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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If You’re Having Fish & Chips…

If you’re going to have Fish & Chips, you must have Tartar Sauce to go with it. We are rather picky when it comes to our tartar sauce. You will never… and I mean EVER… find a jar of bought tartar sauce in this house unless a guest brings it. And, if that were the case, it would be going home with them.

We are highly critical of just about every tartar sauce we’ve ever tried. Most, we find, are far too sweet; why is there sugar in tartar sauce, anyway? If they’re not sweet, they’re usually nothing more than mayonnaise and chopped pickles. That’s not tartar sauce.

Cod3

We have a favourite recipe, one we come back to every single time we make fish and chips (Captain Ben’s, of course!). John has a marvelous old cookbook, The Mystery Chef’s Own Cookbook (published in 1943); it’s falling apart now but is it ever fascinating to read.

004His book contains two tartar sauce recipes. Tartar Sauce No.1 is our go to recipe.

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It comes together quickly, it’s tangy and flavourful, it’s the perfect complement to Captain Ben’s Crispy Cod. Incidentally, I used tarragon vinegar that I made last year with tarragon from my back door garden… dead simple to make; the chives, too, are from my garden, the first of this year’s crop. I love that!

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Tartar Sauce No. 1

(from The Mystery Chef’s Own Cookbook)

[printable version]

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped green olives
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped dill pickle
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot or young onion
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped capers
  • 1 tablespoon malt, tarragon, or white wine vinegar

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate. The sauce can be used immediately but is even better if it’s had a chance for the flavours to develop.

Captain Ben’s Crispy Cod

For as long as John and I have been together, whenever there’s talk of fish and chips, one specific recipe comes out. Sure, we could go to C-Lovers, our local fish and chip joint which is pretty good but, really, John’s fish and chip recipe is so much better! He’s had this recipe for a long time, probably some time in the 70’s, a newspaper clipping from the Vancouver Sun, given to him by his aunt.

Captain Ben20000As you can see, the original recipe calls for a dash of monosodium glutamate (MSG, aka Accent); I do  not keep that poison in my home; it is definitely a migraine trigger for me.

Cod2

Now, if I were to tell you that this fish doesn’t get soggy, you probably wouldn’t believe me. It’s true, though. We’ve made this many times; I’ve taken leftovers (if I’m lucky enough that there are any) to work with me the next day and they’re STILL crispy. Seriously!

Cod3

And there’s one ingredient that isn’t in this recipe… beer. This ain’t no beer-battered fish. Trust me… try it.

When John makes it, he doesn’t usually marinate the fish as the recipe directs. I made it today and followed the recipe exactly. Either way is good but I must say, I really enjoyed it marinated. Oh, I used the leftover batter to make onion rings.

Cod1

 

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Captain Ben’s Crispy Cod

[printable version]

Fish:

  • 1 lb. fresh cod
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Batter:

  • 2/3 cup corn starch
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • water (I used about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

Cut the cod into chunks about 1″ x 2″ (bite sized pieces), and put into a bowl. Sprinkle remaining ingredients over; stir to mix well. Marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

For the batter, combine corn starch, flour, and vinegar but NOT the baking powder. Add enough water to make a medium thick pancake batter. Heat oil to 375ºF. Once the oil has reached the correct temperature, add the baking powder to the batter, stirring well. Dip fish chunks in the batter. Fry until golden brown, 3-4 minutes.

Remove to paper towel-lined baking sheet; hold in a warm oven until all the fish is cooked.