Category Archives: Sauces and Condiments

Cranberry Relish

The much-aligned cranberry gets a bad wrap – only typically broken out at the holidays in the form of a canned cylinder of fright, these tart lovelies are so much more.  A long while back, my paternal grandmother decided to have a more cooperative Thanksgiving and assigned the kids recipes to bring.  My sister and I were assigned a Cranberry Relish recipe that she had snipped from a magazine.  The recipe itself seemed kind of wacky as we were making it, from the use of a whole orange (peel, pith and all) to the use of crystalized ginger, which we had never heard of at the time and had to look up (and this was well before “Google it” became a catch phrase).  Turns out the spicy treats were considered candy in Australia and could be purchased with the other McCormick spices in the baking aisle.  Who knew?

Well, knowledge begets power and powerful that first batch of relish was in transforming our opinions of the lowly cranberry.  Once an afterthought next to the turkey, potatoes, stuffing and green beans, this relish had star quality.  It’s ingenious in its ability to freshen up the heavy meal and enliven your palette.  Best of all, it requires not a lick of cooking – just pulse everything in the food processor, pour out into a bowl and put it on the table.  Done.  For such freshness and flavor with absolutely no work, those cans of cranberry gelatin are looking mighty good for target practice right about now.

Recipe for

Cranberry Relish

1 bag of fresh cranberries
1 small orange
1 tbs. of crystallized ginger (candied ginger) pieces
1/3 to 1/2 c. of sugar, to taste

Cut the orange in half and then into 1 inch pieces.  Add all ingredients to the food processor and pulse until it forms a chunky relish.  Pour mixture into a bowl and let sit for at least 5 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.  Store any leftovers in the fridge.

Fresh Tomato Salsa

There’s something to be a said for a good recipe passed on from trusted cook to trusted cook.  Finding one of these gems is truly like finding a hidden treasure – the question is whether you’ll share once you do.  Given that I’m not at all proprietary, and I love the fact that these posts get you guys cooking, eating and sharing in turn, how could I not pass it on!

This one comes from my grandmother, Vo, who was given this recipe by a friend, who in turn received it from her grandmother – the same recipe that she used back in Mexico.  Something as seemingly pedestrian as salsa becomes a celebration of the sweetness of ripe tomatoes and the piquant flavor of jalapeno.  I was surprised to learn that there’s nary the lime or bit of oil in this one – just veggies and goodness. Continue reading Fresh Tomato Salsa

Rosemary Chili Oil

Bread and butter is really a lot more elegant than we treat it as, kids.  It’s a fine marriage between savory, sweet, crusty, doughy, chewy, pliable goodness.  It comes in infinite permutations, such as a few of my favorites – poblano cheddar bread (from Best Buns in Arlington, VA) with Normandy beurre, or a crusty baguette with a slathering of lavender infused oil and butter.  Both are divine, but require a trip to DC or Marseille (the restaurant in NYC, not the city, although I wouldn’t mind…)  For my money, and for the sheer ease to reward ratio, I’m a fan of the infused oil with whatever artisan bread I can get my hands on easily.

Infused oils aren’t complicated – cheap oil works and just about any dry herb or spice can be used.  Just make sure to follow a few rules.  One – really and truly don’t include garlic in making your homemade oils unless you are going to consume them immediately.  Garlic, being a lovely root that grows in the earth, harbors tons of bacteria that would love to thrive in a bath of olive oil.  And voilá, you’ve got some botulism on your hands.  No es frio.  Some folks say that if you acidulate the oil and refrigerate it, you are in business.  I don’t leave my tummy up to fate.  If you want your oil to be garlicky, try muddling your finished oil with fresh or roasted garlic before serving.  Or, for the true infused garlic oil experience, just buy some from a licensed supplier who will guarantee you a botulism-free experience.  This is just a reminder that all cooking is chemistry, and while most chemistry mistakes in the kitchen will result in bad tasting food, some will actually result in illness.  Improperly infused garlic oil is one of those mistakes.

Secondly, as much as it looks gorgeous to store your oil on the counter, I’d advise you to keep it in the fridge.  It’ll last longer, stay fresher, and again, no risk of contaminants.

Lastly, I call for thai chilies in this recipe, that when you grind them, create a bit of pepper dust.  This in turn, if inhaled, will give you a few coughs.  Be careful with that.  Don’t breath in too much when you are transferring the pepper to the oil.  If you want to play it safe, use a milder chili like an ancho or pasilla.  Or use pre-crushed red pepper and avoid the dust altogether.  Likewise, you can go hotter as well – habanero or ghost chilies even.  Just be careful as you work with them, because they can be vicious.

This oil is lovely as the preface for a rustic italian meal – mix a few tablespoons of oil with a pinch of kosher salt and some chopped garlic and use it as a dip for focaccia or ciabatta.  You can also use a few tablespoons as the basis for sauces and dressings.

Recipe for

Rosemary Chili Oil

16.9 oz. bottle of olive oil
1/3 c. of thai chilies
3 sprigs of rosemary
1 sprig of thyme

In a spice grinder or food processor, grind chilies and herbs together.  I like to use a food processor so that everything gets a rather rough chop.  Using a cooking thermometer, heat oil in a heavy pan until 200°.  Carefully pour the chilies into the oil and let cook at 200° for 4-5 minutes.  Turn the heat off and let the herbs and chilies continue to infuse the oil as it cools to room temperature.

Pour into a clean bottle and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Buttermilk Poppy Seed Dressing

I think that some of the best culinary moments are ones in which your tastebuds get a full dose of action – sweet, salty, savory, even bitter.  When all combined, it’s some absolute majesty.  This dressing is no exception – the allure of the tangy buttermilk combined with the sweet and tart cider vinegar is absolutely unbeatable.  And the poppy seeds give the whole mixture lovely color and added pizzaz.

Buttermilk Poppyseed Dressing © Spice or Die

If you aren’t in the habit of making your own salad dressing, you should definitely start.  Your salads will taste fresher and brighter, and it won’t cost you anything.  Most homemade salad dressings include staples that you already have in your pantry.  You’ll be saving yourself pennies, chemicals, and in many cases calories, by doing it yourself.

I use this dressing in place of warm bacon dressing on the classic Spinach Salad – a combination of baby spinach, red onion and hard boiled eggs.  However, it’s also delicious on arugula and other bitter greens that are livened up by a bit of sweetness.  Be creative and tuck this dressing recipe into your rolodex for something new and special.


Recipe for

Spinach Salad with Buttermilk Poppy Seed Dressing

1 tbs. of cider vinegar
1/4 c. of buttermilk
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
1/4 c. of vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. of poppy seeds

Combine all of the ingredients in a jar or plastic tupperware with a tight lid.  Shake and pour over salad of your choice.  Serve.

Olive Tapenade

Like a Dirty Martini. Extra Dirty. Without the Martini…

Back when I fancied myself a writer and a thinker (ha!), I wanted to write a book on similarities and trends in people’s palettes.  I found that the folks that hated olives also hated coconut, avocados and other lovely things that I couldn’t imagine not eating.  It was like a package deal or something.  While my theories have yet to be tested on a larger scale, I definitely do believe that your palette can be trained to taste and eventually love foods that you may not like right now.

Olive Tapendae © Spice or Die

For me, one of the foods that I’ve come around to over the years are green olives.  I’ve always adored black olives – I was the little kid who put the canned ones on my fingers like a fool, only to eat them off – but absolutely abhorred green olives.  In a moment of revelatory tastetastiness (sure, that’s a word), I had olive tapenade at a local tapas restaurant as an amuse bouche.  The chef served it with plantain chips – a fun spin on chips and salsa.  Needless to say, I was hooked from that moment on. Continue reading Olive Tapenade

Sweet Peanut Lime Dressing

Sweetie Peeties

This dressing is a variation of one of my favorite go-to dressings, a light citrus combo that is sweetened with a bit of sugar and honey.  I use it on my Thai Chopped Salad with Crisp Noodles and Herbs, but if you leave out the peanut sauce, you can use it as the basis for a Mandarin Orange Salad or even as a marinade for meat or vegetables.  The recipe calls for peanut sauce, but if you don’t have any around, substitute a tablespoon of smooth peanut butter.  If you are vegan and looking to use peanut sauce, try to find one without fish sauce.  Or just use the aforementioned peanut butter trick.  Word. Continue reading Sweet Peanut Lime Dressing

Gorgeous Greek Salad Dressing

Zeus Juice

Face it – if you like caesar dressing, you like anchovies.  No balking about it – it’s a fact.  These little salty gems are the base for this addictive dressing.  Serve it over a salad of crisp greens, cucumbers, tomato, kalamata olives and feta.  Or use it as a dip from crudité – matchsticks of carrots, celery, cucumber, bell pepper and squash couldn’t find a better home than this gorgeous greek salad dressing.

You can make this with only one clove of garlic if you’d like it a little milder.  And you can leave out the anchovies, but you’ll be missing out in a big way.  If your aversion has to do with fiddling around with the fishy filets, use anchovy paste in a tube instead.  It’s a little easier to control and gets the job done in the exact same way.  Bottom line – use the anchovies for true gorgeousness, because your kitchen should be a source of loveliness in every way. Continue reading Gorgeous Greek Salad Dressing

Watercress Pesto

Pesto Change-o

This recipe has such an air of sophistication, I’d think to rename it “Watercresto”. Except then it’d sound smarmy.  Talk about versatile, this can be used as a sauce for hot pasta, as a spread for bruschetta, as a marinade or in a cold pasta salad.  Treat it like a condiment and make a little magic. *singing* You can do MAGIC!  You can have ANYTHING that you desire.  And, yes, I’m a dork and am singing America while I post my recipes.

This goes out to all the basil lovers (and growers) longing for a taste of summertime.  Watercress is hardy and available during the colder months, and still manages to be flavorful even though a lot of the produce around it is lacking at best (I’m talking to you, hothouse tomato).  The mixture is a little milder than traditional basil pesto, but still has all the peppery bite. Continue reading Watercress Pesto

Fresh Guacamole (and Bean Tostadas)

Let’s Get Smashed

Apparently, NYC feels a need to charge a premium for fresh guacamole goodness.  They buy a mocajete (stone mortar) and a pestle, have some dude wheel a cart of fresh ingredients to your table, and for the tableside prep, charge you a hefty $12 – 15 depending on how fancy the restaurant.  You can make this guacamole for around $5 at home.  All that’s left is to buy some top shelf añejo and make some fresh lime margaritas to seal the deal.

I add a couple of extra ingredients for both taste and presentation – the shallots and tomato add lovely color.  And I use a shallot because it’s small and I can use it all with no leftovers, but you can certainly use a red onion if you have one on hand.  For this recipe, you are the controller of spice – the version below is mild/medium in heat, but you can amp up the spice quotient by using the jalapeno seeds and dicing it as finely as possible.  The cayenne doesn’t add much heat so much as offer a fuller pepper flavor.  This recipe works doubled and tripled, so if you are having a large group over, make plenty. Continue reading Fresh Guacamole (and Bean Tostadas)