For Food Lovers, Stocking Stuffers Begin in the Kitchen

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This combination of photos shows, from left, a variety of spices by Burlap and Barrel, a variety of chocolate bars by Chocolove of Boulder, Colorado, and a variety of maple syrup products by Vermont-based Runomok. (Katie Workman via AP)

By Katie Workman, Associated Press

It’s one of my favorite parts of the holiday season: thinking of all the people I’d like to give a little package to, mulling over what that right present should be. This year, perhaps more than any other, it feels pleasurable to treat all of your people to something thoughtful and cheery, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. The kitchen is a great place for inspiration in choosing perfect-little-something gifts. Maybe it’s a treat that recognizes a friend’s sweet tooth.

An ingredient that inspires a budding chef. A kitchen utensil to brighten their cooking. The gift ideas below are $30 or less, so you can bring a bit of holiday joy to everyone on your list, from the teacher who went above and beyond to the neighbor who shared her flour to the niece or nephew just getting into cooking. Many of these items have beautiful packaging too; add a little card and skip the wrapping.

Vermont-based Runomok makes infused organic maple syrups that not only beg to be drizzled over pancakes and waffles this winter, but can also be incorporated into recipes and cocktails. Choose from varieties like banana rum, WhistlePig Rye, coffee and hibiscus. Note that some of these limited-edition syrups sell out fast. There is even a maple syrup with edible sparkles. The lovely bottles sell for about $18 each.

Can you ever go wrong with a top-of-the-line chocolate bar? That was clearly a trick question. There is a dazzling array of attractively packaged, high-quality, fair-trade chocolates. Choose from classic chocolate bars with varying levels of pure cacao; chocolate with creative add-ins; chocolate from a particular place with personal meaning; or just the most eye-catching labels in the store.

Chocolove of Boulder, Colorado, has choices including Salted Almond Butter in Dark Chocolate, and Pink Grapefruit in Ruby Chocolate. Chicago-based Vosges Haut Chocolat has their own classic bars, and also options like Pink Salt Caramel and Turmeric Ginger. Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco makes single-origin bars, like the ones from Camino Verde, Ecuador, or Anamali, India.

More chocolate ideas: Enzo’s Table chocolate almond butter (made with Guittard chocolate) is a perfect holiday treat, as is Nocciolata, Italy’s sophisticated, organic hazelnut and cocoa spread (move over Nutella). Choose from milk or dark chocolate versions, or double down and wrap up both.

Yes, gifting a bottle of wine might seem uninspired at first, but not if it comes from a winemaker or region that means something to the recipient. For instance, Sonoma Cutrer in the Russian River Valley is led by an all-female winemaking team (from vineyards, to cellars and lab) and produces sustainable certified wines.

Or think about supporting Black-owned wineries like The Guilty Grape (also woman-owned; $30 for their Cabernet Sauvignon), or the burgeoning natural and eco-friendly wine industry. Pick a wine that geographically connects with the receiver, like a bottle of Cabernet Franc from Bulgaria, to remind them of a destination on their travel bucket list. Other inexpensive gifts for the oenophiles in your life: wine coasters, a pair of vintage wine glasses, a wine cooler sleeve and a wine bottle stopper.

How about a small bottle or tin filled with mulling spices, perhaps paired with a small jug of cider or some chunky mugs? This economical gift lands big in terms of seasonal cheer – pour the cider into a pot, add the spices, and in 15 minutes the kitchen will smell like the height of the holidays. Melissa’s makes a great mulled spice blend, made with cloves, cinnamon, and orange peel, available in supermarkets and online.

A cute new set of measuring cups and spoons is always welcome for the bakers in your life. Sustainability-focused Bamboozle makes durable, colorful products from natural bamboo fiber in three pretty, muted colorways. $28 for the cups and spoons together.

For the experimental cook, give a few tins of hand-picked spices or spice blends. The world of spices has come a long way in recent years, with much more attention to origin, process, freshness, authenticity.

James Beard Award-winning chef Meherwan Irani founded Spicewalla with an eye towards bringing his experiences with buying and using spices in India to a broader market. He offers 100 herbs and spices plus 30 house-made blends to date, and the tins are brilliantly designed. The Masala collection includes garam masala, tandoori masala and Madras curry powder. Or pick up a few tins of individual herbs and spices like fenugreek, sumac or smoked paprika. Penzeys and Burlap and Barrel are two other brands to look for, for quality and attractive packaging.

For the eco-friendly cook in your life, a little collection of Halo dish covers would be well received. These reusable, washable and adjustable bowl and dish covers reduce the use of plastic wrap and add some cuteness to your leftovers. Or perhaps a reusable, extendable straw set, complete with cleaner and carrying case, from OXO.

Help a pal elevate her tabletop by gifting a small stack of cloth napkins; Williams-Sonoma has a range of linen ones. Pick a color that will click with the recipient, stack them, roll them and tie them with a pretty ribbon. Keep your eyes open, as you might find these perfect little thinking-of-you food gifts anywhere from on online store to a supermarket to a kitchenware store.

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