Christmas presents for foodies and cakes for everyone

In the aftermath of the boom times, most people have all kinds of toys in the kitchen, many of which remain unused and perhaps even unopened. So many gadgets seem like a great idea at the time, but do you really need 50 cookbooks, or three different types of garlic crusher, or a beetroot slicer? The first thing to consider if buying such an item is, would I use this myself, and also to ask the shop it if can be returned after Christmas if the recipient wants to do so.

On the expensive side of the scale, I think the Nespresso coffee maker is a great gift. I am highly suspect of most food stuffs that come in pre-prepared form but the Nespresso capsules make a most intense and flavoursome drink, especially if you are a fan of really good espresso. The big advantage of the Nespresso system is the selection of different coffee types that you can get without having to buy large quantities of beans as you would with a regular grinder and machine. There is also virtually no mess or cleaning required. Just pop in the capsule of your choice, and there are plenty of choices available, and hey presto, a cup of perfect espresso topped with a thick crema every time. They cost from €160 upwards and the Anthony Ryan Homestore stocks them.

At a more affordable level any kitchen accessories made by the Zyliss Company will do what it says on the label and will last for years. I have several in my kitchen drawers that are 10 years old and still perfect. If the person you are buying a present for is serious about his/her wines then one or two Riedel glasses would be perfect. Find out what his/her favourite grape is and then buy the glass for that particular wine. There are available in several wine shops and also in Anthony Ryan’s Homestore.

A really great item for the kitchen is a probe thermometer, one that you can stick into meat, fish, or poultry and gives an instant digital readout. You can even use it to see when simple foods like sausages are cooked, many people overcook them and you lose all the moistness. It is of course perfect for the turkey and ham and will allow you to take out the turkey when the breast meat is done. Many people do not use the leg meat, and if you are one of those then there is no point in overcooking the breast just to cook the legs fully. You can also use it on wine, many people consume wine either too warm (reds ) or too cold (white ). Once you have put a thermometer into your wine a few times you will soon get the feel for what it should be served at. Also for the person who likes wine, you could buy anything from the Screwpull range of accessories. They are just about the best on the market and will outlast and outperform most every other make.

If you want to buy a food item that can be used at any time over the holiday it would be hard to beat a Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese. For those that have not had this before, it is prepared as follows: the cheese comes in a round wooden box, take off the lid, and scoop out a dessert spoon or two of the cheese, pour white wine into the hollow. Add some garlic and spoon back the cheese, or least some of it. Pop the whole item into the oven at 200 degrees for 20/25 minutes and serve in the centre of the table. Have a bowl of sliced crusty white bread or baguette and dip the bread into the hot, molten cheese — delicious. Perfect as a teatime snack. It is available at Sheridan’s.

For those who like to order some sweet treats:

• KC Blake’s, Oranmore and Salthill, is taking orders which can be collected as late as the morning of December 24 and it is open again on December 28 and 31. Contact Vicky in Oranmore on (091 ) 795916, or Scott in Salthill (091 ) 861313.

Some suggested indulgences are chocolate truffle torte €29.99 (12 portions ), Baileys and hazelnut cheesecake €28.98 (eight-10 portions ), and large pavlova €24.99 (eight-10 portions ).

• Gourmet Tart Company will be taking orders up to December 21 for all its delicious cakes. My favourites are the mousse cakes, like triple chocolate, or the chocolate pralines. The mince pies are, in my humble opinion, the best in the west and a box of six is a perfect present to bring to any house at cost of only €5. If you do not believe me call in to the Salthill café and have a coffee and mince pie.

• Le Petit Delice, Mainguard Street, is the newest patisserie and is an authentic French operation. All the owners and cooks are French and many of the Christmas cakes are traditional French creations. Try a chocolate and orange buche, six portions for €12.90 and 10 portions for €21.50. The passionfruit and raspberry buche in the picture looks divine, pricing is the same, €12.90 or €21.50. It also has a gorgeous selection of chocolate Santas, chocolate snowmen, and a chocolate shoe, all made in its own kitchen. The telephone number is (091 ) 500751.

• Enjoy in Moycullen. If you like apple tart then I can highly recommend the one made by White Gables owner and chef Kevin Dunne. It gets my vote for best in the west. Kevin also makes a great plum pudding, pavlovas, cheesecakes, and fresh fruit flan. If you do not want turkey why not buy its famous half roast duck in orange sauce, €14.50 per portion including vegetables. This has been on the menu in White Gables since the day it opened approximately 20 years ago. Finally, pick up some of the home made soda breads, €3, or browse through all the goodies in the shop. Telephone (091 ) 868200.

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