published Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Side Orders: Gifts for the cooks you know

It's that time of year again. Your shopping list has cooks on it, and you're looking for something new to wrap up and place under the tree. Well, you're in luck. Manufacturers have outdone themselves with clever ideas.

According to NPD Group, a market research company, the holiday season accounts for the highest number of sales of kitchen- and dining-related items. More than 40 percent of total sales occur during the fourth quarter of the year. To get a better picture, sales of such items reached a total of $5.5 billion in 2012, with almost half of that -- $2.3 billion -- occurring in the three months before Christmas, says NPD spokeswoman Janine Marshall.

Take a look at these potential gifts. There's something for every taste, from the wine aficionado on your list to bakers, fryers and Fiesta Ware lovers. They're all new on the market ... just in time for Christmas.

• Boxxle: Boxed wines have gotten a bad rap. How many times have you hidden them deep within your refrigerator, refilling guests' wine glasses in secret? And even if you haven't been boxed in by wines in a box, there's an inherent problem: There's always wine left in the bottom of the wine bag. To get to the last drop, you need to find a box cutter to open the box, pull the wine bag out and do a squeeze job. Not very pretty.

With Boxxle, you can have your boxed wine and drink it in style. Just put the box in the eye-catching, stainless-steel container. Hook it up and pull the tap into the slot; it will be high enough for even tall wine glasses to fit underneath. And it gets the last drop out from the bottom of the bag because the wine bag sits on a platform that moves up as the bag empties. It's so attractive, you'll want to bring your boxed wine out of hiding. It also makes a good gift for wine lovers on your list who are environmentally aware since manufacturing boxed wines takes much less energy than glass bottles. Boxxle retails for $99.99 at amazon.com and $100 at boxxle.com.

• Mrs. Field's Sto N Go: Bakers, this carrier is for you. You'll can make cookies and other treats by the dozen and take them to events without worrying if the top layer of your beautiful creations is smashing those on the bottom. Mrs. Fields has designed a carrier with sturdy dividers so you can place mini cupcakes, your holiday cookies, appetizers or any other item that you don't want ruined on the bottom level and more on the two levels above. The dividers can be easily adjusted for height. The carrier retails for $19.99 at Hobby Lobby and amazon.com.

• Sachi Lunch Bags: For the woman who loves to combine food with fashion comes a line of "designer" lunch bags that look like a handbag and are pretty enough to pass as one. But they're insulated and are ready to double as a lunchbox. They come in an assortment of designs, sizes and colors. Bold and daring or sleek and black, there's a match for all. They clean easily and, if you need to store them in the fridge, no problem. Just be sure to remove your billfold and lipstick. They're available at sachi-bags.com and amazon.com, and range in price from $5.99 to $29.99.

• Fiesta Ware: Once one of the primary dinnerware patterns in households across the country back in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, Fiesta's popularity was exhausted by the 1970s when the line was discontinued. But it's back and going full steam ahead with a new generation of Fiesta dinnerware enthusiasts. There's lots of new items this year, but for those wanting to add to their dinnerware collections, the year's new color is lapis, a gorgeous shade of blue. And the price is set at $29.99 for a five-piece place setting. It's sold locally at Belk's, JC Penney, Fisher Evans, Kohl's and Dillards. Or you can find it online at hlchina.com.

• Ninja Corp. fryer: Fry with ninja speed with this new product. It's economical, heats up 40 percent faster than traditional fryers, and its new technology keeps oil cleaner for a longer period. And we all know how expensive certain oils are, particularly peanut, which is the best frying oil. The Ninja fryer is better for you, too, because it uses 30 percent less oil than other fryers. The lid keeps the food fully immersed, allowing a crust to form on the outside, preventing excess oil from getting inside. It will fry up to three pounds of food at a time. You'll find it at Target for $99.

I hope you find some of these new items to be perfect for the cooks on your list.


If you're someone who enjoys giving gifts of food at Christmas, here's a great recipe from my daily walking buddy, Gina Lankford, a nurse at Erlanger hospital. I made them and, my goodness, they really do taste just like a Butterfinger candy bar, only better. They're ridiculously easy to make.

Bite-Sized Butterfingers

1 package chocolate almond bark

1 box (14 ounces) Cheez-It Big cheese crackers

1 jar creamy peanut butter (reduced-fat OK)

Spread a small amount of peanut butter on one side of a cheese cracker. Press it together with another cheese cracker. Melt chocolate almond bark according to the package directions. Dip both sides of the cracker sandwich in the chocolate coating; place on wax paper to set. Before coating is set, sprinkle crushed cheese crackers on top, if desired.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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