Food is a great gift because, well, everyone has to eat.

Even people who are classically “hard to buy for” because of their age (think elderly relatives), or they already have everything they need, will appreciate finding something really delicious that they’ve never tried before under the tree or in their stocking. It puts the surprise back in Christmas, and gives them that joyful little rush they had when they were kids.

I know, a Ferrari could do the same thing. But for those of us without sports car-style budgets, food gives us the opportunity to offer someone just a little bite of luxury in these tough times.

Ordering randomly out of a catalog can be tricky, so this year I’m bringing back my own list of favorites that I’ve discovered over the past year or so. In past years, I’ve tried to limit myself only to local foods, but this year there are two items from away that I couldn’t resist sharing with you.

So, whether you need a stocking stuffer, a hostess gift or something completely different for your holiday party, here are some ideas I hope will add a little merriment to your days.

 

FORTUNATO NO. 4

Single-origin chocolate bars: $12 for one 2-ounce bar

Tumbled chocolate cacao beans: $12 for 3.5 ounces

moonstruckchocolate.com

(800) 557-MOON (6666)

If Indiana Jones were your friend, this chocolate is what you’d give him for Christmas.

Last year, The New York Times wrote about a cacao bean called “Pure Nacional” that disappeared about 100 years ago after being ravaged by disease. There were hybrids that survived, but their taste could not compare to the real thing.

Well, these “extinct” beans were recently rediscovered at very high altitudes in Peru, and tests have revealed that they are, genetically, 100 percent Pure Nacional. For chocolate lovers, this is akin to discovering a live T. Rex in the rainforest.

The chocolate made with these beans is called Fortunato No. 4 because the fourth Nacional sample tested turned out to be “the purest expression” of the cacao. Fortunato is the name of the Peruvian farmer on whose land the beans were found.

I could not resist such a compelling back story. After reading The New York Times article, I immediately ordered some.

This is expensive chocolate, and understandably so. The rare cacao beans are first carried by burro, motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle out of the mountains of Peru. Then the beans are processed into 68-percent cacao chocolate, which ends up in the hands of just four chocolatiers in the world who have been tapped to make delicious things with it.

One of those chocolatiers is Moonstruck Chocolate Co., located in the other Portland. Moonstruck uses Fortunato No. 4 to make dark chocolate bars and Nacional beans that are tumbled and covered in the chocolate.

I haven’t tasted every chocolate in the world, but I have to say this is probably the best chocolate I’ve had so far. The lack of bitterness in the cacao bean translates into a mellow flavor that has real depth, and lingers on the tongue — in part because you can’t help but savor it slowly and let it melt in your mouth.

This is what chocolate always aspired to be.

 

SULLIVAN HARBOR FARM’S OMEGA BURST MAPLE AND PEPPER SMOKED SALMON

$18 for 6 ounces

sullivanharborfarm.com

(800) 422-4014

I first tried this smoked salmon at the 2010 Ultimate Seafood Splash event during Portland’s Harvest on the Harbor.

Joel Frantzman, owner of Sullivan Harbor Farm in Hancock, told me at the time that it’s made from the belly flap of the salmon, which is high in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids. The salmon is double-smoked, then tossed in a maple-and-pepper seasoning. It contains no antibiotics or artificial ingredients.

This product was a silver finalist for a coveted sofi award from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. You’ll understand why when you taste its bright burst of flavor.

This would make a great appetizer at a holiday party, or a nice hostess gift instead of the usual bottle of wine. The problem is, even though it’s made in Maine, it’s easier to find on store shelves in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey. Your best bet is to order it online, given that it’s shipped overnight anyway to maintain freshness.

If you order just one package, it will cost as much to ship it as to buy it. So stock up, and give it away for the holidays. It also freezes well, so you can keep some for yourself.

STONY BROOK BUTTERNUT SQUASH SEED OIL

$11.99 for a 6.3-ounce bottle at Portland’s Whole Foods Market; $11.95 plus flat shipping rate at wholeheartedfoods.com. Also available at Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Scarborough.

This oil is made in the Finger Lakes region of New York and is unlike any other vegetable oil you’ve tried.

It has a nutty, toasty flavor that goes well on everything from fish to a slice of fresh mozarella. It can be used in sauteing and stir-frying, or simply as a dipping oil with some crusty bread or focaccia.

The oil is made with non-GMO butternut squash seeds from a farm that is 30 percent certified organic and working toward becoming 100 percent organic.

Greg Woodworth, one of the creators of the product, said the oil is extracted from the seeds without using chemicals “in the most natural way we can.”

Stony Brook also makes roasted pumpkin seed, delicata, acorn and kabocha seed oils. (Kabocha is a subvarietal of buttercup squash.)

The butternut squash oil, though, is the company’s best seller, and it’s the only variety that’s sold in Maine. Woodworth said he is working with Whole Foods Market to introduce the roasted pumpkinseed and delicata oils to the Portland Whole Foods store next year.

Woodworth likes using the oil as a vinaigraitte, with a little lemon juice and sea salt, to dress a salad. He said it’s also good as a basting oil when grilling asparagus, and as a replacement for olive oil on pasta. Try brushing it on seared scallops or any other mild, lean fish.

“Over chocolate ice cream,” Woodworth said, “it has a really almost like Reeses peanut butter cup flavor to it.”

Chef Sam Hayward uses the oil at Fore Street restaurant in Portland, primarily in vinaigrettes or as a finishing oil. He said the buttery mouth feel makes it particularly suited to raw seafood preparations, including raw lobster.

“At home earlier this fall, I grilled quarter-inch slices of peeled raw butternut squash — the disk-shaped cuts from the narrow end of the squash — with lemon thyme leaves, black pepper, sea salt and butternut oil over wood embers,” Hayward said, “and really appreciated the strengthening of the squash’s character by the use of the oil, herb and smoky fire.”

This would make a great stocking stuffer.

 

HOMEMADE OREOS FROM EAT YOUR PLATE

$18 per dozen

eatyourplatebakeshop.com

(646) 204-9779

[email protected]

Do you know a junk-food junkie who is having a hard time giving up his addiction to processed snacks?

Give him or her some of Jennifer Morrison’s homemade Oreos from her new online bake shop, “Eat Your Plate.”

These cookies taste like the Oreos you stuff your face with after a bad breakup, but they’re made with fresh, local ingredients. They’re especially appropriate for the person who likes the chocolate cookie better than the white creamy frosting you scrape off with your teeth.

The Eat Your Plate cookies are not over-stuffed, nor are they too sweet.

Morrison lives in Windham, where she raises chickens and has her own organic garden. She uses butter from Windy Hill Farm, and gets her cream products from Smiling Hill Farm.

“I use things like Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, really top-notch ingredients,” Morrison said. “And if I can’t get them organic, I try to get the very best that I possibly can. Everything is done in small batches.”

The classic black-and-white cookies, Morrison said, are probably her most popular item. She recently made 200 of them for a wedding.

Morrison also makes homemade Pop-Tarts, which have proven to be especially popular in Portland. The breakfast pastries contain either raspberry or strawberry filling, and are covered in a vanilla glaze. She has also made, upon request, apple-cinnamon and chocolate fillings, and says she’s open to other ideas.

Morrison says she can usually fill individual orders in one day. The cookies freeze well if wrapped and tucked into a container.

 

SOFT PRETZELS FROM PRETZEL LOGIC

$3 each, or $5 for stuffed pretzels

pretzellogicgourmet.com

620-2453

[email protected]

Fans of Steely Dan will recognize the name of Amy Gross’ pretzel company.

She named it after the band’s 1974 album that produced the hit “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” (Now that will be playing in your head all day. You’re welcome.)

Gross, who lives in Monmouth, started making soft pretzels with her students when she worked at an elementary school. She started up a little side business, and last year started making pretzels full time.

Gross makes a classic salted soft pretzel, but also produces interesting flavors such as garlic/herb/Parmesan, cheddar cheese, cinnamon raisin, and spinach/feta/sun-dried tomato. (Garlic/herb/Parmesan is my favorite.)

Last year’s holiday pretzel, cranberry orange, was a suggestion from her 9-year-old daughter. It became so popular, Gross added it to her regular menu. This year’s “yuletide pretzel” is stuffed with dates and blue cheese.

Gross can produce an order within 24 hours, but prefers getting a couple of days’ advance notice, especially during this busy time of year. The pretzels’ shelf life is limited because they don’t contain preservatives, but they freeze well if you’re planning on keeping them longer than a couple of days.

Gross takes orders by phone and email, but she also sells her pretzels at L.L. Bean’s 1912 Cafe in Freeport and at the winter farmers’ markets in Brunswick, Gardiner, Lewiston and Bath.

On Friday, Gross will be at the Yule Market from 2 to 6 p.m. at Skillins Greenhouse, 210 Gray Road, West Cumberland. On Sunday, she’ll be at the Yuletide Market at L.L. Bean in Freeport from noon to 4 p.m.

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at [email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad