It's built from tough, engineering-grade plastics, and the laser-etched stainless steel blade has a removable shield for easy cleanup. It's only $12 at coolstuffexpress.com.
If your family is half-carnivore, half-vegetarian, how do you make lasagna without cooking twice? Accommodate all at once with a Chicago Metallic Trio Lasagna Pan ($30), whose three separate channels allow cooks to make three kinds of lasagna at once, including a custom-fit spatula.