Quick Christmas Gifts

It’s coming fast! Christmas is not my favourite time of the year, to be honest. There are so many expectations, disappointments, and frustrations and it drives me crazy every year. This year, I’ve decided not to allow anything to get to me. I have no expectations for a perfect Christmas. If I don’t get any gifts, oh well. I really don’t need anything. If recipients of the gifts I give don’t like my choice? Oh well, at least  they’ve received something. Dinner’s not perfect? Oh well, at least there’s food on the table.

One thing always makes me happy, though. I really enjoy giving friends and co-workers hand made, or home cooked gifts. Now that my daughter has food issues, I’ve been even more aware that there are more and more people “out there” with similar issues. One of my co-workers is gluten intolerant. I have a family member with diabetes, and others in my family have other food allergies or sensitivities. It makes food gift-giving a little more challenging but I’m up for it.

This week, our work place is having an informal get together at a local restaurant. I was trying to find something I could give each co-worker that all of them could enjoy when I came across a post about finishing salt. So, just what is finishing salt?

One website I came across described it this way: “Finishing salts add a healthy and delicious burst of color, flavor and texture to any dish including cocktails and desserts. Just a simple sprinkle can take your culinary creation from drab to fab!” That pretty much sums it up. I went hunting and, oh my, talk about a rabbit hole!

finishing-salt

So far, I’ve made Sriracha Lime salt, Smoky Maple Bacon salt, Bloody Mary salt, and Umami Mushroom salt. How do you use finishing salts? Well, a sprinkle of Smoky Maple Bacon salt on a cracker with goat cheese is amazing. Sriracha Lime salt sprinkled over my scrambled eggs? Oh yeah! Bloody Mary salt on a steak? Why not? Sprinkle some Umami Mushroom salt on your popcorn. Mix and match. Sprinkle some finishing salt over vegetables or potatoes or … or… instead of flaky salt on your hand crafted chocolates, why not sprinkle a flavoured finishing salt. Can you imagine a bit of Bacon salt on chocolate? I’m making my mouth water.

For gift giving, I’ll be putting the salt into small mason jars (125 ml), with a label outlining how to use finishing salts. I’ve also made a couple of batches of Rum Spiced Pecans; each co-worker will be getting a jar of finishing salt and a gift bag of the pecans. Unfortunately, our work get together is the same evening as my grandson’s Christmas program. I think my grandson is more important, don’t you?

Want to try making your own finishing salt? Here are a couple of recipes to get you started. I’ll be over here, thinking about other flavour combinations.

Sriracha Lime Salt

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. Sriracha Sauce
  • Lime zest to taste

Make sure the lime zest is dried before adding it to the salt. Mix all ingredients. The mixture will be moist so allow it to dry for a day or two, stirring occasionally to break up any chunks.

Bloody Mary Salt

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup tomato powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. Celery seed, crushed

Mix all ingredients well. Mixture may be somewhat moist so allow it to dry for 24-48 hours, stirring occasionally to break up any chunks.

Umami Mushroom Salt

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. soy sauce (I used Tamari as it’s gluten free)
  • 2-3 dashes liquid smoke
  • dried mushrooms of your choice (I used a blend of dried morels, porcini, and portobello)

Pulverize the dried mushrooms, either in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Blend all ingredients and stir until well mixed. If necessary, allow the salt to dry overnight.

Smoky Maple Bacon Salt

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 3 strips of bacon, well cooked and well drained (they need to be crispy)
  • 2-3 dashes liquid smoke
  • 1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

Cook or bake the bacon until well cooked. Allow to cool on paper towels after squeezing as much of the fat out of it as possible. Once cooled, pulverize the bacon using a spice grinder.

Mix all the ingredients and stir until well mixed. Allow the salt to dry as it will be moist. This one is best stored in the refrigerator and used with a couple of weeks… if it lasts that long.

 

Brandied Cheddar Spread

A while back, I came across a bunch of recipe cards that I’d written out many years ago. It’s an eclectic collection, with recipes for things like Cod in Milk (which I might try this week as I picked up some cod at Costco today; if it’s any good, I’ll post the recipe), Flan Pastry (paté brisée), Satay Sauce (which I dislike), and Six Week Bran Muffins, among others. There was also a recipe for Brandied Cheddar spread. I have vague memories of making, and enjoying it, a few times but I haven’t made it in a very long time.

I love cheese, so I decided it was time to try this recipe again. Before I did, though, I went hunting online. I found many sites with Brandied Cheddar spread but none of them were the same as this recipe. Many of the online versions were the same recipe or similar, with the addition of butter and/or heavy cream. Some even had added water. Not this one.

The most important ingredient in the recipe is, of course, the cheddar. Make sure you use a good aged cheddar; it will result in the best flavour of the finished spread. The recipe also calls for, wait for it… brandy but you could easily substitute a nice sherry or port. I was tempted as I’m not a big fan of brandy; I much prefer sherry for sipping but I figured that it’s not a bad thing to have a small bottle of brandy in the house for cooking or baking so I stayed with the brandy.

Serve your Brandied Cheddar spread with a nice selection of crackers and fruit… and don’t forget the wine!

Brandied Cheddar 1

The ingredients: Aged Cheddar, cream cheese, brandy, dry mustard powder, and cayenne

Brandied Cheddar 2

Process all of it in a food processor. You could also use a mixer, if you wanted to. As long as you can get it all nice and smooth, it will work!

Brandied Cheddar 3

Put it into a pretty jar (like this Weck jar) or a crock, if you have one, and enjoy!

Incidentally, the recipe calls for cream cheese. I used the Philly soft cream cheese that comes in a small tub. Either version will work. The soft cream cheese will give the spread a slightly softer consistency but the flavour won’t be any different.

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Brandied Cheddar Spread

[printable version]

  • 8 oz. aged cheddar, at room temperature, cut into small pieces or grated
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3-4 teaspoons brandy
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Dash of cayenne

Put all the ingredients, except the salt, into the bowl of a food processor and process until well blended and spreadable. Taste and add salt if needed. Pack into a crock or jar and store, covered in the refrigerator.

Note: Sherry or port may be substituted for the brandy, if desired.

Gruyere Palmiers

I love savoury things. If there’s a tray of cookies or candies and a tray of something salty, I’ll go for salty every time! You can imagine my happiness when I came across a recipe for Olive Oil and Sea Salt Palmiers.

If you’ve never had palmiers, allow me to explain what they are. Very basically, it’s puff pastry with something sprinkled or spread on it; then it’s rolled up from both ends, sliced and baked.

The first palmiers I’d ever had were sugar and cinnamon palmiers, and they were GOOD! I love them, but as I started out saying, I prefer savoury to sweet.

It turns out I still had a sheet of puff pastry in the freezer and when I saw the recipe for the Olive Oil and Sea Salt Palmiers, I started thinking. I took the pastry out of the freezer and left it in the fridge overnight to thaw. Then, last night, while watching a movie and enjoying a glass of wine, it hit me… Gruyere! I still had gruyere cheese in the fridge. Fleur de Sel…I have that! My mouth started to water.

I started by unrolling the sheet of puff pastry. If your puff pastry comes in a block, roll it out to about a 12” square.

Brush liberally with melted butter. Sprinkle with fleur de sel or any good sea salt and a good dose of freshly ground pepper. My pepper grinder has a blend of black, green and red peppercorns, a mix I enjoy more than just black pepper. Then, sprinkle with grated Gruyere. You could substitute Gouda cheese, or Cheddar, or any nice hard cheese if you wanted.

Now, roll up the sheet of pastry from one side to the middle. Repeat at the opposite side. It doesn’t need to be tightly rolled. The pastry expands when baked.

Wrap up the entire roll and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. If you want to make this ahead of time, no problem. I’d simply wrap the roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake.

When it comes time to bake, take the roll out of the fridge, unwrap it and, using a sharp serrated knife, cut into 1/4” slices. Place each slice on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch between the slices.

I have an apartment sized stove, so I’ve had to invest in smaller baking sheets than I would normally use. I had to use two sheets; while the first was baking, the second stayed in the fridge.

Bake the palmiers at 400ºF for about 12 minutes, or until they’re golden. Remove them to a rack and cool. Then, all that’s left is to enjoy them. If you do need to store them, store them in an airtight container.

Trust me, though, they won’t last long!

Gruyere & Sea Salt Palmiers

[printable version]

  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 1 tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • Fleur de Sel or any good sea salt
  • Ground pepper, as desired

Unroll the sheet of puff pastry, or if the pastry is a block, roll it out to approximately 12” square.

Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle the pastry with Fleur de Sel and ground pepper. Sprinkle with the Gruyere cheese.

Roll the pastry up from one edge to the center. Repeat for the opposite edge. Wrap and refrigerate for about 1/2 hour or until ready for baking.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400ºF. Take the pastry roll from the fridge, unwrap and, using a sharp serrated knife, cut into 1/4” slices; place slices on a parchment lined baking sheet about 1” apart.

Bake at 400ºF, in the center to top third of the oven, for about 12 minutes or until golden. Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool.