Toasted sandwiches, spag bol, baked potatoes, two-minute noodles: Hacks to help you cook (and drink) your age

Eat your greens: Grown-up cheese toasties.
Eat your greens: Grown-up cheese toasties. Photo: William Meppem

Are you still living on cheese toasties, Thai takeaway and pizza? Haven't experimented beyond spag bol? Although we live in the MasterChef age, there are plenty of people who don't want to cook. I say, 'don't want to cook' because everyone can cook – you just need to follow a recipe. Everyone can cook. Yes even you, master of the two-minute-noodle / cheese-toastie-for dinner genre of cooking,  or the reheated, three-day-old Thai takeaway special.  

But maybe, just maybe, it's time to lift your game.

We know... Cooking for one is about as inspiring as Trump eating fried chicken with a fork. Or maybe you're busy building a career, raising a family or – both. But it's never too late or too early to expand your repertoire.

So here are six of the greatest slacker dishes going of all time, with hacks to lift them to a higher plane. But wait, there's more: we've called in wine writer Mike Bennie to provide boozy matches to take your next slacker meal from depressing to decent. 

Wine writer Mike Bennie – who thinks alcoholic beverages are "the final condiment to go with any dish that's on a table" – has some surprising boozy matches to take a standard meal from depressing to decent.

Cheese toasties

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a cheese toastie, but that cardboard bread and Coon tasty number you whack together at 2am just doesn't cut it. Experiment with a good camembert, strong cheddar or gruyere. Try making condiments from scratch, like onion relish or bacon jam.

Bread is crucial – opt for a robust sourdough from a reputable baker, or experiment with a dark, tangy rye. Slather the outside in quality butter or whole egg mayonnaise for that golden finish and don't settle for a sandwich press; dry frying your toastie in a hot pan or griddle and pressing down with a cooking utensil or heavy plate will compress the ingredients into a beautiful, melty mess. 

Mike Bennie's match: "Despite what the universe has ordained, cheese and wine is typically a poor match, with lactose building up in the palate and nullifying a wine's nuances. Cheese toasties are seriously good with sherry though; that saline tang you get from a fino-style sherry works like a sprinkle of salt on the toastie. Try 919 Wines Pale Dry Apera."

Shepherd?s pie. Karen Martini SPOT ON recipes for Epicure and Good Food. Photographed by Marina Oliphant. Styling by Andrea Geisler. Photographed April 13, 2013. The Age 7/2/2013

Pair shepherd's pie with any red wine. Photo: supplied

Spaghetti bolognese

Anyone can throw some mince, onion, garlic, tomato and herbs together. But bolognese is a fantastic base for other dishes, too (plus it freezes well). Simply add some kidney and/or black beans, cooked bacon, and chilli or chipotle to make chilli con carne, and serve with jalapenos, sour cream, grated cheese, coriander and corn chips, or as tacos.

Alternatively, add a couple of tablespoons of flour and Worcestershire sauce to your original mix, dish into small ramekins, top with mashed potato and bake until golden on 180C for individual shepherd's pies. 

Mike Bennie's match: "A righteous dish for matching up to just about any old red wine, so long as it's good enough to drink and cook with (a glass for the pot, four for you). My mind goes straight to chilled carafes and tumblers of easygoing red, and the super-named, super crunchy, bright young red Giovanni Armani Giorgio Rosso del Giorno 2016 from South Australia is firmly in the slot."

Adam Liaw's economy fried noodles.

Put an egg on it! Photo: William Meppem

Instant noodles

Instant noodles should only be consumed on two occasions: if you're a uni student or your mother refuses to make a second dinner because you didn't like the first.

Instant noodles are easily improved though – a simple method is to add Asian sauces to taste, top with fried shallots for texture and spring onions and coriander for freshness, add a soft-boiled egg, throw in some white or sichuan pepper for heat, or go all out and add your own vegetables (shredded cabbage is great) and meat.

Or eat your instant noodles like a chef

Mike Bennie's match: "Instant noodles, young fresh white wine. It needs to be bright, crisp, pure of fruit, fresh in flavour, unadorned with oak or too much winery work – let that powdered packet seasoning shine. I'd wager Hunter Valley semillon is the ticket here – good for spicy Asian flavouring, fine and dandy with chicken-ish character."

Hasselback potatoes.

Swap plain baked potatoes for hasselback. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Jacket potatoes

Nothing quite says 'loneliness' like a single jacket potato for dinner. Instead, try simple loaded potatoes by repeatedly slicing red potatoes, although not all the way through (Hasselback recipe here). Bake them in the oven then add cooked bacon (or mince) and cheese, returning to the oven until the latter has melted. Serve with a drizzle of sour cream and thinly sliced spring onion. Or try this prawn cocktail twist.

Want to play with your potatoes a little more? A reliable potato gratin and potato gnocchi recipe should also be part of your repertoire. 

Mike Bennie's match: "This decadent treat needs something with a little extra under the hood to match up to all that garnishing. Look to the new school of avant garde Australian wine producers, dialling down the creaminess and honey characters and upping the fresh, natural acidity to cut through that cream and cheese, and freshen up the palate after bacon – try Manon Geoponika, from Adelaide Hills, and their blend of chardonnay and Jura's famed grape variety, savagnin."

Beetroot, Almond & Shanklish Dip

Whip up some beetroot and feta dip. Photo: Marcel Aucar

DIY dips 

Fact: you are more likely to be asked to bring dips to a party this year than the new 'spaghetti doughnut' trend is to survive into May. Avoid a last-minute supermarket dash and make your own gourmet dips; all you need is a food processor.

Avocado: a couple of avocados, a crushed garlic clove, two tablespoons of lime juice and seasoning.

Hummus: a can of chickpeas, clove of garlic, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tbsp each of lemon juice and tahini, 1 tsp ground cumin and salt.

Beetroot and feta: two chopped roasted beetroots, 100g feta, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 3 tbsp olive oil and seasoning.

Pesto: three cups fresh basil, 1 clove garlic, 1 tsp lemon, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts and 1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese. You get the drift.

Mike Bennie's match: "Dips are many and varied so you need a utilitarian beverage to go alongside. As always, refreshing the palate is the best measure when taking on lush texture, so a zesty, tangy beer might be your best answer here. Dial down the hops; get stuck into the savoury, sour and tart characters found in wild ferment beer. Wildflower Brewing and Blending operates out of an inner Sydney warehouse, and is making sensational, naturally fermented beer."

Adam Liaw's easy cheeseburgers.

Adam Liaw's easiest-ever cheeseburgers (RECIPE HERE). Photo: William Meppem


There's a direct relationship between the quality of your bun, fillings and patty and the end result. Buy your mince from a gourmet butcher. In Melbourne, try Meatsmith, Berties Butchers or Gary's Meats at Prahran Market, and in Sydney, Victor Churchill, Hudson Meats or Feather and Bone.

If you're ready to take your burger to the next level, ditch your go-to meat patty for pulled pork, panko-crumbed anything or a vegetarian alternative. Think outside the box with fillings, like you did with those toasties. Need some inspiration? Google gourmet burger shops and pinch whatever they put in theirs. 

Mike Bennie's match: "Dressing up the most regular of fast food options is sometimes that great juxtaposition needed to elevate your dining experience. How about pairing your burger with something super fancy? You'll want a fancy pinot noir right now, and pretty much at the apex of Australia's small-batch, organic-farmed, attention-to-detail wine releases is Bindi from Macedon Ranges. Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir is incredibly fine, silky textured, beautiful drinking right here.

Do you really want to reduce the fat content of cake?

Pimp that packet cake mix. Photo: William Meppem

Bonus tips:

■ Don't want to push beyond packet cake mixes? Try adding a dollop of mayonnaise for moisture; an extra egg for richness; chopped nuts, chocolate or fruit for texture; make your own icing; and swap out water for milk, buttermilk or coconut milk. (Solve any baking disasters with these tips.)

■ Move beyond simple pan-roasted fish fillets and experiment with fish patties, whether a firm white fish, salmon, sardines or something Thai. While we're talking seafood, mussels mariniere is as easy as it is impressive.

■ Out of ideas and need to use up ingredients? It doesn't get simpler than a frittata (here are 25 recipes to get you started) or a sweet or savoury galette.

■ If you don't already have a roast chicken recipe up your sleeve, here's one that's pretty much foolproof.