June 16, 2014

Everyone loves the element of surprise, and what better way to surprise your family than with food? If you don't try something new now and then, your family would be stuck eating the same boring food time and time again.

So why not only try something different and spice things up by adding an unusual ingredient. A little of this or a little of that can really change a dish. Then have fun letting your family members take turns at guessing the secret ingredient.

Amazing Turkey Burgers

Recently a friend of mine from college posted a recipe on her Facebook page. Misty Nanna and I both graduated from the University of Iowa and became teachers. These days she is busy teaching dance and fitness classes. She also has three young children at home to feed.

When I saw this recipe I was curious. I have truly grown to love turkey burgers. I like to buy all white meat turkey and season it before cooking. I decided to try this recipe knowing that I certainly had cheese-flavored fish crackers in my pantry.

The evening I cooked the burgers I was in a hurry so I wasn't able to refer to the recipe. I forgot about the egg, but did add some Cookies all-purpose seasoning and a little oregano to the garlic powder and crushed red pepper.

The burgers were delicious and kid-approved. They were tasty and juicy and you'd never guess the secret ingredient was in there.

1 lb ground turkey

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (a little less if kids are going to eat them)

1 teaspoon dried minced onion (optional)

1 egg

1/2 cup crushed cheese-flavored crackers (the secret ingredient)

Preheat a grill for medium high heat. In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, minced onion, egg, and crackers using your hands. Form into four patties.

Place patties on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes per side, until well done.

For an extra bonus taste, add guacamole and tomato.

Secret Ingredient Chili

The Apron Gal of Texas has been perfecting her chili recipe for years. She decided to take a chance and add an unusual ingredient. She'd read that chocolate not only adds a rich color to chili, it also increases the smoky flavor of chili powder.

2 lbs ground beef or turkey

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic or 4 teaspoons garlic

2 teaspoons garlic salt

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1-2 jalapenos, halved (depending on your spice preference)

2 cans diced tomatoes

2 cans kidney beans

1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)

1 Hershey's chocolate bar (the secret ingredient)

Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add the ground meat, onions and garlic. Cook until meat is almost browned. Add seasonings until mixed thoroughly. Add browned meat to crock pot with diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato paste, and halved jalapenos. Cook on high heat for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours. If it dries out simply add some water and let it cook for a little while longer.

Half way through cooking, or in the last hour, add the chocolate bar and stir, remove jalapeno chunks. Top with cheese, onions and or crushed tortilla chips or Fritos.

Serves 6 to 8

Secret Ingredient Pico de Gallo

Pico de gallo means, "rooster's beak" or "pecked from a rooster." It's commonly served alongside Mexican food. Dill pickles give this version an unusual bite.

I love the simplicity of pico de gallo especially the freshness of cilantro. I like to top my salad with a little mound of pico de gallo.

1/2 cup minced onion

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced

¼ cup diced red bell pepper

¼ cup minced dill pickle (the secret ingredient)

4 large tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

¼ cup chopped cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, combine the onion, jalapeno pepper, bell pepper, dill pickle, and diced tomatoes. Stir in lime juice and cilantro; season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving, preferably overnight.

Makes 2 cups

Secret Ingredient Red Velvet Cake

There's something about dark red cake with creamy cream cheese frosting that so many people love. This recipe from Hummingbird High was a result of trial and error. The baker wanted to create the perfect cake for her co-worker and decided to try adding espresso powder to the mix. It turned out to be the key ingredient needed to add depth to the chocolate flavor.

For the Red Velvet Cake:

(makes two 9-inch cake cakes)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon natural (non-Dutch) unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (the secret ingredient)

1 1/2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

(makes enough for one 9-inch layer cake)

16 oz cream cheese, softened but still chilled

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still chilled

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

5 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

For the Red Velvet Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour 2 round, 9-inch cake pans. In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, use a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon to combine 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder, and 1 1/2 tablespoons red food coloring until a thick paste forms and all the lumps are gone. Set aside.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups sugar and 1 cup butter until light and fluffy. Add 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add a third of the flour and salt mixture (from the second step) before adding 1/2 cup buttermilk, mixing until just combined. Add another third of the flour mixture, before adding another 1/2 cup of buttermilk, again mixing until just combined. Finish by adding the remaining third of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Be careful not to over mix and mix until everything is just combined.

Add the cocoa powder and food coloring mixture (from the third step) until the color is evenly dispersed. Mix well, but just until everything is combined.

In a small bowl or ramekin, quickly stir together 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. This will foam and should be put into the batter immediately after being mixed. Blend on medium-high speed until the batter is consistent.

When finished mixing, spoon batter evenly into pans (batter will be very thick). Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed in the center. Let cool in pans on a cooling rack for an additional 15-25 minutes, before turning out to cool on the cooling rack completely.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together 16 oz cream cheese, 1 cup butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla until smooth. Turn the mixer down to a low speed and gradually pour in 5 cups confectioner's sugar. When all the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy. Be careful not to overbeat, or the frosting will get too runny. Use immediately to frost the cooled cakes.

Secret Ingredient Chocolate Chip Cookies

Every baker has their favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies and Kelly Senyei is no different. She decided to take a gamble and substitute a little cream cheese for butter to her cookies. It resulted in a chewy cookie with crisp edges, just how she likes them.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature (the secret ingredient)

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, cream cheese, sugar, light brown sugar, and vanilla extract until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture, beating to combine then stir in the chocolate chips. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for a minimum of 2 hours and up to 3 days.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats. Drop 2-3 tablespoon mounds of dough onto the baking sheets, spacing the mounds at least 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies for 9 to 11 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 2 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Kelly's Note: Measure 1/4 cup cream cheese by spooning/scraping it into a dry measuring cup and leveling it off.

Yields about 3 dozen cookies