Kathleen Purvis

Readers share their secret ingredients for making dinner taste better

Crazy Jane’s
Crazy Jane’s Crazy Janes

Yes, it is true: People love their flavor-bumpers. Those are the little boxes, bottles and squirters we keep around to toss in when we need to add a little more flavor to things.

I confessed a few of mine in a recent column. And before my use of Zatarain’s Concentrate gets me booted out of the food-writing corps, I should point out that I have recently made my own bitters and both red and white wine vinegars. I’m not a complete lost cause to the ideal of cooking from scratch.

Still, that column did bring out a lot of other fans of flavor tricks:

▪ Speaking of bitters, one person told me she adds Angostura bitters to potato and chicken salads. John Elliot of Charlotte said he adds them to soups and stews. “Also, a few dashes in ginger ale cures whatever ails you.”

▪ Susan Loparco adds a shot of good-quality apple cider vinegar (“Katz is the best, by far”) to whatever vegetables she’s sauteeing.

▪ LeAnn Swieczkowski loves Vegeta, a Croatian seasoning blend she gets at Polish or Middle Eastern stores. “I use it on fish and meat, in soups and stews and on roasted vegetables. The flavor is not overpowering.”

▪ Carol Nixon of Catawba loves Better Than Bouillon: “Always keep three flavors on hand.”

▪ Rosa Sleigh uses Gerber’s pureed carrots, sweet potatoes or green beans (“with no other added ingredients or preservatives”) to thicken stews and pasta sauces. “With the added benefit of adding extra veggies, a good thing in my house with picky eaters.”

▪ Linda Carmichael reminded me of another one I keep on hand: Cavender’s Greek seasoning. She uses it instead of seasoned salt.

▪ Ellen Frank of Indian Land likes Kraft Roasted Red Pepper Italian dressing. “I marinate everything in it, all types of meat and fish. I toss veggies that are destined for the grill, like thick-cut, well-drained squash and zucchini, onions and mushrooms.”

Frank also mixes Old Bay seasoned bread crumbs into panko or regular bread crumbs for coating chicken and pork chops.

▪ Suzy Winters uses mirin, the Japanese sweetened rice wine, to add sweetness to dressings and marinades.

▪ Beth Koonce is a fan of Dorot frozen minced garlic and ginger: “Teaspoon-sized cubes just pop out of their package, which is like a miniature ice cube tray.”

▪ Carolyn Roy of Kannapolis is a fan of several things from the King Arthur Flour website, including boiled cider, but she really loves their cream cheese flavoring. “Just a few drops in a buttercream icing gives you that cream cheese flavor.” She uses it on cakes and on things like cinnamon rolls.

▪ Betty Little loves Maggi Seasoning in beef soup and stews. She was overjoyed when she found they carry it at Ingles stores.

▪ Brenda Pinnell, an old friend and co-worker who now lives in West Virginia, voted for Worcestershire sauce. She also noted: “Anchovies, tamarind and vinegar add their own kind of umami to spaghetti sauce, soups and vinaigrette.”

▪ And finally, Adelaide Davis couldn’t live outwith Crazy Jane’s Mixed Up Salt. She loves it on any kind of salad. “I have several containers in my pantry just in case the company stops making it.”

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