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Shortcuts in the kitchen: Quick ways to homemade flavor

Karen Miner is the Associate Editor for SheKnows Food. She is a freelance writer, recipe developer and is also the cook, author and photographer behind the food blog, Tasty Trials, a collection of original recipes and stories. She and he...

No one will ever guess you took a shortcut

We all have busy schedules and not enough time in our days, which can make it hard to make meals completely from scratch. Just a few small additions to standard pantry items will give you a big boost in flavor and a homemade taste.
Mom and daughter making pasta

It’s 5 p.m. You’ve had a long day and kicking up your feet with a glass of wine sounds perfect. But first, there’s that little matter of feeding those hungry mouths. Instead of opting for fast food, cheat a little to put a flavorful, semi-homemade meal on the table in no time. Don’t worry… we won’t tell.

Keep your pantry stocked with these 10 ingredients for a quick meal >> 

Spaghetti sauce

Pasta can be a lifesaver when you’re short on time. The whole meal can be on the table as quickly as you can boil water. By taking a few extra minutes with pre-made sauce, a simple spaghetti dish can turn into a gourmet affair.

Next time you pull out a jar of red pasta sauce, try this method to amp up the flavor:

  • Slice two strips of bacon and fry in a large pan. When crisp, remove and wipe out most of the bacon fat from the pan, leaving a small amount to cook onions in.
  • Add a small chopped yellow onion and sauté until soft, and then add two minced garlic cloves.
  • Add a pinch of oregano. For spice lovers, add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
  • Add spaghetti sauce and finish as normal.
  • Top dish with crisped bacon.

CanCanned chili

If you’re in a pinch and don’t have time to soak beans or chop ingredients, canned chili makes a great hearty meal. But if you’re used to your chili packing a flavorful punch, the can may leave you a little disappointed.

For a quick fix, add a dash of these spices, or any combination, to taste:

  • Chili powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Black pepper
  • Oregano

Condensed tomato soup

This iconic pantry staple can actually taste pretty good with a few minor adjustments. And sometimes, nothing tastes better than tomato soup paired with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich.

Make these quick additions for a simple but tasty bowl of tomato soup: 

  • Sauté a few tablespoons of chopped shallots and a minced garlic clove in a small saucepan.
  • Add soup.
  • Instead of the usual can of water, stir in half milk, half water and heat through.
  • Pour over a scoop of cooked rice.

Mayonnaise

This basic condiment can turn into a spicy or tangy sandwich spread or dipping sauce in no time. The possibilities are endless in making flavor combinations that will wow you. Play around and mix a few ingredients together… you’ll never look at mayonnaise the same.

  • For tang: Add white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice or dry white wine.
  • For spice: Add hot sauce, Sriracha sauce, dried chili powders or chopped jalapenos.
  • For flavor: Add cumin, coriander or freshly chopped herbs like cilantro, parsley, dill or basil.

Get more time-saving meal tips >> 

More quick & easy meal ideas

15-Minute quick chicken recipe tips
Fast fix dinner: Casseroles
3 Quick & easy beef recipes using stock

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