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Eight Cooking Cheats to Wow Your Guests

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by Shannon Meyerkort (subscribe)
Writer. Storyteller. Find out more at or join me at
Published December 31st 2012
There is always an easier way
We can't all be Nigella Lawson. For a start, no one in the real world can lick that many spoons and not end up the size of a bus. We also don't have her pantry, her amazing kitchen and her apparently limitless budget.

It's easier to be a Yummy Mummy if you take a few short cuts

And most of us don't have a film crew recording us in the kitchen, which is probably lucky because here are some of my top Cooking Cheats to save time and money in the kitchen. After all, time saved not cooking something means time spent eating instead.

Number 1: It's the middle of a hit summer and you need to produce a dessert. The thought of slaving in the kitchen makes you break out in a rash. Here's what you do: go to the local shop and buy 2L of the best Lemon Sorbet you can afford. Then go and buy half as many lemons as guests (ie, if you are feeding 6, buy 3 lemons).

Buy the prettiest ones you can. Cut the lemons in half and using a knife and spoon, cut out the flesh taking care not to poke any holes. Soften the sorbet a bit then spoon it into the lemon halves, smoothing the top perfectly. Pop them back in the freezer to re-set. When it comes time to serve desert, plate them up with a spring of fresh mint and a shake of icing sugar.

Hint: you might need to slice a tiny bit off the bottom of the lemon to stop it rolling all over the plate.

Number 2: I can't tell you the number of times this one has won accolades, and it's so embarrassingly easy. When you have made your basic chocolate cake and you want to fancy it up a bit, stir 2 or 3 heaped tablespoons of (preferably crunchy) peanut butter into the chocolate icing.

It will end up tasting like Snickers and if you want to go all out, once you ice the cake with your faux-Snickers icing, cut up a snack-sized Snickers and pile decoratively in the middle of the cake.

Any packet cake can be 'tarted up'

Number 3: If you are in a bit of a rush and only have time to make a packet cake or packet cupcakes, then it is really easy to fancy them up a bit by adding extra ingredients. Fresh or frozen berries (in particular raspberries) and choc chips are the best 'extra's to add in, and if you add a few extra on top of your cake/cupcakes after you ice them, no one will think it came out of a box.

Vol au vants can be filled with all sorts of sloppy things and their pastry goodness helps hide the mess

Number 4: You need a fancy dinner and you don't have the time or inclination to do anything special. Pop down to the local fast food shop and buy a BBQ chicken. Take it home, remove all the skin and bones and chop it into small pieces (about ˝ inch).

Buy 100-200grams of pre-sliced mushrooms, one onion and a tin of 'Cream of Chicken' or 'Cream of Mushroom' soup. Slice the onion and fry in some oil until soft, add the mushrooms (or tinned corn if you don't like mushrooms), add the chopped chicken and finally tip in the soup. Stir over a medium heat until heated through and then spoon into some shop-bought vol au vent cases.

Pop into the oven for 5 minutes to warm through, then serve with some salad or vegetables. Decorate the vol au vents with a spring of parsley and voila! Fancy dinner.

Number 5: If you need a fancy dessert to follow your vol au vants, then while you are at the shop buy a pre-made chocolate sponge (or make a chocolate packet mix cake), a box of White Wings chocolate mousse mix and a bar of Flake. Make up the chocolate mousse according to the directions, using slightly less milk so that your mousse is firmer.

Once set, cut the cake in half and spread the chocolate mousse in the middle. Pop the top layer back on, and then either ice with chocolate icing (there are plenty of pre-made ones these days if you are exceptionally lazy) or with whipped cream. Crumble up the Flake and sprinkle over the top. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve. Be careful when slicing, as the chocolate mousse tends to squish out the sides.

It's very un-Australian not to love tomato soup

Number 6: This is probably better if the guests you need to impress are kids, but instead of using a pasta sauce to cook your meatballs in, consider using a tin of tomato soup instead.

Admittedly there is a higher sugar content in the tomato soup than in pasta sauce, but this is probably why the kids will be more likely to gobble up their 'spaghetti and meatballs' rather than complaining they don't like it. Just saying…

Number 7: Any cake (shop-bought sponge, packet cake, or cake made from scratch) will instantly look a million dollars if you cut it in half, layer it with raspberry jam and freshly whipped cream, and then cover it (sides and top) with either fresh cream or icing.

If you want to go all out, a handful of frozen raspberries in the middle layer, and piled neatly on top will add to the WOW factor (despite the humble origins of the cake itself).

They make you giggle... when they wiggle...

Number 8: This cheat is a good one for dinner, using leftovers and impressing kids. Cook one or two packets of Maggi noodles according to the directions and then drain the liquid off (break the noodles up into small pieces before you put them in the water).

Go through the fridge and grab all your half eaten vegetables (carrot, onion, corn kernels, peas etc) and chop them finely. Beat two eggs and make into an omelette. Slice into ribbons and keep warm. Find some protein – sliced ham, leftover chicken, frozen prawns, a packet of Chinese sausage.

Heat some oil and begin frying your vegetables, when they are soft, stir in the Maggi Noodles, meat and add a good splash or three of soy sauce, sesame oil and/or oyster sauce depending on your preference. When everything is hot, stir through the omelette ribbons. If you have nothing better to do, hollow out half a pineapple and serve your 'fried noodles' in this, but perhaps that is going a bit far.

What are your best Cooking Cheats?
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Why? Because we all need a little help in the kitchen
Your Comment
Buy ready made fruit cake - Coles has the best. Crumble it, add 1 tbsp. of rum, and 1/2 melted block of dark chocolate. Let it cool, make balls and decorate with melted white chocolate and cherries
by rrmen (score: 0|6) 2537 days ago
I LOVE this!!! Thank you! One of my cooking cheats is...

Tip a bottle of Fountain Steak Sauce over chicken pieces. Cook on 180 degrees 'till caramelised. This tastes amazing! Serve with salad or steamed veges or roast vegies. Delicious.
by paule (score: 0|8) 2537 days ago
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