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Random Thu Dec 17 2015

2015 Food and Drink Gift Guide

If you're like me, last minute and holiday shopping go hand in hand. And if you're like me, the way to my heart is through my stomach. If you still have shopping left to do, these curated local food and drink gift ideas might make last minute not look so last minute at all.

Housemade Macarons from RM Champagne

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For the "likes finer things in life" foodie on your list, or the "I need something quick and easy that says thank you for doing business with me," housemade macarons packaged in a Tiffany's-inspired box from RM Champagne is a definite winner. They come available in quantities of 9 (for $10) or 12 (for $19) and you can even customize your own box with a mix of flavor choices such as violet and cocoa nib or classic favorites like peach and red velvet. Combine it with a bottle of bubbly and you're on your way to sealing the deal for 2016.

Give the Gift of Romanian Tradition -- Onu Tuica Plum Brandy

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If a spirit inspired by a 70-year-old Romanian retired police dog trainer, championed by a chef that specializes in Macanese food and made in collaboration with local distillers doesn't get you in the "we are the world" feels, the punch from it will definitely warm the spirit this holiday. This second year collaboration between Fat Rice, CH Distillery, Seedling Farms and Fat Rice's "janitor" Onu Aldea all started when Aldea returned from Romania last year with a bottle of traditional homemade Tuica, a very strong spirit distilled from fermented plums (think Grappa). Intrigued, Fat Rice chef Abe Colon took Onu to Seedling Farms to source thousands of plums and then turned to friends at CH Distillery to distill the juice. The Brandy has just finished distilling and is currently available online, or in-person at Perman Wine Selections (802 W. Washington) and at CH Distillery (564 W. Randolph) for $40.

Martinis on Demand

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When you need a drink, you NEED a drank, and for those who'd rather drink the drink than buy the many expensive ingredients to make the drinks, newly launched Vitani will make your martini-loving, practical giftee very happy. The line of bottled martinis launched earlier this year by a Northbrook-based husband and wife team and come in five vodka-based flavors: Cosmo, Elderflower, Cucumber, Dirty and Citrus Ginger. Just twist, shake and pour. The aluminum bottles also chill faster and stay cooler longer -- like I said, when you need a drink...

Give the Gift of Italia!

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Pasta, gravy, bold red wine...who doesn't love the food of Italy? Combine the two and you're bound to make someone happy. Start at Formento's sister concept Nonna's, with customized food packages featuring signature products from their retail shop like chef-made gravy or somm-approved wine. Nonna's will do the gifting for you by customizing your own ready to pick-up or delivered baskets. Now you really have no excuses.

If you want to show you're in the regional know and DIY, head over to Osteria Langhe (2824 W. Armitage) and grab Chef Cameron Grant's ready-to-cook popular menu item Plin -- hand pinched ravioli filled with la tur, parmesan, thyme and butter - then stop at Lush Wine and Spirits to pair it with wines from Italy's northern region. Suggestions include the Tenuta Olim Bauda Grignolino D'Asti 2014 ($18), the Bergadano Barolo 2010 ($37), a hearty Barolo at a bargain price, and if your giftee has been really nice, the Maison Anselmet "Le Prisonnier" 2006 ($164), a red blend from the Valle D'Osta region.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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Food and storytelling are perhaps the two single things that separate us from the animal kingdom. Combined, they make for a great gift to receive and potentially reap the benefits. Chicago is brewing with many local cookbooks from Agate Publishing in Evanston, and if a cookbook is on your list, why not make it local. (All titles listed and pictured are available to order.)

The Eli's Cheesecake Cookbook ($17) showcases cheesecake recipes from the nationally famous company, as well as a history of Eli Schulman and The Eli's Cheesecake Company. The book also features 10 dishes from Eli's The Place For Steak restaurant, where Schulman first served his cheesecake.

Dinner at Home ($23) collects 140 recipes and stories from JeanMarie Brownson's beloved Chicago Tribune column of the same name and features a number of suggested menus for a variety of occasions.

Ina's Kitchen: Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen ($15): This paperback reissue of beloved chef Ina Pinkney's first cookbook collects favorites from her namesake Chicago restaurant.

Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories ($16): This incredible cookbook is local food blogger Jocelyn Delk Adams's love note to her family. The book includes 50 family recipes updated with modern twists.

Curb Style Mixology

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What Plated and Hello Fresh have done for food, Cocktail Courier has done for drinks. Chicago's premiere mixology subscription box service that launched in Chicago early this year is perfect for the giftee on your list that loves subscription boxes. Unlike other options in the market, Cocktail Courier collaborates with local mixologists and vendors on recipes and ingredients then delivers all you need (minus the tools) to make 4-8 craft cocktails. Boxes start at $39.99 and can be bought in 3, 6 or 12 months subscriptions or ordered a la carte. You can also skip, suspend, or cancel anytime, and subscribers get free shipping. Send a "round of drinks" by gifting a subscription directly from the site or get in the spirit of the holidays with the special Yule Mule Cocktail. The seasonal box contains Stolichnaya Premium Vodka, spiced cranberry syrup, ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, angostura bitters and Stolichnaya Ginger Beer with a rosemary sprig garnish.

Sweet Sensations

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Does your giftee have a sweet tooth yet appreciates craftsmanship from a local bakery who support sustainability that also tastes really, really good? Head to Lincoln Square's Baker Miller for a couple of treats like the popular take-and-bake cinnamon roll, Buck-eye chocolate peanut butter pie (pictured) or chocolate chip cookie dough.

Sportsman's Club Bar Kit

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Popular neighborhood and industry bar, Sportsman's Club, is offering all ingredients needed to stir up an Old Fashioned (Old Grand-Dad Whiskey, house demerara syrup, Angostura bitters) or the signature Sportsman's Cocktail (Old Grand-Dad Whiskey, Zucca, Luxardo bitters, Angostura bitters) again this year with their DIY cocktail making kit for your favorite imbiber. Kits include all ingredients needed plus a mixing glass, jigger, bar spoon and a julep strainer just like the pros use. Kits start at $100.

Give an Artisanal Food Basket

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Forgo turning to Harry and David or Edible Arrangements this year (seriously, you're better than that) and go local with a custom gift basket of artisan items from Bread and Wine, the chef-driven American Bistro off Irving Park run by two female entrepreneurs. Custom baskets include items from the onsite market, including their private label wines and artisan snacks. Baskets range in price from $75-150.

Give the Gift of the Duck

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Duck Inn Chicago was voted this year's best restaurant by Eater Chicago and recently made US Today's list of top ten new restaurants in the country at number two...the friggin' country. Chef Kevin Hickey is spreading the love by offering his famous duck to-go this holiday season. For $65, let the home cook sit back and relax with a bird carved and plated with Yukon gold potatoes tossed in a combination of persimmon, honey crisp apples, sherry vinegar and tangerine juice. The duck can be picked up at the restaurant in Bridgeport or delivered via Postmates. (All orders for the holiday duck to-go must be placed at least 24 hours in advance and no later than 3pm on December 22, including via Postmates. To-go orders can be placed by calling (312) 724-8811, and pick-ups must be made on December 23 between 3 and 5pm.)

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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