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Cupid's pantry: Gift ideas for the food-obsessed lover

| Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007

David Kamp's gossipy dish of a book, "The United States of Arugula," traces the great food revolution that moved America from '50s wiggly gelatin salads to today's micro-sprouts and sushi. The result: a gourmet nation populated by highly-evolved eaters, cooks, kitchen shoppers and Food Network junkies.

Plotting that "day of love" just got simpler. Try some of these tasteful gifts to please your special foodie Valentine.

Beautiful bubbly

Nothing says romance better than sparkling wine. Iron Horse Vineyards produces eight outstanding varieties. The White House favors the label for state dinners, even serving Iron Horse 2003 Wedding Cuvee as the toasting wine for newlyweds Charles and Camilla. Buy the wine, or buy a plane ticket to romantic Sonoma.

Cool character

Oops! You forgot to chill the bubbly• Not to worry. The Cooper Cooler rewards spontaneity. This new, sleek rapid chilling system cools your bottle in minutes. Just add ice cubes and water and plug in.

Perfect pour

Ingenious devices from Vintemp measure the temperature of wine before it's uncorked. Hold the toggle against the outside of the bottle, press a button and infrared technology reads the wine's temperature -- through the glass. A laser-inked wine menu also logs optimal temperatures for different wines, making when to serve what a no-brainer.

Amorous oysters

For oyster lovers, Taylor Shellfish Farms offers the ultimate aphrodisiac Valentine package: five species of pristine bi-valves, either two or four dozen, accompanied by: a parchment certificate from Cupid guaranteeing success in love, an oyster knife, shucking instructions, an oyster guide and "The Art of Eating an Oyster" -- all boxed, beribboned and delivered to your door.

Flirty fruit

The label reads: "Twist Me, Squeeze Me, Eat Me -- Love Me." Sounds racy, but E4B is actually pure -- a delicious 100 percent natural fresh fruit puree, in an innovative soft pouch. The special packaging material keeps the fruit fresh longer. Squeeze and slurp five different flavors -- strawberry-banana; kiwi; blueberry-raspberry; mango; and pear-caramel.

Like a virgin

A Spanish stunner, Almazara Luis Herrera Extra Virgin Olive Oil ups the EVOO bar with stone-crushed, unpressed, free run Manzanilla and Cornicabra olive juice. Another seduction: Jean Marc Montegottero's Virgin Argan oil , nutty Moroccan seed oil, produced wholly by hand, fastidiously according to tradition.

Vintage vinegar

Nobody does it better -- that is, making fine vinegars equal to fine wines. Gegenbauer , a third-generation Austrian family, extracts the essence of single fruits (black current, fig) and single vegetables (asparagus, cucumbers), ferments the juice, injects pure cultured vinegar bacteria, then ages the precious liquids in oak wood barrels.

Nutty & nice

From California, but in the French tradition, comes La Tourangelle , an exclusive high-end line of oils. Artisans slowly roast nuts and seeds before a cold-press extracts their oils. Walnut, hazelnut, almond, pecan -- just a touch makes any dish pop.

Peerless pasta

Gianluigi Peduzzi makes his all natural, artisinal pasta, Rustichella d'Abruzzo , the way his father and grandfather did -- mixing stone-ground durham wheat with pure mountain water, extruding the dough through hand-carved bronze dies and air-drying the cuts for 56 hours. Sauce clings to the rustic texture. Density allows for easy cooking to al dente. Perfetto ( www.pennmac.com ; www.manicaretti.com ).

Sugar sugar

Hang notched, heart-shaped white, amber and ebony cane-sugar hearts on the rim of your sweetheart's cup.

Or opt for Rain's choice vanilla sugar -- raw, washed white sugar from Maui infused with Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. Large sugar crystals make this an elegant accompaniment to fresh berries and cream.

Honey honey

Serious connoisseurship focuses on where the bees gather pollen, because today's buzz is varietal honeys. Your sweetie should be suitably impressed with a jar of Miele Amaro , a rare bitter honey from the corbezzolo flower, made in Sardinia. It's called "liquid gold" ( www.gourmetsardinia.com ).

Talk about terroir: Bee Raw Honey moves its bees and hives around the United States -- yielding single-source honeys like desert wildflower, sourwood and blueberry. Individual flavors come in eight-ounce jars or in an assorted gift pack of corked vials.

Candy girl

Bring on the chocolate, a mood elevator now recognized for its heart-healthy benefits. John and Tracy Wood Anderson, owners of Woodhouse Chocolates , say they've had a life-long love affair with chocolate. Their passion shows in the elegant, European-style confections they hand-produce in the kitchen behind their dreamy St. Helena, Calif., shop. Choose from more than 27 varieties of distinctive fillings, both traditional and exotic. English Toffee is scrumptiously satisfying; sea turtles -- with nuts, caramel and sea salt -- irresistible.

Chocolate dreams

Sublimely photographed, "The Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate," by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger , is a chocoholic's dream read.

Teas me

For the season, The Republic of Tea releases its most sought-after limited edition Rose Petal Tea, Tea for the Queen of Hearts . Aromatic young rose buds and petals blend with a hint of spice, over a base of full leaf China black tea. For a memorable gift, couple it with a jar of Pink Grapefruit Tea Marmalade , by the same company.

Java joy

"Sano" means health in Italian, and the developers of organic Caffe Sanora coffee claim great health benefits from their product. Through a patented production process, says the company, the coffee retains all the natural anti-oxidants destroyed by other processes. But the taste itself is a revelation -- smooth and robust, without acidity.

Ham it up

It's soft, sweet and the current hit of the American-made salami boom. La Quercia crafts organic dry-cured prosciutto, culaccia and pancetta. Heirloom Berkshire hogs become the critically-acclaimed La Quercia Rossa -- a breed-specific ham.

Elegant service

A master wood product company since 1944, J.K. Adams offers a limited edition collection of Deep Forest Birch and Oak Servers . Made from 400-year-old wood, salvaged from the Great Lakes and Rivers of North American, these striking table-top pieces feature unique colors and patterns as well as a romantic history.

Kitchen vixen

With a nod to nostalgia and a wink to fashion, vintage aprons beckon the modern cook. Stir up some interest wearing the saucy Julia Red Dot. There's also Julia Black Dot and Julia Lime Dot -- 100 percent cotton and top-quality American-made ( www.annexcookery.com ).

Kitchen pet

A counter critter that purrs and whirs monitoring its air-tight status, the Bean Vac is the ultimate vacuum-sealed cordless coffee canister. It also keeps ground coffee, nuts, tea and brown sugar fresh ( www.surlatable.com ).

Hot helper

Cuisinart's The Griddler is worth its weight in gold for ease and convenience. This multifunctional gem facilitates four cooking options: contact grill; panini press; double open grill; and double open griddle. Maybe cooking bacon, grilled cheese and steaks doesn't sound sexy -- but what can't you do in the time saved from stove-fussing.

Table bling

The boldly curvaceous Dalla Piazza Olive Oil Drizzler lets you serve olive oil, or balsamic vinegar at the table in style. The carafe and drizzle straw ensemble works on the same principle as a pipette in chemistry lab, but it's a dazzler.

Delicious design

Looking for a bottle bag with attitude and attributes -- flexible, insulated, affordable, easy to roll, fold and machine wash -- two young designers created a carrier in neoprene, the fabric of wetsuits. They also launched a hot company: Built NY . Their product line continues to grow, adding bags, accessories and baby things, all the while remaining focused on smart ideas, great colors and function fused with style.

Personal growth

It's glum outside, but inside can be lush and lovely -- thanks to the AeroGarden . Using aeroponic technology -- water, nutrients, air and light -- a revolutionary kit lets even the clueless grow herbs and veggies year round, anywhere in the house. The fully automated system sports built-in grow lights and produces greens in a quick four weeks.

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