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Stuffed Stockings

What the pros suggest for tasty giving.

Smithfield ham and a tin of Hubs peanuts have been the Virginia food gifts of choice for generations. They're still delectable, but by now they lack originality or drama. If you're looking for more fashionable presents that will tantalize the taste buds of a home chef, gourmand or hostess, here are suggestions from local folks who help others turn cooking into an art form.

Not surprisingly, "We think meat makes a great gift for a foodie," Tanya Cauthen suggests. She's owner of a new Museum District business, Belmont Butchery, and as a serious chef, she's conversant in what makes a tasty present, like a 10-pound, fully cooked turkey, smoked over hickory and selling for $40. Duck confit, sausages and house-cured bacon in flavors like maple-brandied peppercorn or jerk spice are other possibilities. Items can be stashed in the shop's galvanized gift buckets with certificates for fresh-cut meats, recipes, wine, marinades, rubs or olive oils culled from European sources.

At Sur La Table in Stony Point Fashion Park, culinary program coordinator Diane Chamberlain says she's stocking up on "melt in your mouth Fran's Smoked Salt Caramels that have just a sprinkling of salt to offset the sweet," sold in a package of seven for $10.95. She's also giving Saxon Belgian peppermint drinking chocolate and wooden boxes of Laguiole holiday cheese knives. Valencia almonds, champagne vinegar and lavender honey are trendy food gifts at the store this year, along with Illy dark-roast coffee beans.

Carytown's kitchen store, The Compleat Gourmet, marks its 32nd year offering cookware, gadgets, books and cooking classes. Leslie Fellows suggests "The Barefoot Contessa at Home," a cookbook that's gotten strong interest since its fall release. Cuisinart's soft-serve ice cream maker, with a hopper for adding mix-ins like sprinkles and chocolate, is a hot item for families at $151.99. Sweet-eaters also might like the NordicWare candy-making mold pan, which has 30 pockets for making small confections. And if Hubs peanuts are still on your list, the shop is offering the chocolate-covered version for the first time this year. S

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