This weekend, although it was the first official weekend of Spring (did you get your free Rita’s?), it felt more like summer.  We stepped into Spring/Summer mode on our own, and whipped out our rusty but trusty charcoal grill.

Sunday was a lazy afternoon so I decided that if we were going to grill some burgers, we were going to do it right. I’ve tried my hand at a variety of home made burgers, and now I wanted to try to make the sides to match. I have a recipe for home-made Ketchup from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything cook book. I also recently read a post on Bittman’s blog about how to make your own French Fries without the unnecessarily hot “deep-fry.”

Stu whipped up some burgers with lean beef, red onion and parsley, and threw in some feta cheese for an extra touch. I referenced the Bitten blog for the french fry article, and got to town chopping up some taters.

Slow Frying

The article mentions that you should try this method when you have a lot of time on your hands. We had about 2-3 hours on our hands and I still don’t feel like it was enough. After about an hour of the slow-frying over low and medium-low heat, we finally brought the temperature up to medium-high/high in order to get the fries to the point where they were crunchy. It took another half hour to finish them off.

In theory, the fries were really good, but I think that’s mostly because I was simply enjoying the fruits of my labor. They were a bit too greasy for my taste, which I can sometimes appreciate, if the taste is right, but they were lacking a bit in the flavor category. Next time I will skip all of that oil (we used a combo of Smart Balance neutral oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil), and instead just bake the fries.

Meanwhile, while the fries were frying, I whipped up a batch of home made Ketchup. And by  “meanwhile” and “whipped up,” I mean that I started the Ketchup process about an hour before the fries. It is quite lengthy, but very simple, as most of the time involves waiting for the ingredients to simmer in a large pot. I’ll post the recipe below.

Homemade Ketchup
from How To Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Picking Spice
2 tablespoons of neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn (I used Smart Balance.)
1 red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 cups chopped ripe tomato (about 3 lbs. tomatoes, canned are fine- don’t bother to drain)
1/4 cup brown sugar
Cayenne to taste

*I did not have Cayenne pepper, so instead I added a bit of Paprika and a few dashes of Chili powder

Heat the cider vinegar and Pickling Spice in a small pot until just beginning to boil; turn off the heat and let the spices steep until ready to use, at least 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the bell pepper, onion, celery, and garlic. book, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste until it is evenly distributed and begins to color, another minute or two. Add the tomato and stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking. Adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 45 minutes, being careful not to let the tomato stick to the bottom and burn.

Strain the spiced vinegar and stir it into the tomato mixture along with the brown sugar, salt, and cayenne cook until just a little thinner than bottled ketchup, about 45 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasonings, and remove from the heat. Use an immersion blender to puree the ketchup in the pot or pass it through a food mill. Or let the mixture cool slightly, pour it in a blender or food processor, and puree carefully. Cool and serve or refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Ketchup in a Beer Bottle

The recipe makes about one quart of the ketchup, which is quite a bit. We siphoned it into this beer bottle, as I’ve seen done at one of my favorite South Philly breakfast spots, The Morning Glory Diner. After that we still had some leftovers, so I froze it, but I’m not sure how well that’s going to hold up. The flavor of the ketchup was amazing. Totally different than bottle Heinz, but much better and richer. The texture is much thicker, so be prepared for that as well. And as you can see from the picture below, the color is a lot lighter, which is in fact more natural. Since when are real tomatoes ever as dark red as the processed ketchup that we use out of the squeeze bottle?

Tomato red, not Heinz red

So all in all, our first Spring/Summer grill adventure of 2010 was an eventful one. Although the burgers came out a bit “deconstructed,” and the fries were not as crispy as hoped, it was a rewarding meal which we enjoyed down to the last smear of ketchup on the plate. In the meantime, I’ll have to get creative and find some clever ways to use that ketchup before it spoils in two weeks. Any suggestions!?