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.

 

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Who Doesn’t Love Chocolate?

Around here, we love chocolate. Every now and then, John expresses a desire for hot chocolate or chocolate milk and I’m more than happy to indulge him. Then, a couple of years ago, I came across a recipe for chocolate sauce that can be used for chocolate milk. It’s kind of like Nestle Quik but I have to tell you, I like it even better. It isn’t as sweet, but it’s certainly chocolate-y!

I usually double the recipe and end up with 3-4 cups of chocolate sauce. Use the best cocoa you can find; Dutch processed cocoa, being a much darker cocoa than, say, Fry’s cocoa,  gives the best results, a deep dark chocolate sauce. The amount of sugar may seem high, but trust me, the sauce isn’t overly sweet.

Incidentally, it’s also good on ice cream and whatever else you might like to put chocolate sauce on. It’s also perfect for another treat I learned about recently… Egg Creams. If you’re anywhere on the East Coast, you’ve probably heard about these before but here, on the West Coast, they’re virtually unknown. Egg Cream is a drink that contains no eggs and no cream, just a lot of yummmmmmmm. After I give you the recipe for the chocolate sauce, I’ll share the recipe (or method) of making an Egg Cream.

The ingredients are simple: sugar, salt, cocoa and vanilla. A note about the vanilla in the picture above: it’s homemade vanilla, something incredibly easy and satisfying to make yourself. Simply take a small bottle of vodka and throw in a couple of vanilla beans; put the bottle in a dark spot (like your kitchen cabinet) and leave it for a few weeks, only disturbing it to shake it up whenever you happen to see it. After a couple of weeks, your very own vanilla flavouring will be ready to use. I’ll never buy vanilla again. When there’s not much left, just replenish the vodka.

Just look at that rich, chocolate-y goodness!

Once you’ve made the sauce, bottle it and store it in the refrigerator. I usually save bottles, like syrup bottles, just for this purpose. They’re perfect for chocolate sauce! And it’s a great way to recycle; just make sure you clean the bottles really well.

Chocolate Sauce

[printable version]

  • 1 cup Dutch processed cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • dash of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Combine all ingredients except vanilla in a medium saucepan and bring to a low boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to reduce, stirring occasionally until it reaches desired consistency. Cool to room temperature and stir in the vanilla. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.

To make an Egg Cream, first of all, make sure all the ingredients are cold. Get yourself a tall glass and pour in about 2 tbsp of cold milk. Pouring down the side of the glass, fill the glass with club soda (or seltzer) to within about 2″. You should begin to see a foamy head form. Now, drizzle chocolate sauce into the glass, again, about 2 tbsp. With a long handled spoon, gently stir to incorporate the chocolate sauce without disturbing the foam. Enjoy!!