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Super-easy secret for great salsa. October 21, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. I discovered what the ads that constantly flood my e-mail refer to as “one ridiculously easy trick” for deepening the flavor of jarred salsa when our friend Ben and I were on the road recently visiting family in Nashville. It appears that the “complimentary” breakfast has completely replaced the hotel restaurant; I can’t remember the last time I saw a hotel with a restaurant. And while most hotels now offer some hot entrees along with their cerals and breakfast pastries, these are not, in my opinion, exactly edible.

OFB and I were staying in a nice hotel in Nashville, and it made quite an effort to offer a variety of both hot and cold selections for breakfast: omelettes or scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, French toast, waffles or pancakes, and diced potatoes, as well as real oatmeal (not instant), yogurt, fresh fruit, an assortment of cereals, bagels, English muffins, toast, doughnuts, and pastries, and three kinds of fruit juice, as well as coffee and tea. By today’s standards, this was a luxurious spread. But pre-made omelettes with runny orange cheese, limp bacon, and soggy potato cubes are still not our idea of food, complimentary or otherwise.

You might gather (correctly) from the above that OFB and I like our breakfast hot, and I like mine light. While OFB was piling omelettes, English muffins, potatoes and bacon on his plate, I was trying to convince myself that a couple of spoonfuls of potatoes would actually be edible, paired with a small serving of citrus. Unfortunately, the soft, spongy nature of the cubed potatoes weren’t doing much to reassure me. What could I do to boost their flavor and conceal their less-than-crispy texture?

Fortunately, the hotel came to the rescue. In addition to salt and pepper, they’d set out packets of salsa and ketchup. One or the other would surely help those pitiful potatoes. I grabbed salt, pepper, two salsa packets, and one ketchup, and headed to the table OFB and I had selected. Then, unsure which would be better, I had an inspiration: I opened all three packets and mixed them together.

The result was startlingly, amazingly good. The heat and texture of the salsa merged perfectly with the depth of tomatoey goodness of the ketchup, resulting in a rich, balanced salsa you could never get out of a grocery-store jar. It not only made the potatoes edible, it was an instant hit with OFB on his omelettes, perking them up and offsetting that Velveeta-like cheese.

I’m not suggesting that anyone dump ketchup into delicious fresh homemade salsa. Eeewww!!!!!! That would be blasphemy. But, if you’re like me, you keep a few jars of storebought salsa on hand in case you’re cooking and a starving OFB demands salsa, chips and cheese while he’s waiting for his supper. When preparing his salsa dipping bowl, adding 1/4 ketchup to 3/4 salsa really makes a difference, and it ups the healthy, cancer-fighting lycopene content of the salsa considerably along with the flavor. I’m very happy to have stumbled on this discovery! Try it, and let me know what you think.

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

No more green ketchup?! September 21, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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4 comments

Silence Dogood here. This morning, someone came onto our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, searching for “when did green ketchup end.” What?!!

I guess this goes to show how often I buy grocery-store ketchup. There’s a family-run business, Bauman’s, in nearby Sassamansville that is famous for its apple and other fruit butters and also makes its own ketchup. When I buy ketchup, I buy Bauman’s. (Check them out at www.baumanfamily.com; they ship, and they also make chili sauce and sweet tomato butter!)

But even I was aware of the green ketchup phenomenon. I just wasn’t aware that it had stopped. So I rushed over to Wikipedia to get the scoop, or in this case the squeeze, on what had happened. Here’s what I learned: Heinz launched colored ketchups in 2000 with its Blastin’ Green Ketchup. Heinz later added purple, pink, orange, teal, and blue ketchups to its lineup. By 2003, Heinz had sold more than 25 million bottles of colored ketchup, but for whatever reason, they discontinued colored ketchups in 2006.

But here’s the disturbing part (assuming, of course, you’re not already disturbed by the disappearance of colored ketchups): Wikipedia says “These products were made by adding food coloring to the traditional ketchup.” Well, I’d assumed that the green ketchup—the only non-red ketchup I was aware of—was made with green tomatoes, with a splash of food coloring added to get that crayon-green color (sort of like green salsa, which often substitutes green tomatillos for tomatoes). But “the traditional ketchup” is red. I don’t know how you could add any form of food coloring to red ketchup and come up with green, purple, pink, orange, blue, or teal. Yikes! I think I’ll stick with Bauman’s, thanks.

            ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

Did Ben Franklin invent mustard? June 28, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here to respond to a query on our blog about whether Benjamin Franklin, our hero and blog mentor, invented mustard. Well, no. But this question isn’t as bizarre as it might seem. (And no, Grey Poupon didn’t invent mustard, either. Neither did French’s. Nor did it originate in Dijon.)

We do tend to think of mustard as being a French condiment, but it’s actually much older. There are reports of Abraham using mustard in the Old Testament. The Chinese used mustard since at least early historic times. So did the ancient Romans, and it was the Romans who spread the use of mustard to France and England as their empire expanded.

This brings us back to Ben Franklin. Ben first visited England not as a diplomat but as a young man seeking a printing apprenticeship. He didn’t find it, but he did apparently find mustard, then as now used as a condiment on beef and other typically English fare. Appreciating its spicy tang, he did in fact introduce it to the American colonies on his return. So even though he didn’t invent mustard, hot dog lovers across the country can say a hearty “thank you” to old Ben for bringing us mustard.

What about ketchup, aka catsup? It, too, has a curious history. Ketchup originated in India as a spicy sauce made from fish. (I don’t actually want to think about this.) When the British came to India, they were captivated by the spicy sauce and brought it back to Queen Victoria’s Britain. But it didn’t become the ketchup we Americans cherish today until it crossed the Atlantic and met the tomato, a New World vegetable. Goodbye fish, hello tomatoes! Today’s ketchup bears scant resemblance to the original condiment that inspired it. But with the rise of lycopene as a super supplement for good health, tomato-based ketchup is more popular than ever.

But which is the most popular? Despite intense online searches, I was unable to find this out. Both are versatile: Mustard is an essential ingredient in many a vinaigrette, ketchup as a topping for meatloaf. There’s no question that mustard is available in more variations, from bourbon-enchanced to artisanal stoneground, but ketchup’s tomatoey tang and sweetness appeals to enthusiasts of all ages, whereas mustard’s pungency tends to be a more sophisticated taste.

If anyone has a definitive answer,* please let me know. Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue to use both (with or without mayo) on our burgers, dogs, and fries.

* Whoa! After endless Googling, I finally got the search terms right and ended up on several general business sites, which collectively gave me the surprising (to me, at least) answer. Unless you’re a kid who likes bright green ketchup, as far as I know, there’s one kind of ketchup and one only: good old red tomato ketchup. But just look at the mustard aisle: Jack Daniels mustard, jalapeno mustard, horseradish mustard, stoneground mustard. The list seems endless. So why is it that Americans consume almost ten times as much ketchup as mustard?!! (Stats showed just 12 ounces of mustard consumed annually per person vs. 1058 ounces of ketchup.) Folks, that’s a lot of ketchup—more than 132 cups of ketchup per person per year! Yowee zowie! Maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about getting more lycopene in our diets, and should start worrying instead about what on earth we’re putting all that ketchup on. I think I’m starting to see the cause of our obesity epedemic…

Ketchup goes to hell. September 3, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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7 comments

Silence Dogood here. Christian Hays of our beloved Hays family just put a video he made called “To Hell with Ketchup” up on YouTube. It’s a humorous parody of those appalling folks who go door to door soliciting money in the name of religion. In this case, the wannabe proselytizers are trying to rid the world of ketchup. (“Ketchup is an abomination. It destroys the organisms in your body,” says one, while puffing away on a cigarette.) But fortunately for all us ketchup lovers, Ketchup Man is there to save the day.

Our friend Ben and I enjoyed this little parody, and if you’re so inclined, we think you would, too. But if you head to YouTube to watch it, you’ll notice that there’s something different about the hero, Ketchup Man. As our friend Huma’s son Sasha exclaimed when he saw it, “That guy looks like he has Down syndrome!”

Ketchup Man is played by Christian’s Uncle Donny, who, like one in every 800-1,000 babies, has Down syndrome (or Down’s syndrome, as the British say, correctly acknowledging that Dr. John Langdon Down first described the condition). Down syndrome occurs when a baby has all or part of an extra 21st chromosome, as I discovered on Wikipedia. And, as is well known, the chances of bearing a Down syndrome baby jump astronomically—to 1 in 19—for women over 45, though 85% of Down syndrome babies are born to women under 35.

I remember being told as a child that people with Down syndrome used to be taken from their mothers as soon as they were diagnosed—typically at birth—and institutionalized, where they almost inevitably died in infancy or childhood. I was very disturbed by this, since both my mother and I had “simian palms,” hands where the headline extends clear across the palm in an unbroken line, and this is one of the physical characteristics of Down syndrome. (My mother used to tell me that only monkeys, people with Down syndrome, geniuses, and the two of us had simian palms, but whether any of this is true beyond the monkeys—thus, “simian”—and people with Down syndrome, I couldn’t say. I think she was just trying to make me feel better. But if any geniuses are out there reading this, please check your palms and report in.)

Now, we have moved beyond that barbarity, and people with Down syndrome typically are raised with their siblings in a loving family atmosphere, educated, and sometimes taught a profession. Donny’s vocation is art. One of his sisters is also an artist, so it clearly runs in the family. I have seen Donny’s art, and it’s amazing. The first time I saw one of his canvases, I was speechless. It was not just good art, it was modern art as good as any I’d ever seen, worthy of a New York gallery, worthy of a museum. If his parents had the background and wherewithal, his art would be known worldwide. Instead, it continues to grace private homes and offices, and Donny remains unknown. Life’s lottery may seem to have passed him by, but though fame has eluded him, he’s been raised surrounded by love, and is in turn one of the sweetest, most loving people I’ve ever met.

And now, thanks to Christian, he’s an actor, too. Donny loves movies—his hero is Batman—so to actually be in a movie himself was a thrilling experience. Christian hopes to feature his uncle in many future videos, too. After all, someone has to protect ketchup from extermination by misguided bigots!

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, ketchup really is evil. At least, major brands of ketchup are evil. The last time we saw Christian, he held up an offending bottle of ketchup and pointed to the ingredients, and there, sure enough, were the dreaded words “high-fructose corn syrup.” I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced that high-fructose corn syrup, which seems to be turning up in everything, is responsible for making us all fat. If you love ketchup like we do, I urge you to look for a corn fructose-free brand. Or be adventurous and make your own!

Admittedly, I have not (yet) tried this. We buy our ketchup from a local family-owned business, Bauman’s in nearby Sassamansville, PA. (Their apple butter and other fruit butters—18 in all—are outstanding, and they use all-natural ingredients with no additives or preservatives. Go to www.baumanfamily.com to check out their products, see if they’re carried by stores in your area, or order them directly if not.) The Bauman’s ketchup bottle lists the ingredients as tomatoes, garden peppers, white grape juice concentrate, celery, onions, cider vinegar, and spices.

I was going to give you all a ketchup recipe from one of my most interesting cookbooks, going way back to 1979, called Better Than Store-Bought, about making all sorts of condiments and the like from scratch. But mercy, it was a very long recipe!

So instead, I’ll clue you in as to the spices they used, in case you want to try making your own: garlic, salt, mustardseeds, whole allspice berries, stick cinnamon, whole black peppercorns, bay leaf, whole cloves, ground or whole coriander seed, celery seed, and dried red pepper flakes or hot sauce. The authors used paste tomatoes and added a mix of brown and white sugar instead of Bauman’s preferred white grape juice concentrate. And I wasn’t surprised to see that they’d tied all those whole spices into a cheesecloth bag and put it in the tomato mixture while it was cooking, then removed it before pouring the finished ketchup into jars and home-canning it.

Whether you buy your ketchup or make it at home, avoid the evil high-fructose corn syrup. As one of the actors in “To Hell with Ketchup” aptly notes, “It’s depraved!”

       ‘Til next time,

                Silence