How to fake a home-cooked meal if you can’t ...

How to fake a home-cooked meal if you can’t cook

I can’t cook. Well, that a lie I guess. I can physically turn on an oven, mix ingredients and put the mixed ingredients in the oven. That’s technically cooking. However I can’t cook well. I once made larb gai – my favourite Thai dish – so salty and fishy David couldn’t finish it. Cakes end up flat. Sausages end up burnt. The only thing I can cook and cook well is pasta. And this ain’t no Dolmio rubbish. This is the real thing.

Anyway, David and I have been trying to have a date night once a week. It’s been going well. Except the food. There are only so many times I can create a new(ish) pasta dish. That many carbs is good for no man, woman or kitten. Trust me. David has gone all out on his cooking nights. Duck with red wine soaked poached pears with summer sauté vegetables. Funghi risotto with Sicilian olive oil. Vegetable tandoori curry, tequila chimichangas, Thai fishcakes. Even his one pot sausage casserole is divine.

“Laura,” he said the morning of our date night. “Can you cook something other than pasta for tonight?” I think I did a little stress wee when he said that. Some people are naturally gifted. My skills are cat dancing and singing beautiful songs (to the cats). Clearly these are important, but no one can eat an ode to the puss.

I agreed. Dear reader, I agreed to try something other than my trusty pasta. It was bound to go one way. Into the toilet.

I couldn’t handle the shame of another failed dish. I just couldn’t. David hates any form of pre-prepared meal. I asked the cats for their input, but Mbeeps just sat like a fatso and Binx ran off, tail in the air chasing a fly. I was truly on my own. I scoured online for easy recipes and flicked through my selection of ‘Cooking for Idiots’ books but nothing was going to work. Until it did.

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So, I got a ready meal. I knew he didn’t like it, I knew he might never trust me again, but I had to make it work. Off to Sainsbury’s I went and chose a Charlie Bingham’s moussaka for two, a Greek salad, and hoped the red wine we had could get him sozzled enough he wouldn’t notice. And it WORKED. A little too well. He loved the meal. But he knew I couldn’t pull off something so complex. I’d hidden all the evidence though, so it was purely suspicion at this stage. Hearsay, if you will.

I did it. I DID IT. I made a meal. Except of course I hadn’t and I came clean later on. I was also slightly smug – he’d totally enjoyed a ready meal.

So, here are my tips to faking a home cooked meal for your other half.

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Get a good quality meal in

Sainsbury’s Basics might be ok for lunch when you’re pressed for time, but the quality is student loan fare. They always seem to have a strange aftertaste that screams ‘I was made with horse meat but what do you expect for 80p’ (not implying Saino’s basics was involved in the Great Horse Meat Scandal of Yesteryear). You need to choose quality. Think about it this way, if you were buying the ingredients, how much would they cost? There’s your budget. I would have had to spend at least £10 for a true moussaka, so £7.50 for both of us was more than acceptable.

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Don’t get too complicated

If it’s a first date, it can be tempting to show off your (non-existant) skills with a lavish meal. But that sets an incredibly high bar. And unless you can live the lie forever, it’s best to go for something you could maybe perhaps attempt one day. Moussaka was an ok choice for me, I guess if my cooking skills were a bit more advanced I could have pulled it off but the aubergines were a dead fake giveaway. I could have chosen mac n cheese but that broke the no pasta rule. I was also tempted by a curry but again, far too complex.

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Hide the evidence and create a scene

You have to get rid of the box and everything that screams ‘I clearly didn’t cook this masterpiece’ and create a cooking area. Sprinkle some flour around, mess up some utensils. Load your dishwasher and get the herbs and spices that are on the back of the box out. Basically, imagine the scene, create the scene.

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Learn the ingredients

This is where a posh premade meal helps. It’ll have actual ingredients on the back and not carry as many artificial flavourings. Learn the ingredients used in THAT meal, and top up your knowledge with a recipe to get the method down to a fine art.

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Forgive me, partner, for I have sinned

At the end of the day, I couldn’t let him think I’d made such a masterpiece. Purely because I had no intention of upping my culinary skills and there was no way I was going to be able to pull it off when he was actually in the kitchen with me. David appreciated the fact I’d made an effort (of sorts) and we’d had something other than pasta piselli. We had a lovely meal, settled to watch a nice film, and spent some quality time together.

Alls well that ends well, right?

Thanks to Charlie Bingham’s for saving the day in this case!

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