I was thinking about this tonight about secret things people do that people do not need to know about. I knew I wanted something quick and easy, but was not sure what I wanted. We have all done it at some point or another and no one ever found out about it, unless we told them.

Whether it is using canned tomatoes in a stew, buying store made salads, or using jarred tomato sauce as a base and adding other ingredients to claim as your own. Yes I am talking those little cooking cheats that your guests will never know you did. What did you think I was talking about?

Tonight I made myself a Philly cheese stake on a flatbread using deli roast beef slightly warmed in a frying pan. I added some leftover sautéed onions and grated some cheddar and havarti (you can buy those pre shredded to as a nice shortcut). As I was eating my dinner, I realized that I did in just a few minutes, would have taken a lot longer had I started from scratch and would have tasted just the same.

This got me to thinking of some of the other cheats or shortcuts I could do to save time, money or effort without the loss of flavour or enjoyment of a dish. Not dangerous stuff like using TNT to tenderize a tough cut of beef (like they did on “Myth Busters”), but things you already have in the freezer, pantry that can be used as a substitute for an ingredient or you can pick up on short notice that normally take a long time to prepare.

Some of the cheating I have done are:

When I decided one time to have some friends over for steak on the BBQ, I took my favourite marinade (Greek feta salad dressing) with me shopping at the St. Lawrence Market and had the butcher put the marinade into each bag with the steak and vacuum pack them. The vacuum packing of the steak in the marinade gave the same result in 1 hour than if the steak had marinated all night.

I use canned tomatoes in my beef stew, instead of crushing fresh tomatoes. Speaking of tomatoes, I have a jar of homemade pickled green tomatoes that a family member made, that I have to find a use for.

Another time, I was pressed for time and I was making dinner for a date and did not have much selection in the cupboard, so I cooked up a frozen pre-seasoned chicken breast. Then I boiled up a few packets of those oriental noodles (without using the flavour packet), drained the noodles and mixed in a little bit of the flavour packets and some other herbs  and spices I had on hand. She was impressed and thought I had taken hours preparing it.

Speaking of soup, even with my signature French onion soup has a few shortcuts in it, like using store bought beef broth (I am sure many others do this too), but that makes up for the hour or so that I take to slowly caramelize the onions.

What have you done that others may have considered cheating?

I know that some of my friends, who when starting their businesses went and leased an office through a commercial real estate company felt that I was cheating when I went with a phone answering service/ Toronto mail service. While they had to pay rent, buy a telephone system, hire a receptionist, buy office furniture and lease office equipment like a photocopier and fax machine, I had a prestigious business address with a professional receptionist along with access to boardrooms and modern office equipment (on an a-la-cart basis) at fraction of the cost of theirs. To me that was not cheating, that was good business sense. When my need for a physical office grew, I was able to rent a shared office space without having to change my address or my phone number.

Even now that I have a private furnish office space Toronto at the same location, I still pay less per month than they pay for their unfurnished office and have a more prestigious business address.