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Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004 04:02 am

Giving the gift of food

If Fido’s been nice, give him a Snickerpoodle Paw

Celebrating the holiday season means twinkling lights and fresh evergreens, parties, and spending time with family and friends. It also usually means presents. This year, why not give the gift of food? Who wouldn't appreciate a basket of homemade baked goods, a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant, or even a special meal cooked by a gourmet chef?

Here are a few culinary ideas sure to please those on your list:

• Truffles -- What is more decadent than a box of chocolates? At the recent downtown holiday walk, the crowd at Serendipity was gravitating to the back of the store. One of the reasons: Bonnie Post, owner of Coco-Bon, was dishing out free samples of her chocolate truffles. Post, a chocolatier, sells homemade dark-chocolate truffles in a dozen flavors, among them raspberry, cherry, cinnamon, orange zest, and ginger-spice. She also makes gourmet turtle candies. The chocolates may be purchased in boxes of four, six, eight, or 10 pieces. Five days' advance notice is suggested. Call 217-622-5331 or e-mail bonnie@cocobonchocolate.com (visit www.cocobonchocolate.com for more information).

• Coffee and cake -- Leave the baking to someone else this year. Special-order baked goods and carafes of roasted coffee are available at the Bean Counter Roastery & Coffee House,on the square in downtown Petersburg. The charming store, which sells antiques and gifts, also offers a variety of items by special order, including 16 kinds of jumbo muffins in such flavors as coconut cream, chocolate chip, and peaches and cream; homemade pie; and a variety of cakes. Brownies, English scones, yeast sweet rolls, and butter cake also are available. Advance notice of 24 hours is requested. Coffee beans from a wide variety of countries are also available, including Jamaican Blue Mountain. The coffees may be purchased by the pound or by the carafe. Call 217-632-8000.

• Wine -- Show your friends from California and Missouri that good wine is made right here in central Illinois by buying them a gift basket from the Prairie Hill Winery in Oakford. The new business, located on a nine-acre vineyard in Menard County, is owned by Mark Lounsberry and his family. Six varieties of wine, including red, white, dry, and sweet, are available. Prairie Hill Winery is located just off Route 97 in Oakford. Call 217-635-9900.

• Rent-a-Chef -- Treat someone you know who loves to entertain but doesn't like to cook with a chef for a day. Rent-A-Chef offers hotel-quality food and presentation in your own home. Give someone a gift certificate entitling him or her to a private gourmet breakfast, dinner, or hors d'oeuvres for a party. Available cuisines include French, Italian, Chinese, Cajun, Mexican, and German, as well as menus for health-conscious diners. Call 217-525-9334 or visit www.rentachefonline.com.

• Don't forget Fido -- Your best friend will appreciate a handmade Snickerpoodle Paw or Pawnut Butter Lollypup in his stocking this year. Donna Weller and Cathy Leslie, owners of Fidough Bakery, sell a variety of specialty dog treats that may be ordered and delivered to your home or purchased at Pampered Pets and the Apple Barn in Chatham. Treats are made with such ingredients as whole-wheat flour and peanut butter, without preservatives, and come in shapes such as Christmas trees. Snacks for dogs with allergies are also offered. Other items, such as Christmas stockings and treat jars, are also available. Free delivery is available within a 20-mile radius, and orders are taken by phone or on the Web site (www.fidoughbakery.com). Orders are shipped within 48 hours. Calling 217-899-2686 or 217-652-9370 or e-mail info@fidoughbakery.com.

Last, but not least, a gift certificate to a person's favorite restaurant is always a nice stocking-stuffer. After the entertaining and hustle and bustle of the season, a quiet evening out at a favorite restaurant may be the perfect gift. Don't forget to pick up one for yourself.

Holiday ideas on the Web

Looking for gift ideas this holiday season? Try the "Buy Illinois Products" Web site (www.buyillinoisproducts.com).

The site features food and agricultural products from 56 Illinois companies. Items for sale include gourmet jams, marinated elk kabobs, organic soy nuts, and corn crunch.

With the assortment of fresh, wholesome Illinois food products available, no one should have to give a fruitcake as a present ever again.

Companies are grouped on the site in 10 product categories: bakery goods, beverages, dairy, general grocery, gift items, meat and poultry, nonfood merchandise, produce, snacks and sweets, and specialty foods.

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