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.

 

Marinara Sauce

We have, here in Kelowna, a lovely green grocer, Quality Greens. Every Saturday, they offer samples of some of their deli meats or cheeses and, often, a dish of some sort made with ingredients for sale in the store. Yesterday, when I dropped in to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables, they were offering samples of sliced roasted chicken and a noodle dish made with a bottled garlic marinara sauce.

The young lady serving the samples read out part of the label as I ate the noodles. The sauce contained no sugar and was sodium reduced. To say I was underwhelmed is an understatement. If I could say anything about the sauce, I would say they forgot to add the flavour. The sauce was bland, bland, bland.

As I turned away from the young lady, I whispered to her that I was on my way home to make a batch of marinara sauce so I wouldn’t be buying any kind of bottled marinara sauce but thank you for the sample.

When you have home grown tomatoes in your freezer, there is absolutely no reason to add sugar to marinara sauce. Last year’s tomatoes, grown in our own back yard, have such a wonderful sweetness to them and the resulting marinara sauce is amazingly flavourful. You can, almost literally, taste last year’s sunshine in every mouthful.

tomatoes3

I came across a recipe for marinara sauce last year when I was looking for recipes for a girl’s night with the ladies I work with. I made manicotti and the recipe I found had each part of the manicotti (noodles, ricotta, and marinara sauce) made from scratch. It was a hit and I’ve been making the marinara sauce since then. If I could find the recipe again, I would link to it; unfortunately, I found it through Punchfork, which no longer exists. I didn’t save the link but did download the recipe.

If you do try this marinara sauce, I heartily recommend using home grown tomatoes. If you don’t have any frozen or canned tomatoes, use a good brand of tinned tomatoes. The better the ingredients, the better the sauce.

marinara

This is a good sauce to use on pasta, on pizza, anywhere you would use marinara sauce.

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MARINARA SAUCE

[printable version]

  • 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped curly or flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Put tomatoes and their liquid into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes along with the oregano and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly and its flavours come together, about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes about 3 cups