Our favorite local culinary gifts of 2012: Spuntino's hot chocolate mix and salted caramel marshmallows

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All this week, I'll be featuring my favorite culinary stocking stuffers and presents for the fervent foodnik, cook and restaurant fiend in your life. These are all gifts that are available locally -- and locally made or produced -- and they're all things that I hope to find in my own stocking (or under the tree) this year.

Spuntino's hot chocolate mix with housemade salted caramel marshmallows

"At Spuntino, our hot chocolate has a huge following among our guests," says pastry empress Yasmin Lozada-Hissom, who co-owns Spuntino with her husband-chef John Broening, the two of whom also cook at Duo and Olivea.

"People come all the way from Boulder and Colorado Springs to get their fix, and we hear all the time that it's the best hot chocolate that they've ever had," she adds -- and she's not remotely exaggerating. The custom-blended chocolate mix, a medley of French, Belgian and Venezuelan chocolates and spices, is a marvel, and when you drop in a few of her housemade salted caramel marshmallows, it's nirvana in a mug.

"We had a guest that was visiting from New York who liked it so much that she asked us to package it for her and mail twenty boxes to New York, because he wanted to give it as holiday gifts," says Lozada-Hissom, "and we had so many guests who told us that they craved our chocolate, that we decided to give the same option to them so they could make it at home." She packages the indulgent bundle -- the hot chocolate mix (gluten- and dairy-free, by the way) and the marshmallows -- in elegant turquoise and white boxes and burrows them in tissue in a chocolate-brown bag. She includes directions -- clear and easy to follow -- and at $14.75, which includes everything, it's an inexpensive luxury, plus a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Humane Society. My advice is to buy several: one for you, and several more to give as gifts.

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