10 more food cheats for the efficient, the busy, the knackered, and the budget-conscious

A jar of Vegemite

Here are 10 more food cheats to help you be a more efficient cook – or when you’re utterly exhausted but still want to eat a tasty meal. Food snobbery, begone! The food cheats are here to stay!

  1. Vegemite: Or, if you insist, Marmite. But in honour of my Australian passport, I have to fly the flag for Vegemite. It’s not just for toast. If you keep a jar at all times, you have an instant stock – just add boiling water. And stirring a decent tablespoon through a stew, caserole, bolognese sauce, or pie filling adds instant depth of flavour. A decent dollop of Vegemite took my homemade tomato sauce to the next level. My husband claims he doesn’t like Vegemite but in the almost-12 years we’ve been together, he has ingested more of this marvellous yeast extract than he realises.
  2. Garlic granules: Jars of garlic granules are bargain-priced, easily available at most supermarkets in the herbs-and-spices aisle, and perfect for when you’ve run out of garlic but haven’t got the time, inclination or cash to go to the shops. There’s still nothing quite like the smell of freshly crushed when it hits the melted butter in a pan but the granules are a great plan B. They’re also handy for livening up a cheese toastie.
  3. Basic pizzas: Generally available for less than £2, a boring cheese and tomato pizza from the supermarket is a bit uninspiring on its own. But if you spruce it up with stuff you might already have at home, you can have a personalised pizza in no time. Often the cheese is somewhat sparse on these underdog pizzas but if you go mad with a grater, any cheese you have in the fridge will help. Diced onion, sliced tomato, chopped mushrooms, spinach leaves, chopped ham or bacon, chopped leftover sausage, literally any herb or spice that takes your fancy, crushed garlic, garlic granules, corn kernels, leftover cooked chicken… The pimped-up pizza is a great food cheat for a lazy lunch or dinner.
  4. Redcurrant jelly: This is a newly discovered food cheat for me. I made something a few months ago that demanded redcurrant jelly. I bought a whole jar from Asda and ever since, I’ve used it in stews, pie fillings, bolognese sauce and this emergency dessert.
  5. Tinned tuna and salmon: Fish is really good for you but sometimes fresh fish is either hard to come by, it has been sitting in the supermarket fridge for too long and you’re too far from the coast for comfort, or it’s too expensive. Do not poo-poo tinned tuna or salmon – there are plenty of great recipes for these ingredients, they’re nutritious and they’re easy to use. Tuna mornay is an Aussie favourite and salmon shortcake is a classic by my mother – I’ll have to hit her up for both recipes and share them really soon.
  6. Leftover mashed potato: Especially if you’re only cooking for one or two people, it’s too easy to make way too much mash by accident. You can always add another little spud the next day to have mash two nights in a row or it can do double-duty as a thickening agent for soups and stews.
  7. Poaching chicken in wine, stock or vinegar: Poaching in stock is not exactly a new trick but I think poaching in any liquid is the best way to cook up diced chicken for pretty much any recipe. This keeps the chicken tender and the flavour of your liquid easily elevates the meat from its usual blandness. I’ve used red or white wine and assorted vinegars for poaching chicken – it stops me from dying of boredom. Melodramatic? Moi?
  8. All the mustards: Keeping a jar of your preferred mustard is a great tip for adding flavour in a hurry, especially if you’ve discovered you’re all out of a favourite herb or spice. I like Dijon but seriously whatever mustard floats your boat is a fine addition to all manner of pots. I also like a fine layer of mustard on a cheese toastie. I might be mildly obsessed with perfecting cheese toasties…
  9. Fabulous mixed herbs and spices: Not just the anonymous mixed herbs or mixed spice or allspice in the skinny little supermarket jars – I’m talking about being a bit adventurous on a budget. Supermarkets have really upped their game with herbs and spices from a range of different cultures, which is great for convenience as well as anyone who is curious about using more than parsley in their cookery. Or try assorted little groceries stores – there are plenty out there that are worth a rummage among the herbs and spices. Look out for things like ras el hanout, zaatar, and the masala mixes. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself to something new and then experiment – there is so much information out there on how to use these ingredients and the flavour they add is superb.
  10. Lemonade: As well as being a great drink on a hot day and a mixer for many a cocktail, you can use lemonade to liven up cake mixes, scones, jellies, and dessert sauces. And it doesn’t have to be the brand name stuff, like 7-Up or Sprite – the cheapest supermarket own-brand lemonade works really well.

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