Beauty first

Annona Gourmet, 2907 Pentagon Dr., St. Anthony, 612-354-2927, and the Olive Grove, 720 Main St., Mendota Heights, 651-686-4710,

Bring coffee, too

Biscotti lover Linda Canfield was wowing friends with her twice-baked cookies. Now she's impressing the rest of us with her LindaLicious (www.lindalicious line of treats ($6), prepared in eight handmade varieties, including chocolate-hazelnut and anise-almond.

Available at Fleurish, 240 Minnetonka Av. S., Wayzata, 952-476-2296,

In a jam

Of all the locally made preserves, the fruit-pepper jams ($6) made by Lucille's Kitchen Garden stand above the rest, not just for their inticing sweet-hot flavors but for their versatility: Use them as glazes on meat and poultry, enliven a plain-Jane turkey sandwich, spoon them over ice cream; the possibilities are endless.

Available at Local D'Lish, 208 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-886-3047,


Anyone can show up at a holiday party with a bottle of wine, but what about surprising your host with a six-pack of Minnesota-made soda? Spring Grove soda pop ( comes in nostalgic flavors -- strawberry, black cherry, grape, creamy orange, cream soda -- and is produced in a low-tech bottling plant in the southeastern corner of the state, "where they have been making soda by hand for 100 years," said Vicki Potts, owner of Grass Roots Gourmet. Put together a colorful mix-and-match six pack ($1.50 per bottle) and Potts tosses in the sixth bottle for free.

Available at Grass Roots Gourmet, 920 E. Lake S. (Midtown Global Market), Mpls., 612-871-6947

Definitely worth its salt

"Luxury in a jar" might be the most accurate way to describe the salted vanilla caramel sauce ($9.95) made by the Golden Fig. The formula couldn't be simpler. Owner Laurie Crowell carefully blends pedigreed ingredients -- cream from Castle Rock Organic Farms in Osseo, Wis., and butter from Hope Creamery in Hope, Minn. -- then adds a little smoked salt and orange zest. "If you drizzle it over Izzy's coffee ice cream, it will make you cry," said Crowell. No doubt.

Golden Fig, 790 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-602-0144,


The pooch on your shopping list will develop a whole new repertoire of silly pet tricks to get a taste of Sister Joan's Nutri-Bits dog biscuits ( Developed by Sister Joan Schneider, a Benedictine nun in the community at St. Paul's Monastery in St. Paul -- and a big-time dog lover -- the guilt-free treats ($4.69) are salt-, sugar- and preservative-free and come in liver and peanut butter flavors.

Available at Whole Foods Market, 30 S. Fairview Av., St. Paul, 651-690-0197,


Give the gift of farmstead cheeses, from the CSA program at Shepherd's Way Farms in Nerstrand, Minn. (www. Monthly deliveries -- roughly 11/2 lbs., dropped at area shops and restaurants for pickup -- feature four to six varieties of Steven and Jodi Ohlsen Read's exceptional sheep's milk cheeses. $180 for six months, $320 for a year.

Call 1-507-663-9040 to order.


Or give another taste of this great state by buying into the cool crop share program at Cooks of Crocus Hill. Choices include duck from Au Bon Canard in Caledonia ($36 and $63), Berkshire ham (approximately $50) from Menno Mast Farms in Harmony and Russian wild boar ($56) and Highlander beef ($70) from Buffalo Gal Ranch in Winona. Delivery dates vary.

Cooks of Crocus Hill, 877 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-228-1333 and 3925 W. 50th St., Edina, 952-285-1903, www.cooksof


At her Salty Tart bakery, pastry chef Michelle Gayer makes brioche like no one else. But in her spare time, Gayer is also known to turn out swell candies, including festive chocolate peppermint bark ($8.95). Check out her peanut brittle and maple-pecan caramel corn, too.

Salty Tart, 920 E. Lake St. (Midtown Global Market), Mpls., 612-874-9206,


Here's a perishable stocking-stuffer everyone will love: almond palmiers from Surdyk's. The heart-shaped cookies, fashioned from almond paste and puff pastry, are flaky on top, caramelized on the bottom and delicious all over. Best of all, these elegant treats are just 49 cents a pop. Tip: Buy early (limited quantities are baked daily) and store in the freezer.

Surdyk's, 303 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-379-9757,


According to Minneapolis magnet entrepreneur Tony Deno (pictured at left), bacon is huge. Witness his amusing magnets bearing life-size images of both raw and cooked bacon ($5.99), which he started making as a joke for friends. "I never thought I'd sell them," said the self-proclaimed DesignDude, who put them up on a website as a lark. "But then I sold 500 of them" (the site: Coming soon: Deno will be producing the message we all need to hear: "Stay calm and eat some bacon."

Available at Shoppe Local, 813 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-827-3071,


Another stocking-stuffer, this time for fortune cookie fans: the Fortune Folio, a portfolio ($9.50) of die-cut pages for collecting and displaying 25 fortune-cookie favorites, done up in dramatic Chinese red and lovingly produced at Lunalux. "Success comes to those who keep their fortunes in this handy scrapbook," reads the fortune on the package.

Lunalux, 1618 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-373-0526,


Make your gift fragrant with Spice Trail, one of four exotic spice blends ($8 to $12) crafted with care by Sameh Wadi, the gifted chef/co-owner of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge.

Saffron, 123 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-746-5533,


Celebrate the holidays and 40 years of Taste with "Come One, Come All: Easy Entertaining With Seasonal Menus" by Taste editor Lee Svitak Dean (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $29.95), a user-friendly compilation of more than 150 easy-to-follow recipes that first appeared in these pages.

Available in bookstores everywhere, including the Minnesota History Center museum store, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, 651-259-3010,


Tons of restaurants are running some variation on the popular "Buy a $100 gift card, get an additional $20 or $25 gift card for free" promotion, but here's a real steal: Biella, the Italian charmer in quaint downtown Excelsior, is upping the ante, offering two $20 gift cards for every $100. Available through Dec. 23.

Biella, 227 Water St., Excelsior, 952-474-8881,