Cost Plus World Market is usually a one-stop gift shop for foodies, but during the holiday season it becomes a wonderland of seasonal edibles, drinkables and everything to create and serve them, including winter-themed cookware and dishes that you'll only use once a year. The prices are reasonable for imported merchandise -- which explains why it's so frickin' easy to drop a few bills and not even realize it until that pesky cash register spits out the numbers.
So I went, I shopped, I bought a lot of stuff, and then discovered the answer to an age-old holiday question: Are those shelf-stable Christmas cakes in the boxes any good? I also came up with a list of twenty foodie gifts available at Cost Plus -- including guesswork-free eggnog, bacon-flavored popcorn, chocolate donkeys and yellow snow that you can eat.
See also: -Five perfect holiday wine gifts for every budget -Medical marijuana holiday gift guide: High ho-ho-ho! -Our favorite local culinary gifts of 2012: Spuntino's hot chocolate mix and salted caramel marshmallows
20) Nothing says holidays like mincemeat pies on sale. It's possible that Cost Plus has had mincemeat pies all year, but nobody buys them unless it's December. It's also possible that not many people buy them now, since there is a mountainous display of them on sale.
19) Tiny tiramisu Yes, it's a box of miniature dessert-flavored chocolates. Tiramisu is not the insanely popular dessert that it was in the '80s, but the box also holds tiny crème brûlée chocolates, as well as an after-dinner sweet that never goes out of style.
18) It's Hello Kitty... It's not just pink hot chocolate, it's Hello Kitty pink hot chocolate, so it's a safe bet that kids will love this stuff. I bought a packet, took it home, followed the microwave instructions, and drank: The result was Easter egg pink and tasted exactly like melted cake frosting. Yep, kids will love this stuff.
17) Numi Flowering Tea Set This tea set is pretty rad. It reminds me of that part in Sophia Coppola's incredibly underrated movie Marie Antoinette, when the doomed queen made flower tea. She got hauled off to prison later, and there was that whole guillotine thing, but it really wasn't the flower tea's fault.
16) Numi Artisan's Tea Blending Kit Numi also makes a tea-blending kit that comes with a glass pot, bags and all sorts of teas, berries and herbs to mix and match and then flood with hot water. No, fellow Coloradans, there is no cannabis for sleepytime tea, but if you live here you probably already have some of that to add to the kit.
15) Bacon-flavored popcorn I know the brand, J & D's, makers of baconaise and that bacon lube that was making the rounds on the Internet a while back. I bought the bacon lube. It kinda tastes more like a nice baked ham than bacon proper, so it's possible that the popcorn also tastes like ham. But no biggie -- sprinkle a little cheese powder on it, and you get ham-and-cheese popcorn.
14) Tiny bottles of gourmet sea salt blends These are perfect for Food Snob Barbie's dreamhouse's dream kitchen. And it would be awesome if there really were a Food Snob Barbie doll -- I'd buy it.
13) Armed toffee This is a treat for the kiddos for now...and later. It's a big slab of toffee and a hammer, so that the young 'uns can crack the toffee themselves, the old-fashioned way. and then, loaded with sugar, they are let loose with a hammer. Good idea!
12) White chocolate bar with strawberries This would make a great stocking stuffer for a husband, wife, domestic partner, boyfriend or girlfriend. Friends with benefits are still stuck with a bag of peanut M&Ms.
11) Chocolate donkeys! Nothing sings "Merry Christmas" like opening up a neatly-wrapped package with a shiny bow on top and finding....chocolate donkeys. Or they may be burros or mules. If you want straight-up chocolate asses, though, you have to go to Spencer Gifts.
10) Chipotle ground coffee For friends and family members who are still stuck in the late '90s, grab some chipotle-augmented coffee. This would be great in a gift basket with a bottle of raspberry vinaigrette, a cookbook about Asian fusion food and a Weezer CD.
9) Yellow snow. Sadly, it's not urine-flavored, but possibly lemon. There also weren't any asparagus-flavored ones -- I checked.
8) Holiday Peeps Really?
7) Chocolate liquor bottles These are a true holiday tradition, and I was pleased to see that Cost Plus has the bottles in different-sized boxes -- from casual-drinker, to family reunion, pub crawl, bad first date and all the way up to the gigantic "It's Christmas and I f*cking hate my relatives" sized box.
6) Eggnog in a bag Who needs to go to all the trouble of buying ingredients and making real eggnog when this inexpensive, ultra-convenient eggnog in a bag is available? All you have to do is add liquor, shake and freeze -- just like my uncle Reno.
5) Panettone Of course, no holiday foodie gift-shopping trip would be complete without taking a crack at a giant wall of panettone. These sweet, raisin-studded bread cylinders are imported from Italy -- or maybe Wyoming -- and filled with citron and lemon zest. Tip: They make excellent French toast.
4) Red velvet cookies Everywhere you turn these days it's red velvet something -- red velvet cake, cupcakes, coffee, ice cream, shaving lotion and cough drops. So these ready-made red velvet cookies are a thoughtful party gift for anyone, anywhere...and they even have a little ribbon bow on the boxes.
3) Cake carrier This cake carrier/holder is too precious. It's painted tin, totally retro, and even has a spot at the top for a pie if you don't have a cake to put in it. I bought one. And that was as good as it got.
2) Pistachio custard-filled holiday cake This cake looks really great in the picture on the box -- light, fluffy, filled with nutty goo. I bought one so that I could take it home and serve it off of my cute new cake holder. After struggling with the box for several minutes, I pulled the plastic-wrapped, amaretto-reeking mass out of the cardboard -- so far, so good -- and noticed that the packet of confectioner's sugar had melded into a plastery hunk. I tossed it, used my own out of the pantry, and cut a slice.
It was dry. Like a Saharan f*ck dry. The custard was a suspicious olive green color, and tasted like baby oil smells. I have two words for this cake: Duncan Hines.
1) Yule log I was also intrigued by the packaged, chocolate-covered yule log with chocolate and hazelnut custard filling. Again, the picture on the package made it look appealing -- and practically crammed with custard.
What's up with these boxes? It took a bread knife for me to hack through this one to get at the big snack cake-looking thing, and it didn't resemble the picture on the box at all. It had some sort of crumb topping that I think was supposed to look like bark -- it didn't -- with a small, crusty icing flower on it. When I sawed a slice off this log, I was disappointed to see that the custard was not flowing -- or even trickling. The rubbery dabs of what is probably custard were surrounded by an arid, loofah-textured bread that scraped my mouth on the inside.
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Don't buy this cake, either. Unless the box says Entenmann's,
Hostess or Little Debbie on it, I'm no longer interested.