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.

 

Broccoli Surprise

John asked what we were going to have for dinner tonight; my daughter and her two kids will be here. I told him we’re having Broccoli Surprise. His reaction was, “Surprise? I already don’t like it.” Thoughts of one pan meals with a base of either rice or potatoes, leftovers from the previous week on top of the base with a can of cream of something poured over the lot and cheddar cheese sprinkled on it must be going through John’s mind. This is nothing like that.

The surprise in this dish is that it really does taste good! Broccoli and chicken are baked in a sauce that, yes, is comprised of two cans of cream soup but, honestly, it’s really good. I serve it with rice on the side and will be adding a side salad to fill out our dinner.

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I’ve been making this dish for a lot of years and every time I do, it gets raves.

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Broccoli Surprise

[printable version]

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • pepper and salt, to taste
  • oil
  • broccoli (I usually use two “heads”)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 – 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces; sprinkle with salt and pepper and brown in oil over medium high heat. In a separate bowl, combine the soups, mayonnaise, lemon juice, curry powder, and Worcestershire sauce. Cut the broccoli into bite-size pieces and arrange in a casserole dish. Put the chicken on top of the broccoli and pour the soup mix over the chicken. Sprinkle generously with grated cheddar cheese.

Bake at 375º for 30-35 minutes. Serve over rice.

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Peachy Sambal Chicken

I’m of Dutch background; the Dutch have a long history with Indonesia and over the years, many foods of Indonesian origin have made their way into Dutch cuisine. This recipe is based on the Indonesian dish, Ayam Samba. I found this recipe in a cookbook I’ve had for quite some time; it was written by a Dutch woman who emigrated from Holland to Canada where she married a Canadian (“Let’s Go Dutch” by Johanna Van der Zeist-Bates). I’m sure that when the book was written, it may have been difficult to find some of the ingredients that would originally have been used in a recipe like this. Now, we do have access to a broader choice of imported items that were hard to find around here even ten years ago.

For instance, the recipe in the book calls for whipping cream. I’ve substituted coconut milk as I think it’s closer to what the original recipe would have used. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have known what coconut milk could be used for, let alone have a can or two of it in my pantry! Now, though, it’s a staple in my kitchen.

The writer of the recipe also uses margarine quite extensively. Personally, I refuse to use it… ever! She also calls for oyster sauce; I didn’t have any so I subbed fish sauce, which I did happen to have..

The recipe also calls for sambal oelek, a sauce made of crushed red chilies. You could easily use sriracha. I thought that since the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of sambal oelek, it would be very spicy but I made it as written. I was pleasantly surprised. There’s definitely some heat there but it does not overwhelm the dish and push it into the realm of “OMG, that’s hot!”.

Seeing as it’s the end of January and fresh peaches are in very short supply… read that as “ain’t no way you’re gonna find fresh peaches!”… I used canned peaches. I’ll try this recipe again when the local peaches are abundant; I’m sure it will be even better than it was!

I served this over a bed of mixed red and basmati rice but any rice or grain would work. A light salad and some freshly steamed green beans complement the dish nicely. We’ll definitely be making this again and again!

Sambal chicken

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Peachy Sambal Chicken (Ayam Sambal)

[printable version]

  • 1 tbsp sambal oelek (crushed chili peppers)
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 whole chicken breasts, boned, halved and cut into large chunks, skin and fat removed
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 5 fresh or canned peaches, sliced (if using fresh, remove skins)
  • 1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Rice for serving

Combine the sambal oelek, fish sauce, sesame seed oil, and 2 tbsp olive oil in a large Ziploc bag. Add the chicken pieces and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 3 hours.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and saute in the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil and the butter. Brown the chicken for about 2 minutes on each side and then add the marinade mixture along with the peaches and the coconut milk. Simmer on med-low for about 8 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Remove the chicken and peaches from the sauce and keep them warm. Sir the turmeric into the mixture in the skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken and peaches to the pan, then simmer with the sauce for another three minutes or so. Serve over cooked rice.

For additional eye appeal and nutritional value, serve with steamed, fresh or frozen, whole green beans. 

Serves 5