Pantry staples work wonders when used in new ways. Try these unexpected applications for everyday ingredients.
October 02, 2009
1 of 15Randy Mayor
Chipotle Chile Powder
With flavor combining fiery, smoky, and chocolate-like nuances, chipotle chile powder finds affinity with a surprising array of foods.
Our Secret Twists:Reinvent brittle: Give your nut brittle an intriguing, unexpected edge by stirring in 1 to 2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder. We loved it in our Walnut Brittle.Add dimension to chocolate dishes: Combining chocolate and chiles is nothing new―think of Mexican mole sauces. Stir a teaspoon of the spice into your favorite brownie batter, devil’s food cake, or hot fudge sauce. Or dust a little on top of hot chocolate as you would nutmeg.Give veggies a kick: Make a rich compound butter to top green beans, roasted or pureed winter squash, broccoli, or baked sweet potatoes by simply combining 4 tablespoons softened butter with 1 to 1½ teaspoons chipotle chile powder.
2 of 15Randy Mayor
Responsible for sustaining most toddlers in the form of sandwiches oozing with jelly, peanut butter is a quick source of quality protein.
Our Secret Twists: Substitute 3 tablespoons creamy or chunky peanut butter for 1 egg as a binder for meatballs with an Asian flavor profile.Use 1 to 2 tablespoons natural or chunky peanut butter to add body to a brothy soup.Stir 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter into a broth-based pan sauce for pork or chicken in place of dairy butter to finish the sauce and add richness.
3 of 15Randy Mayor
Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
Soy sauce, even the low-sodium kind, is the king of umami―the “fifth taste,” a savoriness inherent in certain foods. Let the power of umami boost more than just your stir-fries.
Our Secret Twists Whisk together equal parts low-sodium soy sauce, dark brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, and canola oil for a delicious, full-bodied salad dressing.Create an intriguing sweet-salty dessert by stirring 1 to 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce into homemade caramel sauce, then drizzle over ice cream, apple pie, or cake. The appeal is similar to that of sea salt caramels―rich, savory notes that contrast beautifully with the caramelized sugar.
4 of 15Randy Mayor
The sweet warmth of this spice (made from tree bark) is a natural in baked goods like our low-fat cinnamon rolls. But that toasty essence also adds an I-can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it richness and fullness to savory foods, too.
Our Secret Twists Stir ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon into your favorite chicken salad recipe.Lend Mediterranean flair to your next batch of spaghetti with meat sauce by browning the meat with ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon; or simmer the sauce with 1 cinnamon stick.Use ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon to add subtle sweetness to a spice rub for pork, duck, or game.
5 of 15Photo: Randy Mayor
Lower-Fat Cream Cheese
Enrich baked pasta: Stir 1 to 2 tablespoons into every cup of a light béchamel sauce to replace some of the rich flavor and creaminess lost when the fat is slashed. We whisked 1/4 cup into the sauce for our Spinach and Butternut Squash Lasagna (pictured) with creamy-luscious results. And it only adds about 20 calories per serving.
Perk up potatoes: In place of sour cream or butter in your standard mashed potato recipe, use an equal amount of softened cream cheese. The flavor is less tart than sour cream, more present than butter, and the texture is full and velvety. Our favorite incarnation: The naturally buttery taste of Yukon gold potatoes pairs well with the tang of the cheese
Enliven a smoothie: Love a go-to fruit smoothie for breakfast? This variation feels like an indulgence (but really isn’t): a cheesecake–flavored drink. For each serving, add 1 tablespoon of softened 1/3-less-fat cream cheese to fruit mixture before blending (try it with blueberries or strawberries). You gain about 1 1/2 grams protein for only 35 calories.
6 of 15Randy Mayor
Earthy, woodsy, and highly fragrant, thyme is a staple in French cooking...and more, with our creative suggestions.
Our Secret Twists Enliven the taste of fall desserts like apple crisp or pear tart by adding 1 teaspoon chopped thyme to the filling. In the summer, add the herb to apricot or peach dishes.Create savory waffles or pancakes by stirring 1 teaspoon minced thyme and 1⁄3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into the batter.Combine 1 tablespoon honey, ½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, and ¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon rind; drizzle over Greek yogurt, and top with toasted pine nuts.
7 of 15Photo: Plamen Petkov
Light Coconut Milk
Make fluffy pancakes: Combine 4.5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Whisk together 1 cup light coconut milk, 1½ tablespoons canola oil, and 1 egg; combine with dry ingredients. Cook as usual for pancakes. Yield: 4 servings.
Blend up a smoothie: Place 1/2 cup frozen mango cubes, 1/3 cup light coconut milk, 1/4 cup nonfat coconut-flavored yogurt, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, and 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar in a blender; process until smooth. Yield: 1 serving.
Make coconut ice: Freeze coconut milk in ice-cube trays. Use the coconut cubes for margaritas on the rocks, rum and colas, or in place of regular ice for daiquiris or other slushy blended drinks.
Jazz up your morning cereal: Use a combination of coconut milk and dairy or soy milk to enliven your everyday breakfast bowl. Try a ratio of roughly 2 parts dairy or soy milk to 1 part light coconut milk for a hint of sweetness and a surprisingly nice hit of nutty essence.
8 of 15Randy Mayor
Ground Red Pepper
Often labeled “cayenne,” ground red pepper adds a fiery kick to all manner of dishes, from Indian to Cajun.
Our Secret Twists Give desserts such as cakes or bread pudding a Mexican flair by drizzling with chocolate sauce laced with 1⁄8 to ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper.Stir a dash or up to ¼ teaspoon into a tropical fruit salad for complex flavor.Sprinkle a light dusting over vanilla ice cream, where the creaminess rounds out the sharpness of the pepper.
9 of 15Photo: Randy Mayor
Create custom sauces: Serve these easy blends as a dip for crudités or oven fries, dollop on crab cakes, toss with salads, or spread on sandwiches. Try adding the following ingredient combos to a base of canola mayo (our favorite): French: lemon juice, minced garlic, and parsley (shown); Mexican: minced cilantro, garlic, and grated lime rind; German: horseradish, spicy mustard, and caraway seeds; Indian: Madras curry powder and minced shallots; Southwest: pureed chipotle chiles and fresh lime juice.
Make a marinade: For supermoist results, try this marinade for your next batch of grilled chicken breasts: 1 cup canola mayo, 3 tablespoons less-sodium soy sauce, 1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper, and 6 minced garlic cloves.
Pan-fry extra-crisp fish or poultry: Use mayo’s oil-rich texture to lock in moisture and help breading adhere. Coat fish fillets or skinless, boneless chicken breast halves with an even layer of mayonnaise; dredge in panko. Pan-fry in canola oil.
10 of 15Randy Mayor
With a sharp, lemon-eucalyptus fragrance and taste, this herb is a natural for the meatiness of lamb, beef, and pork.
Our Secret Twists Steep a couple of sprigs in simple syrup for pine-scented lemonade or cocktails.Try adding 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary to savory biscotti with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.Stir 1 to 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary into slightly cooled homemade preserves such as orange marmalade or cherry jam.
11 of 15Photo: José Picayo
Dress a salad: Combine 1 tablespoon apricot preserves, 1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper. Whisk in ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Toss with a salad of mixed greens, chicken breast, raspberries, goat cheese, and almonds.
Glaze meat: Make a sweet-spicy glaze that stands up to pork or chicken thighs. Whisk together ¼ cup apricot preserves, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon less-sodium soy sauce, 1½ teaspoons sambal oelek or Sriracha, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Brush over pork or chicken as it cooks.
Make a quick dipping sauce: Dunk panko-crusted chicken strips, breaded shrimp, or spring rolls in this sauce: Combine ¼ cup apricot preserves, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 1 teaspoon minced shallots, ½ teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon ground red pepper.
12 of 15Randy Mayor
Wonderful by themselves, mashed potatoes can provide a creamy base for stuffings, dips, and even savory pancakes.
Our Secret TwistsStuffed peppers: Fill halved poblanos, top with Monterey Jack cheese, and bake until tender.Potato cakes: Combine 1 cup cold mashed potatoes, 1⁄3 cup shredded Swiss cheese, and 2 tablespoons chopped green onions. Form into 4 cakes. Dredge in panko; pan-fry in canola oil until golden.Garlicky dip for crudités: Combine 1 cup cold mashed potatoes, ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 2 minced garlic cloves in a food processor; process until mixture is creamy.
13 of 15Randy Mayor
Sure, leftover cranberry sauce is a tasty (if predictable) spread for turkey sandwiches. But try it in these unexpected applications.
Our Secret Twists
Muffins: Stir ¼ cup cranberry sauce and ¼ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeño peppers into prepared batter from an 8.5-ounce package corn muffin mix; bake as directed.Salsa: Combine ½ cup cranberry sauce, ¼ cup chopped onion, and 1 tablespoon each chopped jalapeño, cilantro, and lime juice.Salad dressing: Combine 3 tablespoons cranberry sauce, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard; toss with arugula.
14 of 15Randy Mayor
Great in soups and stews, casseroles and of course sandwiches, leftover turkey is even better when recast in unexpected dishes.
Our Secret TwistsWontons: Pulse 1 cup chopped turkey, 1 cup sliced shiitakes, ¼ cup chopped green onions, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon grated ginger in a food processor until minced. Add 1 egg white; pulse 2 times. Fill wonton wrappers; simmer in turkey stock or broth.Turkey patatas bravas (a riff on hash): Cook a 20-ounce package diced potatoes with onions per directions. Add 1 cup chopped turkey, 2⁄3 cup tomato puree, 4 minced garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon ground cumin, and ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper; cook 2 minutes.
15 of 15Photo: Randy Mayor
Make our hash brown cakes: Combine 1½ cups shredded ham, ½ cup chopped green onions, 2½ tablespoons all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1 (20-ounce) bag refrigerated shredded hash browns. Add 2 large lightly beaten eggs; toss well. Scoop mixture by ¼-cupfuls into 1 tablespoon canola oil per batch in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat; flatten slightly, and cook 5 minutes on each side or until browned.
Use as a substitute for higher-fat bacon: Cook finely chopped ham in a skillet over medium-high heat until crisp and well browned. Toss with sautéed green beans, serve on salads, or sprinkle over pasta.
Add savory flavor to breads: Add ½ cup diced ham and ⅓ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese to your favorite biscuit dough or pancake or waffle batter. Or add ¼ cup finely chopped ham to non-dessert biscotti, like our Savory Two-Cheese Biscotti.