In these days of multicultural cuisines and all-season ingredients, it's still nice to find that some world-class products originate right here close to home. Here are a few local luminaries (and one ringer) for your holiday shopping list:
Chef Jacques Boireau has spent most of his professional life looking for the ideal roasting pan without finding it. So a year or two ago, he decided to design his own. Since Boireau is also the chief of culinary programs for the Queen Anne and Admiral Thriftway group, when he designs something, it gets built: Now playing for the holidays at the Seattle and Tacoma Thriftways, the Durminium roaster from Mauviel of France. Big enough to hold a 20-pound turkey with room to spare, with high sides, convenient handles, and a fast-and even-heating all-aluminum body with a tough nonstick coating, the Durminium roaster is a steal at $59.
How much chocolate is too much? For Rocky Rococoa, there's no limit. Rococoa (not his real name—he borrowed his nom de biscuit from a character in an old Firesign Theater routine) is so chocolate obsessed that when he couldn't find a chocolate-chip cookie with the requisite combination of softness and chunkiness, sweetness and sheer chocolate intensity, he started making his own. And having sampled them, we are in a position to affirm Rococoa's slogan, "Quite possibly the best chocolate cookie you've ever tasted in your life."
Rococoa Chocolate Cookies sell for $12 per 12-ounce six-pack, and come in seven flavors, each featuring a different mixture of chocolate, chips, nuts, and secondary flavors, among them coconut, orange, raspberry, and coffee. (We liked the orange peel and orange cream best of all.) The only spot they're available retail at present is Nishino Restaurant (3130 E. Madison St., 206-322-5800), but don't despair: You can check them out and order them in time for the holidays at www.rococoacookies.com.
GIFTS THAT GROW
Way out near Morton, Wash., better than halfway to Mount Rainier, there's a place that seems quieter and calmer than even a rural nursery has any business being. Raintree Nursery's roots in the alternative back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s probably account for the atmosphere, because despite the hint of hippie in the air, Raintree now ships its berry vines, fruit and nut trees, and shrubs all over North America and selects new items for its catalog from exotic entries from all over the world.
Raintree offers plenty of amenities for visitors during its summer and autumn seasons, but the best time to visit to buy for your garden is January to May, when the bare-root items the nursery specializes in are at their best and ready to stick into the earth to grow. But some of the rarest and most sought-after plants will be long gone before spring, so if you can't take a day off to visit before then, call and have a catalog sent to you (360-496-6400) or log on to Raintree's Web site at www.raintreenursery.com.
Until recently, lovers of true caviar have faced an agonizing choice: Buy from ever-more-suspect sources of the ever-shrinking Iranian or Russian Caspian Sea product, or, if you couldn't handle dealing with gangsters and contributing to the extinction of the resource, simply go without. Let's raise a rousing cheer, then, to Mats and Dafne Engstrom, who have spent nearly 20 years learning how to raise the quirky Caspian sturgeon in captivity. Today their Tsar Nicoulai California Estate caviar from farmed fish of the Osetra species is served in some of the best—and most ecologically aware—restaurants around. The company also sells Russian eggs from reputable sources as well as a selection of native roe, including trout, salmon, and whitefish, but it's the farmed product, running $51 per ounce (only a little less than the imported variety) that has made the most waves: It's luscious, buttery, and incomparably fresh—better than most imported simply because it spends less time in the container and in transit. You can order at 800-952-2842 or www.tsarnicoulai.com.
We can't tell you where to buy it or the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be on our case, but we can tell you that if you come across a supply of Szechuan pepper, snap up as much of it as you can and give it to your gourmet friends for Christmas—we promise they will be more grateful than if you gave them a little red fire engine that really pumps water. Szechuan pepper isn't really pepper—it comes from Chinese ash trees and has a very distinctive flavor, more aromatic than hot. But the USDA has decided that the little blackish seeds can carry a virus that can cause citrus canker, so to protect the investment of the citrus industry, it's illegal to import them. They sometimes get into the country just the same, because the ban is recent and not all inspectors are on the alert for them. Plus, not all importers are as concerned about citrus canker as good Americans should be.
SAINTS PRESERVE US!
Busy downtowners have already discovered the pleasure and convenience of shopping for instant dinner makin's at Dish D'Lish (1501 Pike Place), John and Kathy Casey's new gourmet deli in the main arcade of Pike Place Market. But Dish D'Lish also features a line of dandy gift items, perfect for contributing to a Christmas basket of goodies or standing as stocking stuffers on their own. What you'll find depends on Kathy's current whim in her catering kitchen, but there are always three or four flavored vinegars, four or five imaginative fruit preserves and glazes, and (a boon to the home barkeep) drink mixes made with fresh fruit, including items to whip up a sapphire mojito, lemon-lime sour, or cranberry cosmo. Drop in or call 206-223-1848 to check out what's on the day's roster.
BUBBLES FROM HOME
Strictly speaking, champagne comes from just one place: Champagne, in northern France. Everything else, however tasty, is "sparkling wine." But every once in a while, you run across a sparkling wine that just won't tolerate the label. Such a wine is Domaine Meriwether's Cuv饠Clark, produced in Yamhill County, Ore., from homegrown pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. Washington wine pioneer Jack Bagdade hired a native of Champagne to produce his wines, which hew so closely in style to French models that even experts have been fooled. You won't be fooled by the price tag, however: Vintage Cuv饠Clark sells for between $30 and $40 a bottle, about half what comparable French bottles go for; and at between $18 and $20, the company's second label, Discovery, is a steal. The biggest problem about Domaine Meriwether is finding it, but most specialty shops can run you down at least a bottle or two.