When’s the Last Time You Checked Your Pantry?


Or, for that matter, the condiments and containers in your fridge.

If you’re anything like me, you check the crisper drawers and larger items for freshness the night before the garbage run. The pantry and the refrigerator door shelves (where the condiments live) tend to get checked less, but I thought we were doing a pretty good job of keeping up with everything.

Until, of course, I went to pack up the pantry and fridge goods to move from one house to another this past weekend. Between both of those, the sodas that had expired on the bar, and the older items from the chest-freezer that were passed their prime, we filled 2 kitchen bags to take out to the trash along with the numerous bags of still-usable items.

The sodas were easy to forget about–we hadn’t been doing as much entertaining and since I’m not making cocktails every week anymore that might use them as mixers, they lost their fizz without a peep. We have a free-standing pantry that is fairly compact, so there’s not a ‘far back’ for items to get pushed to, but we obviously need to do a better job of using our stores–I found several partial bags of rice and quinoa (thankfully not out of date) that will be getting used up this week!

The fridge-level condiments were the worst, though. A bottle of this or that, purchased for one recipe or another then forgotten, we had quite the collection! After throwing away quite a bit of it we still moved over several bottles to the new fridge: my mission is now to use them up (good thing chicken and tilapia are so versatile!) and to make a more concerted effort to replicate those sauces and condiments in small batches per recipe rather than buy a bottle of something we’re not likely to use. Sticking with staple ingredients will probably be the best bet for avoiding the problem in the future.

We also designated a “contraband” cabinet in the new kitchen: a place for the things that are too High-FODMAP to regularly use in dinner preparations but that Todd might want to have if I’m out for a night. It also includes flours or other items we might use when cooking for someone else. It’s not like I ban High-FODMAP foods from coming into our home–it’s hardly necessary and a little extreme considering Todd doesn’t need to adhere to the same restrictions as I do. But by placing staple ingredients that aren’t going to mesh well with my digestive system in a separate place makes it less likely we’ll use something by accident.

The kitchen is the last thing to be packed up and moved over, but as a stop-gap I tried to grab the basics in case it takes us a few nights to finish up:

  • a large frying pan
  • a large stock-pot
  • a medium-sized sauce pan
  • knives and cutting boards
  • cookie sheets
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • salt, pepper, and a few other spices
  • and the vase of spoons, spatulas, and so forth that sits next to the stove.

I think the should be enough, but I have a feeling I’m going to be grabbing for all sorts of things over the next few weeks that haven’t been brought over or unpacked yet!

More about the actual move later this week, but I’m certainly glad we don’t have to depend on take-out for the next few days!

Tuesday Reviews-Day: San-J Tamari Lite

Tuesday Revews-Day

San-J Tamari Lite


Sounds very much like a made-up word, but in the food world we know it as the fifth taste behind the more commonly recognized tastes of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami is best described as the mouth-filling savory quality that you get from mushrooms, oysters, and soy sauce among other things. This savory flavor is responsible for quite a lot of taste-satisfaction, but most soy sauces are made of 50% wheat and 50% soybeans, and are seen as unsafe for those looking to avoid gluten for whatever reason.

For the record, this article at Celiac.com references testing that showed naturally-fermented soy sauces contain less than the 20ppm limit for a product to be considered gluten-free, and even under the 5ppm detection limit. Ergo, very little gluten is found in your average soy sauce and therefore isn’t too much of a worry. That said, it’s unknown how many of the fructans from the wheat survive the fermentation process, but it must be pretty low as soy sauce is not one of the items banned on a Low-FODMAP diet, just limited.

In the interest of better safe than sorry, the alternative to soy sauce is tamari: fermented in the same tradition as soy sauce but from 100% soybeans. And this year San-J has released a Tamari Lite with 50% less sodium than regular tamari sauce. Nothing wrong with cutting some sodium, right? I was sent a sample bottle of San-J’s Tamari Lite and we’ve been using it in place of the San-J Tamari (Black Label) that we usually buy and have noticed absolutely no chance in our food’s flavor.

With everyone looking for simple ways of improving their health with a minimum of inconvenience, I see this as a definite step in the right direction. And since soy and tamari sauces are so wonderful at adding flavor to a dish–be it Asian-inspired or otherwise–having a lower sodium option that has 200 years of tradition and quality behind it is hard to say no to.

Thanksgiving is this week and the gap between it and Christmas feels very small this year. Since I know everyone is looking for snack recipes that travel well (either for pot-lucks, informal gifts, or appetizer options), I thought this recipe that came with my Tamari Lite sample might just fill a need.

Asian Spiced Nuts

1 large egg white
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon San-J Tamari Lite 50% Less Sodium Gluten Free Soy Sauce
2 teaspoons 5 spice powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
4 cups raw pecan halves
1/4 cup white sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

Whisk the egg white in a large mixing bowl until very foamy. Whisk in the sugar, San-J Tamari Lite 50% Less Sodium Gluten Free Soy Sauce, 5 spice powder, and cayenne pepper until full combined. Add the pecan halves and sesame seeds and stir to coat. Place the pecans on the prepared baking sheet in an even layer. Cook for 10 minutes; stir the nuts and then cook for another 5 minutes. Let cool.


***In case you didn’t catch it the other two times I said it, I was sent a bottle of San-J Tamari Lite for purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own and no other compensation has been exchanged for this post. Any factual errors are mine, too, so apologies if I got something wrong. As for the gluten-free study, always consider the source and make the best choices along with your doctor and/or nutritionist for your personal situation.***

Tomato-less Cocktail Sauce


tomato with a red 'no' sign over it
I’ve mentioned in the past that my body doesn’t get along with tomato products very well. And while I can sometimes get away with a little bit here or there without too many problems, shortly after Thanksgiving I was due to take some tests and tomatoes (as well as several other foods) were on my no-no list for several days beforehand so as not to skew the results.

So I had two options: forgo the wonderful crab dip made with cocktail sauce or find a clever way around it.

I went with the latter, of course–denial really isn’t in my make-up–and researched some plausible cocktail sauce recipes. The condiment is pretty simple, really: tomato sauce, horseradish and chili sauce. One recipe I found, however, presented a more creative ingredient list and a more promising flavor. The way I see it: the more interesting the recipe, the more opportunity to hide my red bell pepper substitution.

Tomato-less Cocktail Sauce

3/4 cup Roasted Red Bell Pepper Puree
3/4 cup Chili Sauce
1/4 cup Lemon Juice
2 Tbsp Prepared Horseradish
1 1/3 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Onion Powder

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir until combined. Chill until needed. Makes approximately 16 oz.

For a previous sushi dinner I’d purchased a bottle of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce often seen in various restaurants sporting a rooster on it’s bottle. This is what I used for the chili sauce and it made for a very VERY spicy cocktail sauce. Alternately, a Thai chili sauce or your standard store brand could be used for a milder heat level or you could use, say, 1 cup of puree to 1/2 cup of chili sauce. Feel free to play with it to suit your preference.

As spicy as it was, though, once layered on top of cream cheese and crab claw meat it was the perfect level of spice and all of our guests enjoyed it on both occasions we served it that weekend. No one could tell that it wasn’t “normal” cocktail sauce and those that were told were intrigued and wanted the recipe.

And now we have half a bottle of cocktail sauce ready for the next time we have seafood!

But cocktail sauce wasn’t the only staple to get a make-over this past Thanksgiving; next week I’ll share my take on a popular side dish sans canned convenience products.

Practice Safe Eating: Use a Condiment

64 Arts

(if you get that pun right off, I love you to pieces)

Okay, so another facet of this art of cooking is the use of condiments–sauces, toppings, dressings, etc.–to enhance the flavor of the everyday vegetable. (And, if you haven’t noticed, this cooking art is vegetarian; consider the source and all that.)

Frankly, a farmer’s market-fresh vegetable prepared simply (steamed or roasted) and seasoned only with a bit of salt and olive oil is, to me, a beautiful thing. I’m all about not mucking around with natural flavor.


This practice can get a little boring over time. And if you don’t have fresh veggies available year round for whatever reason and you’re resorting to the freezer section to find you favorites, it’s nice to be able to dress them up from time to time.

Have you ever noticed how some bottles say “tomato ketchup” rather than just ketchup/catsup? Or read an old recipe that listed it like that? The reason, if you’re curious, is that tomatoes are not the only things to be made into ketchup! The name ketchup comes from a Chinese brined-fish sauce that the British colonist of the 18th century fell in love with and brought back home (that’s one theory, at least). And recipes exist for mushroom and walnut ketchups, neither of which I’ve tried but it is intriguing. There’s even banana ketchup!

While ketchup is most often found being paired with fried potatoes of some sort, if you think about its components–tomatoes, vinegar, spices and a little sugar–you might find it goes well with other vegetables, too.

And then there’s the ubiquitous mayonnaise (a popular fry-dip in parts of Europe, by the way). Folks either seem to love it or hate it (and some a little of both, truth be told). I’m on the love side mostly for it’s flavor and ability to make sandwiches not dry. I can’t stand dry bread. But there’s more to this emulsion (the combination of 2 things that usually don’t combine) than just a sandwich schmear. Not only does it form the base of many popular sauces (tartar, remoulade, thousand island, etc.), it’s close cousin, aioli, steps up the lowly salad dressing with the inclusion of garlic, first and foremost, as well as other spices. Aioli is a lovely accompaniment to grilled vegetables (both green and root), fish and meats.

Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered about that sauce they serve at most chicken strip places and wanted to make your own? Combine equal amounts of mayo and ketchup, season with Worchestershire to taste and then, the trick I’ve been told, is to cover the surface with ground black pepper, stir it in, and repeat. Seriously, it’s that simple!

On the not-so-simple front is yet another emulsion but one that’s worth the effort for the culinary dare devils. I’ve never had a problem with making Hollandaise sauce but many fear it it. If not done correctly it can break (separate from it’s emulsion) or the eggs can scramble rather than combine smoothly with the butter and lemon juice, but when done right it’s amazing on grilled fish or steamed asparagus. And it’s tough to make a proper Eggs Benedict without it!

Now those are all creamy sauces and ones I really like because, to me, creamy is right up there with carbs as heaven-sent! But I know not everyone likes cream sauces, so what are some other options?

Vinaigrette comes immediately to mind. A simple combination of oil and vinegar (3 parts oil per 1 part vinegar) flavored any which way you want. You could go simple with salt and pepper or toss in some fresh herbs and smashed garlic. You can also change up your style of vinegar to change the dressing.

Chutneys come in two main forms: the Indian/South Asian style which is highly flavored and usually pureed or pounded smooth by a mortar and pestle or the chunky sweet and tart reductions of America and Europe. The first are often thin sauces relying on herbs or finely chopped fruit and vegetables for their flavor while the latter prefers large chunks bound together by a thick, syrupy sauce. You can make them yourself or purchase them ready-made, but either way they add a lot of variety to otherwise plain dishes. Salsa isn’t exactly a chutney, but it is a lovely condiment that can either be nice and chunky or pureed nearly smooth.

Finally, there are a couple of sauces with odd names that are worth knowing. A gastrique (ga-STREEK), for instance is a sauce of carmelized sugar deglazed with vinegar, flavored with any number of things. Likewise a coulis (koo-lees) might show up on a lot of fancy restaurant menus but all it is is a pureed and strained fruit or vegetable sauce.

This, of course, is just an overview. Did I miss a favorite sauce or condiment that’s a staple in your home? Let me know in the comments!

The Lost Art of… Marmalade?

Blueberry Toast with Mixed-Citrus Marmalade

Blueberry Toast with Mixed-Citrus Marmalade

On our second trip to the farmers’ market (Todd came with, this time), I spotted kumquats and thought making marmalade would be a good way to use the fruit and have it available for more than just one meal. Now, I’d made marmalade in the past, but it had been maybe 10 years since, so I wanted to check what I thought I remembered (namely that it didn’t require added pectin) and how much sugar per pound of citrus and so forth.

Would you believe that I went through 6 cookbooks before finding marmalade instructions? We have an entire bookcase of cookbooks and not all of them are general-use, so it’s not like I was looking in the specialty books and striking out, these were the massive tomes of all-purpose food knowledge. And while my “textbook” from Culinary School did have a definition and basic method listed, it still wasn’t telling me what I needed to know. Even Joy of Cooking only had a Red Onion Marmalade (which, by the way, is stretching the definition just a bit).

It’s no wonder, then, that the one book to finally come to my rescue was Forgotten Skills of Cooking. It had a whole section on marmalade and even featured a kumquat one. I ended up cobbling together several recipes to fit my time constraints (it was already Sunday and I wanted to use the finished marmalade Monday night, so doing an overnight soak of the seeds and membranes wasn’t practical) and did a mixed citrus marmalade using up some leftover lemons (from Lemon Curd-making the day before), tangerines from Christmas and a couple of pink grapefruits, too.

What I ended up with, after analyzing the various recipes I’d found, was a basic formula that can be used for any sort of citrus you’ve got:

Marmalade Formula

Per pound of citrus (weighed whole) you’ll need:

1 quart water plus 1 cup for the pot
2-3 cups granulated sugar, depending on the kind of citrus you’re using and how sweet you want your finished marmalade to be

And it really is that simple–which is probably why only 7 of our 95 cookbooks mention it at all. (The other reason being that most people buy their marmalade, of course.)

The reason you don’t need additional pectin is because you get that from the seeds and membranes of the fruit, itself–you use everything in some way, shape or form.

Marmalade Procedure

Break Down the Citrus Break down the fruit into its basic components: juice, seeds and peels. Juice each lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit, reserving the juice and placing the seeds in a cheesecloth-lined bowl. Remove the membranes from the squeezed-out fruit halves and add those to the seed-pile. Since kumquats don’t really juice so well, just slice those and remove the seeds, and slice the other citrus peels into bite-sized strips.
Combine and Simmer The initial simmer. Combine the reserved juice, the peels, water and the seeds and membranes tied up in their cheesecloth sack in a deep stock pot. Choose one deeper than I did to prevent boil-overs in later steps–learn from my mistakes, folks! Simmer this mixture, covered, for an hour or so. Don’t let it boil or your marmalade could end up very bitter. Unless, of course, you prefer your marmalade with a lot of bite, then boil it covered through the next step.
The Volume Decreased by Half Cook and concentrate. Right now you’ve got a lot of liquid and some still-tough peels in your pot. Remove the cheesecloth bag with the seeds and membranes (you’ve already harvested the required pectin from them). Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, at a low boil and uncovered, until the liquid has reduced your preferred amount and the peel is as soft as you want it to be.
Adding the sugar before the final boil Add the sugar and cook until set, approximately 15-20 minutes. Here’s the tricky part. According to Forgotten Skills you can test for doneness by placing a small amount of the marmalade onto a cold saucer and see if it gels. This didn’t work for me so I kept cooking the marmalade (on medium-low) for another hour or more (honestly, I lost track). It still hadn’t passed the set-test as described, but I pulled it off the heat and let it cool, anyway, figuring something had to have happened by now.
The finished Marmalade I started with 2.5 pounds of citrus and ended up with 2 quarts of marmalade. I’ve never been into canning so I just divided the spread between 4 pint containers and popping them into the fridge once they’d had a chance to cool off a bit on the counter. If you don’t go the sterilized jars and heat sealing method, you’ll want to store any marmalade you’re not going to use in the next couple of weeks in the freezer.

About the setting thing? I needn’t have worried. The next day You could stand a knife in the marmalade and it wouldn’t even wobble. And despite it’s dark color (probably from the extra cooking time), it wasn’t bitter at all. Added to warm, buttered toast, it’s quite tasty!

Oh, and the main reason I purchased the kumquats and the redfish fillet on the same day? Monday’s dinner was marmalade redfish and it was wonderful!

Season the redfish (or any other firm, white-fleshed fish like cod or monkfish) with salt and pepper and place, skin-side down, on a bed of sliced lemons. Heat half a cup of marmalade with a tablespoon of white wine, just until pourable, and spoon over the fish. Broil the fish 10-15 minutes until done (the flesh is opaque and flakes easily when pressed with a fork), moving it a few inches farther away from the heat if the pieces of peel in the marmalade start to get too dark.

Marmalade Redfish

Marmalade Redfish