The Condiment Problem

October 28th, 2013 · 19 Comments · Picky Eating

A few weeks ago, my friend Christy, mother of four, sent me a link to a pork chop recipe she was thinking about for dinner. “So I am going to make this tonight, but what bothers me is that two of my kids will put A-1 on it no matter what.” I felt her pain — soy sauce and ketchup have both been A-1 equivalents in our house — and I wanted to help her. So I looped in none other than Homemade Pantry author Alana Chernila. (Subtitle: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Makingfor the rescue effort. My feeling was, if they’re going to slather the stuff on, might as well feel good about what’s in the bottle. Alana was nice enough to address the condiment quandry below. — JR

Every family has those condiments.

You probably already know what I’m talking about. What was the first jar that popped into your head? But if we are to get into specifics, those condiments can be characterized by the following:

1. There is at least one member of your family who pours/ spreads/ scoops it over everything, even as you tell them that you just spent two hours in the kitchen trying to get the flavor right, and maybe just this once, they could taste what you made first?
2. Even though it is constantly in use, the jar seems to mysteriously last forever.
3. Whatever it is, it’s excellent on eggs.

We’ve certainly been through our fair share of bottles that meet the criteria. We’re a condiment-loving family, and we’ve covered our meals with Sriracha, Thai peanut sauce, that strange squishy Japanese mayonnaise in the bottle with the baby on it, kimchi, ketchup, Tabasco, fancy mustard, and of course, steak sauce.

What makes these condiments so delicious? Usually, it’s some sort of magical alchemy of tomato, sugar, vinegar and six or seven ingredients I don’t even want to think about. But all that sweetness and acid and salt—those are the ingredients of memory. I think that what comes out of the bottle creates sensations in the mouth way before they actually register as flavor. And those feelings–the burn, the funny feeling in the nose, the wonderful and off-putting way that mayonnaise coats every other taste—they bring us back to all the other tables we’ve felt that way over the course of our lives.

My main goal with homemade steak sauce was to find that strange kick in the back of the throat. When I finally felt it, I offered a little spoon from the unmarked jar to my friend, Molly.

“What’s it taste like?”

Her eyes got wide. “It tastes like a restaurant my mom used to take me on birthdays. It was one of those big places with animal heads mounted on the wall, where you could order any size steak you wanted.”


Homemade Steak Sauce, aka “A-2″
Recipe by Alana Chernila, author of The Homemade Pantry. Makes 1 cup.

Most homemade steak sauce recipes call for a mixing of a bunch of other condiments, and honestly if you throw together some ketchup, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, and sugar, you’ll get pretty close. But starting a bit more from scratch is easy, and then you can control all the flavors and know just what’s in there. Feel free to adjust just about any of these ingredients. Taste as you go. And if you want to leave out the anchovies for a vegetarian version, just substitute in a bit of something smoky like smoked salt or miso paste. Note: For those who prefer a thinner sauce (like A-1) push the final product through a strainer.

1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion (from 1/2 medium onion)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped anchovy (from about 2 filets)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons pulpy lemon juice (from1 lemon)
1/2 cup pulpy orange juice (from 2 oranges)
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon molasses

1. Combine the raisins and the apple cider vinegar, and let soak for 20 minutes.

2. Heat the olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft and shiny, about five minutes. Add the garlic, anchovy, and tomato paste and stir to combine. Lower the heat to medium low and add the raisins and apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, celery salt, hot sauce, white vinegar, tamari, and molasses. Cook, uncovered, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.

3. Transfer to the blender and blend until smooth. Taste for heat, salt and sweetness. Adjust if necessary, and decant into a jar. Store covered in the refrigerator indefinitely.

Related: Peppery Grilled PorterhouseRory’s “Maple Candy” Pork Chops; Alana’s Homemade Granola Bars.


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The Homemade Pantry Solution

April 20th, 2012 · 28 Comments · Baking and Sweets

The subject of the email was “High Levels of Arsenic…” and the first sentence, written by Ali, my babysitter, was “Did you see this?” (Never a good sign.)  Attached was a link to an ABC News story telling us to watch out for elevated levels of aresenic in organic powdered formula, cereal bars, energy bars, or anything that listed “organic brown rice syrup” as the first ingredient — like, for instance, the granola bars from Trader Joe’s that our children had been consuming five days a week for three years now.


I googled a bit more to see what else I could find  – for whatever reason, it makes me feel better in these situations when an alarmist title like “Arsenic in Baby Formula” doesn’t spread like wildfire. I like to convince myself that the media is more savvy about these things, so they don’t fall for sensational health (more…)

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