You can make a winning dessert as fast as you can open a can, a jar or a package.
In many cases, you don't even have to know how to cook. The secret lies in keeping a few well-chosen staples on hand. Ready-to-use or nearly ready-to-use ingredients are the key.
Start at the bottom and work up: a pastry base topped with fruit or custard, drizzled with topping and crowned with sprinkles.
The trick is mixing and matching.
Start with shortcake, for instance. Spoon on spreadable fruit. Crown with frozen whipped topping and a sprinkle of nuts.
Or stuff a puff pastry shell with lemon curd and top with fresh or frozen raspberries and shredded coconut.
Heat miniature frozen waffles and top them with whipped peanut butter and chocolate chips for a portable snack.
Fill a graham cracker crust -- store-bought, or make your own in minutes -- with chocolate instant pudding and pie filling; drizzle with caramel sauce and top with crushed candy bars.
For more immediate gratification, spread chocolate frosting on a shortbread cookie.
Get the idea? It's as simple as choosing an ingredient from two or more categories.
Start with a shell from the first category. Add one or more items from the others.
Shells: frozen tarts, ready-to-serve tarts, graham cracker crust (includes chocolate and butter flavor), puff pastry shells, shortcake shells (chocolate or plain), pound cake, angel food cake, refrigerated pie shell, cookies (butter cookies, vanilla wafers, chocolate wafers, Nabisco Brown Edge wafers, shortbread), Eggo Minis frozen waffles.
Fillings: Custard mix, pudding (prepared as for pie), spreadable fruit, canned pie filling, lemon curd, marmalade, ice cream, frozen yogurt, Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread), whipped peanut butter, tapioca, Knorr dessert mixes (milk chocolate or white chocolate mousse), flavored cream cheese, canned fruit, drained, drained applesauce, Solo canned fillings (fruit, nut, poppy seed, etc.), ready-made frosting.
Toppings: whipped cream, whipped topping, hot fudge, ice cream sauce, chocolate sauce, marshmallow creme, caramel sauce, frozen berries, flavored syrups (strawberry, blueberry, etc.), marshmallows.
Sprinkles: nuts, chips: chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch, vanilla, shredded coconut, sprinkles, crushed nuts, crushed candy bars, crushed hard candy, crushed cookies, confectioners' sugar, granola or other cereal.