Gifts from the garden and kitchen tell your loved ones that they are worth your time and effort. Mexican chocolate along with pumpkin soup pamper your recipients with warm indulgence. Rich, dark cocoa with a bite of cinnamon and dried chili pepper, blended with the grainy texture of the sugar and packed into decorative molds makes an elegant gift. Homemade chicken stock and organic Sugar Baby pumpkins swirl together to drive winter away.
Sift 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder, 1 cup confectioner's sugar, 1 cup nonfat powdered milk and 1/2 tsp. salt into a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl.
Melt 1 lb. solid vegetable shortening over low heat in a 3-qt. saucepan. Pour melted shortening over the dry chocolate mixture. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon until chocolate is smooth and glossy.
Stir in 2 tbsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp.cayenne pepper and 2 cups granulated sugar. The mixture should be heavy and grainy.
Spritz a light coating of cooking spray onto decorative 1/4-lb. chocolate molds. Pour the chocolate mixture into your molds and allow it to harden.
Pop chocolate from the molds. Wrap individually in squares of aluminum foil. Place four 1/4-lb.chocolates in a colored cellophane confection bag tied with curling ribbon.
Place one 1/4-lb. chocolate and 2 qt. whole milk in a 3-qt. saucepan to make chocolate Mexicano, pronounced "choh coh lah tay May hee cah noh." Heat milk mixture until it begins to turn foamy but is not yet boiling.
Break chocolate with a wooden spoon as it melts, stirring constantly to avoid scorching the milk. Pour into espresso cups and serve with cinnamon sticks.
Place one whole chicken in a large stockpot and cover with 4 qt. water. Dice 3 ribs celery, mince one large Vidalia or Bermuda onion and grate a 1 lb. bag of carrots. Add the vegetables to the stockpot and bring to a rolling boil for 10 minutes.
Add 1 tbsp. fresh-ground black pepper, 2 tsp. kosher or sea salt, 1 tsp. turmeric and 8 chicken bouillon cubes. Simmer covered for 2 hours.
Remove chicken from pot and place on a serving tray to cool. Remove skin and debone chicken. Chop the skin and dice or shred the chicken and return it to the broth. Discard the bones.
Allow broth to cool in the refrigerator until any fat solidifies. Remove the fat and return the broth to the refrigerator.
Select two to four small-variety pumpkins. The University of Illinois Extension list of recommended baking pumpkins includes Baby Bear, New England Pie or Baby Pam, with no blemishes, cracks or soft spots and a deep orange color.
Split each pumpkin in half and remove the seeds and innards. Set seeds aside for later roasting and discard the innards.
Lay pumpkin halves face down on a nonstick baking sheet with rolled sides and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until fork-tender.
Scoop the flesh into a blender or food processor and discard the rind. Pulse until pureed.
Bring chicken broth to a rolling boil over medium heat. Slowly add pureed pumpkin and 1 lb. sour cream. Stir until smooth and light-orange in color.
Serve in decorative soup tureens with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and a sprig of fresh cilantro. Grate nutmeg over the sour cream and sprinkle with fresh-ground cayenne pepper flakes.