In seasons past, my kitchen turned out trays of old-fashioned gingerbread men festooned with red silk ribbons, antique jars filled with homemade fruit-and-nut conserves and chutneys, and Early American crocks ladled to the brim with piquant mustards and tied with crisp taffeta bows. This year, however, the holiday season will be contemporary, a bit non-traditional. There are striking new containers; shimmery Mylar ribbons with metallic twists; punchy paper liners, and flashy metal tins and boxes. Updated, too, are Christmas food offerings: Red-and-Green-Chile-Pepper Vinegar; an original Fresh Cranberry Catsup; a quick-to-bake Pumpkin-Pecan Bread; Chicken Pate with Tarragon and Hazelnuts, and a classic gift for all chocoholics--Chocolate Scottish Shortbread.
3 to 4 fresh hot chiles, combination of red and green
1 garlic clove, peeled and split
6 to 10 whole black peppercorns
2 cups vinegar (white, cider, sherry-wine, red wine, white wine)
Make 1-inch-long cut on one side of chiles. Place chiles, garlic and peppercorns into clean bottle. Using funnel, fill bottle with vinegar, leaving 1/2 inch space at top. Cap bottles tightly. Place vinegar in cool, dark place and allow flavors to develop 3 to 5 days. Makes 2 cups.
Note: Vinegar may be prepared and bottled several weeks in advance, if kept in cool, dark place. FRESH CRANBERRY CATSUP
12 cups (4 12-ounce packages) fresh or frozen cranberries
2 1/2 cups chopped mild, sweet onions
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups orange juice
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh orange peel
Thaw cranberries if using frozen. In large kettle, bring cranberries, onions, water and orange juice to boil. Partially cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until berries are very soft. Cool to lukewarm.
Puree berry mixture in several batches to slightly grainy texture. Return puree to kettle. Stir in brown and granulated sugars, vinegar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and orange peel. Bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently for 45 to 60 minutes, or until mixture is consistency of thin catsup (catsup will thicken upon cooling). Remove catsup from heat and spoon into clean glass jars or bottles. Leave 1 inch space at top. Cool slightly, cap tightly and cool completely. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes 15 cups.
Note: Catsup may be prepared several weeks ahead if refrigerated. PUMPKIN-PECAN BREAD
1 1-pound can pumpkin
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
cup apple cider
3 eggs at room temperature
3 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cups diced pecans
Crowning Glory Glaze
Pecan halves, optional
Prepare baking pans by greasing and dusting bottom and sides with granulated sugar. Stir together pumpkin, oil, 1 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, cider and eggs until sugar dissolves and mixture is smooth. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Gradually incorporate dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture, mixing quickly. Do not over-beat. Stir in diced pecans. Pour batter into prepared pans, filling no more than full.
Bake breads in center of preheated 350-degree oven, 35 to 40 minutes for miniature loaves, 55 to 60 minutes for medium-mini loaves and 75 to 90 minutes for standard loaves. Test breads by inserting cake tester into center. Tops of loaves should feel firm when pressed.
Cool on wire racks. Glaze breads while still barely warm or room temperature with Crowning Glory Glaze. Garnish with pecan halves, if desired. Makes 2 9x5-inch loaves or 4 5 1/2x3-inch loaves or 9 4x2-inch loaves. Crowning Glory Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 to 4 tablespoons apple cider
Whisk together sugar and cider until smooth and creamy. CHOCOLATE SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
2 cups flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel
Prepare 2 10-inch round baking pans by lightly greasing and dusting with sugar. Cream butter in large electric mixer bowl until light. Beat in 1 cup sugar until fluffy. Sift together flour, cocoa, salt and cornstarch. Slowly beat dry ingredients into butter mixture. Add vanilla and orange peel. Dough will just begin to gather together and appear slightly crumbly. Form into ball and divide in halves.