ALTHOUGH I begin getting nervous early in the summer about making the food presents I love to give, clearly I do not become nervous enough, because by November I'm always in trouble.
Food presents should be better than what can be bought or they must not be able to be brought at all. And with November upon me, I have added these criteria: They must be able to be made just a couple of weeks before the Christmas flap becomes intolerable (and preferably, not necessarily, be ready to eat at Christmas). They must not require hours of stirring, chopping or other attention.
Herbed vinegars would be an obvious solution, but I have always found these coarse and even unpleasant. What rescued me this year was the memory of herb flavored olive oils from the south of France. While I hadn't had the foresight to dry herbs on the stalk, which are so much prettier in a bottle than floating, loose, dry herbs, I was able to find these branches at the French Market and at Williams-Sonoma. I used an inexpensive olive oil that can be bought by the gallon.
Finding attractive bottles was a problem until Jarvis Kitchenware got a shipment of enchanting half-liter vinegar bottles which are, considering the relatively short shelf life of oil, a useful size.
So many flavored mustards are bad and expensive that I began to work on making some that were good and affordable. My recipe is not for purists, since the mustard is made with eggs and butter which emulsify over heat in much the same way a hollandaise does. It does have several advantages, however. It keeps under refrigeration for months, has a lovely texture and is perfectly delicious. I made a master batch flavored in 3/4 cup increments, the capacity of the charming pots found at the China Closet and at Conran's.
I am a believer in buying Greek, Italian and French olives of good quality and flavor then making them better through varous marinations. These make handsome gifts, especially when packed in imported jars with rubber gaskets and metal clamps. The Kitchen Bazaar and Conran's have an excellent stock of these.
Among the simplest food presents to make are the spice mixtures from the classic French cuisine. Two or more of these would make a welcome gift. The Moroccan preserved limes are an extraordinary and wonderful addition to duck and very beautiful, too, when the jar is brought to room temperature. The onion grenadine jam is probably the best condiment I make. It is a triumphant accompaniment to pates or pork.
The smoked fish pate is shockingly easy to make, extraordinarily good and an example of how underrated good English cooking can be. The prunes in Armagnac, particularly when packed in elegant Italian jars carried by Pier 1 Imports and Liberty, are delicious and extravagant.
The celery sticks and pickled Italian vegetables are delicate and happily unlike the strong versions found in markets. The spiced orange slices are beautiful. And the vanilla cognac has been my standby gift for years.
A good stationery store carries handsome labels. Oversized tags also work well. It is a kindness to tell how the gift can be used and how it should be stored. HERBED OLIVE OILS (Basic recipe)
Place the herbs in an empty half pint or pint bottle, add olive oil to the brim, cork well with a new cork and let set in a cool place for at least two weeks. OLIVE OIL WITH PROVENCAL HERBS
For a pint of olive oil add 5 bay leaves, 4 sprigs dried thyme and 2 dried fennel shoots split lenghtwise. Label: On tomatoes, in vinaigrette, to baste broiled fish and lamb. OLIVE OIL WITH TARRAGON
For a pint of olive oil add 5 sprigs dried tarragon. Label: In vinaigrette, to baste chicken and fish, for marinade for calves' liver, on broiled tomatoes. OLIVE OIL WITH GARLIC
For a pint of olive oil, add 8 large cloves of garlic removed from the bulb but unpeeled. Label: For tomatoes, in vinaigrette, on pasta, on French bread, on croutons for onion soup, with green beans, for sauteed mushrooms. OLIVE OIL WITH SHALLOTS
For a pint of olive oil add 12 small shallot cloves, peeled. Label: Add to crabmeat and shrimp salads, in vinaigrette, in marinades for game, with broiled ham steak, with calves' liver OLIVE OIL WITH SAVORY
For a pint of olive oil, add 6 branches dried savory. Label: Sprinkle on goat cheese, or on dry curd cottage cheese mixed with green onions. OLIVE OIL WITH OREGANO
For a pint of olive oil, add 5-6 branches dried oregano. Label: In fresh tomato sauces for cold pasta, to marinate lamb chops. OLIVE OIL WITH BASIL
For a pint of olive oil add 5 branches dried basil. Label: On tomatoes, with garlic on pasta. MOROCCAN PRESERVED LIMES (makes 1 pint and a half jar) 5 to 6 limes, to fit 3 cup jars snugly About 30 cloves
Stud each lime with 5 to 6 cloves, pack them into the jar, add oil to cover the limes completely. Screw on cover and refrigerate. Use in two months.
Label: Baste roast duck with oil and serve the duck with sliced preserved limes. Also use for salads or vegetables a la Grecque, Refrigerate. Mignonnette
Two parts coarsely ground black pepper to 2 parts coarsely ground white pepper to 1 part coarsely ground corriander. Label: For steaks, hamburger, chops, coating roast beef. AROMATIC PEPPER
Two parts coarsely ground black pepper to 2 parts coarsely ground white pepper to 1 part ground allspice. Label: For duck, brown sauces, pates and terrines, eggplant, onion soup, fish soups. QUATRE EPICES (makes about 4 ounces) 4 tablespoons ground white pepper 3 teaspoons ground ginger 3 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg 1 teaspoon ground allspice 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Mix together and keep in a tightly corked small bottle. Label: For pates and terrines, rubbed into fresh ham, roast pork. INDIAN LEMON PICKLE (makes about 4 cups) 4 large lemons (1 pound) 2 tablespoons coarse salt 4 large garlic cloves, peeled 1/2 pound raisins 2 teaspoons ground cumin 3 teaspoons hot paprika or cayenne pepper 4 slices ginger root, minced 3 tablespoons mustard seed 2 cups white vinegar 2 cups sugar
Cut the lemons lengthwise into quarters but do not sever them. Remove the seeds. Sprinkle the lemons with salt and let them set in a bowl in a cool place for four days, turning them often. On the third day add the garlic, raisins, paprika or cayenne, ginger and mustard seed to the bowl along with the vinegar and let set 24 hours. Mince the lemons and raisins, add the liquid and the sugar and bring to boil in a heavy saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced and thickened. Cool, bottle and refrigerate. Label: Serve with curries, Refrigerate. MICHEL GUERARD'S ONION GRENADINE JAM (makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups) 1/4 pound butter 1 1/2 pounds medium-sized white onion, peeled and finely sliced 1 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper 1/3 cup sugar 5 tablespoons sherry vinegar (available at good food stores) 2 tablespoons grenadine syrup (creme de cassis may be substituted) 1 cup red wine
Heat the butter in a large frying pany until it turns light brown and no longer sizzles. Add the onions, salt, pepper and sugar. Stir well, then cover the pan and lower the heat. Simmer the onions, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Then add the sherry vinegar, grenadine syrup or creme de cassis and red wine. Uncover the pan and continue cooking 30 minutes or more over low heat. The sauce should bubble very slowly and it is done when it has the consistency of a loose jam. Bottle and label. Keeps under refrigeration for at least 3 weeks.
Label: Serve at room temperature with pates or pork. Refrigerate. SMOKED FISH PATE (makes about 1 1/3 cups) 2 cans kipper snacks, drained and skin removed 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted Juice of 1/2 lemon 1/4 teaspoon cayenne or to taste Salt to taste
Reduce kipper to a paste in the processor. With motor running, add the melted butter and process until amalgamated. Add the lemon juice, cayenne and salt, process and adjust seasonings. Pack into a small terrine, clarify a little butter and ladle this onto the pate, making sure to cove all of it. Decorate with a slice of carrot cut into a flower. Keeps under refrigeration for at least 3 weeks.
Label: Serve at room temperature on toast or good bread with drinks or as a first course. Refrigerate. FLAVORED MUSTARDS Basic Recipe (makes four cups or five 3/4 pots) 4 ounces dry mustard 1 cup tarragon vinegar 6 eggs 1/4 pound butter 1 teaspoon salt
Put the mustard in a mixing bowl, pour the vinegar over it, cover and let stand for at least three hours but overnight is preferable. Put this mixture into the top of a double boiler over hot water. Using a wire whisk, add the eggs one at a time. Whisk continuously until thoroughly mixed. Add the butter, cut into small pieces, and salt and cook over hot water for five minutes. Do not overcook -- the mustard will thicken as it cools. Divide into 3/4 cup increments and add flavorings. Keeps for months under refrigeration. GREEN PEPPER MUSTARD
To each 3/4 cup mustard, add 1 tablespoon green peppercorns packed in water and drained, plus a pinch of tarragon and a pinch of sugar. SHALLOT MUSTARD
To each 3/4 cup mustard, add 2 tablespoons minced shallot. TARRAGON MUSTARD
To each 3/4 cup mustard, add 2 spoons dried tarragon, a pinch spice and a pinch of sugar. AROMATIC PEPPER MUSTARD
To each 3/4 cup mustard, add 1 tablespoon aromatic pepper mix (see recipe). HORSERADISH MUSTARD
To each 3/4 cup mustard, add the contents of a small bottle of horseradish, drained of its liquid, plus a clove of garlic passed through a garlic press and a pinch of allspice.
Note: If any of these mustards seem to be very thick, they can be diluted with a little dry vermouth. MARINATED OLIVES
These olives will keep for weeks under refrigeration. They do best in imported jars with rubber gaskets and wire clamps.Bring to room temperature before serving. OLIVES WITH ROSEMARY (makes 1 pint) 1 jar Calamata olives, drained and rinsed under running water 3 sprigs fresh rosemary or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves 4 peeled and lightly crushed whole garlic cloves Olive oil to cover 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper 1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper
Put half a cup of the olives into a jar, add a sprig of rosemary or some of the leaves, a garlic clove, some black pepper and some red pepper. Continue until jar is filled. Add the oil to the brim, seal and use after a week. SICILIAN OLIVES (makes 1 pint) 1 jar Greek black olives in brine or Calamata olives, drained and rinsed under running water 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed Rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon, peeled in a continuous strip 2 tablespoons fennel seed Juice of 2 lemons Olive oil to cover
Pack the olives, garlic, rinds and fennel seed in layers. Add lemon juice and oil to the brim, seal and use after a week. The orange and lemon rinds can be formed into "roses" to decorate the dish. GREEN CRACKED OLIVES WITH PEPPERCORNS (makes 1 pint) 1 jar Greek green cracked olives or Napflion cracked olives, drained and rinsed under running water 1/2 lemon cut lengthwise and then crosswise into thin slices 3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed 2 to 3 tablespoons green peppercorns packed in water and drained 1 teaspoon dried thyme Olive oil to cover
Pack olives and remaining ingredients except for oil until the jar is filled. Add olive oil to cover. Use in a week or two. PRUNES IN ARMAGNAC OR COGNAC 1 pound large unpitted prunes 1 bottle Armagnac or cognac
Put the prunes into a pretty container, cover with Armagnac or cognac and age for one month to one year. Use on puddings, in country pates or to garnish pork or veal roasts. CELERY STICKS (makes 2 to 3 half pints) 1 bunch celery 1 1/2 cups water Juice of 1 lemon 2 tablespoons white vinegar 3 minced garlic cloves 1/2 teaspoon rosemary 1/2 teaspoon sage 1 teaspoon fennel seeds 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 bay leaf 1 teaspoon ground coriander 12 peppercorns crushed 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon celery salt 1 tomato, chopped
Separate the ribs of celery and peel them with a potato peeler. Cut the celery into 3- or 4-inch sticks, depending on the height of the jar to be used. cSplit the larger sticks lengthwise. Combine the remaining ingredients and boil for 10 minutes. Add the celery sticks, return to the boil, cover and cook 5 minutes. Remove the celery sticks to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Strain the cooking liquid into the celery sticks, pressing the solids with the back of a wooden spoon. Pack vertically into half-pint jars and add cooking liquid to fill. Keeps up to three weeks under refrigeration.
Label: Serve at room temperature with drinks. Refrigerate. GIARDINIERA Pickled Italian Vegetables (makes 3 pints) 1 large green pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips 2 carrots, scraped and cut into 1/2 inch slices 1 small head cauliflower, separated into flowerets 3 stalks celery, split and cut into 2-inch chunks 1 small head fennel, trimmed and cut lengthwise into thin slices 1 sweet red pepper, fresh or canned, cut into thin strips 3 cups white vinegar 2/3 cup water 2 bay leaves 1 tablespoon salt 1/2 cup small green olives, preferably Nicoise 1/2 cup drained mildly hot Italian peppers (peperoncini)
Combine the green pepper, carrot, cauliflower, celery, fennel and red pepper only if it is fresh in a stainless steel or enameled saucepan. In a second stainless or enameled pan, combine the vinegar, water, bay leaves and salt and boil for 5 minutes. Pour over the vegetables and simmer over moderate heat for 8 minutes. Gently combine the olives, perperoncini and canned red pepper, if fresh is not available, with the vegetables and let them heat through. Remove from heat and let the vegetables cool. Pack them into pint jars, cover with marinade and refrigerate. Keeps at least three weeks under refrigeration. Drain before serving.
Label: Serve with drinks or as part of an antipasto. Refrigerate. SPICED ORANGE SLICES (makes about 1 1/2 quarts) 18 small to medium juice oranges 2 1/2 pounds sugar 2 cups white wine vinegar 1 1/2 sticks cinnamon 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves 6 blades mace
Wash and wipe the oranges, cut them into slices at least 1/4-inch thick and remove the seeds. Put into a pan and cover them with water. Simmer covered gently for 40 minutes, or until peel is soft. Check at 30 minutes -- the slices must not disintegrate.
Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar, add the spices and bring to the boil. Simmer 5 minutes.
Drain the orane slices, reserving the cooking liquid. Place the slices in a shallow pan and cover with the vinegar syrup. Add some of the cooking liquid if there is not enough. Simmer, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the slices look clear. The syrup should not boil hard. Remove the pan from heat and leave for 24 hours.
Drain the slices and pack them into jars. Cover them with the syrup. The slices will absorb syrup for a few days, so check and add more syrup to cover. After 3 or 4 days the jars can be sealed. Refrigerate for about 4 to 6 weeks.
Label: Serve wither hot or cold with pork, duck, goose or ham. Serve syrup as a sauce with duck. Refrigerate. VANILLA COGNAC (makes 1 pint) 4 vanilla beans, slit in half lengthwise 2 cups cognac or brandy
Put vanilla beans in a bottle, add cognac to the brim, cap and let set for 6 weeks.
Label: To flavor whipped cream for desserts. Add more cognac when half empty. CANDIED GINGER (makes about 8 ounces) 1/2 pound fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into bite-sized slices Water 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup water Granulated sugar
Cover the ginger with cold water and soak for 1 hour, drain and cover with fresh cold water. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain again. Rinse and cover with more cold water. Boil 5 minutes more or until tender. Drain. Make a syrup with the 2 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup water. Boil ginger root in syrup for 10 minutes uncovered. Remove ginger from syrup, cool slightly and shake in a container filled with granulated sugar. Separate pieces and dry thoroughly on a cake rack over night. Pack into a small mason jar.