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How to Fake a Homemade Meal

Let's fact it -- preparing a homemade meal from scratch takes time and effort, and by the time you get home every night, you have neither. Don't sweat it: Here are our best-kept secrets to faking it. Shhh -- your guests will never know the difference!

Tip: This may sound obvious, but as soon as you get home, remove all the packaging and trash it (the closer it is to the bottom, the better)! Then serve your items in proper bowls and plates. Don't feel bad about breaking out the china for an extra-special occasion!

At the store
Your shopping list
In the produce aisle... Look for bagged salads, veggie platters, and fruit plates (perfect for fruit salad).
At the deli... You can pretty much pick up anything here. Look for freshly made items like rotisserie chicken, salmon, and coleslaw.
In the frozen food aisle... Stay away from frozen pizzas and TV dinners and grab some frozen veggies and pasta.
Also in your cart... Stock up on soups, chilis, shredded cheeses, sauces, and ready-made mashed potatoes.

Back at home
Fake it with a garnish
- Add a piece of celery leaf (the part you throw away) to the top of salads, especially potato salad, to make it your own.
- For frozen/ready-made mashed potatoes, add a couple pats of butter (or margarine) and a bit of fresh-ground black pepper.
- Add a few water crackers to any veggie or cheese plate (and remember, don't leave it in the plastic container you bought it in!).
- For pies and cakes, buy a squeeze bottle of fruit or chocolate dessert sauce. Simply select a complementary flavor for your bakery selection, such as caramel for apple pie, white chocolate for red velvet cake, or strawberry for chocolate cake. Squeeze out a squiggle design onto individual plates and place a piece of dessert onto each.

Make it semi-homemade
- Use bagged salad mixes to dress up sandwiches and wraps. Spring mix varieties are most versatile.
- Stir in a touch of cheese, bacon, or sour cream to canned soups or chili.
- Add instant microwave rice or frozen vegetables to soups for heartiness.
- Place deli-bought fried chicken on a bed of green-leaf lettuce. Plate with (well-drained) coleslaw or just-from-the-oven frozen French fries.
- Keep interesting sauces, salsas, and mustards in your pantry. Top a deli grilled chicken breast or fish fillet with salsa or pesto.

Three Easy Ideas
- Buy a piece of cooked, glazed salmon from the deli, then stop by the Asian takeout counter and pick up cooked soba noodles. Add a little ready-to-eat salad and a bottle of Asian dressing to your cart.
- Buy pre-formed or even pre-cooked hamburger patties, some sliced mushrooms from the salad bar or produce department, instant/canned brown gravy and a bottle of balsamic vinegar. In a skillet, heat the hamburger patties until almost completely done. Add the sliced mushrooms and continue to cook until they soften. Add the gravy and a bit of the balsamic vinegar and you have a simple Balsamic Glazed Salisbury Steak. For a complete meal, add microwavable steam-in-the-bag vegetables and bread.
- Pick up a rotisserie chicken and a side of mashed potatoes from the deli. Accompany with fresh spring mix salad and a few herbs.

Nestpert: Mark Alan Mollentine was the chef/owner of the historic Governor's Meeting House Restaurant in Kansas City and has over 20 years of experience in the food industry.

-- The Nest Editors

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