Growing up as the only child of a single working and MBA-earning mother, I learned to “cook” at an early age. The infamous Alphabit/Lucky Charms medley was my specialty, but I could also make a mean peanut-butter-on-a-spoon. As my skills matured, I was artfully crunching Doritos over Velveeta Shells and Cheese and I could wrap a dog in a blanket with both hands tied behind my back. Chef Boyardee would bubble on my command. I was hamburger’s helper.
Even though I’m older, wiser, and no longer require the daily sugar intake of a Care Bear, I still want to make unreasonably yummy meals in the time it takes squeeze cheese. Here are my favorite short cuts for making a basic dish feel like you’d never touch a microwave:
Garnish: If Denny’s can ice cream scoop a ball of butter or trim a sprig of parsley, so can you.
Add Spinach: Popeye and I share a secret weapon. Toss it in mac and cheese or eggs, place it on top of pizza, layer it in your lasagna, or cook it down in soups. Add the green stuff to just about anything and you automatically get to add the word “Florentine” to the end of your dish description. Fancy that.
Slice Diagonally: There’s only one right way to cut a PB&J, and the same is true for the other food groups. Whether it’s a chicken breast, roast, banana, or zucchini, it just tastes better sliced on an angle – or at least it looks like it does.
Shake on Spices: Ever order pasta in a restaurant without a mysterious smattering of green stuff on it? You probably already have that green stuff in your spice rack. I’d tell you what that green stuff it is, but it could be a myriad of things. Grab whatever green stuff you can find and sprinkle away – except dill.
Make Homemade out of Premade: Add pomegranate seeds to store bought guacamole, add fresh veggies to a frozen pizza, add an oven to raw cookie dough – if it’s something you can do while wearing an apron and holding a glass of wine, it’s cooking.
Use the Fancy Dishes: My favorite faux-fancy dessert is dumping a chocolate pudding cup into a Waterford crystal champagne flute and adding a dollop of whipped cream. I’ve been known to pull this off at upscale dinner parties. Well, “known” is probably the wrong word.
So if your last cooking foray was with an Easy Bake Oven, put down the can opener and give a few of these tips a try. And if all else fails, buy it at Trader Joe’s and hide the evidence.
What’s your favorite faux-made meal secret?