Good to the last drop: Getting full use of condiments.

thOur 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.

Catsup: Add a little water, shake and pour it into your next batch of sloppy joes; DF adds it to 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 this 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 DF adds a squirt of the mixture to 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 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 drill 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 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!

Readers: How do you use up the tail-ends of things?

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  1. I just made mu shu with the dregs of a bottle of hoisin sauce – I was cooking the meat in the crock pot so I added water to the bottle, shook, & used the watered down sauce in the crock.

  2. I, too, wash out the catsup bottle and pour it in something that has tomatoes in it, soup, meat loaf, anything. I manage to get the Miracle Whip jar so clean, there is nothing left.

    I rarely eat dill pickles, okay I never eat dill pickles, but if the jar is ever empty, I am going to marinate chicken in the juice, just like Chic-fil-A.

  3. I frequently rinse condiment bottles with the liquid from canned tomatoes (ketchup & BBQ sauce) or white wine. In fact, right now I am finishing a bottle of mustard that I hit w/white wine.

    • Donna Freedman

      Oooohhhh, fancy! I’m not much for white wine but it sounds positively gourmet.

  4. lostAnnfound

    Great ideas! I usually just get when I can from a bottle by scraping with a spatula or standing the bottle upside down. I really like the idea of using pickle brine to marinate meat!

    • Donna Freedman

      I first read that in Amy Dacyczyn’s book. She marinates pork chops in sweet pickle vinegar. I think you could do pork loin that way as well.
      Okay, now I’m hungry.

  5. I love some of your ideas. We go in cycles, sometimes I am so creative, others, completely uninspired.

  6. I love it when a jar of mustard gets down to the last teaspoon – instant salad dressing! Add (to the mustard jar, with the scrapings in it) 3 parts olive oil, 1 part balsamic vineager, whatever herbs you like, then put the lid on and shake until it turns into vinagrette. Done in under a minute.

    • (You can do this with either grainy or yellow mustard.)

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks for adding the actual recipe vs. my vague “turn it into salad dressing” suggestion. 🙂

  7. I make salad dressing out of everything. Just love it when someone shakes the bottle and asks if it’s REALLY MUSTARD or whatever was in it. I admit to tossing it if I’ve been at it over ten minutes and can’t get any more out of it.

  8. I drink the brine from the pickle-less jars because the brine helps with muscle pain after an intense workout. With the rest of the condiments I cook them then add them to meals. If the condiments have mold, the mold can have them 🙁

  9. Lorna Huntley

    Every almost empty bottle gets turned upside down in our house. From laundry detergent to shampoo. Condiments always get washed out with either water or wine to be added to a “sauce”. I am so proud to get extra use out of anything.

    • Donna Freedman

      Yep. And when no more will come out of shampoo or laundry soap, I pour in a little water and get a couple more uses.

  10. Here’s a new one for you: Dill pickle soup!
    Simply thicken the brine in the pickle jar with a thickening agent (I like cream, but flour & water works fine). Chop up a pickle very finely and add. Cook until thickened.
    Serve over hot cooked barley in a soup bowl.

    This recipe comes from my Polish mother-in-law’s kitchen. If that isn’t frugal cooking, I do not know what is!

  11. Carolina Cooper

    Funny that I should see this article today of all days. I am making a chicken noodle soup just now and added the small remainder from a jar of medium/hot salsa—gives the soup a yummy zing AND uses up the salsa which is too small an amount for anything else.

  12. Pickle Brine:
    -slice up cucumbers or carrots. Leave in jar a few days.
    -hardboil some eggs, cool completely. Put in pickle brine. MMMMM!
    -drink shots of pickle juice, MMM!
    -make pickle pops. (popsicles)

    Mayo/Mustard/Honey mixed to make dressing or “dipping” sauce.
    Mayo/Pickle= tartar sauce

    any of the following mixed up: mayo, sour cream, ketchup, mustard. Dip raw chicken in it, roll in crushed up cereal bits (we save the crumbs from ceral bags for this). Bake. Discard left over “dressing”, hopefully it was close so you don’t waste too much of it.

    • Donna Freedman

      We did pickle some hard-boiled eggs, come to think of it: Some in regular pickle brine and some in the liquid left from our homemade pickled cabbage.
      Re the cereal bits: Save the bits at the bottom of Triscuit bags, too, especially the flavored ones.

  13. Melissa F

    I am good at using the last of food bits and another good tip is when you have squeeze bottles like toothpaste, facial cleanser and so on, I cut off the sealed end when the contents are low and enter from the other end to get the last bits that would otherwise go to waste. Happy Thanksgiving Donna and everyone. Take care.

  14. Mayo and a little milk–my grandma did this and used it to make salad dressing…you can add a bit of that leftover mustard to the mix with a bit of honey and voila–honey mustard!


  15. I save the pickle juice from my mom’s homemade pickles, used 3 batches worth for Wigilia’s barszcz (beet soup for Christmas eve’s vigil dinner), so good!


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