While we are strong advocates of home cooking, we don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a few store-bought items now and then if it makes entertaining easier. Don’t panic: We’re not going to tell you to fill a store-bought angel food cake with raspberry Jell-O, top it with Cool Whip, and cover it in sweetened coconut and chocolate chips (although, if you want to, we won’t judge). But we do have a few ways to cheat on our recipes if you’re pressed for time at your Sunday football party, because sometimes you actually want to spend your time watching the game.
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Here are 10 store-bought saviors we like to sneak into semi-homemade recipes from time to time, and one indispensable time-saving tool (we bet you can guess what it is):
1. Rotisserie Chicken
Let someone else cook the chicken—and we don’t mean a friend, unless you’re all down for a big game potluck, which is totally an option. The easiest tack if you’re doing it yourself is to simply pick up a rotisserie chicken and shred the meat to use however you please. We have a few ideas: in our Enchiladas Suizas recipe, in our Chicken, Guacamole, and Bean Nachos recipe, in our Chicken Taco Soup recipe (or actual Chicken Tacos), or in our Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe (or, to return to a favorite theme, our Spicy Chicken and Chile Taco Dip recipe.)
2. Frozen Pizza
Then again, if you spring for a truly gourmet frozen pizza—from the likes of Lou Malnati’s or Roberta’s, which, in this glorious age, you can now have delivered straight to your door—you won’t need to do anything to it but heat it up and watch it disappear. Check out our guide to the best frozen pizzas you can have delivered. Actually, you can pretty much order all your game day grub online.
Flatbread—from naan to pita—is easy to find in most stores these days, and it makes a great base for high-end ingredients that transform it into a fast, easy appetizer (similar to but distinct from pizza!). Try our Crème Fraîche, Red Onion, and Lox Flatbread recipe or our Chorizo and Olive Flatbread recipe, on your store-bought base, then cut into bite-size pieces and place on a platter where guests can help themselves.
4. Microwave Popcorn
Pick up a no-salt, no-butter microwave popcorn like Newman’s Own, then make a seasoning mixture like the one from our Parmesan and Black Pepper Popcorn recipe, our Black Sesame and Mustard Popcorn recipe, or our Spicy Cinnamon-Sugar Popcorn recipe if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Put the popcorn in a bowl after it’s popped and drizzle the mixture over it. Toss and serve. Boom (pop)! Bonus: This fulfills the game day party playbook rule of having something people can eat without needing to look at it, in case they can’t tear their eyes away from the TV screen.
5. Hummus (and Eggplant Dip)
Take a shortcut on our Eggplant and Hummus Pita Crisps by using store-bought hummus and eggplant dip. Or, just buy a good-quality plain hummus and doctor it up with mix-ins, like those in our Easy Chipotle Hummus recipe, or stir in jarred pesto for a quick take on our Spinach and Basil Hummus recipe.
6. Marinated Steak Strips
Pre-marinated steak strips picked up from the meat counter can be seared and wrapped in corn tortillas for steak tacos, steak fajitas, or used to top a steak salad (our recipe calls for a tomato vinaigrette, but you can substitute a dressing of your choice). If you’re not convinced of the quality of your local options, you can always order steak online and toss it in a good store-bought rub the night before.
7. Pre-Cut Vegetables
Hack your dip tray by simply swapping out the foil-lidded goop that comes along with a store-bought veggie platter for a flavorful homemade option like gooey queso, our Slow Cooker French Onion Dip recipe, or our Easy Blue Cheese Dressing recipe. (Or go with your favorite game day grub in dip form!) Lightly steam cauliflower, broccoli, or tiny waxy potatoes and serve them alongside the raw, crunchy stuff to add some variety.
Just choose carefully when you buy pre-cut vegetables—depending on how long they’ve been on the shelf, they can be really dried out. That’s less of a concern if you’re going to cook them (say, if you’re setting up a taco or fajita bar).
8. Frozen Limeade Concentrate
Because you need to have something to drink besides beer. (And maybe you don’t want to mess around with game day wine pairings.) In that case, make a round of Easy Slushy Margaritas by using frozen limeade concentrate instead of freshly squeezed limes. While you’re at it, read up on the history of frozen margaritas and quiz your friends on their origins during halftime. Winner gets a prize (i.e. another margarita).
9. Ice Cream
Sure, you could serve it straight from the tub, but just a little more work nets way more impressive results (just don’t tell anyone how easy it actually was). Our Pistachio-Strawberry Ice Cream Cake looks stunning, for instance, but it’s ridiculously easy to make when you use store-bought ice cream. Ditto our Raspberry Brownie Ice Cream Parfaits recipe. Or you could always set up a football sundae bar.
10. Pre-Cut Melon
While they’re not particularly seasonal, our Booze-Soaked Watermelon Pops are always a hit at parties (and technically count as a healthy game day snack). Use pre-cut melon and soak it in vodka and Chambord, then freeze. It’s a great dessert option if you’re not a baker—but if you are, check out these beer dessert recipes for the occasion. Pineapple chunks and honeydew also take well to the alcohol infusion treatment.
11. Instant Pot
OK, so this one isn’t an ingredient, but you knew it was going to be in here, and for good reason: The Instant Pot (or whatever pressure cooker you might have) is a perfect tool for making big batches of party food in a fraction of the usual time, from carnitas and queso to chili and cheesecake. With an air fryer attachment, it can even crisp up wings and fries on game day, so put it to good use!
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This post was originally published by Roxanne Webber in 2008 and has been updated with new links, images, and text.
Header image courtesy of Anjelika Gretskaia / Moment / Getty Images