Thinking Allowed

The Busy Cook’s Cheats

By Mariam Mokhtar

Do you feel guilty when you cheat at cooking? Of course not! You’re a working mother and time is precious. With GST and increasing prices, you cannot afford to eat out, as often as you used to. The whole family likes western food, but eating in restaurants is expensive.

You love to entertain, and show-off your western culinary skills, so what do you do? Cheat in the kitchen of course! Life is too precious and too short, so stop making pizza dough from scratch, or creamy soup from its basic ingredients, and start cheating. Just buy the basics, then put your feet up and relax.

Perhaps, you are averse to the word cheating. Just tell yourself that you are saving time, and money. Once in a while, cheating helps, and there is no need to feel guilty.

Another way of looking at cheating in the kitchen is that, in reality, it is a way to cook quick and easy dishes. There should be no compromise in quality, as only the best ready-made ingredients should be bought.

Below are some of my commonly used cheats. Western style dishes are easier to cheat at. Perhaps, readers can share their top tips at cheating in the kitchen.

Canned goods

A can of chopped tomatoes and a cup of freeze-dried onions make the perfect base for homemade tomato-sauce. The sauce can be used as pizza topping or as a Neapolitan sauce, for pasta. Just add slices of cold meat, and grated cheese for the pizza topping. Add minced meat and some herbs to the Neapolitan, to turn it into a simple Bolognese sauce.

Another variant is to use the Bolognese sauce to make lasagne. If you were to add a can of kidney beans and cumin, chilli powder and coriander to the sauce, it becomes a dish of chilli beans or chilli con carne.

Canned chick peas, blended with some sesame oil, tastes as good as the real hummus made with tahini paste.

A can of good quality mushroom soup can be made to look like you slaved over the cooker hob for hours. Open the can and pour contents into a pan, throw in a handful of chopped button mushrooms. Reserve a few thin slices for garnish. Serve with a dash of freshly ground black pepper, a sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley and a swirl of cream to complete the dish.

Drain a can of tuna, flake the fish and mix with some cream cheese, and real cream (optional), add a dash of dried chilli flakes. A simple can of tuna can be served-up as a fish pâté with breadsticks or crackers.

Cupcakes and doughnuts

Want to impress the children at tea-time, but too lazy to bake a special cake? No problem. Buy some ready-made cupcakes, or doughnuts, then decorate them with your own icing to give it that home-made touch.


Too lazy to make your own bread and butter pudding? Easy, just slice some tea-bread, and make the same way as you would a normal bread pudding. The mixed spice and dried fruit is already incorporated in the tea-bread.

An easy-tropical trifle is no hassle. Slice some bananas and mango, to line a deep bowl. Roughly break a ready-made Swiss roll and scatter over the top of the fruit, top with a layer of custard and whipped cream. Use a potato peeler to make chocolates shavings, for decoration.

Having people for dinner? Easy individual cheat’s cheesecakes are simple to make. Layer the bottom of a glass tumbler with some coarsely chopped digestive biscuits and pour a mixture of blended lemon juice, condensed milk and cream over this. Looks and tastes just like a cheesecake, despite there being no cream cheese in the dish.

Cheat’s pizza

Too lazy to make the pizza dough? Just use some stale french bread, slice into two, horizontally, then drizzle with some homemade Neapolitan sauce, and top with sliced peppers, mushrooms, cold meat and grated, or cubed cheddar or mozzarella cheese. If you don’t have any french bread at home, just use pitta bread. It tastes just as good.

Mother-in-law’s delight

The mother-in-law is coming over for tea and you need to impress her with some tea time favourites, but can’t be bothered to put in that extra effort. Moreover, your baking skills don’t amount to much.

Easy. Just buy a pack of ready-made scones (you’ll need to find a bakery that makes scones) and ‘de-stress’ them. ‘De-stressing’ means taking the rolling pin to lightly bash the tops of the perfect looking scones to make them look, like you made them yourself.

Throw some flour haphazardly on the kitchen table, and on the front of your apron to complete the look of having slaved away, for her.

Want to really impress her further? Empty a jar of good quality strawberry jam, especially those containing thick chunks of strawberry, into a suitable container with your own home-made jam label, and pretend you made it yourself. Friends say, it works, and their mother-in-laws have never been a problem, ever since!


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