This is a collaborative post
Need an easy appetiser for unexpected guests? Or perhaps a quick dinner or emergency pot-luck dish? Check out my 15 cheats to transform shop-bought food into something that looks homemade (we won’t tell if you don’t!). From final trimmings to secret ingredients, these easy hacks will impress loved ones with minimal effort.
- Pile ‘em Up
The key to making dishes look homemade is to avoid the ‘meat and two veg’ look. Instead, stack foods on top of one another. So, put carbs like potatoes, rice and pasta at the bottom, then top with veggies (such as kale and broccoli) followed by the showstopper layer – the protein. Whether it’s a fillet of salmon, beef steak or chicken breast, garnish with herbs, some veg plus a drizzle of your favourite sauce.
- Jazz Up Hummus
Nothing beats homemade hummus – it’s creamy, buoyant and rich in chickpeas. Want the yumminess of hummus but without the faff of making it? Simply buy a pot of shop-bought hummus and add two to three tablespoons of Greek yoghurt. Gradually fold in the Greek yoghurt with a spatula until the hummus becomes lighter and creamier.
To make it even more appealing, add salt and pepper then sprinkle in a teaspoon of paprika. Finish by drizzling with olive oil and a few chickpeas. Your friends will be none the wiser that it’s shop-bought.
- Add Some Pizzazz to Pizza
Your pizza will look like an Italian nonna made it when it comes out of the oven. One thing I usually have in the kitchen is chorizo – it adds so much flavour. I’d probably throw in some marinated mushrooms, the sort that comes in a jar with garlic and oil. Then add some feta cheese to finish it off. You could also give yours a kick with some Parmesan shavings and fresh garlic. Then serve with some rocket. Bellissimo!
- Souper-Douper Swirls
Add some zing to a plain bowl of soup with a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of yoghurt or cream, or croutons and Parmesan shavings. You could even make a gorgeous heart design using small blobs of cream, yoghurt or sour cream in a spiral shape. Why not drag a toothpick through them to join them up?
- Make Restaurant-Style French Fries
Who doesn’t love super-crispy French fries? But who says you have to make them from scratch? My kids love chips, especially Mccain skin-on fries which I often cheat with to make restaurant-style crispy chips. First, preheat the oven according to package instructions and pour some fries into a large bowl.
Next, I add a couple of tablespoons of oil plus some Parmesan, Italian mixed herbs, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Toss everything together until the fries are coated with the oil and seasonings. Transfer the fries to a foil-lined baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Bake according to package instructions, turning them halfway through.
- Go Nuts
For an easy garnish to your dish, add nuts. Toast some nuts and seeds in a dry pan and roughly chop. I like serving nuts with ready-to-eat hot smoked-salmon fillets or leafy greens. In tomato-based dishes, slivered almonds are wonderful. I often make a jar of toasted seeds and nuts so they’re on hand whenever I need them.
- It’s All About the Drizzle
There are a few ways you can give ready meals and takeaways the chef treatment. Drizzle some colourful chilli oil, sprinkle fresh herbs around the rim or add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar. Alternatively, to whip up a quick and exciting dinner-party starter, get some shop-bought bruschetta, Parma ham and rocket. Place the foods on the plate then add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze.
- Wipe the Plate Rim Before Serving
Wipe the rim of a plate clean with a paper towel before serving to guests. Not only does a clean edge help a dish stand out, but it also gives it a professional touch. No one would know the food actually came out of a packet or jar.
- Fruit Frenzy
Whether you’ve bought a lime pie, strawberry tart, chocolate cake or lemon meringue, I love sprinkling several handfuls of fruit over the top for a professional finish and more flavour. I find this works brilliantly if you use a couple of types of fruit in the same colour palette (such as strawberries, redcurrants and cherries, or blackberries and blueberries).
- Icing Sugar
One thing I have in my cupboards that I can’t live without is icing sugar. Sieve a little over desserts for a festive feel, or mix with water for instant icing and drizzle over a shop-bought chocolate cake or lemon cake. Finish with fresh fruit or edible glitter and you’ve got yourself a knockout cake with no oven in sight.
- Funk Up Fishcakes
Put a spoonful of tartare sauce and a wedge of lemon on top of a ready-made fishcake. Citrus and condiments like these will add zing to a regular fishcake as well as add height, making them deliciously moreish.
- Revitalise Rice
A bag of boiled rice is plain boring. Brighten up the bag with a few flavours like lemon zest, feta cheese and chopped, cooked spinach for a Greek twist. Or plump for Mexican with lime zest and juices blended with chilli powder and ground cumin and coriander.
- Add Some Class to Couscous
I regularly buy pre-cooked couscous or the two-minute microwave sachets, but what really makes them super tasty is to stir in some fresh herbs, chickpeas, pomegranate seeds or rocket. It adds colour, makes it go further and also separates out the grains.
- Tasty Toast Toppers
My kids just can’t get enough toast – they’d probably live on it if they had it their way. I love spreading cream cheese or hummus over it, then garnishing with fresh ingredients like tomatoes, cucumbers or radishes. Be sure to sprinkle with seeds, herbs and a smidgen of cracked pepper, too.
- Make a Barista-Style Hot Chocolate
Who isn’t a fan of hot chocolate? I certainly am, especially when the kids have gone to bed and I have some free time. The instant stuff gets boring, so become a barista and make the ultimate DIY hot chocolate. Scatter your instant hot chocolate with mini marshmallows and the zest of an orange. Alternatively, a dusting of cinnamon, mixed spice or vanilla works like a dream.
So, don’t feel bad if you can’t whip up a made-from-scratch meal for loved ones for that dinner party or family meal. Instead, keep a couple (or all!) of my super-quick, super-tasty meals on-hand, and reap the benefits of a delicious, nutritious dinner that’ll have your party guests or family members eating in mere minutes.
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