Let Them Eat Mail-Order Cake, Cheese and PuddingMail-order food can be an enticing option as a holiday gift. The discerning palates of NPR's digital media team sampled (and rejected) many foods before settling on this delicious list.
The new airline regulations about food and drink may make you think twice before packing up homemade goodies to bring to grandma's house. But mail-order food can be an excellent stand-in. In the spirit of the holidays, we looked for food that would bring comfort and joy to your loved ones this year.
The discerning palates of NPR's digital media team sampled (and rejected) a lot of dishes before settling on this delicious list.
Pudding on the Ritz
Rice to Riches Rice Pudding (ricetoriches.com, Mail-order is available in the 40 oz. SUMO size only, which serves 5. The first SUMO ordered is $49; every additional SUMO sent to the same address is $35.)
Rice pudding is classic comfort food. But rice pudding by mail seems a recipe for discomfort. How could this gloppy dish survive the rigors of the road? Our tasters were truly flabbergasted. The pudding was rich, creamy and flavorful, and what intense flavors — Secret Life of Pumpkin ("Better than pumpkin pie," said one taster); "Category 5" Caramel (mildly sweet); Man-Made Marscarpone with luscious cherries; and Hazelnut Chocolate Bear Hug. Only one voice of dissent in our army of testers. She compared the sweetness of the dessert to toothpaste! But everyone else raved, comparing it to ambrosia from the gods.
Credit goes to Pete Moceo, the entrepreneur who had a dream of a sit-down restaurant in New York that only served rice dishes. Then, he visited Italy, and Florence's gelaterias changed his mind. He decided to take the strong gelato flavors and bring them to rice pudding. And so, Rice to Riches was born. Friends and financial backers were skeptical, but Moceo's business has become well-known in New York for its innovative flavors. Packed in neon-hued, domed containers, the puddings travel well. Rice pudding rules!
You say "cheese," you smile. That is the holiday routine. So why not give cheese and elicit a smile?
Cowgirl Creamery is renowned for its artisanal cheeses, crafted by American cheesemakers whose cows graze in fields near their dairy farms, eating grass instead of grain. The creamery has won numerous awards from the American Cheese Society, an organization that judges cheeses according to the technique with which they're made and aesthetic qualities such as texture, flavor, and aroma.
We sampled three of these cheeses in the Holiday Cheese Board. It included one English cheese — the Colston Bassett Stilton — and two American favorites — a two-year-old Shelburne Farms Cheddar and Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, made of goat's milk.
Our reviews: The Stilton is creamy and mellow; the goat milk cheese is mild and earthy; and the cheddar is creamy and smooth and not at all dry like many cheddars. When our tasting session was done, only crumbs of cheese remained. And everyone was grinning.
Gingerbread Coffeecake(zingermans.com, $22, $27 or $50, depending on size and packaging)
Gingery flavor sparkles in this twist on a traditional coffeecake. Using a mix of crystallized and ground ginger, dark molasses, brewed coffee, Indonesian cinnamon, cloves, orange juice and Balinese long pepper, Zingerman's has created a ginger cake that vanished off our meeting table as soon as it was put out. While a few tasters deemed the cake a tad dry, most thought it offered just the right balance of sweet and spice.
Zingerman's, that quirky company that includes a deli and bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., bakes breads that arrive in a paper bag (they prefer it over plastic, which can trap moisture and make the bread soggy) two days after they come out of the oven. No preservatives are used.
Heat the bread in the oven for 20 minutes at 375 degrees and the outside crisps up while the center stays soft. Our tasters were surprised by how fresh the bread tastes and by the lovely melted chocolate bits inside. One taster called it "a decadent twist on a San Francisco staple." Each bite delivers a little sour zing from the sourdough, but there's also the chance of biting into sweet chocolate.
Ze French would laugh at ze idea that raw, frozen croissants, delivered by mail, could match the golden-brown, flaky goodness of fresh-baked.
Ze French, zey are so wrong.
Pastry chef Jean-Yves Charon has devised a recipe that travels well. The twenty-four dough crescents arrive in a small white cardboard box that's easy to store. Lay out the crescents on a baking sheet and let them rise for 8 hours — the perfect time for a good night's sleep. When you are read to eat, just put them in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. The smell is amazing. Our test baker took the croissants on a 20-minute subway ride to the NPR offices and laid them upon a table. Suddenly, our office smelled like a French bakery at dawn. And the reviews? Buttery, soft and delicious. Your choice: plain or avec chocolat.
Kinda Like Crackerjack 2.0
Harry & David
Moose Munch (harryanddavid.com, $26.95 for three bags, together weighing in at 1 lb. 14 oz.)
Moose Munch is such a candy cliche — caramel popcorn, chocolate and nuts. But when each ingredient is at the peak of perfection, you have an addictive treat that caused one health-conscious taster to declare, "I'm not even going to finish my soup now. I'm just going to have Moose Munch for lunch." Available with dark or milk chocolate.
Salamis that Hang Around
Salumi Cured Meats
Salumi Cured Meat (salumicuredmeats.com, Various packages available. La Tripletta, $96 with shipping and handling, includes three types of salamis, each between 1 pound and 1.5 pounds and shipped on a different holiday during the year.)
First of all, it's fun to get salami in the mail. It just is. And this is not the prepackaged, plastic- covered tubes at the grocery store. This is the real deal — cured salami with instructions to hang upon arrival. With no refrigeration necessary, the hanging protects the salami from moisture and from becoming a wrinkled, soggy subpar snack.
While Salumi has a variety of cured meats, including a winter salami with seasonally apropos red, green, and white peppercorns, our favorite was the mole salami. Studded with chocolate as well as ancho and chipotle peppers, it is salty and sharp as salami should be but also pungent, with a hint of cinnamon.
Chocolate plus cherries should be a magnificent marriage of sweet and tart. Too often, it is a chewy mess. Chocolatier Christopher Norman marries each bite of smooth dark chocolate with a burst of fresh wild Amarene cherry flavor. Pow!
It was the battle of the chocolate peppermint creams. The beloved York Peppermint Patty vs. Summerdown Farms product, billed as "the taste of pure English mint revived for the 21st century." They even grow their own mint! Most testers found the peppermint flavor in the Summerdown creams was fresher, the chocolate was richer and the texture was smoother. But there was one holdout.
"I much prefer an old-fashioned York patty," the tester boldly declared, "to anything else in life."