Nine Ingredients to Amp Up Your Cooking

I’m always thinking about new ways to create tastier, more original dishes to serve to friends and family.  So I thought that today, I’d share with you some of the “secret” ingredients that I always have on hand.

  1. Celery Seed – Personally, I think that celery seed is the most neglected spice in most people’s pantry.  I use it in salads, all the time.  From tuna, chicken, or egg salad, to coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni or pasta salad, even deviled eggs.  Celery seed adds a slight bitterness that really offsets the taste of mayonnaise really well.
  2. Chipotle in Adobo – Chipotles are dried jalapenos.  Adobo is a wonderful hot, tomato based sauce used in Mexican food very often.  I finely chop a chipotle and spoon a little of the sauce into rice, chili, tomato sauce for pizza and it adds a surprising amount of heat and smokiness.  Just yummy.
  3. Roasted Garlic – I use garlic pretty much every day and I love it in all it’s forms.  Raw, sauteed, fried, made into a paste… I just love garlic.  Roasted, however is probably my favorite. Spread a little on crusty bread, whisk into a salad dressing, smoosh some into some hummus. The possibilities are endless – anytime you need a more subtle garlic, try roasted.
  4. Honey – I like to use raw, organic honey in place of sugar whenever I can.  Yes, it’s still a sugar, but it’s not processed, so it’s better for you.  Anything that you eat in its original form is much better than something that’s been to a factory.  I don’t really bake, so I can’t help you with replacing sugar there, but salad dressing are always delightfully sweetened with a little raw honey.
  5. Sundried Tomatoes – These little pieces of heaven are one of my favorite ingredients.  I use them in hot and cold dishes.  Throw them into salads, either as the only tomato or next to fresh tomatoes, I put them in sauces, on pizza, in pasta, mixed with goat cheese.  They’re so versatile and I have never once said, “I wish I hadn’t put the sundried tomatoes in there”.  They are always a lovely complement to whatever it is we’re making
  6. Red Pepper Flakes –  Again, these little guys give you incredible bang for your buck. They spice up any meal!  We’ve all put them on pizza, but try putting them into the tomato sauce while you’re cooking it.  Or add them to your garlic and oil sauce, your scampi, your alfredo or cream sauce.  Stir some into chili, rice… any place you need a little more heat.
  7. White Balsamic Vinegar –  Here’s another unexpected sweet treat. Instead of plain white vinegar, or cider vinegar, try some white balsamic.  It has a lovely sweet, subtle taste, yet stands up to any salad, or spices.  Stir some into your hummus, mash with a little roasted garlic as your acid for dressing, splash some on your potatoes and steak.
  8. Coffee – Have you ever made a sauce, stew or chili and felt it needed just a little more depth? That it lacked a little complexity? Brew up some fresh coffee, pour yourself a cuppa and throw a few tablespoons into the recipe.  It adds a complexity, a “Depth of flavor” if you will, that sometimes just hits the spot. And you’ll have a lovely 10 minute date with yourself – probably some much needed “you” time in the middle of it all.
  9. Harrissa – My newest kitchen love, Harrissa is a Tunisian hot chili sauce that Stacy at Stella’s turned me onto.  She suggested that I put into my hummus and she was right, it was outstanding, but I became obsessed and brushed it on chicken before roasting and served it with steak and used it as a spread on sandwiches.  I haven’t made my own yet, but it’s on my list of things to do.  The jarred kind is so good though that I’ve been very happy to just buy it.

I hope this list inspires you to try some ingredients that are a little (or a lot) out of your comfort zone.  I’d love to hear what your favorites are and if you try any of mine, please let me know what you do and how you like it!

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