2013 Holiday Gift List: 5 Indulgent-But-Worth-It Gourmet Food and Drink Presents

The holidays are upon us, and that means it's time to show your buddies you care by buying them things they probably don't need. But there's no reason to shell out for an expensive ugly Christmas sweater that he'll never wear, or a tchotchke that will sit idly at the back of her closet, when you could give THE gift that everyone loves: food! We've found the best food and food-related items for everyone on your list, from pets and kids to the true gourmand. Many can be purchased in and around Houston, and some are available online and at major retailers. Let's get shopping!

Admit it: you've perused the gourmet food sections of websites of high-end retailers and been tempted to order that decadent cheese platter or chocolate truffle layer cake. And you usually tell yourself such foodstuffs are expensive and probably so great as to warrant the inflated prices. But you still have doubts. This Christmas, however, cast your fears (and frugality) aside. Go ahead and click the "purchase" button with these five indulgent-but-worth-it gourmet food and drink gifts.

5. Classic Christmas Gift Basket (Harry & David). There was a point in my life during which I actually enjoyed designing and assembling my own gift baskets. No more, my friends, as such exercises now induce paralyzing indecision and extended purchase hesitation. Harry & David offer a wide variety of seasonal gift baskets, but the "classic Christmas" ($80) combines everything edible associated with the season: fruitcake, caramel corn, nuts, chocolates, shortbread cookies and peppermint, as well as Harry & David's famous premium Royal Riviera pears. It's a terrific present for friends who want to be festive but don't have much time for holiday cookery.

4. Salmon Florentine en Croûte (Williams-Sonoma). It's no secret that I am a big fan of anything en croûte (including giant peanut butter cups), and since salmon is my favorite seafood, it's even more understandable why I would advocate paying $100 for fish wrapped in puff pastry. What really makes this entrée worth the Benjamin is the presentation; the salmon en croûte actually looks like a whole salmon complete with head and tail. Talk about food imitating art imitating life.

3. 10-Year-Old Single Malt Whiskey (Laphroaig). As the venerable Georgie Bernard Shaw once wrote, "Alcohol is the anesthesia by which we endure the operation of life." The holidays can be a particularly painful procedure, so why not invest in a tipple that will keep you calm and make you look classy? 10 Year Laphroaig is a saucy, full-bodied whiskey that I like to enjoy slow and neat in front of a fire as my in-laws drone on about snow tires.

2. Cinnamon Swirl Bread (Harry & David). This impiously good baked good deserves a better name than "cinnamon swirl bread," the label enjoyed by infinitely lesser supermarket versions. Each slice is like a cross-section of a homemade sticky bun and the flavor is only enhanced with a brief microwave or oven warm-up and a slight sheen of butter. Wonderful for a toasty Christmas morning breakfast or a late-afternoon snack (especially when paired with egg nog).

1. Peek-A-Boo Pretzel Cake (Neiman Marcus). "WANT" is my one-word, primal response to the description of this cake: This luscious treat features a brownie foundation and alternating layers of chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache, sea salt, and caramel. Covered with white chocolate ganache and a handful of chocolate-dipped pretzels. Give this $60 confection to a chocoholic friend or relative and s/he will love you forever. And also probably be willing to lend you much more than $60 in the future.

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