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One Size Fits All: Easy Gourmet Holiday Gifts
by: ARA

What size, what color, what brand? This time of year, most of us are racking our brains trying to decide on the perfect gift for everyone. Here's a tip: everyone eats.

Food has long been a traditional gift during the holidays and for good reason. It is always appreciated and can be enjoyed by the whole family. It comes in all price ranges, and it can be easily packed and shipped as a surprise for far flung friends and relatives.

Baskets of fresh fruit or nuts, cheese trays or popcorn tins have been the customary choices during the holidays. But why not be more original? There are so many other creative options available.

"Most of us want to give something more unique than what you might buy at the mall for a last-minute gift," says Jill Blashack, president of a gourmet foods company that sells products through home taste-testing parties. "By putting together interesting combinations of gourmet foods, you can personalize your gift to fit any individual or family."

Here are some ideas for creating unique gourmet gift packages:

* The gift of a home cooked meal. Why not put together all the things needed for an easy home-cooked winter meal: a savory wheat bread and crackers paired with an interesting soup or chili mix. Add some fresh apples and oranges and a few bundles of cookies or brownies.

* Romantic picnic. Include everything needed for an intimate picnic: two wine glasses, a bottle of white wine, some small cheeses, a loaf of bread, some flavored olive oil for dipping (balsamic and basil dipping oil), a small tablecloth, a cutting board and paring knife, some fresh fruit and a box of fudge brownie mix.

* A party pack -- everything needed for an impromptu cocktail party. A selection of seasoning mixes for making easy dips, gourmet crackers, chips or bread, a jar of black bean salsa and some candied almonds or pecans.

* A theme dinner. Gather the ingredients for an Italian night: dried pasta, a jar of gourmet tomato sauce, dried pesto mix, crunchy bread and a bottle of wine; throw in some amaretto cookies for dessert. Or how about a Mexican meal? Include a jar of fresh salsa, a jar of sweet pepper jalapeno jam, chips, a selection of colorful fresh peppers, a bottle of tequila, margarita mix, course ground salt and two margarita glasses.

* A mid-afternoon break selection including an instant chai blend and some hot chocolate mix, an apple cake or fudge brownie mix, some Anjou pears and a few gourmet cheeses.

* Rainy/snowy day gift pack. Think of all the things that would be great to have on a cold winter's day when you don't feel like going out: a few best selling novels, a deck of cards, some beer bread, a creamy wild rice soup mix, and a ready-to-bake apple cake.


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