Food

Hacks to Make Homemade Dinners Better with Store-Bought Ingredients

Hacks to Make Homemade Dinners Better with Store-Bought Ingredients

Sometimes you might not have it in you to fully make dinner. But sometimes—with the right ingredients—you can summon the energy for a good old-fashioned dinnertime zhuzh (this is the highly technical term for the act of doctoring up store-bought ingredients with some fresh ingredients and a little know-how). While there came a point in popular culture when making everything at home and by hand was sacrosanct, most food professionals have always been smart and selective about outsourcing for the dinnertime zhuzh.

Ideally, your store-bought hero ingredients are as organic or wholesome as what you’d have made at home, and there are many great options available. We have our favorite ingredients—although your doctored-up-dinner journey may take you on different routes—and four recipes to get you going.

The Hacks

Doughs

Making dough at home isn’t hard, but it’s rarely doable for a weeknight dinner, and frankly you can still get really good results from store-bought options. Puff pastry or regular pie dough can easily be transformed into potpies or stuffed savory parcels for appetizers. Pizza dough can be rolled into stromboli, twisted into garlic knots, or portioned and grilled into flatbreads.

Sauces

Store-bought sauces save so much time, but they can taste a little flat. You can revive almost any one-note sauce by adding it to a base of sautéed aromatics. For Thai or Indian simmer sauces, you might sauté some onions, garlic, ginger, serrano chilies, and spices in coconut oil or ghee. For an enchilada-style sauce, you might cook a sofrito of onion, garlic, bell peppers, and chili powder. Jarred marinara sauce benefits from a base of olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, fennel, and anchovies.

Protein

Your protein almost always takes the longest to cook. Shave time off of dinner prep by going with a cooked option. Organic rotisserie chickens are stocked in many grocery stores today, are fairly affordable, and taste so good. There’s also a lot available in the way of smoked and cured meats and fish (smoked sausages, smoked trout, confit duck legs, and tinned fish are all great options) that make getting dinner on the table easy.

Baked-Good Mixes

There’s nothing wrong with relying on a mix. The science of baking isn’t for everyone. Look for a brand that has organic or whole-food ingredients. There are still so many ways to make your baked goods feel homemade. Think of it as customization: Try adding some walnuts, chocolate chips, cacao nibs, dried fruit, or even pretzels to your favorite cookie or brownie mix. You’ll still get to enjoy warm cookies from your oven, but with a lot less work.

The Recipes

  • Tom Kha

    Tom Kha

    Yes, this is our cheat version of the Thai takeout classic. Don’t skip the fresh-squeezed lime at the end—it really makes it.

    GET RECIPE

  • Sabich Sandwich

    Sabich Sandwich

    The reason this Israeli-style sandwich is so satisfying is because it’s got all the flavors, textures, and temperatures: cool yogurt, rich tahini, spicy harissa, hot charred bread and eggplant, crunchy cucumber, juicy tomatoes, bright lemon, and a mess of herbs. There’s not a bad bite in there.

    GET RECIPE

  • Better Boxed Cake

    Better Boxed Cake

    For those of us who are not great bakers—hi, hello—pulling off a cake can be daunting. Most boxed cake mixes nail the chemistry of cake, but they tend to be a little bland. We amp up the flavor by adding extra salt, vanilla, apple cider vinegar, and coconut milk.

    GET RECIPE

  • Green Chili Eggs

    Green Chili Eggs

    Our shakshuka–huevos rancheros hybrid uses green enchilada sauce instead of the more traditional red chili sauce. It’s tangy, savory, and packed with veggies—and it comes together in about 20 minutes. All you have to do is warm up some refried beans and tortillas and you’re in business.

    GET RECIPE

You may also like