Have your cooking habits gone stale?

When all else fails, learn new ways to use old favourites.  That’s how I approach food ruts – cooking the same ol’ thing week after week.

Some uses for the 13 common ingredients listed below may surprise you, intrigue you, inspire you; whatever the result, I hope it gets you fired up about trying new things!

  1. Cardamom:

    So you’ve likely used cardamom in savoury dishes, such as tandoori chicken.  But why not give it a try in something entirely different?  After all, there are plenty of cold, rainy days that call for a cup of hot chocolate.  Cardamom happens to pair very well with chocolate.  Sprinkle some into your next cup, then sit back and enjoy every sip of deliciousness.

  1. Yellow Mustard:

    This is the gold standard for hot dog toppings in America, but this condiment has much more to offer, since the front-running flavour in yellow mustard is vinegar.  Try this trick:  when you bread chicken for frying or baking, instead of dipping the chicken in eggs first, lightly coat it in mustard.  Where the eggs do little for the flavour of the chicken, yellow mustard kicks this dish up a notch.

  1. Celery Salt:

    Salt is obviously flexible – you see it everywhere.  But celery salt, which adds salt and a dimension of fresh flavour to foods, isn’t as common.  A great way to test it out is to add it to your homemade hamburgers.  Don’t settle for salt.  Instead, sprinkle your burgers with celery salt and savour the fresh flavour this seasoning brings to the table.

  1. Ginger Powder:

    Ginger is a popular ingredient to use in stir-fry recipes.  Besides its pleasing flavour, the ginger root also has many health benefits; some people consume it to aid with nausea.  A less common use for ginger powder is adding it to the mix for your cheesecake biscuit base.  The subtle flavour of ginger shines through and elevates your plain old cheesecake into a new and exotic realm.

  1. Coconut Milk:

    Here’s a food item that delights those who don’t tolerate lactose.  Often used in chowders and curries, coconut milk has an intriguing use you may not have thought of.  Chill the coconut milk in the fridge and whip the skim of it in the morning for a decadent cream for your coffee.  You can also simply pour the milk at room temperature from the can into your coffee or tea.  If you like coconut, this is indeed a very special treat.

  1. Pesto:

    Italy’s lovely green, saucey export – it pairs well with many foods.  I like it on sandwiches and in pitas as an alternative to mayo, mustard, or pasta sauces.  However, pesto’s do-goodery hardly ends there.  Try pesto in your eggs – scrambled or in omelets – and enjoy the difference it makes.  Serve with diced tomatoes and you have a remarkable breakfast on your hands.

  1. Peaches:

    A lovely fruit, peaches are a favourite in Southwestern U.S. cuisine.  We’re not talking peach cobbler or even cottage cheese with chunks of fresh peaches.  Rather, to give peaches a new lease on life, I recommend you sauté them in a pan with pork.  This sweet-and-savoury combination is delicious and flexible enough to pair well with a number of side dishes.

  1. Bacon:

    Bacon is often relegated to breakfast.  However, if given the chance, this tasty meat just might please you where you least expect it – this is by no means a diet-friendly or healthy tip for bacon-use, but for the occasional treat.  Try adding bits of bacon to your popcorn or trail mixes for a little extra oomph your snacks might otherwise be missing.  Bacon is also making its way into desserts, such as ice cream and cookies.  I have tried bacon in all of these unusual contexts and enjoyed each of them.

  1. Black Beans:

    There is a certain Southwest Sizzlin’ Steak over Black Beans and Onions that I like to make for those nights when I need a real good fix of Southwestern cooking.  Then again, nights like that call for healthier eating habits the rest of the week.  That’s when I put away my cowgirl boots and bake brownies with an unusual ingredient substitution.  Brownies are healthy, right?  Instead of flour, I use black beans.  The benefit is I get more protein and less gluten than if I made the brownies with flour and the brownies still taste great.

  1. Fish Sauce:

    We’re all familiar with this sauce as a standard in Asian cuisine.  However, fish sauce has a smoky flavour that warrants regular use in any kitchen.  Take dips, for instance.  Guacamole is one of my go-to dips when I host a party.  Paired with tortilla and pita chips, guests gravitate to it and scarcely leave it alone until it’s gone.  My secret?  Fish sauce.  Its deep, smoky flavour doesn’t overwhelm but it does add a lovely dimension.

  1. Coffee:

    Whether you take it black or with cream and sugar hardly matters for this tip.  Coffee has a unique flavour, just like all the other ingredients on this list.  You can apply that unique flavour to beef by adding coffee grounds to your spice rub or you can make some strong coffee to use as a base for a syrupy marinade.  However you slice it, the roasted, nutty flavour of coffee adds a depth of flavour you just can’t get anywhere else.

  1. Cocoa Powder:

    When I’m in my narrow mental box I can think of cocoa only in sweets, but there is much more to this versatile ingredient.  It pops up in lotions and potions, even savoury dishes you might prepare at home.  The next time you make chilli, add a teaspoon of cocoa powder.  The chilli benefits from the cocoa’s rich flavour and your palate certainly won’t complain.  Instead of cocoa powder, some chilli enthusiasts use grated dark chocolate.

  1. Mint:

    My childhood home had wild mint and berries growing all around the yard.  So it was easy for iced tea with fresh mint to become a summer time staple.  I still enjoy this refreshing beverage, but I’ve also learned to use mint in my cooking.  The herb is a perfect addition to salads; I especially love adding it to salad that also contains blue cheese and steak.  The mint simply livens up the whole dish.

There you have it, 13 old ingredients to try in new ways.  Some of these may require trial and error, but just thinking about changing things up a bit can go a long way towards revitalizing your homemade meals.

Do you have any tricks or tips for kitchen dwellers looking for new, fresh approaches to food?  Share with us!  We love hearing from you.