Tag Archives: condiments

What To Do with a Bag O’ Cranberries, Part Deux, or Cranberry Ketchup, or Why “Tomato” is an Adjective in the Phrase “Tomato Ketchup”

24 Mar
cranberry ketchup recipe

An-ti-ci-pay-ay-shun, it's makin' me wait...

I was considering ketchup the other day.  Of course I was.   I mean, who doesn’t?  Right?  Ahem.

At any rate, it’s often written as tomato ketchup on bottles.  Sure, we shorten it to ketchup:  “Hey, pass the ketchup,” “Oh poo, I got ketchup on my tie.”  See?  But the fact remains that the word tomato usually lives before the word ketchup, and that can only mean one of two things:

  1. Tomato is Ketchup’s first name.
  2. Tomato is an adjective describing the type of ketchup in the bottle.

Since I think tomato is a pretty silly first name, I’m going with meaning #2.  So, I decided that if tomato is just a descriptor, there’s no law that says it has to be made from tomatoes.  After all, I understand that banana ketchup is pretty popular in the Philippines.

Back when there was that big fat sale on cranberries a few months ago, I began my occasional series about What To Do With A Bag O’ Cranberries, and it’s now time for Part, The Second.

Cranberry ketchup it is.  I must admit that I was feeling Rather Cocky and Pleased With Myself for coming up with cranberry ketchup.  Until I Googled it and found 14,600 entries for “cranberry ketchup” and another 5860 entries for “cranberry catsup,” for a grand total of 20,460 ketchup/catsup references.  That means that, statistically speaking, one out of every 332,357-ish people has gone online and written a Thing about cranberry ketchup.  28 of those statistical folks reside in the great state of North Carolina, and 5 of them live in my area of NC.  Statistically speaking.  Fine.  Just fine.   But to put that into perspective, a casual search for that Prepubescent Canadian Warbler, Justin Bieber, yielded 76,200,000 results.  Take that, cranberry ketchup results.

Regardless, I am proud to be the 29th North Carolinian to speak up about cranberry ketchup and the 6th Triangle resident to do so.  Yay, me.

Before I launched myself all Pell Mell into making the ketchup, I decided to go to a few of those 20,460 entries and kind of Scope Things Out.  You know, get an overall feel for the kinds of ingredients that go into a ketchup.  I even made an electronic pilgrimage to that font of open-edited wisdom, Wikipedia to find out what ketchup actually is.  And what it is is a sauce.  A thick, spicy sauce.  Fantastic.

So then I read further and discovered what it was about ketchup that made it so addictive that an Esteemed Former President once declared it a vegetable?  The secret:  umami.  Yup, that glutamate flavor described as savory or meaty.  Mouthwatering.  Gimme more-y.  Apparently, back in the day, tomato ketchup was a watery, un-umami affair, but when Mr. Heinz learned how to concentrate tomatoes, he also concentrated all that umami goodness in said tomatoes, and all of a sudden, folks just Could Not get enough.

In light of that Nugget of Knowledge, I glanced back over some recipes and came up with what I thought was a reasonable starting place.

A Reasonable Starting Place for Cranberry Ketchup

  • 1 bag o’ cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce (my secret umami weapon)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teasp0on five spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • Oh, I’m editing to include what I forgot–about 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Of course, I didn’t really measure anything, but I think this is a pretty good approximation of what I started with.

So, I brought everything up to a boil, let it go for about 10 minutes at a gentle boil, and then hit it with the stick blender.  How did it taste?  Bland and sad and not sweet enough but with potential.

Cranberry Ketchup, After My Tweaks*

  • 1 bag o’ cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 oz cider vinegar (1/2 cup)
  • 4 oz brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (or to taste, of course)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Bring to a boil, cook for ten minutes, puree and then turn heat to low-ish and let reduce until it’s as thick as you want.  Stir every few minutes to prevent sticking. Once you take it off the heat, you can strain the ketchup to remove all the little bits of cranberry skin and seeds.  Or not, if you want it more rustic.

Cranberries do have a fair amount of pectin in them, so it will thicken as it cools.

cranberry ketchup

Hello, thick-luscious-tangy-umami-wonderful cranberry ketchup.

The Verdict
I am officially the 6th smartest person in the Triangle.  This stuff is seriously good.  It has a lovely balance, to my taste anyway, of savory/sweet/tangy.  Right now, the whole house smells of ketchup.  In a good way.  Not the way where you’re cleaning out the Condiment Wells at McDonald’s, but in the way that your house smells pleasantly tangy and spicy and mouthwateringly delicious.

So, what am I gonna put this stuff on?  Well, it honestly tastes enough like standard tomato ketchup that I will probably use it that way sometimes, but I think it will really shine as a condiment for game, pork and poultry.  I can see making turkey meatballs and using cranberry ketchup as a dipping sauce.  Or maybe roasting some venison and using this in the sauce.  Or as the sauce.  I can smear it on turkey or chicken sammiches.  Mix it with honey and glaze some pork ribs.  The possibilities are many and mouthwatering.

I really do hope you  give this a try.  It is really, really good.  And I see absolutely no reason why you can’t make any kind of ketchup that you can think up.  Blueberry, blackberry, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb–whatever.  It’s not really so much about the fruit you use as it is the balance of flavors to get that mouthwatering tang going on.

And that’s pretty much it for now.  ‘Scuse me, but I hear my ketchup calling me…

*I call them my tweaks because that’s exactly what they are.  You might like more or less cinnamon, more or less celery seed, more or less anything.  And that’s okay.  You might even want to use shallot instead of or in addition to onions.  Great–go for it!  Throw in some allspice if you like that.  You’re just looking for loads of flavor, an intense aroma and tons of mouthwatering goodness.

Things to Do With a Bag O’ Cranberries: Part 1

13 Jan

I try to stay away from sneaky Spend-More-to-Save-More campaigns.  I’m looking at you Kohl’s.  “It’s like getting paid to shop” my Hiney.  Sure, it sounds all innocent, but the thought process is, “I’m going to spend a Very Ton now to justify coming back next weekend to use my Special Free Money.”  I don’t know about you guys, but I very rarely go spend a Very Ton of money two weekends in a row.  But, once you have that Free Money you almost feel obligated to spend it the following weekend.  Then, you end up spending much more than you would have if you hadn’t gotten the Spending Incentive in the first place.”  Of course, the folks at Kohl’s and other stores that have the same sort of programs realize that a) a certain number of people will not come in within the time frame specified on the Free Money, and they won’t have to honor it and b) folks that do come in will buy more than they would have without the Free Money, so either way Kohl’s wins.  Sneaky.

That’s all well and good, until I get to the grocery store.  Then, ten boxes of pasta for ten bucks?  Sure–it’s not like we won’t get around to eating it eventually.  I recognize this double standard, but I can live with it.  So, a few weeks ago, I purchased four bags o’ cranberries for ten dollars.  This was a Very Good Deal, because often one bag can cost upwards of Three-Fiddy.  Again, I rationalized that it wasn’t like we weren’t going to eat them.  Only, sometimes it’s kind of hard to come up with Things To Do with that many cranberries.

And thus, this post.  To help out you Suckers for a Sale at the grocery store.  And to help myself, too.  I have four bags o’ berries, so there will be four posts in this Series.  Eventually.  Currently, three bags are safe and sound in the freezer, and this is what I did with Bag One:

homemade cranberry sauce

Mmmm, pretty! And very, very tasty.

Green Tea Cranberry Sauce
Trader Joe’s sells a wonderful cranberry green tea, and it was the inspiration for this sauce.

  • 1 bag o’ cranberries
  • sugar, to taste (I used demerara)
  • a cup or so of orange juice and a bit of water, depending on how thick you want your sauce
  • healthy pinch of salt
  • minced crystallized ginger, about a tablespoon or so.  No need to get carried away.
  • 2 green tea bags–I used Zen brand green tea with lemongrass.

Now, if there are any die-hard Tea Devotees out there, I know that you shouldn’t boil green tea.  And I don’t if I’m just making myself a cup.  I figured with the strong flavors of the cranberry and ginger going on that I wouldn’t notice any off flavors from the tea.  And I didn’t.  If you have a Particularly Sensitive Palate when it comes to tea, I think you could probably brew a concentrated batch and then add just a little to the finished sauce.

Anyway, here’s what I did.

I threw the cranberries in a small pan, added some sugar, orange juice, water, salt and minced crystallized ginger (yes, you could use powdered or even freshly grated–the finished product will taste different than mine, but since you haven’t had mine, it doesn’t matter).

I tied two tea bags to the pot handle and let them hang out in the pan.

homemade cranberry green tea sauce

Almost ready...

Then, I just brought everything to a slow boil and kept it there until the cranberries softened and popped open.  I helped them along by smashing them against the side of the pan, too.

Taste and add additional sugar or salt if it needs it.  Mine needed a bit more sugar, so I threw some more in.

And: Done!  I could have left well-enough alone and served it chunky, but I did hit it with the immersion blender to make a relatively smooth sauce.

homemade cranberry sauce

You can tell from the suspicious red smears and blobs all over the stove that I didn't stage this shot. Cooking is messy people. Deal with it.

To get it really smooth, I could have strained it through a sieve or used a food mill, but I wasn’t that concerned about making it extremely smooth, especially because I was going to serve it as a condiment to some roast chicken.

We ate it with the chicken, and it was very good, but we have a lot left over.  Here are some things that I may or may not do with the extra:

  1. Push it through a sieve to get it very smooth and fold it together with some whipped cream to make a simple mousse.
  2. Roberta said that I should use it as a cake filling.  An excellent idea, especially with chocolate cake.
  3. Mix some into softened ice cream and have it for dessert.
  4. Spread it on roast chicken sandwiches as a Condiment.
  5. Re-heat it, add more orange juice and/or water so it’s not quite as concentrated, and stabilize it with some gelatin to make homemade cranberry-orange Jell-o.
  6. Spread it out into thin sheets on Silpat and dry them in a very low oven to make cranberry fruit leather.

And that’s it.  One bag down and three to go.

If you have any good ideas, I’m all ears.

PS  I have just pretty much described one technique for making any sort of thick fruit sauce or puree, so just go for it.

Bag the Cheese Ball

10 Dec
That's what I'm talkin' about.

That's what I'm talkin' about.

Okay.  I know you might not consider a “cheese plate” as a part of the pastry chef’s world, but in the restaurants I’ve worked in, the cheese plate was our responsibility.  Why?  Well, because of the condiments, of course!  Here’s the thing about cheese:  It doesn’t want to perch alone on a cracker, naked and vulnerable.  It doesn’t want to be mixed with Worcestershire sauce and rolled in chopped nuts.  Cheese does not want to be mixed with mayonnaise, made into a dough (well, sometimes it does) or squeezed out of a can.  No, friends.  Cheese wants to shine.

Here’s how to give cheese what it wants and how to give your holiday guests what they want (even though they might not realize that they want it).  Sure, you can serve cheese with bits of meat, and that’s fine.  But, offer some sweet and/or tangy condiments to go along with your cheese and crostini/crackers/lavash/bagel chips/Ritz crackers, and your cheese and your guests will love you forever.  These condiments are all about highlighting the cheese through contrast:  in texture, in flavor, in acidity.  Explore!


  • raspberry jam (You can make your own, if you want–do add a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice to the recipe.)
  • spiced or candied nuts
  • chutney (store-bought, or try dicing pears/apples and cooking down with a splash of white balsamic, some lightly caramelized onions, a pinch of salt and a bit of herbs)
  • apple butter (Add a wee bit of salt to this.  The cheese will thank you.)
  • whole grain mustard
  • fresh fruit
  • stewed raisins
  • pureed beets (Before you get sad, think of the goat cheese!  Roast the beets until soft.  Puree in the food processor with salt, pepper and a splash of vinegar.  Maybe a squeeze of honey.  You’ll have to taste it to see.)
  • marmalade (no, you don’t have to make your own if you don’t want to)
  • figs or fig puree (easy:  stew figs in some apple cider, honey if it needs it, and a pinch of salt.  Whiz up in the food processor.)
  • dates
  • Marcona almonds (seek them out)
  • excellent quality balsamic vinegar (only for your very special friends.  And cheese)
  • Tupelo (or other) honey
  • Toffee (no chocolate, depending on the cheese)

I’m sure you guys will have your own ideas.  Leave some in the comments section, and I’ll add them to the list.  Just, please, don’t let the cheese down.  It’s counting on you.


I have recently gotten in touch with many old college friends whom I haven’t seen in 20 years.  Thank you, facebook.  Anyway, one of these friends, Don Phillips, who used to be called “Cujo” in college (but that’s another story) has taken to following directions and reading my posts when I let my fb buddies know I have posted something new.  Being a wonderful friend, he generally comments.  And, being a somewhat un-informed, somewhat needy cook;), he wants to know what sort of cheese to put with all these wonderful flavors listed above.

First, I told him he was whiny, but now I take it back.  Sorry, Don–I’m still a bit reactionary, even after all these years!  He’s right.  It was unfair and mean of me not to give you some cheese ideas along with the condiment ideas.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a cheese I didn’t like.  Velveeta does NOT count.   But some folks are picky about their cheeses.  I suggest you get about 5 cheeses ranging in flavor from mild to bold and ranging in texture from soft and creamy to hard and crumbly.  Get your cheese guy at Whole Foods or your local cheese shop to help you make your selections.  Cheese guys are generally pretty passionate about their job and will be more than happy to hook you up.  Once you get your cheeses home, bust out 5-6 of the condiments I mention (or come up with your own) and mix and match.

You want the cheese and the condiment to complement each other, not have one duck the other in the deep end of the pool.  So, pair bolder flavors with bold flavors and milder flavors with mild flavors.  Look for a contrast in texture.  For example, a crunchy walnut might be better with a brie-type cheese than it would be with a hard cheese like Parmesan.

I hope that helps to clear things up, and thanks Don.  Your neediness spurs me on to be a better teacher:)  Thanks for being my friend and resurfacing in such grand fashion after so many years!  Go, Cobras!

%d bloggers like this: