10 Secret Ingredients from an Experimental Cook

I’m a Jamie Oliver sort of cook: Chuck in a handful of this, a pinch of that and see what happens. Over the years though, I’ve learned that certain flavours work well with others and sometimes the craziest ingredients make the tastiest food. My 10 secret ingredients are from my favourite tried-and-tested recipes which have earned me ‘compliments to the chef’ time and time again. These combinations may look mad, but trust me, they work. Go on, make your dinner a little more interesting!

Marmite…in Spaghetti Bolognese

Some of you love it and some hate it, but a little Marmite makes Bolognese sauce tangy and rich, enhancing the flavour of the tomatoes and the beef perfectly. I would use about half a teaspoon to serve four people, adding it in at the beginning of cooking the sauce to let the flavours develop. Just don’t mention it to the Marmite-haters at the table.

Dark Chocolate…in Chilli con Carne

Chocolate is not just for sweet dishes. A few squares of 70% or higher chocolate grated into a chilli con carne thickens, richens and adds a wonderful earthy flavour. If you can get it, dark chocolate with chilli is even better to add a spicy kick.

Cinnamon…in Shepherd’s Pie

Add a generous pinch of cinnamon to the meaty bit of your shepherd’s (or cottage) pie and you’ll gain a beautiful flavour which makes this English favourite extra-special. Cinnamon and beef are perfect partners.

Mint Tea…on Roast Lamb

Before roasting your lamb joint, open a bag of mint tea and mix it with a little olive oil. Rub it over the outside of the lamb (score the skin for extra flavour) and massage into the skin. Black tea gives an interesting smoky flavour and of course, we all know that mint was made for lamb.

Apple…in Curry

I grew up eating my curry with freshly sliced banana on top of it, and after having Peshwari naan bread with raisins, I concluded that fruit and curry is a match made in heaven. Stew small cubes of apple in your chosen curry sauce until soft but not mushy and you will discover the delights of sweet and spicy flavours in harmony. Alternatively, have your curry with thinly sliced fresh apple and raisins. Perfect.

Parmesan…on Roast Potatoes

This weird tip was from a taxi driver, believe it or not. He describes the ideal roast potatoes as parboiled, roughed-up with a fork, tossed in hot olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese before roasting. He turned out to be a culinary genius and I discovered the crunchiest, tastiest roast potatoes I’ve ever had. Try it, you won’t regret it!

Cherry Coke…on Gammon Ham

Next time you’re boiling a ham joint, consider using not water or cider but cherry flavoured Coca-Cola. My mother developed this odd habit and her ham roasts have been absolutely delicious ever since.

Honey…in Black Coffee

My morning coffee isn’t complete without a teaspoon of honey. It gives a beautiful burnt caramel flavour that is hard to resist and the health benefits of honey can’t be underestimated.

Chilli Sauce…in Mushy Peas

Nando’s restaurant have a side dish called ‘Macho Peas.’ I loved it so much that, after trial and error, I recreated it at home: Cooked peas are perfect with up to a cap-full of any good chilli sauce, a squeeze of lime juice, a knob of butter melted through and a sprinkle of mint and parsley. Roughly crush with a potato masher and you have the perfect side dish for chicken, fish or pork.

You can buy Nando’s chilli sauce here.

Image reproduced from www.tescorealfood.com

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About Eleanor Plumstead

Eleanor Plumstead was raised on the side of a hill in Malvern, an area of stunning natural beauty that has always inspired her creative side. She has written poetry and prose from a young age and currently studies English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University. She enjoys good food and parties, is always on a quest for 'the ultimate wine' and dreams of being a full-time writer. Eleanor loves to support and empower people and is passionate about equal rights, for her own LGBT community and for all those who are marginalised in society. She is currently working on a number of projects including a historical novel, a book of prayers and of course, several new articles for City Connect.
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