What to Do With Ketchup Dregs: Getting the Most From Your Condiments

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woman looking at pantry ingredients
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Our fridge door is full of jars and bottles, some of which look odd. For example, the contents of a spicy brown mustard bottle may seem pale and grainy, or there might be a jar of brine without any pickles. A small jar of homemade jam looks all but empty; so does a bottle of ranch dressing.

When these and other condiments run low, we turn them into something else. If a mayonnaise jar has shoulders that keep us from getting all of it – even with a spatula – we take that as a personal challenge. That last little bit of catsup that won’t come out, even if the bottle stands on its head all night? It will be ours.

Sure, it’s just a few cents’ worth of food, if that. But we see no reason to waste it. Besides, it encourages culinary creativity.

If you too are frustrated by the inaccessibility of those last drops, try these tactics.

Ketchup. Add a little water, shake and pour it into your next batch of sloppy Joes. My partner adds it to his homemade soup or chili. Or add vinegar and use the mixture as the basis for a homemade barbecue sauce.

Spicy brown mustard. Add some vinegar and give it a good shake. My favorite use for mustard vinegar: Fry a little diced ham until slightly crispy, add cooked lentils, stir in some mustard vinegar, crack an egg on top, cover the pan and then lower the heat until the egg is cooked to your specs. (For me, that’s somewhere between runny and rock hard.)

You could probably make the same dish with cooked beans, and you can also make it without the ham and/or the egg if the cupboard is bare or you’re a vegetarian. Sometimes we add a squirt of it to those homemade soups. Or why not add oil and spices and make salad dressing? Just be sure to call it “mustard vinaigrette,” which will impress your guests, vs. “French’s dregs mit vinegar,” which may send them screaming for the door.

Yellow mustard. I suppose you could go the vinegar route, but I’ve never tried this because our huge bottle seems never to empty. When it’s gone or nearly gone, I’ll probably add a tiny amount of milk and shake it up, then stir the liquid into my next batch of deviled eggs.

Smoothies or marinades

Pickles. If the brine is sour, pour some of it into that mustard bottle and shake. If it’s sweet pickle brine, use it to marinate pork chops. I like to add a little to my homemade coleslaw. Or make new pickles by adding sliced cukes, carrots, green beans or any other vegetable you like. (One of my nephews loves thinly sliced carrots marinated in a garlic dill brine, even as it makes him screw up his eyes and repeat “So sour, so sour” as he eats slice after slice.)

Ranch dressing. Add a bit of milk, shake hard and taste the result – it might still be usable on a salad. If not, add it to potato salad or deviled eggs.

Mayonnaise. Add milk, shake well, and use the liquid in coleslaw or potato salad.

Jam or jelly. Again with the milk! Shake it up and pour onto hot cereal (mmmmm, strawberry oatmeal). Stir it into plain yogurt. Add it to a smoothie. Or just drink it right out of the jar. Tell your kids it’s a milkshake, and watch them clamor for a sip.

Salsa. Yes, it does go bad eventually. Don’t let mold form on that last little bit. Dump it into soup or chili. Mix with a little mayo and use as a spread with turkey or chicken sandwiches. Puree it with some tomato juice, add a little vodka and call it a Bloody Maria.

A little kitchen alchemy

Are all these small economies? Of course. I don’t think that tossing that last tablespoon of catsup will move someone from security to insolvency. But you paid for it. Why not use it all?

Besides, finding new uses for the tail ends of things is just fun. It’s like being a contestant on that Food Network show “Chopped,” without the panel of discerning judges ready to criticize your use of jicama.

You know what else is fun? Realizing that your dish of lentils, ham and egg with mustard vinegar is not only cheap and nourishing, it kept you from going out to eat — a move that really can make a difference to the bottom line.

Or drinking that Bloody Maria, with or without vodka, and feeling smug that no mold was permitted to show its little blue head in your fridge. ¡Viva la kitchen alchemy!

How do you use up the tail ends of things?

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