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Unexpected Ingredient(s) That Made Your Recipe Rock!

I was making a roasted onion chicken gravy for some mashed potatoes when I ran up short on chicken stock; thinking I had pork stock in the freezer, I realized when I defrosted it that it was actually a homemade dashi (bonito, konbu, and shitake).

Wow, did that ever add a fabulous element to the dish! Earthy and complex.

Anyone else had a similar moment that you hoped for, but didn't really expect?

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  1. Cacao nibs in many things, sweet and savory. See, https://www.theochocolate.com/store/p...

    1. I like to add a little bit of coffee when I'm making a meat based stew. It just adds something to it, like a smoky warm depth of flavour or something.

      1. I add a bit of balsamic vinegar to the strawberring when I make a strawberry shortcake. It seems to give the berries a bit of extra zing.

        1. Booze! Almost everything can be improved with a little booze of one kind or another. True! I'm not kidding around. But I probably wouldn't add it to mashed potatoes. On the other hand, I've never tried. Pernod mashed potatoes with fried oysters might be interesting. Sort of like oysters Rockefeller without the rock! '-)

          6 Replies
          1. re: Caroline1

            Yes, ma'am. I discovered the usefulness of booze when I left the vodka out of penne alla vodka and got a very dull dish. (I just assumed that the vodka was a gimmick.) I tried the same dish again with the vodka, and realized that it really did contribute something. After that, it was brandy in the pot roast, rum in the butternut squash, etc. I draw the line at tequila, though, because I just cannot make myself like it.

            1. re: Caroline1

              Oh, I love the idea of Pernod mashed. You could even take it a step further in the Rockefeller direction and do the mash with steamed, chopped buttered spinach added in; sort of a noveau bubble-and-squeak.

              1. re: mamachef

                Good thinking, mammachef! I like your style.

                1. re: Caroline1

                  Alcohol and fats are know "flavor carriers." I love Jack Daniels with my fruit pies and even on my sticky buns. I'm allergic to alcohol (lots of vomiting from even one tiny sip of champagne), but for some reason can have hard liquor, even if it's not cooked off, in my desserts. I can't have it in regular entrees. I get sick, sick, sick. I love sitting in my underwear and just eating a big old hunk of tiramisu. I don't know why I can have booze with dessert, but not anything else. I'm told I have alcohol flush syndrome, but the doctors can't explain why I can have booze in dessert form. Maybe it's mind over matter. I really love dessert.

                  1. re: jindomommy

                    Jindomommy: isn't alcohol flush syndrome particularly prevalent in the Asian population? I think I've heard of it before. So does that mean that you can't cook with wine of any kind or hard liquor of any kind, or both? Fascinating that you can tolerate it in certain ways. I wonder if the amount of sugar in the base of the dessert somehow neutralizes the effects of sugar in the alcohol. Who knows? Still, glad you're able to cook/eat well. And I really love dessert too.

                2. I made split pea soup and at the end decided to add tabasco, just enough to catch on the back of the mouth. It was great.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                    And that is the only way I'll eat split pea soup! I've never cared for it much the way most people make it, but if you throw in some tabasco, wow, it's a different soup!

                  2. I always keep a bottle of V8 in the fridge. It's good for adding to some stews and braises. Everyone should keep dashi and oyster sauce in the fridge. I've stir fried noodles with dashi and used it to flavor macaroni salad (I'm from Hawaii and we eat a lot of macaroni). I also use carrot juice instead of oil in certain dressings. I always keep dried dates around. I've used them in a green mole and you can't pick out the flavor, but it really balances out the sauce. My husband adds a tiny layer of nutella to his p and j. Coconut water when making Vietnamese dishes like any of the caramelized dishes and japanese curry. I saw Luke Nguyen doing the same thing. That put a smile on my face.

                    1. I often add a splat of ketchup to stews, braises, and legumes. Serves the same function as tomato paste, which I rarely have on hand.

                      1. I use non-instant powdered milk in baked goods. Mostly to add extra calcium and protein. I like the milky, slightly sweet flavor it imparts, too. Great in meatballs, meatloaves, too.

                        Cornbread, cakes, pancakes, rice pudding, bread, biscuits, scones, all get about 1/4 to 1/3 c dried milk. NON-instant, not Carnation. Got the idea from Adele Davis back in the the70's.

                        Another item I just used to good effect in cookies: malted milk powder. Nice flavor.

                        And following my mother's lead, grated slabs of frozen green bell pepper to flavor soups, stews, ground meat dishes, tomato-based sauces, etc. Frozen, they grate very well.

                        1. Dried mushrooms: powder them in a coffee grinder. Anchovy Paste. Coffee in any chocolate recipe.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sbp

                            That's a very common Chinese technique to create umami. Makes a huge difference with my Chinese dishes.

                          2. lots of great ideas here. Mine is more of how to fix a disaster, and like the ketchup suggestion: I was making a fairly complex sephardic/middle eastern lamb stew recipe once for about 15 people...I doubled all the spices towards the end and it did not meld! added a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and with 5 minutes, it all came together beautifully. a good vinegar might have worked as well.

                            I get that it's hard to have tomato paste on hand, when you don't want to open one of those cans. There is now high quality but pricey tomato paste jarred, that you can keep for awhile, and also those tubes from which you just squeeze it out and put back in the refrigerator. Or you can open one of those small cans and put the rest in a plastic bag in the freezer.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Madrid

                              I have no qualms about opening a can of tomato paste when I only need a Tbsp full. The rest of the can goes in a zip lock sandwich bag, I get all of the air possible out of it before zipping, then mash the tomato paste flat and even, then run my finger across the bag side to side, then top to bottom to divide the contents into four section. Fold along the bare spaces and pop it into the freezer. This gives me four segments of approx a tablespoon each and they're thin, so even when added to things in their frozen state, they melt quickly. A LOT cheaper than tomato paste in tubes and jars!

                              1. re: Madrid

                                Try putting what is left on a tray by tablespoons and freezing, it then put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. Easy and you always have it on hand.

                              2. My 2 new favourite ingredients:

                                1) Aleppo chili flakes. I picked some up while in Turkey and adore their flavour. Not so much heat but very flavourful and picks up any dish I have added it to.

                                2) Pomegranate molasses. A tart sauce that works wonders as well. What do I not use it for? VInaigrettes, braises, even as a topping for morning oatmeal. It goes in most of my dishes.

                                A few recipes using it if you are still scratching your head: http://tastespace.wordpress.com/tag/p...

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: blinknoodle

                                  Smoked paprika on everything

                                  *edit* meant to reply to OP.

                                  1. re: AnchovyBourdain

                                    I'll second that smoked paprika. I also use chipotle pepper powder when I want more heat and don't need the complexity.

                                  2. re: blinknoodle

                                    I loved your blog. Can't wait to try the salmon recipe.

                                  3. Absolutely. Was making a winter minestrone a few years back, and a few things derailed me: the dog took off with the parmesan rind, and the penne had been....ahhhh..."gotten at" by meeses. What to do, what to do?
                                    I added a box of Kraft mac n cheese along with the cheese powder. And I have to tell you, the soup was sublime. Of course it wasn't the macaroni that concerned me; it was the powdered cheese food products (whatever that means) that had me quaking, but I tell you what.......that was one good pot of soup, and I'd pull the same stunt again if a similar sitution ever arose.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: mamachef

                                      wow. reminds me how to use that expensive high quality dried vermont cheddar I got from King Arthur flour when I really need it! thanks mamachef!

                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        I buy cheddar cheese powder on the web that has only 1 gram of fat and 49 calories per quarter cup. It makes a fairly decent mac and cheese (at least as good as the blue box) and also use it for broccoli cheddar soup, among other things. It really helps cut back on fat because all of the other powdered cheeses I've found are over the roof on fat content.

                                      2. Smoked Paprika. Really great flavor. I've been playing around with adding it to all kinds of savory dishes and it's really fun. It was good with chickpeas!

                                        http://homecooklocavore.wordpress.com...

                                        JeremyEG
                                        homecooklocavore.com

                                        1. I bought some dried "roasted garlic" from Frontier Co-op. I was thinking of it more for, like, well...garlic bread and stuff. But I'd was building a stirfry one day and it came out bland. Added a bit and it was AWESOME. Obviously, it isn't a substitute for real roasted garlic, but as corrective seasoning, it rocks.

                                          And yeah, oyster sauce and sesame oil in unexpected places. :) Balsamic vinegar doesn't suck either. lol.

                                          1. a dash of cinnamon in chili, not sure where I picked up this tip(maybe chowhound)but it gives it that unexpected oomph.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: sherriberry

                                              I put cinnamon in almost anything tomato based. Its my secret ingredient in my pasta sauce. It adds a really lovely warmth.

                                              1. re: hungryabbey

                                                try a Tablespoon or so of molasses in a marinara sauce. lovely.

                                            2. I add a tsp of dried mustard and a dash of hot sauce to mac and cheese and also to crab cakes.gives a nice little kick. Also, I always add a couple of drops of almond extract to chocalate cakes.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: sherriberry

                                                Good call! Mustard and hot sauce are regular "sneak ins" when I make mac 'n cheese. Yum!

                                              2. This is turning into a great thread - so many unique ideas.
                                                I love the smokiness of toasted slivered almonds and add them to many dishes. But one accidental addition turned out amazing - I added them to a winter coleslaw that had a mayonaisse base, cabbage, apples, and dried cranberries. The almonds added incredible flavour. We now call it "Christmas coleslaw" and serve it alongside our turkey dinner.

                                                I also like to use homemade jams in vinaigrettes and Chinese chili sauce finds its way into many dishes.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Chefalicious

                                                  That one just went straight into the files, Chefa.

                                                2. Hubster bought and cooked a heapin' helping of salmon the other night. He cut it into portions, seared in the pan, then, as the pan went into the oven for finishing, he put some blue cheese on a couple of portions "just to see." Not sure if I've seen "Bleu Salmon" on any menu, but it really worked! Caveat: you could put blue cheese on dog kibble and I might enjoy it. But we were both surprised at how it enhanced (and not overwhelmed) the richness of the salmon.

                                                  1. I love using chiles and their powders in both sweet & savory, particulary ancho chile. Add a couple teaspoons of ancho to the coffee grounds before brewing (delicious with hazelnut or french vanilla creamer) simmer a dried ancho in the water/milk before adding potatoes for mashed. Soak a ancho in hot water for an hour then puree it with the vinaigrette for a pasta salad or add to the cheese mixture for mac & cheese; simmer a poblano, ancho or even cayenne in cream before making creme brulee or a pastry cream.

                                                    One thing I use alot as a add in is Thousand Island dressing. Once, while making potato salad, I didn't have enough pickle relish so I stirred in some thousand island and it really surprised me; now I use it when I make potato salad. I've also added to egg salad and deviled eggs.

                                                    I'm a big fan of using packaged seasoning mixes & spices for things other than their intended use. For example, I've used taco mix as a rub for roasted chicken and chili mix for blackening rub for seafood & pork.

                                                    1. My favorite ingredient of late is smoked spanish paprika. it adds great smokiness to meats, chili, and more. I love it in tomato sauce or even soup. Just last week I made a southwest turkey soup and the paprika gave it an amazing deep smoky taste.

                                                      Ladyberd
                                                      http://ladyberds-kitchen.blogspot.com

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: ladyberd

                                                        Me too Ladyberd! It's really delicious and I think makes dishes taste 'new' to people. I posted a chickpea recipe that worked really well with the smoked paprika.

                                                        http://homecooklocavore.wordpress.com...

                                                        JeremyEG
                                                        homecooklocavore.com

                                                      2. A splash of vinegar to brighten up lentil soups.

                                                        1. fish sauce is my secret weapon for meat dishes

                                                          a few shakes in meatloaf, meatballs, stuffed cabbage...learned this in a vietnamese kitchen a while back...awesome addition to these little tiny beef spring rolly things they served