Kitchen Window: Hold The Mayo ... While I Get A Spoon There are people who don't like mayonnaise, and there are people who just think they don't like mayonnaise. Meet sneaky hostess Doreen McCallister, who likes to experiment with secret ingredients. She's learned to save full disclosure till after they've asked, "Wow, that's delicious — what's in it?"

Hold The Mayo ... While I Get A Spoon

Each Of These Things Is A Little Like The Other: There's a common ingredient mixed into these dishes ranging from appetizer to dessert. It's the much-maligned condiment, mayonnaise — but you'd never guess it. Trust us. Doreen McCallister/NPR hide caption

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Doreen McCallister/NPR

Know your audience: It's a maxim that television network officials and public speakers know well. Parents are familiar with it, too, as they try to sneak some healthy ingredient into a not-so-healthy dish. Even Chef Boyardee has a whole ad campaign built around hiding a full serving of vegetables in each one of its meals.

I love the idea of camouflage cooking. Pardon me while I take off my apron, put on my camo and grab my jar of mayonnaise. That's right — mayonnaise.

Prepare to be shocked and awed.

Poor mayonnaise. Most people think of it as a condiment. Instead of spreading it with a knife, I think measuring cup.

I was hooked after I saw a chocolate cake recipe that had mayonnaise in it. It was a recipe for "The Ultimate Chocolate Cake" using Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise.

The longer I stared at the picture of the moist cake, and the more I ruminated on the idea, it seemed perfectly fine to put mayonnaise in a cake. After all, mayonnaise is just the emulsification of eggs, vinegar and oil.

But not everyone would agree. That's why it's important, when experimenting in the kitchen, to know your audience — who is going to be trying the finished product.

I have learned that not everyone has the stomach — no, make that the mindset — to try something new. Which is why I lie to some people about what's in my treats.

Let's be clear: I don't lie to people who have food allergies. That would be evil and could lead to a lawsuit.

About The Author

For more than 20 years, Doreen McCallister has been keeping her NPR colleagues guessing about what's in her baked goods. Recipes like Tomato Soup Cake, Mayonnaise Cake and Velveeta Fudge piqued her interest, and she started experimenting with her own secret-ingredient recipes. Even when she brings something "normal" to work, everyone demands to know: "What's in it? No, really — what's in it?"

I lean more toward impishness. And unless my co-workers are hard-core taste-testers, I suddenly develop amnesia when asked, "What's in the cookies?"

My Fickle Pickle Cake didn't go over very well, only because I blabbed and told people the name. Had I kept my mouth shout, more people would have loved it.

Making food with secret ingredients — that's my avocation. Some people have hobbies like knitting, philately or collecting baseball cards. I like to build recipes around a food item you wouldn't normally find in those dishes. Dill pickles in cake, for example.

Since I had my aha moment with the chocolate cake, I've put mayo in other cake recipes, chicken casseroles and mashed potatoes — to name a few.

I've also seen it used in recipes for pies, breads and pimento cheese. Of course, there are also the not-too-surprising recipes for potato and macaroni salad.

For convenience, I use store-bought mayonnaise. Sure, I could make my own but why bother? I like the idea that when I open a new jar, it will be good for a long time in the refrigerator.

If you make your own — providing it turns out the way you want it — it will only last a few days. Also, it means you will be working with raw eggs, and that carries a risk of salmonella. Commercially prepared mayonnaise uses pasteurized eggs. However, it has preservatives and other items not included in the homemade version. So, pick your poison.

I thought I'd try my hand at making mayo, so I got out my ragged go-to favorite cookbook. It had many recipes for flavored mayonnaise. I rechecked the index thinking I had missed the page with the mayo recipe on it.

Turns out, it didn't have a from-scratch mayo recipe. Even 30 years ago, it was easier to open a jar.

Nowadays, plenty of people have opened that jar, so to speak — and many delicious foods exist with mayonnaise as a secret ingredient. But some people still refuse to try them.

So, to remind myself that I need to tell a fib from time to time, I hold on to an email from a co-worker.

When I told him about the poor reception for my pickle cake, he wrote, "The next time you throw together a pickle brine, mayonnaise or ground-glass coffee cake, simply say, 'Come and get it, y'all'!"

Keep those words of wisdom in mind when you try my secret-ingredient mayonnaise recipes.