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Looking for a food gift this year? When in doubt, give a good skillet

Addie Broyles
Colleen's Kitchen is one of more than half a dozen Austin restaurants that have teamed up with Table22 to offer subscription services. Colleen's sells a take-and-bake biscuit subscription.

It’s rare that I give a Christmas present that gets used every day of the year.

That’s not the purpose of presents, of course, but if I can’t find a present that will totally surprise and delight someone and make them feel spoiled, I love giving something that will get a lot of use.

Last year, I gave a kitchen gift that fit both categories. My mom wasn’t asking for a carbon steel skillet, but long believing that cast-iron skillets were too heavy, she didn’t have a pan that could go from the stove-top to the oven.

I bought her one of those Lodge seasoned steel skillets, which are lighter than a traditional cast-iron but have all the functionality for searing and retaining heat. As soon as she reheated a piece of leftover pizza on her new skillet, she was hooked, and now it lives on her stove.

I can’t remember the last time I gave her a gift that she’s used as often as that skillet. I’m still not sure what she’s getting this Christmas, but as I was gathering food-related gift ideas for this holiday, that skillet was a reminder that many of us could probably use a kitchen upgrade or two, especially after the year of extra home cooking we’ve had.

Apparently I’m not the only one thinking about basics. Sharon O'Quinn, the longtime manager at Faraday’s Kitchen Store in Bee Cave, says that all this cooking at home has inspired a new kind of shopping in 2020.

“It’s not about the newest, fanciest, coolest thing,” she says. “This year, it’s about the basics.” Knives, skillets, spatulas, kitchen towels, pot holders, baking sheets.

“Anything baking-related has been huge,” she says. Proofing baskets, silicone baking pans, cookbooks. They have a hard time keeping bread machines in stock.

O’Quinn says they’ve sold twice as many espresso machines and barbecue pits this year, as well as lots of food mixes and bottles of olive oil and vinegar, including from local companies such as Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Co. and Spicewood Gourmet Foods. Lots of customers come in seeking seasonings from the Waxahachie-based Meat Church BBQ Supply.

Faraday’s carries a line of Polish pottery, a surprisingly durable and versatile type of painted ceramic stoneware, that has also been a hot item. They are even selling more reading glasses than usual, O’Quinn says.

Like many retailers that have opened for in-person shopping, Faraday’s continues to offer online ordering, nationwide shipping and curbside pickup.

O’Quinn’s experience running a kitchen store might help you figure out what to buy for the home cooks in your life, and here are a number of other ideas for people who love food but not necessarily cooking.

Gift boxes

The coronavirus inspired so many new mail delivery kits and boxes this year. The Austin Food & Wine Alliance has a Texas-themed food box that raises money for its grant program and includes pickles, tamales, chorizo and sweet treats from top chefs across the state, including Austin’s Gabriel Erales and Philip Speer, Houston’s Anita Jaisinghani, Steve McHugh in San Antonio and Dallas chef Matt McCallister. The boxes come in two sizes ($59 and $99, austinfoodandwinealliance.org) and can be shipped anywhere in the U.S.

Swift Fit Events has gift boxes for pampering your body and your palate, including a sweet and salty box ($50, swiftfitevents.com) with local pecans, Hill Country honey, Srsly chocolate and Zhi tea.

If you or someone you know could really use a taste of Fredericksburg right about now, check out the gift boxes ($69 to $179, fredericksburgsfinest.com) from Fredericksburg’s Finest, which include fudge, praline pecans, peanut brittle, coffee, dried lavender and peach salsa.

Several Texas wineries have teamed up to sell a Texas Fine Wine Holiday Celebration Pack, which includes five bottles from five wineries: Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood, Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall and Spicewood Vineyards in Spicewood. The gift box costs $160, include shipping, at texasfinewine.com.

Antonelli’s Cheese Shop is selling several cheese classes in a box (starting at $125, antonellischeese.com) that includes a handful of cheeses (and meats or chocolates, depending on the box) and a link to a video so you can take the class at your leisure. You also can buy cheese box subscriptions that ship all over the U.S.

Meat lovers would enjoy a set of seasonings from the Austin-based Hardcore Carnivore, which has a set of five rubs available on the website ($59.99, hardcorecarnivore.com) with some varieties now for sale at H-E-B.

Food subscriptions

Giving a foodie subscription service means stretching out the holiday fun over several months. My kids have loved getting MunchPak snack boxes (starting at $20, munchpak.com) under the Christmas tree because they know they’ll get several more in the months that follow. The same is true with Sips By, an Austin-based tea subscription service whose boxes start at $15 a month (sipsby.com).

The Salumeria near Dripping Springs has a monthly salami subscription service (starting at $29.99, thesalumeria.com) that includes several of its house-cured meats.

Atlas Coffee Club (atlascoffeeclub.com) is a new Austin-based coffee subscription service that features coffees from around the world via monthly deliveries, starting at $9 for a half bag. Other local coffee clubs include Superthing and Creature Coffee Co.

Table22 has ramped up its partnerships during the pandemic by teaming up with restaurants in several U.S. cities to sell subscriptions of their most popular items, from natural wine and cocktail kits to bake-your-own biscuits. Half a dozen Austin restaurants have subscriptions available on the website, ranging from take-and-bake biscuits at Colleen’s Kitchen to natural wines from Bento Picnic’s new venture, Saba San’s. Lucky Robot has sake subscriptions that include bottles of the restaurant’s signature sauces. L’Oca d’Oro has a weekly pasta meal subscription, and Amy’s Ice Creams has monthly pint delivery through the website, table22.com.

Salty and sweet treats

The Austin-based Pecan Street Cookie Co. is selling the most Texas-themed cookie cutters you’ve ever seen, including a cactus, baby armadillos and boots that have ice skating blades on the bottom. You can buy a 4-piece cookie cutter set for $24 at pecanstreetcookieco.com.

Wunderkeks is a local cookie company that made the most out of a tough year by pivoting from conferences and corporate orders to individual orders that ship across the country. Their new Cookie Care Packages (starting at $44.95, wunderkeks.com) include a selection of individually wrapped cookies, as well as sprinkles, stickers and pom poms that are sure to brighten someone’s day.

Vista Brewing in Driftwood has set up a little farmstand at its brewery to feature the restaurant’s house-made condiments, such as beet ketchup and basil strawberry jam, as well as goods from local makers and food companies, such as charcuterie from the Wimberley-based Visca Charcuteria, Con’ Olio oils and vinegars, a sourdough starter from Community Cultures, Whipper Snapper Coffeeworks coffee and Kimchi Jon, a new local kimchi from the owners of a now-closed food truck. Visca Charcuteria also sells holiday gift boxes with two, three and four kinds of salami through its website, viscacharcuteria.com.

Tso Chinese Delivery is giving away $100,000 in free meals this holiday season, so if you’re looking for a way you can make a donation instead of give a gift, you can contribute to the effort at tso.company/tsogiving.

LeRoy and Lewis barbecue trailer is now selling some of its rubs and sauces online (starting at $7, leroyandlewisbbq.com), and you can buy a starter pack that includes the trailer’s beet barbecue sauce, a vinegary hot sauce and a spice mix called the Dalmatian Rub.

LeRoy and Lewis has an online store with seasonings and sauces, including this beet barbecue sauce.