Secret Ingredients

I’ve always thought secret ingredients make everything better. They make the ordinary or the expected, just a little special. It’s one of the reasons we eat out! Something about caramelized Brussels sprouts that just get me every time. Or anything really in New Orleans – they have a way of turning GRITS (that are by definition just very plain, tiny grains of corn) into a dish of the gods. For real.

So whenever I improvise in my cooking or baking, I try to throw in something unexpected and ask the kids to guess what it is. If it’s obvious – cinnamon in oatmeal, almonds in a smoothie, garlic salt in chicken salad – one of them usually figures it out. But if I get super creative (and slightly unfair) I can stump them: chia seeds, maple syrup, sea salt. But it’s fun to create new dimensions and experiences with just one unexpected. And often, (here we go, pun intended), that unexpected ingredient is their “Unexpected” that day!

secret ingredients

I like to follow some real experts at this. They make cooking with so little look so easy. They are masters with egg salad, chicken tortilla soup and weeknight spaghetti.

Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) does it with real butter and real fast. I’ve made her pot roast so many times (the glazed carrots are key) I know the recipe. And her Texas Sheet Cake is the best on the web. I know because we have tried. them. all.

secret ingredients

DamnDelicious became a favorite of mine through Pinterest. Her recipes are dependably good. They’re well explained and user-friendly. Her sausage and potato soup is often requested by my big boys: it’s so easy, so filling and you can double it without any trouble. I like to go a little heavy on the red pepper flakes, and I use spicy rather than regular (and never lean) sausage. High in fiber and super tasty!

And both Taste of Home and Reader’s Digest offer great hints, old fashioned suggestions and interesting ingredients to turn boring into classic.

secret ingredients
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So as I start to get more creative with what I have in my pantry and fridge, I’m venturing out of my usual cast of secret characters. My kids are getting savvier and I’m not, apparently. I think about how my mom would make anything taste so good with just the “Holy Trinity” of Southern cooking, and I wonder what do YOU use as your secrets? Do you add fish sauce to chili (it’s delicious, but use only a tiny teaspoon!), do you sneak in coconut to plain chocolate chip cookies, do you favor almond extract (my hand is raised) over vanilla?

What’s in your spaghetti sauce, breakfast smoothies, turkey sandwiches? How do you make those scrambled eggs taste like Paul Prudhomme‘s – a friend of mine incorporates just a bit of cottage cheese in hers!

I’d love to know how you, well, keep it interesting. In the kitchen, I mean. 🙂

10 thoughts on “Secret Ingredients”

  1. I’ve started using ricotta in my scrambled eggs – they stay so fluffy! And – controversial take here- I have a guacamole recipe that incorporates mayo and pomegranate arils! Crazy but so delish!

  2. Finely grated carrots mixed with peanut butter and a little honey make a great peanut butter sandwich to go with homemade soup.

  3. Beverly de Filippis

    I make a creamy butternut squash soup. Secret ingredient – gala apples! Happy to share if anyone wants it. My hubby’s favorite!

    1. I asked Beverly for her recipe! Here it goes:

      Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
      1 T butter
      1 T olive oil
      2 cups chopped yellow onion (approx 1 1/2!large onions)
      1 T mild curry powder
      2 Gala apples
      1 tsp sea salt
      1/2 tsp black pepper
      2 C chicken broth
      1/2 C cream
      3-4 chives (optional)

      Warm the butter, olive oil, onions, and curry powder in a large stock pot for 15-20 minutes until onions are tender. Meanwhile peel the squash, remove the seeds, and cut into chunks. (My husband does this step! Or I get the pre-packaged squash from Costco.) Core apples and cut into chunks. (You can peel or leave the skins on. A Vitamix blender gets the soup smooth even with skins on.) Add squash, apples, salt, pepper, and broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes or so, until squash and apples are very soft. Purée soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Return soup to pot and stir in cream.
      Garnish with chopped chives.
      I sometimes put in 2-3 chopped leeks with the onions. Use this as a basic recipe and get creative!

  4. Instant vanilla pudding mix in my chocolate chip cookies. That’s my only secret to anything. Haha.

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