Shop with a chefPublished on December 6, 2010

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  • Chef Andree Riffou. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

  • (Provided)

Whether you're looking for thoughtful hostess gifts or holiday presents for the foodies in your life, the unique and unusual are always appreciated. For this, our holiday edition, Ottawa at Home asked a local expert - Chef Andrée Riffou - for some great gift recommendations.

Andrée is an expert at sourcing the best food-related items in Ottawa. Her company, C'est Bon Cooking, leads culinary walking tours throughout the city's finest foodie neighbourhoods, including the ByWard Market, Beechwood Avenue, Preston Street and Wellington West. She regularly scours local gourmet shops, large and small, for special ingredients to incorporate into her popular cooking classes. Andrée's top picks for holiday gifts include the following practical, delicious items that are sure to please any foodie.

Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar - pick up a bottle or two of each! Andrée recommends buying the very best you can afford. Prices for good to great quality imported oils and vinegars range from about $25 to $200 and are available at Luciano's on Preston and other speciality food shops that carry Italian foods.

Edible snacks are perennial holiday favourites. Stocking essentials from Persian and other middle-eastern cuisines, Shiraz Grocery offers such delights as dried fruits and plain or seasoned nuts including almonds roasted with lemon and salt; Andrée warns it's an addictive combination. Shiraz is at 607 Somerset Street West (at Percy).

While most of us are only familiar with the more common caper substitute, pickled nasturtium seed pods, caper berries are the real deal. Larger than their imitators, they are actually pickled buds from the caper bush, a perennial shrub that thrives in the Mediterranean region. Imported from Fauchon, the world-famous specialty food store in Paris, by Jacobsons on Beechwood. 

Delicately coloured Pearl Pink Himalayan Salt gets its colour from minute traces of iron trapped within each crystal. Since the 13th century, this rare salt has been mined in the Khewra salt mines of Pakistan. Ideal as a finishing salt, it has a subtle flavour that lends a touch of the exotic to any dish.  Packaged in a reusable shot glass, it is available at La Bottega Nicastro.

Tentazioni Tartufata is a pesto-like product that combines mushrooms, truffles and olives. Produced in Italy's truffle-rich Marche region, Andrée suggests using it on pasta or to accent a sauce; it is also wonderful spread on bread or crostini. Find it and other Italian treats at La Bottega Nicastro.

Handmade preserves are always a treat. Michaelsdolce jams are some of the best in town, created by renowned confectioner Michael Sunderland using fresh, seasonal and - wherever possible - local ingredients. Combinations include blueberry and lavender, cranberry and apricot, mango and ginger and several more. Don't just use them on toast - Andrée recommends these jams as a condiment to go with cheese, or to enliven a sauce. Find them at several local retailers including Brown Loaf Bakery at 268 Elgin St.

Other delectable sweet treats include Amaretti della Valle, gluten-free cookies made with ground almonds and armellina seeds (from apricots), blended with sugar and egg white. Fluffy and light, Andrée says their subtle amaretto and almond flavour is divine. Packaged in a beautiful gift box, they are available at La Bottega Nicastro.

Gift certificates for a hot new restaurant or other food activity make great gifts as well. Why not consider a coupon for one of C'est Bon Cooking's culinary adventures - a hands-on cooking class or walking food tour? Call 613.291.9155 or visit cestboncooking.ca.

Foodies adore interesting food books - a sure winner is Taste Buds and Molecules by FranÁois Chartier. He's a sommelier who explores the secret relationships between the strawberry and the pineapple, mint and Sauvignon Blanc, rosemary and Riesling and much more. Newly translated into English, the book offers an intelligent, yet playful, way to look at food and wine. Andrée loves it because it explains how and why pairings of complementary (and sometimes unexpected) ingredients can create incredible taste sensations. Published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

Foodies love cheese and some of the country's finest are made in Ontario and Quebec. Andrée suggests Operetta or Cape Vessey goat's milk cheeses from Fifth Town in Prince Edward County, Le Cendrillon by Quebec's Alexis Portneuf or 8-year-old cheddar by Le Silo. All these and more at Serious Cheese, 1189 Bank St. in Old Ottawa South.

The Fine Cheese Company in Bath, England, makes several varieties of crackers that are specifically designed to complement particular cheeses. Like a little black dress, their Charcoal Crackers provide an elegant and tasty accessory for almost any cheese. Visit Jacobsons for Fine Cheese Co. products. 

What's more Canadian than maple syrup? Quebec's Cabane du Pic Bois uses it to create a delectable maple vinegar that some call the Balsamic of Canada. It's ideal for drizzling on anything from salad to ice cream, says Andrée, or to concoct a heavenly vinaigrette. Available at Westboro's Piggy Market, 400 Winston Ave. at Richmond Road.




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