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Do You Ever "Cheat" With Ingredients for Dinner?

We've done the following:

Made 2 Chinese main courses in our woks at home, and "cheated" with getting takeout Special Order rice to go with it - because we didn't want to go to the trouble of making rice.

While my sister grilled steaks at home, I stopped by North Woods on the way home to pick up their special salads and garlic cheese bread to go with them. North Woods style dinner at 1/3 the price.

What do you do?

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  1. No, if I am going to go out to get food, I will just go out for the whole meal & take the night off from cooking. When I am cooking at home I make the entire meal at home, I can typically produce a better dish in my kitchen than I can buy elsewhere.

    1. Absolutely. I like to fancy myself a pretty good home cook, but sometimes a take out supplement will work for me. Funny you mentioned rice. For all of my kitchen success and adventures (and sometimes failures), I just can not cook rice properly. We laugh about it at home. Either too mushy or too hard, I can't get it right. Sometimes, I will cook and pick up a pint of rice from the nearby Chinese BBQ place. Maybe I add things to it, sometimes Ilike it in its perfect plain ricey-ness. Last week my dear BF was craving steak. I was not in the mood to cook. So, I went to the butcher got a beautiful 21 day aged porterhouse for him to grill and I bought mashed potatoes from the Irish deli. The potatoes were a little thick for me, so I whipped them up with a little cream and butter and some pepper. Voila! Just like homemade, but very litle work. :)

      5 Replies
      1. re: Justpaula

        have you tried baking rice? I started doing that fairly reasonably, and it comes out perfectly every time. If you search home cooking board you will find some recipes....

        1. re: Justpaula

          Rice cookers are a miracle--it is hard to ruin rice in one of those.

          1. re: simsum

            Well, the reason we bought our Chinese rice, is because we wanted the "Special" rice with little bits of everything (eggs, veggies, meat, etc.) in it, and since we were already prepping/cooking so much, we didn't want to bother with even more prepping.

          2. re: Justpaula

            I had this problem too until I came across a basic rice recipe in Gourmet Magazine last year. I tried to find it on Epicurious.com but couldn't locate the recipe. I flagged it and referred to the recipe every time I made rice last year until it was in memory. To paraphrase, you take 1 1/3 cups water and 1 cup rice, place both in a pot and then bring all to a boil over med.high heat. Boil just until you see holes on the surface of the rice (it starts to dry out and the holes show up). Then turn heat down to low and put a lid on it for 15 minutes. After the 15 min. take off heat and leave lid on for another 5 min. Fluff with a fork, and voila, perfect rice.

            1. re: Justpaula

              I had this problem, but suddenly this year, voila, I can cook rice. Good quality rice really, really helps. I had particular issues with getting that dry, well separated basmati rice that you have with Indian food (it was always too soggy) until I bought basmati rice from India at the middle eastern grocer.

            2. I think the closest I've gotten is buying the pre-garlicked baguettes at the store to go with dinner. If I'm going by a restaurant to pick up sides, I'll just pick up entrees, too.

              If I'm going to cook at home and dirty pans, I'd rather just cook all the parts of the meal. I've got a rice cooker, so making rice is probably the easiest part of any meal!

              If we're grilling, I'll just make sides that are grillable so I don't actually do much (grilling is not my "job"),


              1 Reply
              1. re: leanneabe

                Part of why we do this, is because we're on a very limited budget - can very rarely afford to eat out, so we "cheat" to get as much of it as possible without actually eating there, with the drinks, tax, tip, etc. And we cook all the time, so we occasionally give ourselves a "break" by not doing ALL of it sometimes and picking up 1-2 components.

              2. I've witnessed this a thousand times at the restaurant I used to work at. We made all of our salad dressings, sauces, soups, desserts, and bread from scratch. People would stop in on their way home for a bottle of fresh Lemon Vinaigrette, or a dozen of our hand formed and wood baked Croatian flatbreads (pogaca). They would always say they just needed a little "help" with dinner and we were happy to oblige.

                1. I do stuff like this...picking up tortillas from a local joint, or some salsa or guacamole or what have you to fill out a menu or have easy first course/munchies while putting together the rest of the meal. I'm actually far more likely to pick up a roast chicken and make the rest of the meal myself than to pick up sides and do the protein.

                  1. No such thing. If you're cooking, you're not cheating. Otherwise, where do you draw the line?

                    I would never get takeout rice, but that's just because making it at home is far easier than picking it up at a restaurant (aurora50 and justpaula, try an inexpensive rice cooker: 2 billion people can't be wrong). But sometimes coleslaw from the deli is worth the stop. And although I generally make salad dressings from scratch, there are a couple of bottles of commercial stuff in the fridge. Homemade tortillas are nice, but sometimes there just isn't time. And who's going to bake bread in this heat?

                    Taking it to another level, I do my best to have homemade stock available at all times. But when there's none in the freezer, is a carton of Kitchen Basics a cheat? My mayo is better than Hellman's, but the stuff in the jar gets used 90+ percent of the time. Same for salsa, mustard, and Thai curry paste. Speaking of curry, is it cheating to buy coconut milk instead of squeezing my own coconuts?

                    If you want to hunt your meat, gather your grains, grow your veggies, and put them together without the benefit of modern technology, then you can be self-righteous about cheating. Otherwise, just cook.

                    And eat.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Thank you for your insight, alan.
                      Re: the rice topic: See my latest post above. : )

                    2. Typically I either cook the whole meal at home or have the entire meal in a restaurant. Last night was the exception. I wasn't feeling well and so was only cooking for my guy. Rather than doing something labor intensive I popped a Red Baron French Bread Pizza in the oven and while it cooked I put together a nice salad to serve alongside. Not gourmet, but my guy did not complain as he loves when he gets to eat something not so wholesome at home. Also, there is an artisanal bakery not far from my home so I have stopped there on several occasions for good bread to go along with meals.

                      1. Yes, and proud of it, and proud to support take-out owners ( caterers) that proudly do what they make the best.

                        I know I can cook some pretty good meals, but some things I cannot do, or do not have the time to do if I have some friends over on week nights.

                        1. In other countries, there are certain foods that people just don't make at home. They leave that to professionals - like baguettes in France. For me, that's corn tortillas. I adore them, but the tortilleria is always going to do a better job than me. So I pick up a package for dinner every time.

                          It's not cheating! It's joining a proud culinary tradition!

                          1. I get pizza dough at my nearby Italian stores. I keep it in the freezer until needed. I sometimes make my own dough however, because I want to aquire the skill and practice now and then.


                            1. Maybe it is because I buy bread and cole slaw, but I think you have to draw a line on what can be considered cheating. If I am going to have a sandwich or maybe some ribs, yeah, I buy some cole slaw. Cheating?

                              I never bake bread. Cheating? No. (Never buy garlic bread either - that is absolutely cheating)

                              Store-made mashed potatoes, restaurant rice, cheating.

                              Prepared hummous tahini ?

                              Ketchup? No. Catsup? Yes.

                              1. Completely. Sometimes when I have dinner parties I will cook the mains and get an antipasto selection from the Italian deli. Stuff like roasted peppers, cheeses, nuts, etc. make for a great app platter without the work. Why spend the time roasting peppers, peeling them and marinating them when you can buy something that tastes just as good?

                                1. I do this with salads from Trader Joes. We'll grill up some chicken or pork satays at home, make some rice or ketupat, make some peanut sauce, slice up some cucumber, and then I'll add a TJ's Asian/Sambal Vinaigrette salad (lettuce, cashews, carrots, edamame). It saves me time and it's got the right flavors.

                                  I don't do it with rice since I have an awesome rice cooker (digital so I can set it to have rice ready at whatever time I want). But do it mostly with salads and sometimes side dishes like potatoes (we like the oven roasted potatoes with onions and peppers at TJs - great with a steak).

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: boogiebaby

                                    Trader Joe's is a great source for when I'm in a time crunch. I'm a big fan of my own potato salad, but to do it right I really need to have all day - about an hour to boil potatoes and eggs and then assemble everything, then at least six hours in the fridge to mellow out. TJ's potato salad is pretty close to my style, so I just boil two or three eggs, chop a small onion, and add all that with enough mayonnaise, salt and pepper, and there ya go - potato salad in less than an hour.

                                  2. As long as you are not passing off take out food as food you cooked yourself to unsuspecting guests then assemble your meal however you like.

                                    1. I have not personally, however at our family reunion we noticed some chicken that reminded us an awful lot of the Colonel's...on Aunt Betty's serving dish. No questions asked, of course.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: amy_rc

                                        The wife of a boss my brother and I once had was Alsatian, and a wonderful cook. When my mom came to visit, they invited us all over for dinner. John and I regaled Mom with tales of the great stuff Marguerite had served us, and told her she was in for a real treat...and then when we got there, we found that our "great cook" had decided to serve her favorite American food: a big bucket of KFC chicken! She rattled on and on about how she could never hope to make fried chicken this good, and how glad she was she didn't have to. The ride home was pretty hilarious...

                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                          Love your stories, Will.......... Something similar happened to me years ago but the gal was not a good cook at all and we were happy to have KFC. She said she made them herself, even to soaking the chicken in buttermilk before frying. But we knew her secret. We still tell the story and get a good laugh about it.

                                      2. If I am grillling up steaks during the week, I sometimes stop at a restaurant on the way home and get baked potatoes- I can make a salad and a vegetable, make some garlic bread, throw the steaks on the grill, and have a nice dinner ready in no time.

                                        1. I used to make eggplant parm from scratch. My husband loves it but I never enjoyed making it. Way too time consumming and dirties every dish in the house. I quit making it 'til I found TJ's frozen breaded eggplant patties. Now I make it all the time w fresh mozarella, fresh basil, imported parmesan and a good tomato sauce and I must say, you can't tell the difference.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: shaebones

                                            Will give it a try. I don't make it as often as I would like for just the reasons you stated

                                            1. re: shaebones

                                              I used to buy those all the time and keep it in the freezer for quick dinners! They fry up (or bake up) in a pan really well and are so much easier than starting from scratch. While they're cooking, you heat up some marinara and slice some mozzarella. Add a salad and you've got an easy meal.

                                              I'm making a TJ run this weekend. I'll have to remember to pick some up.


                                            2. Great story: One of my good girl friends married a guy we all thought was a bit of an a--. However, as we say here in the south, "Like me, like my dog," so we always accepted him, for her sake. One evening, we took this couple to our favorite hole-in-the-wall BBQ for the fabulous ribs, but the husband of the couple HATED it.

                                              Our theory was that he was put off by the BBQ-smoke-coated cinderblock building and the bikers playing pool in the back room. So, we invited the two of them over for dinner a few months later, and got ribs and sauce from the same place, but we wrapped them in foil and warmed them up on the grill, and put the sauce into a saucepan on the stove to heat before serving.

                                              These ribs the guy LOVED the ribs and the sauce, and demanded to know what our secret was. He insisted repeatedly that we tell his wife how to make ribs this good, and because he was a little drunk, he got pretty belligerent when we said "we don't share our recipes." Finally, we broke down and told him where they came from and I don't think the guy said another word the whole rest of the evening! Thanks for reminding me of this episode--it's already over 25 years old and I'm STILL chuckling.

                                              BTW: That place isn't there anymore, but it was called "BBQ" on I-35 near the truck stop north of the I-40 junction in Oklahoma City. The Chinese lady who cooked used pickle juice to marinate the ribs (she stuck the ribs down into those gallon plastic jars of pickle juice that the restaurants get, and we could taste a slight dill flavor in the sauce.)

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: artsie

                                                What a great story. Would have loved to see his face when you told him!

                                                1. re: artsie

                                                  That's pretty funny. If he had any sense of humor, he would've had a good laugh after the initial surprise. Some people.

                                                  1. re: amyzan

                                                    People, I'm really enjoying the responses here. Thanks everyone, and keep 'em coming!

                                                  2. re: artsie

                                                    That reminds me of when I was a kid. I have a friend (we are still friends) who was a picky eater. At one slumber party she admonished my other friend's mother for using Bisquick to make pancakes. She refused to eat any syrup that wasn't "homemade". I believe to her homemade meant that her mom put some Mapeline (artificial flavor) and water in a sauce pan on the stove. Anyhow, one night she spent the night at my house and my mom put Mrs. Butterworth's in a sauce pan and heated it up on the stove. It was the best homemade syrup my friend ever had. I can still hear my mother's wicked laugh at having mentally dominated an eight year old.

                                                  3. i will make indian style food and buy naan and papdum to pick up. cheap. and who am i kidding i don't have a tandoor so i can't make naan well at home. and i've tried the papdum at home and it didn't come out well. i don't consider it cheating. i'm not indian and don't have the proper kitchen so... and i'm saving money from eating the whole meal out to boot.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: AMFM

                                                      I've made naan at home with a pizza stone. No, it's not the same, but it was a fun experiment, and the flavor was great, even without char marks. That said, I have picked up an order or chapatis or naan at local Indian restaurants and enjoyed them at home with aloo gobhi or bhindi masala I made.

                                                      1. re: amyzan

                                                        Absolutely (don't tell my guests!) I buy cut up fruit on the salad bar, and supplement it with some berries, toss it with orange juice and mint to make it look a little "dressier." I also love the black bean chili from Health Valley, and mix two cans to one can of tomato soup, then serve it with tortilla chips, sour cream and cheese. People praise it to the skies.

                                                        1. re: amyzan

                                                          I make naan on the grill and you get the grill marks. It's so good but then, what hot freshly made dough product isn't?;-)

                                                      2. In his auto-biography, Marco Pierre White recounts some of the best advice he'd ever heard, something along the lines of: If you can't do it as well as someone else, buy it from them. He credits it with earning his third Michelin Star, buying the coffee and bread from someone more suited to the task.

                                                        So, sure! Cheat away as long as the eats are good.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: GilloD

                                                          Wow!! That's a great quote! Thank you for that.
                                                          I've always felt that, well, "cheating" like that was actually quite a clever and inventive thing to do. I'm getting a lot of feedback supporting along those lines, but I also appreciate dissenting and different points of view.

                                                          1. re: aurora50

                                                            I mean. I'm a DIY guy. I like to make my own pasta and my own bread, but after awhile, well. You learn what you can. It's okay- great, even- to concede your abilities and just have fun.

                                                            As long as you're not passing it off as your own, it's fine, I think. Even smart! We don't all have AAA kitchens and 10 free hours in a day. My guilty pleasure?

                                                            Frozen shrimp. Shhhh.

                                                              1. re: GilloD

                                                                You ought not feel guilty about buying frozen shrimp. The vast majority of shrimp sold in North America are frozen (99% or more), so whatever you buy "fresh" at the fishmonger or supermarket have simply been frozen and defrosted already. At least if you buy them frozen and uncooked, you are in control of the defrosting and storage.

                                                          2. I just cheated yesterday. I can't usually cheat because there is little here to cheat with. I found and bought some pizza dough (along with monavano) from Carrefour and last night got the pizza in the oven in 11 minutes. With minimal mess. Going to do it gain.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                              Pizza dough, fresh pasta, breads...all of these are things that while not necessarily difficult to do at home are time consuming to do very well. A good bakery or pasta shop can provide a really high quality product, usually at a very good price, I've found. I use these things a lot.

                                                              1. re: ccbweb

                                                                Gads, amen! Making pizza dough is so simple, but buying dough for about US $0.75 each saves so much time and clean up! One time cheating and I'm hooked.

                                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                  Good for you!!! Glad you found SOMETHING to cheat with!!
                                                                  ; )

                                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                I used to live down the street from an Italian bread bakery. The bakers would be there late at night making bread, and at that point in my life, I worked a late shift pretty often. I loved coming home at 1 in the morning and walking down the street to the open back door of the bakery, where the guys would sell me a big piece of dough for a dollar. I would take it home and throw together a pizza in minutes. It was so good and satisfying. I could throw on all the leftover bits and pieces in my kitchen, including lots of healthy vegetables, and have a real meal in no time.

                                                              3. I do the fried rice thing occasionally.. usually when I just can't be fagged doing all the prep for fried rice, to go with a dodgy throw-together stir fry.

                                                                I can, and often do, make sensational fried rice from scratch, but after a hard day in the orifice, 5 kids, 2 dogs and all of that... sometimes it's just easier to pick up the phone and have the rice delivered hot and ready in 20 mins.

                                                                In my younger days, I was such a purist (read: unbearable food snob).. I would pride myself on hand grinding and roasting spices for my own curry pasts and rudely Pooh-poohed anyone who bought a Sharwoods or similar pre-fab paste.

                                                                I was bought down to earth when I started dating a Sri Lankan guy, whose Mum made the most SENSATIONAL curries.. and when asked her for the recipe, produced a jar of Patak's. She said to me (**insert wonderfully lyrical Sri Lankan accent**)"

                                                                You don't think I am having the time to be grinding grinding all day, isn't it??

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: purple goddess

                                                                  One of the greartest things about my job is that I can clearly hear and see that mum saying,"You don't think I am having the time to be grinding grinding all day, isn't it??" --as clear as the day! Precious!

                                                                  1. re: purple goddess

                                                                    Now I'm the sort of purist/unbearable food snob (I answer to both) who makes his own mayonnaise. Hell, I make my own ketchup. But Patak's is brilliant. It's every bit as good as Mae Ploy Thai curry pastes. I could make curry pastes at home and make them just as good as... well, actually I can't. I could when I lived in New York but here I just cannot get the ingredients. Patak's and Mae Ploy are actually better than I can make, than a lot of people can make, at home. You gotta love that.

                                                                    1. re: inuksuk


                                                                      Brudda from annuda mudda, perhaps???

                                                                      I CAN get the ingredients here... black cardamon pods, fenugreek, asafoedita... you name it... but Pataks is DA BOMB!!!

                                                                      I confes to using good mayo such as Best Foods in SOME recipes, but I, too, make my own ketchup/tomato sauce...

                                                                  2. I do it for items that I can't make at home, or that are too time-consuming/labour-intensive.

                                                                    For example, most breads are out of my league, esp. naan and injera. And while I could make my own baklava or madeleines, it's not worth the effort when I can get such superior ones for the cost of the ingredients.

                                                                    1. I can only say "amen" to a lot of the responses here. I, too, have bought the rice from the takeout Chinese, the naan from the curry place down the block, and the pizza dough from the pizzeria around the corner. And I wholeheartedly agree with the poster above who praised Pataks. After making my own Thai and Indian curry pastes on several occasions, I finally gave in and admitted that mine isn't sufficiently better than the bought stuff to justify all the work that goes into it.

                                                                      I don't call it cheating, I call it ingenuity!!

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Kagey

                                                                        this post has made me laugh because when folk's got into things like Patak's I wouldn't have even considered that cheating! I mean maybe if I was single but working part-time and taking care of my 2 kids under 5. They love to help in the kitchen and all but I can't spend all day there. Some things are just more important than being a food snob - and it probably is better than I can make anyway! :)

                                                                        1. There's a barbecue joint down the street from my house. They used to have great meat so I'd buy ribs and chicken for a party and make my own sides and dessert. Friends and family were always very happy never thought I was cheating. Their ribs and chicken is not as good as they used to be but their sides are still good especially the fries (really good with Suzanne Goin's pork burgers!!) so now I pick up the sides and grill my own meat for quick dinners during the week, especially if it is 103 degrees outside!!

                                                                          1. I think the word "cheating" just has an ugly connotation. And, as Chowhounds, for some reason it make us feel guilty. When I mentioned my "cheat" with the mashed potatoes, I forgot to mention last time that I get to enjoy my BF's perfect homemade mashed potatoes. But, this given night (and I would not hazard to guess a night or two in the future) after a hard days work and no mood to cook, altering a batch of local deli bought mashed is not exactly a sin. I will offer up another example of "cheating". I made a dinner from scratch the other night - a five cheese pasta, an antipasti platter, and a salad with homemade vinegarette. It was a special night and I knew cheesecake is my BF's fave dessert. I am not a baker, and while I have managed baking a decent cheescake in the past, this was not going to happen that night. So, I picked up a delish cheescake from our bakery. However, I did make a champagne and fresh blueberry sauce of my own to top it. And it don't feel guilty!

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. re: Justpaula

                                                                              Cheesecake always makes me feel guilty.

                                                                            2. Every once in a while I buy a cheese instead of making & aging myself... or a chocolate bar instead of starting with raw cacao nibs....

                                                                              There is a fine line between cheating & cheating.... some posters are a little full of themselves... making everything from scratch every home cooked meal... please it depends on what you are trying to accomplish.... yeah if you are making pot roast & potatoes for a Saturday night its probably shameful to buy stuff from eateries. But if you are going to make a 7 course meal without a full kitchen staff to help you... its foolish to not "cheat" as much as you can...

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                                                Yes, I really feel it depends on the circumstances and the individual. Everyone "cheats" a little differently. But no shame, or judging, on anyone - you don't know their circumstances, that's what I say.