NEW YORK — From Spanish tapas to offbeat pastas to flavored fortune cookies, gourmet food is taking on an international flavor this holiday season.
The main course in most households will be traditional--the holidays are not the time for nouvelle nonsense--but beyond that anything goes, from sweet-potato French fries and potato chips to jalapeno-flavored lollipops and pound cake drenched in Kahlua.
"I think foods are hardier and less cute this year," said Abigail Kirsch, whose Abigail Kirsch Culinary Productions in Bedford, N.Y., caters some of the New York metropolitan area's biggest bashes.
"People are eating a lot of good roast chicken, but they are flavoring it with tarragon or rosemary. The day of little portions is over, too, at least for the holidays."
Her holiday menu suggestions include tiny cranberry, corn or clove muffins stuffed with honey mustard and turkey, or cream cheese, chives and smoked salmon or baked ham with Dijon mustard.
She also likes potato chips or French fries made from sweet potatoes, stuffed chicken breasts, and Nottingham mulled fruit--a mixture of apples, pears, cranberries and pineapple in a red Burgundy and Port wine sauce.
Pasta is another non-traditional idea. The Silver Palate gourmet food line is featuring four colorful new pastas--little basil wagon wheels; crimp-edged green spinach bow ties; squiggly yellow, orange and green corkscrew fusilli; and yellow, orange and green ratcheted little chunks of radiatore.
With them come two new sauces--mild and fresh Garden Vegetable and tingling Hot and Spicy.
British foods for Christmas is the theme at Bloomingdale's. Bill Lane, group buyer for the food division, said the chain had imported more than $1-million worth of British delights and offers a line of liquor cakes drenched in Kahlua, B & B or raspberry liqueur. There's even a Dickens rum cake made from Mrs. Charles Dickens' recipe.
Texas Big on Food
Texans also like liquor cakes, including a Margarita Christmas cake in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalogue.
A Dallas-based caterer called Goodies From Goodman has a Texas Talk Christmas box--a box shaped like Texas and loaded with Texas pralines, over-sized jelly beans, chili con queso, nacho dip, a glass boot filled with hot chili peanuts and a Texas-shaped miniature fruit cake.
You also can buy a Christmas wreath made of dried whole sandia chili peppers guaranteed to have been grown along the Rio Grande.
Holiday tables of the rich and famous in Los Angeles will be spiced by Southwestern cuisine. Top caterers and gourmet food sellers say Mexican, New Mexican and Arizona flavors have blended with the lighter California cuisine.
"Cajun food is definitely passe here," said Andrea Bell, owner of L.A. Celebrations, which caters lavish parties for show-biz clients. "We're seeing people go into a very eclectic blend of foods ranging from very traditional turkey preparations to tapas. "
Tapas --tasty little Spanish appetizers--are much in demand, Bell said, as are blue-corn tortillas with rajas, a spicy roast pepper compote. Another popular holiday dish is South American empanadas, dumplings filled with crayfish and served with yellow tomato and papaya sauce.
Bell said this season's big finger foods include potato skins with black bean chili, salsa and sour cream.
Variety of Choices
Another major Los Angeles caterer, Ambrosia, said some clients want food with Thai and Vietnamese influences, while others want new interpretations of traditional food, such as turkey medallions coated in Parmesan cheese and cashews and served with mashed potatoes.
For Christmas in Alaska, the local treats are smoked salmon and Alaskan berry jams and jellies--Great Land lingonberry, Frontier raspberry, Mt. Susitna blueberry, Homestead jam made from rhubarb and highbush cranberries and Raven Pond spruce tip. There's also wild-berry ice cream syrup, rosehip mustard and cranberry chutney.
Salmon specialties include squaw candy, which is not candy at all but extra-heavy smoked salmon sold in small cans, as well as salmon and reindeer jerky. Reindeer sausage also is popular.
Hawaii not only has white Kiawe honey and macadamia butter, but also hot-sweet mustards and beluga caviar from China. Keluga sells for $140 for seven ounces or $80 for a four-ounce tin--a bargain compared to the top-of-the-line Petrussian beluga sold at New York's Bloomingdale's at $116.50 for 125 grams, which translates into 4.4 ounces.
Desserts are delectably different--from Macy's Mickey Mouse chocolates to Silver Palate's fudge sauce Grand Marnier, jalapeno lollipops from Texas and Williams-Sonoma of Los Angeles' chocolate-coated nuts that look like black and green olives.
And for a peek at what the new year holds, Macy's is offering flavored fortune cookies in mandarin orange, chocolate mint, amaretto and ginger.