For the past couple of years, I have been giving events rather than objects to friends and loved ones for birthdays, weddings, and holidays. Last Christmas, for instance, we gave my brother- and sister-in-law a "personalized" visit and tasting at Flat Creek Estate vineyards, followed by dinner at Cafe 909 in Marble Falls. I find this is a lot more meaningful and much more appreciated. Besides, I love to cook.
So, in this spirit, I offer our readers these suggestions. You can cook the dinner for your friends or loved ones yourself, or give them the specialty items in a basket with instructions, recipes, or tips. If you are not much of a cook, search the companies' Web sites for recipe ideas. Don't forget to include a bottle or two of Texas wine! Search our online archives at austinchronicle.com for Wes Marshall's expert suggestions.
For an easy starter with French flair, spread a half teaspoon of Le Marseillais' Confiture de Tomates a delicious sweet-tangy-spicy tomato marmalade over crackers or French bread slices and top with a slice of Pure Luck's Claire de Lune or fresh chèvre cheese. The Confiture de Tomates is available on Le Marseillais' Web site at www.bistrolemarseillais.com, and it can even be delivered to your doorstep. Pure Luck products are also at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, Whole Foods, Central Market, Boggy Creek Farm, or directly from the Web site (www.purelucktexas.com). Enjoy with your favorite cocktail or a glass of bubbly.
Add a Mediterranean twist to the salad course using Saltburst's Savory Pomegranate Glaze to make a unique sweet-and-sour vinaigrette. Use about a tablespoon of the seasoning, dissolve it in fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar, and add olive oil to taste. Drizzle on greens of your choice; add toasted nuts and some apple slices or fresh pomegranate seeds for texture. You can drizzle the vinaigrette over steamed or grilled veggies, or sprinkle the spice directly over hot veggies or meats to achieve a lovely glaze. Do this to freshly roasted acorn squash, and thank me later. Saltburst's Savory Pomegranate Glaze is available at Sunset Valley Farmers Market, Whole Foods, and on the Web site: www.spiceburst.com.
For the main course, go Jamaican! Those of us who lived in Bouldin Creek when 78704 was really just a ZIP code remember Shaggy's restaurant. The neighborhood eatery served the most amazing jerk sauce on chicken wings and grilled pork chops, with spicy seasoned fries and cold draft beers. Thankfully, the Shaggy's family has started bottling their jerk sauce for the world to enjoy. Use it to marinate and grill chicken, pork, or even tofu, and give your entrée a little extra kick! Shaggy's Original Jerk Marinade is available year-round at Cafe Mundi and at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar in December, but you can contact Shaggy's directly to place your order. All the info plus recipes and cooking instructions are at www.shaggyssauces.com.
To finish off on a slightly sweet but very interesting note, add a bag of Cocoa Puro Kakawa Cocoa Beans. These Venezuelan cocoa beans are roasted then covered in layers of El Rey white, milk, and dark chocolates and rolled in dark cocoa. Think chocolate-covered espresso beans are good? These little nibbles will please even the most demanding chocoholic on your list. Find them at Whole Foods, Central Market, Austin Farmers' Market, and other specialty stores, or you can order from www.cocoapuro.com.
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