Making Store-bought Food Look Homemade

Between preparing the house, getting the table set, and cooking for a crowd, it's a wonder anyone hosts dinner parties.

But food stylist Marie Haycox showed Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith how to fake out your guests with simple, store-bought foods and make it look like it came straight from your kitchen.

In preparation for the Super Bowl, which is coming up in two weeks, she suggested some hor d'oeuvres that will indeed do the trick:


• First thing for the meal? A cheese plate can look delectable and gorgeous with very little work. First thing to do is to visit the cheese counter at your grocery store or market to stock up on the main event. Marie suggests four cheeses for your cheese plate, and she suggests going with three you already know and like, and to try one new one as an experiment. For instance, we have cheddar, Havarti, Brie, and Maytag Blue. As our experiment, Marie found, in honor of the Super Bowl, a hot wing flavored cheddar.

• To go with the cheese she recommends pitted olives (if you have an olive bar at your grocery story, this would be best, but jarred olives will do). If you can find them, mini pickles always make the platter look good and are great with cheeses. Small pickles are sometimes called Cornichon, and they aren't necessary but always add a nice touch. Then from the condiment aisle at the store, get a jar of good mustard, a jam and a preserve. Marie suggests fig preserve and seedless raspberry jam for a cheese plate, the fig is great with cheese, and the raspberry has a nice tart flavor that will enhance almost any cheese. Finally, pick up a mixed box of crackers, the different shapes and sizes will add visual interest to the plate.

• To set up your cheese plate, Marie likes cheap bamboo boards (she bought them at a discount store and they are easy to find) or slate boards. Both of these options make the food brighter as it stands out against the dark background. Cutting boards stacked up with a cheese on each level is also a professional way to present a cheese plate. Marie always makes up a few formal cracker examples to put on the display, to suggest some flavors. Also, Marie likes to make a few olive skewers on bamboo picks and add them to the mix to enhance the display.

• Another great idea? Shrimp cocktail in a big bowl can look dull, and it definitely doesn't scream homemade. But there is something you can do to make the appetizer seem homier, a little more homemade. Buy some precooked shrimp and cocktail sauce. Get yourself some flat bottom Asian soup spoons. Place some cocktail sauce in the spoon and place one shrimp on each, for an individual shrimp cocktail serving with a gourmet touch.

These two ideas will get your appetizers out quickly, and allow you to focus on the entree, which requires just a touch of cooking.


• Head over to the seafood aisle of your grocery store and get some crab or fish cakes. If you get them from your fish counter, make sure you ask the fish guy how to properly prepare them. If you don't have a fish counter, you can generally get these sorts of fish or crab cakes in the frozen aisle. Also get some pre-peeled shrimp (large if you can find them, about 2 or 3 per guest), and some frozen bacon wrapped scallops. While at the grocery store, also pick yourself up some asparagus and a prepackaged box of rice and some lemons and parsley for garnish. From these ingredients, you are going to make some beautiful and delicious plates with a seafood buffet feel.

• Take the prepackaged shrimp and sauté in butter for a couple of minutes on each side. Prepare the fish cakes, frozen bacon wrapped scallops and box of rice (such as a pilaf or a seasoned brown rice mix) according to directions. The asparagus is going to be your vegetable, and it's going to add a wonderful green color to the plate. In order to poach it, just cut off the tough bottom end of the asparagus and place in boiling water for 1 to 3 minutes. It should get a nice deep green color. Remove, and allow to dry on paper towels.

• To build your plate and give it a homemade flavor, start by putting a scoop of rice on each plate. Then place 4 or 5 pieces of asparagus on each. Then add the cooked fish or crab cake, the shrimp and end with the scallops. To unify the plate, use scissors to cut a little fresh parsley all over it for garnish and to unify it's look. Add a lemon for extra flavor and a more formal look. Cut a wedge out of the lemon and cut small sections out of the wedge to create a textured looking smiling wedge.


• For desserts, it's all about how you display them. You can use precut brownies, biscotti, cookies, tarts or frozen éclairs. The key here is how you are going to present them. If you have cake stands, you can place them on top of each other for a professional looking way to serve. If you don't have cake stands, you can use cookbooks, piled on top of one another. If you are worried about the cake stands or cookbooks sliding, you can use fun tac or poster putty (which can be purchased at a stationary store) between the stacks to hold them in place.

• If you would like to buy a tray of brownies or you have a large pan of baked goods to cut, put the tray in the freezer for 10 minutes before cutting. This allows the shape to set firmly as you slice it, so you have a uniform look.

• Again, garnish is going to be important here. Cut fresh mint and place around the platters or cookbooks for a fresh green look. Also, add fresh deep colored berries like raspberries or blueberries (good tip-when buying berries-make sure they are dry, it means they are fresh). Take a handful and use them to decorate the dessert display. With the display, put out a pile dessert plates next to the display and forks.

If you are serving coffee, replace your sugar with sugar cubes for a more formal look.