Oprah Winfrey is sharing her roundup of great gifts with the world — and goodies from three California specialty food purveyors have scored spots on the coveted list for 2021.
“What started as an organic extension of wanting to treat people to some things I truly loved has turned into an annual list that takes a team to curate,” Winfrey writes in explaining the Oprah’s Favorite Things process. “I then go through every item, picking my favorites and narrowing the selection to my own.
“It’s important for me to remain as true to my original inspiration as possible. My guideline: Do I really like it enough to want to receive it myself?”
Three culinary gifts that Oprah would love to get hail from California, and all are woman-owned:
Elegant Brie en Croute
Winfrey’s curators have finally discovered this longtime Bay Area favorite, the baked brie appetizer from the sister team of Pleasanton’s Elegant Brie company, Linda Olander and Leslie Bowers. They start with a pound of brie, then add fillings — think pecan-cranberry for the holidays — encase in pastry and freeze. You bake and serve.
“What a payoff for all that hard work!” Bowers said the day the list came out. “It’s been a long 12 years.”
The San Jose-born sisters first started selling their appetizer at the Los Gatos farmers market, she said, then expanded to markets in San Ramon, Danville and Pleasanton.
“To see Oprah eating our brie puts a lump in my throat. This is so validating.”
Oprah writes: “I have one word for you: Yum. This puff pastry–wrapped brie is heavenly. The garlic, basil, and pine nut version is great, and the truffle option is beyond fantastic. Plus, it’s such an easy party appetizer: You just stick it in the oven, and it comes out ready to be devoured in all its ooey-gooey glory.”
Details: Although the sisters no longer do the farmers market circuit, they still sell at Draeger’s Markets (San Mateo, Blackhawk, Menlo Park, Los Altos) and will have a booth at the San Mateo Harvest Festival, Nov. 12-14. Buy online for $59 from www.elegantbrie.com or from Harry & David, FTD or Williams Sonoma.
Model Bakery English Muffins and Jam
Winfrey’s favorite English muffins from Model Bakery in the Napa Valley make an encore appearance on the list — this time, with jam.
To make these breakfast beauties, Karen Mitchell and daughter Sarah Mitchell Hansen start with their focaccia dough, then dust the muffins in cornmeal and griddle them in clarified butter. They say that’s the secret to achieving a crunchy exterior while the inside stays light and fluffy.
Oprah writes: “I dare you to find better English muffins than these! I’ve sent them to just about everyone I know; I even travel with them. The crunchy, yet fluffy, muffins have made my list before, but now they ship with homemade strawberry jam.”
Details: Purchase English muffins in person for $2.50 each (six for $14) from the flagship bakery in St. Helena, the Oxbow Market in Napa or the Mini Model in Yountville. Or the gift set of a dozen muffins and preserves is available online for shipping; originally $59, now 20 percent off with code “oprah” at www.themodelbakery.com.
Wilder Mustard Quartet
Another encore Oprah pick is Wilder Condiments, a small-batch company in Santa Monica that makes organic, vegan mustards. Wilder was founded by chef Isabel Freed, who trained at San Francisco’s Le Cordon Bleu and studied food systems at UC Santa Cruz. She, too, started selling her products at farmers markets.
Oprah writes: “Plain mustard? No thanks. This quartet — including truffle, horseradish, dijonish and jalapeño mustard — is sure to add a punch of flavor to anything you spread it on. We are a hot sauce and mustard household, and Stedman has given these his stamp of approval.”
Details: $35 online at www.wildercondiments.com for the gift assortment of four 2-ounce jars, small enough to take on your next flight or a picnic, Oprah’s team notes. Or $7 per jar of mustard for other flavors online. Some retailers — New Leaf, Bi Rite markets — also carry Wilder products.
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