"On the side" is a phrase custom-made for condiments. However, the bold flavors and quality ingredients in many such store-bought products mean they should star in meals rather than take supporting roles. Since ingredient prep isn't a factor, they provide savvy shortcuts.
First, make sure the selections meet your standards (my favorite balsamic dressings are light and French or Catalina-style fat free; extra-virgin olive oil is more flavorful than regular; there are plenty of condiment options without any artificial ingredients) and then mix and match for both hot and cold meals. Following are some ideas for springboards. All ingredients are to taste and from store-bought products.
VEGGIES IN BOTH YOUR SALAD AND YOUR DRESSING
Whisk a small amount (since its consistency is thin) of bottled mixed greens vegetable juice with fat-free French or Catalina salad dressing, light balsamic vinaigrette and a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil and toss with a salad of mixed greens, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, pitted black olives, roasted sunflower seeds and currants.
CHECK OUT CHUTNEY
As you're finishing cooking omelets, just before folding, fill with fruit chutney and let filling warm and caramelize. Serve a fresh fruit salad on the side featuring some of the ingredients often popular in fruit chutney, such as apples, mangoes, pineapples, apricots, figs, prunes and raisins.
WHEN MUSTARD IS A MUST
Combine Dijon mustard with orange marmalade, freshly ground black pepper and dried tarragon and use it to glaze skinless chicken breasts and pour as a sauce around the chicken and carrot chunks, pearl onions and baby potatoes before baking or roasting.
TRY THIS TIP
Whisk together hot sauce and barbecue sauce and add diced gherkin pickles. Lightly spread over thick slices of sourdough bread and toast in oven, making sure it doesn't burn. Toss cooked, cooled sliced tri-tip in the sauce mixture and use it as a filling for the toasted bread sandwiches.
FLIPPING OVER FUDGE SAUCE
Mix hot fudge sauce (that has not been heated) with peanut butter and a lesser amount of fruit-only strawberry spread (usually found in supermarket jam aisles). Shape into bite-sized balls and roll in sweetened coconut flakes.
AFTER-WORK GOURMET COOKBOOK SHELF
Birthdays can't be avoided and, therefore, often neither can birthday cakes. If you want to add variety and fun to your repertoire, "The Poke Cake Cookbook: 75 Delicious Cake and Filling Combinations" by Jamie Sherman should top your wish list. The pretty and tasty results are bigger than the time commitment. By poking holes in cakes and adding an additional flavor, every cut slice shows off the added color treat. Many of the cakes start from mixes. Easy additional ingredients are then used to fill the poked indentations, like store-bought instant vanilla pudding that sets in the holes made by the end of a wooden spoon in a Boston Cream Pie Poke Cake as it chills in the refrigerator.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.