I love the idea of a recipe having a secret ingredient. When the girls were little, I would steal away to the corner of the kitchen to add a secret ingredient (sugar) to my magic hiccup potion (water). My friend Andras puts a shot of bourbon in his scrambled eggs. My old co-worker Myles adds a spoonful of peanut butter to his chili. (Maybe, using that trick, Andy would’ve taken home a blue ribbon in the chili off?) Andy’s dad used to make burgers on the grill (a recipe that has come to be known as “The Dadoo Special”) and we’re still trying to figure out what the heck he put in those patties. But I’m curious: What’s your secret ingredient? What have I not been adding to my spaghetti sauces, stews, soups, chilis, eggs, pies, omelets, cakes, quesadillas, mashed potatoes, beans, roast chickens, that I should have been adding all along?
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME
Welcome! I’m Jenny, author of Dinner: A Love Story and The Weekday Vegetarians More
What To Cook Tonight
- Spaghetti Omelet
- Killer Minestrone (Weekend)
- Fish “Presents” in Parchment
- Lentils with Crispy Sausages
- Korean Short Ribs
- Lettuce Hand Rolls
- Tortilla Soup
- Never Fail Banana Bread
- Fried Chickpeas with Yogurt Sauce
- Beef and Broccoli
- Shrimp with Feta
- Pork Chops with Cider, Dill, Horseradish
- OR, Tell Me: What Kind of Night Is It?
- Anatomy of a Weeknight Dinner
- Baking and Sweets
- Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations
- Books, Gifts, Culture
- Chicken and Turkey
- Dinner: A Love Story, the Book
- Dinner: The Playbook
- Domestic Affairs
- Family Ritual Series
- How to Celebrate Everything
- Organizing, Strategizing, Planning
- Picky Eating
- Pork and Beef
- Posts by Andy
- Project Pantry Purpose
- Sides, Salads, Soup
- The Weekday Vegetarians
- Top 10
With most baked sweets (cookies, cakes), I use almond extract instead of vanila extract. It changes up the flavor profile just enough that it’s still familiar, but slightly unexpected. It’s generally a huge hit, especially with oatmeal cookies or pound cake.
I always add amaretto to my French toast egg mixture. I learned that from Donna Hay and people always want to know what I did differently when they eat it. It’s subtle but special!
I always add a teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa and a half shot of espresso to chili, and a pinch of cinnamon to spaghetti sauce. An aunt of mine has taken to using garam masala in the place of cinnamon for things like apple crisp, and it’s fantastic.
And just as I closed the window on that comment, I discovered this: http://www.howsweeteats.com/2011/08/easy-beer-mac-and-cheese/
A bit of 35% cream to stop the cooking of the scrambled eggs. A huge hit in this house.
A shot of brandy in apple pie filling, Calvados if you have it, but regular brandy works, too. And cinnamon in the pie crust.
my husband adds a generous dollop of honey and a big handful of extra old cheddar to his spaghetti sauce. incredible.
Just came across your blog, I’m loving it!
I have many secret ingredients, but one of my go-to’s is nutmeg! I use the tiniest of dashes in greens, eggs, quiches, you name it!
I’m not sure how secret this is, but really adding lemon zest to anything is an instant winner. I’ve yet to have someone not ask me what’s in my spaghetti sauce that makes it so good. Also, and too, curry powder in my whipped cream.
curry powder in apple pie. not too much. it’s also good with pumpkin, and actually basically any fall fruit dish.
also, i put a scattering of fennel seeds in my pizza crust.
Dijon mustard mixed into the ground beef for hamburgers. I never leave them as pink as I like them but this keeps them very juicy without imparting a strong flavor.
Orange pancakes because GOD FORBID I tell them they were pumpkin pancakes. I simply use a can of organic pumpkin, pancake mix, water, cinnamon… yuuummmmoo!
A splash of red wine vinegar in my spaghetti sauce – divine.
Interesting that so many of these secret ingredients have to do with spaghetti sauce.
Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar in spaghetti sauce. Also, I dislike cinnamon with apples, but love nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. And I have a friend who puts a sprinkle of cinnamon on the crust before he adds the quiche filling.
these are awesome! my favorite has to be curry powder in the whipped cream and then the pie crust — how bizarre!!! keep them coming! love it.
The best bloody mary I’ve ever had was made with a half a shot of red wine in addition to the tomato juice.
Sauerkraut in chocolate cake. Seriously good.
A square of chocolate and a dash of cinnamonin my chilli. Alsl a glug of balsamic vinegar and a tsp of red peppers flakes in my marinara and Bolognese sauces.
Cardamom, is almost anything. A friend turned me on to adding a splash of maple syrup to scrambled eggs and omelets. A bit of cloves, cardamom, and/or cinnamon with the coffee beans for coffee. Preserved lemons in salad dressing. Lavender salt for simple baked goods and grilled meats….
Instant coffee in my chocolate chip cookie recipe- gives them a real mocha flavor. Also, almost always substituting whole wheat pastry flour for regualr in baked goods.
Lemon zest. On so many things.
Espresso powder in brownies. Worcestershire, sour cream and dried marjoram in hamburgers. Cocoa in granola (adding chocolate covered raisins isn’t a bad thing either).
My mom taught me to use Cumin in homemade gravy! Will be doing it again this Thanksgiving. 🙂 Delish!
3 cloves in my black beans.
cream cheese (especially chive!) in eggs.
katie – that’s my secret ingredient too! cream cheese in the eggs!
Worcestershire sauce (salsa, mac & cheese, carrot soup…). Love it.
I use a splash of balsamic in my marinara sauce (or to trick out jarred sauce.)
I add a bit of garlic powder to scrambled eggs.
Oh- and cardamon for baking!
This may not be a secret, but horseradish in pot roast is amazing! (An entire small jar.) Really tames down over the long hours of cooking, and leaves the pot roast with just that little something you can’t quite place your finger on.
Also, chopped up mushrooms in burgers. They basically melt and give your burger a natural cheeseburger-y taste. (Idea from Jessica Seinfeld)
Ok… just thought of another one. My grandmother puts veggie seasoning on everything (just like she does- Worcestershire)… SO good! And she’s (and I) a big fan of garlic powder. I love fresh garlic, but I’ve found that some things (like breakfast potatoes) actually taste better with the powder! (and I couldn’t figure out how to replicate her perfect breakfast potatoes- until I realized the other secret (bacon drippings) :).
French toast batter made with organic eggs, organic (WHOLE) milk, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and a dash of brandy.
A dollop of sour cream in the scrambled eggs make them taste amazing. It is why I always keep it in my fridge now, sour cream seems to improve a number of things now that I think about it.
Another one I just thought of is panade (a slice of milk soaked bread all mashed together) and then crumbled into ground beef before you make hamburgers is magical.
I know this is a no brainer for most everyone, but i just recently realized how much a splash of “acid” can really improve a dish. A squirt of lemon or vinegar to my favorite soups changes it in such a great way.
My mom puts Worcestershire in Tuna Salad.
I’ve always been a big fan of the chocolate in the chili. Even if it doesn’t actually do anything significant, it FEELS mysterious and sexy.
A pinch of garlic powder in scrambled eggs! Seriously, you gotta try it!
A stick of cinnamon in with the beans while they are cooking for black bean soup. Once in a while, a few grains of ground nutmeg in mashed potatoes; it has to be such a small amount that you can taste something, but not so much that you know that it is nutmeg. Great question. I love the black ops/secret agent feeling.
Cinnamon for spaghetti sauce, chili, enchiladas fillings!
Anchovies in tomato sauce and in meatballs. And for black beans and rice, sherry and balsamic at the end of cooking. (see Kemp’s Black beans on Epicurious).
A little scoop of canned pumpkin in oatmeal (with cinnamon, of course, and a small pinch of cloves and ground ginger, if I’m feeling up for it).
I am not sure what I am most excited about; discovering your blog or all of these no longer secret ingredients! I put butter in EVERYTHING, it’s not random or especially healthy but it tastes so good!
I LOVE using mascarpone cheese…in brownies, in spaghetti sauce, in eggs…it makes things so divinely creamy and smooth and YUM and rich
Oh and natures seasoning. We live in the UK and so buy it in bulk when we’re over. I’ve got all our friends hooked!
I totally have a secret ingredient, and even call it that: Sweet Chili Sauce. The brand I find is “Mae Ploy,” and whatever brand you find, it’s probably in the Asian Foods section of your market. I put a dash into all my soups, stews, anything like that. http://www.amazon.com/Mae-Ploy-Sweet-Chili-Sauce/dp/B00023T3C6
bacon grease! you can put it in anything and it tastes amazing. the ultimate secret ingredient
My kids love the broccoli with anchovies – heat garlic in oil, add some choppied anchovie to the pan, add broccoli and a bit of water, cover until cooked for a few minutes, then fry uncovered and top with a bit of lemon. Anchovies add a nice flavor and no one knows what it is.
A splash of apple cider vinegar in chicken salad.
Recently, I’ve made simple homemade macaroni and cheese for quick, comforting dinners. When I make the cheese sauce, I use a good old cheddar but also add some grated gruyere which adds just a bit of sharpness to the sauce and keeps it from being too bland.
I second the bacon grease comment–great with eggs, use instead of butter for grilled cheese.
A tiny pinch of cinnamon in cocktail sauce. You’ll keep them guessing and it adds such depth.
I always boil a turnip with the potatoes when I make mashed potatoes and then mash them all together (with the standard milk, butter, salt, etc). The turnip adds a mysterious sweetness and no one ever knows what it is!
Beer in chili; chopped green chilies in scrambled eggs (then serve with refried beans and a warm tortilla); Old Bay on popcorn; sherry in black bean soup; chipotle powder in mac & cheese …
Another one for Worstershire here, in burgers, sloppy joes, really anything that contains ground beef. Also mustard – dijon or honey dijon, depending on my mood. Especially in egg salad or tuna salad. Even if I get store bought, I’ll stir in a little mustard (and a few other spices, etc – it’s usually not even worth getting store-bought most of the time because it’s so bland I have to doctor it up so much…).
I made chili the other night and it was good, but needed a little something extra to perk it up. Checked a Cook’s Illustrated recipe and they included a couple tablespoons of soy sauce. Did the trick! And make the chili a day ahead if you can for best flavor. (Also, just a note to anyone who wants to use peanut butter or other nut product as a secret ingredient – I would disclose that to anyone you don’t know that well, especially if they have kids. So many people have peanut/tree nut allergies that you want to let people know if it’s an ingredient.)
Marmite, Worcester Sauce or *shock horror* Coffee work a treat in savoury dishes. I love adding cinnamon to sweet dishes even though it’s a bit of an overpowering taste. Cinnamon in chocolate cake though is DIVINE!
Chilli powder is also delicious in chocolate recipes – brownies, especially the dark ones. Chilli chocolate truffles, yum!
As a vegetarian and a parent of a kid with food allergies, I just have to say while this is fascinating, you all are giving me nightmares! Anchovies? Bacon grease? Peanut butter in chili?
duke’s mayo in potato salad
celery salt in potato salad- or any mayo based summer salad
awesome post! how about salted popcorn on ceviche…yummers.
Cinnamon in tomato-based sauces; parm rind (keep them in the freezer) in soups and stews; szechuan peppercorn on stir fry, beer in chili; and purchased demi glace in sauces and soups; and heavy cream in just about anything, but especially non-tomato pasta dishes.
Mascarpone cheese in the place of milk in DTLS’s turkey spaghetti bolognese. Brandy or bourbon in homemade cranberry sauce.
Whoops, that’s “DALS,” not “DTLS.” Typing problems.
I use a splash of tequila in my guacamole. And some champagne or red wine vinegar in my tuna salad from a can. Zing!
Pickle juice in deviled eggs!
A few tbs. of gorgonzola mashed into the sauce of my mac and cheese, for the subtle tang. Also, a handful of raisins in my cooked-all-day tomato sauce. The raisins melt into oblivion, and the sugar in them balances the tomatoes’ acidity without adding too much sweetness.
I read once that Escoffier stirred his scrambled eggs with a clove of garlic on the fork. I tried it and it does add a certain je ne sais quoi – a little everyday elegance!
Curry powder in vinaigrette salad dressings. A great tip from my mom. Adds a “warmth” to it that is always right.
A spoonful of mayo in my meatloaf mixture-keeps it insanely moist. And not so original but I always get compliments, finely chopped capers in my potato salad.
Herbes de Provence. You can buy them online, and they’re GOOD. They go in pretty much anything with eggplant, lamb, eggs, etc. Even vegetable soup.
I had a can of cream if mushroom soup and a tablespoon of Italian salad dressing to my spaghetti sauce.
Nielsen-Massey’s pure vanilla bean paste in place of vanilla extract– it is amazing stuff.
When I bake chicken in the oven I sprinkle the skin with cinnamon and put a small amount of white wine and a splash of water in the bottom of the pan.
My mom used to use the dried onion mix (from Lipton) in her burgers and I swear it adds something you just can’t get otherwise.
A poached egg on top of simple veggie pasta with parmesan is amazing. It creates a velvety sauce that feels insanely rich without a ton of cream or butter! I also love chevre in tomato sauces (or just about anything) and my boyfriend puts nutritional yeast on top of popcorn. So good!
Sour cream in the pancake batter (courtesy of Cooks Illustrated)
Apple cider in pretty much any quick bread recipe. Lemon zest in pretty much any thing with berries.
Worcester in pretty much any stew or savory sauce.
These are awesome! Thanks, Jenny for this great prompt.
I love these comments! And scrolling through, I’m starting to think that someone should write a whole book on secret things to put into scrambled eggs. Years ago, I was at a brunch at a friend’s mother’s house, and she made this huge pan of scrambled eggs. And I like scrambled eggs, but these? Hands down, the best I had ever had. Her secret was a huge dallop of mayo in the mix. And now it’s mine too.
Huh – I find myself throwing wine into a lot of recipes when it isn’t exactly called for….I wonder what that means?
I just discovered your blog through Luisa from the Wednesday Chef. As a food blogger with kids and all that involves I was curious. And so I happened upon this post where you ask for a recipe with a secret ingredient. On my second to last post I gave just that title to the pulled pork I made. Pulled pork with a secret ingredient… Glad I found you. Am enjoying reading you and am off to read more.
Freshly grated nutmeg in pancake batter is my husband’s trick.
I got some nutmeg from Penzey’s spices and it came with a little tip card that mentioned nutmeg compliments cheesy flavors. Ever since then I have grated the tiniest little bit into my mac & cheese or cheesy scrambled eggs, and it really kicks up the flavor without being noticeable.
I also finely grate an apple and use that instead of applesauce/oil in my carrot cake. It compliments the sweetness of the carrot, but doesn’t make the cake taste like apples.
Fresh vanilla bean in my pie crust:) Great post!
I second a bit of sour cream, Greek yogurt, cream cheese, mascarpone or mayo in scrambled eggs. Anything with a bit of fat & creaminess, really.
I add a load of Angostura bitters to my jambalaya. Trust me on that one… it makes the best you’ll ever eat!
I add cauliflower to the potato’s when I boil them and then mash them all together. Your mashed potatos are fluffy and healthy.
I also add green peas to my guacamole; keeps the green colour and you can’t taste them.
I blend my cottage cheese to the texture of ricotta and use it in lasagnas and pasta dishes. Way more fibre.
I use unsweetened apple sauce in place of oil in baked goods.
Grated brocolli stems to pasta sauce help thicken it and you can’t taste them!
I hide food WHENEVER I can to make it healthier!
One tablespoon of molasses to pumpkin pie, as shared by my mom’s “hairdresser” years and years ago.
I add a splash of vinegar to chicken soup stock…it supposedly helps to release the vitamins from the bones!
Any vinegar or citrus juice to almost anything… Orange juice in eggs, red wine vinegar in pasta salad & tzazitki, balsamic vinegar loves soy sauce for Asian dipping… It’s adds a happy zing!
I have a few, I guess I like my food zingy:
A dash of vinegar (red wine, sherry or champagne) to finish most soups
A dash of Worcestershire sauce (or Pickapeppa, if you can find it) in the tuna salad
A bit of ground cardamom in the applesauce
And truffle salt on almost anything — especially scrambled eggs!
Mayonnaise! – Scrambled eggs are amazing with a blob, mixed through, as is mashed potato, particularly if the mayo is home made!
I seem to add pesto to a lot of things — storebought tomato/pizza sauce, eggs (scrambled, quiche, omelettes). A dash of dijon mustard to cheese sauce. A glug of Bailey’s to apple pie, or to chocolate ganache. (Other liqueurs that are nice in ganache include frangelico/amaretto, any orange liqueur, raspberry liqueur, kahlua… Just pick one that complements whatever you’re putting the ganache in/on.) Great post!
I put sugar in my marinara sauce. Sweetens it up and cuts the acidity of the tomatoes.
a few shakes of cinnamon and a splash or two of red wine in my chili!
A splash of soy sauce in my lentil soup instead of chorizo (when going for the vegan option)!
Add a little curry to your creamy Mac and Cheese for a different and delicious grown up treat.
1. pinch of dried sage in egg salad
2. basil in chocolate chip cookies
3. grand marnier in french toast soaking liquid
4. actually, come to think of it, grand marnier in tirami su instead of rum; hold the espresso
5. one single dash of classic red Tabasco to basic vinaigrette
Thanks to you, I put smoked paprika in just about everything I can get away with. Even my Manhattans. It’s the perfectly mysterious special something. Oh, and maple on (cooked) carrots; makes it smell like Grandma’s.
Jack Daniels to my Diet Coke. 🙂 But really, we eat a lot of black beans , and in addition to the cumin, onion, and garlic I sautee before adding the beans, I’ve started adding a couple glugs of orange juice. Really brightens up the flavors without the astringency of lemon or lime.
I love nutmeg with roasted cauliflower and carrots. Also love the idea of a little garam marsala in baked apple desserts!
Adding to the list of foods that Worcestershire sauce improves: guacamole. Just two or three dashes. Really adds a certain smokey earthy umami-ness that makes everyone freak over your guac. 🙂
For some reason this post (and the comments) reminds me of the children’s book Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco. For years after my much-younger sister got that book, our chocolate cakes had to include tomatoes.
What a fascinating topic, thanks for “putting it on the table”! I add a drizzle of molasses to my finished homemade pasta sauce, and for scrambled eggs I include 2 additional ingredients: finely diced onion to the melted butter before pouring in the egg mixture – to which I’ve added dried basil.
Great post… loved all the comments. My secret ingredients: a bit of cinnamon in the ricotta cheese mixture (which also includes eggs) for lasagna or stuffed shells, a TSP of grape jelly in spaghetti sauce to cut the acidity and a can of crab meat in spaghetti sauce to make plain spaghetti all that more yummy
we like saying that our secret ingredient is always the same: LOVE. When I cook with my little daughters we send a kiss to the skillet or oven with our love. The recipe will taste much much better!!!
finely grated carrot in…well, a lot of things: meatloaf, meatballs, pasta sauce, homemade salsa, Spanish rice, etc.
It adds a touch of sweetness and some nice health benefits!