Being thrown for a loop during a meal or party preparation is never awesome, but it happens. If there are people involved, and cooking food for those people is also involved, unexpected surprises are almost guaranteed.
Twists or turns for a meal on Thanksgiving are especially tricky because the grocery stores are closed, and you find out about these surprises many times right before meal time.
If a few extra people show up, the solution could be as easy as opening an extra can of corn.
Sidebar: Every time I hear, “Can o’ corn” I think about this scene in The Longest Yard:
However, most Thanksgiving meals are so large a few extra people isn’t usually the problem. But other possibilities DO exist. So, I’ve developed a “crisis management” list for you to handle many of the possible, random or even probable surprises lurking in the wings for the upcoming holiday. Here we go…
1. A few days, or even hours prior to your meal, you get this message: “Okay, truth, no one in our family likes dressing. Can we PLEASE forego the dressing?” Great. It’s your turn to cook. You even called for your aunt’s dressing recipe because that’s what has always been served, and no one likes it? Here’s a great substitute that’s easy, it uses your cornbread mix, the big foil pan you had prepped for the dressing, and (in my opinion) tastes better:
In a large bowl combine four packets of cornbread mix (not corn muffin mix). Quickly clean/core 20 jalapeno peppers and shred them in a food processor. Add the peppers, a small bag of frozen corn [thawed], one extra egg over what the mixes call for, two bags of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (16 total oz.), and use buttermilk for the mix rather than regular milk. Please use about 10% extra buttermilk over what the mix calls for as it’s a little thicker. Mix thoroughly (don’t overmix; just until all the ingredients are wet and well blended), transfer to your large foil pan you had prepped for dressing (make sure and coat with non-stick spray prior to filling), and bake in a 390F oven for about 35-40 minutes. Check at 30 minutes. The edges should be nicely brown and pulling from the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean. This recipe feeds 25 people easily, takes less than an hour from beginning to end, costs about $8.25, and is about .34 cents or less per serving. One other thing – it’s delicious.
2. You are having a crisis of conscience. You WANT to cook, you DON’T want to be boring, but you DON’T have time and you MESS THINGS UP very easily. Wow, have I got a solution for you: Roasted Delicata Squash. I’m convinced this stuff is better than butternut, it’s more “Thanksgiving-y” because it’s so beautiful, and it practically cooks itself.
Roasted Delicata Squash
Preheat your oven to 400F. Cut your squash in half length-wise. Clean out the seeds with a spoon. Then slice into 1/2″ sections, trying to keep them as uniform as possible. Brush a large metal sheet pan with olive oil. Lay all the slices in the pan, not touching if possible. Brush the exposed side with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher or sea salt, and grind a bit of black pepper over them. Roast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until they start turning brown. Flip them and roast for another ten minutes. You’re done. They’re beautiful. They reheat well. You’re a hit! I made enough for my husband and I last week and here are the photos…
3. Oops, you have a vegetarian guest coming, and you’re not sure where to begin planning for them. If it were me, I’d whip up a nice pasta casserole or a nice eggplant casserole. These two dishes are pleasing for most all palates, including your guests who are NOT vegetarian, and you can include some cheese to help them with protein.
There are so many eggplant casserole recipes on food sites, you’ll probably want to pick one that fits with you. However, one with a tomato sauce base might be pleasing to the most guests. All I have is a photo of the one I recently made. The first photo is an “in progress” shot, and the last is a “ready to eat” shot. I finished mine off on top with a blend of Panco Italian bread crumbs, shredded Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts.
4. Your dinner took MUCH longer to make than expected. How can you cut corners on time and still do well for your guests? My first thought would be, “Forget the mashed potatoes. Roast them instead. They’re easy, you don’t have nearly the clean up, and folks just really, really love them. Better yet? Try Rosemary Roasted Potatoes – nomz! I just roasted potatoes tonight. Here’s a peek…
5. You have several guests coming who are struggling with their weight and you’d like to offer a small dessert choice. One of the easiest tiny desserts is simply mini-tarts. You can fill them with lemon curd, any homemade jams or jellies you have at home, pumpkin pie filling, mincemeat, or anything else you can think of. The tarts will have about 25% of the content & calories of a regular dessert but still allow your guests to have a viable sweet choice. Purchase frozen mini-tart shells at your grocer or make them using this great recipe from E-How. (Photo from E-How)
Of course, there are probably hundreds more unexpected surprises – some you could possibly plan for, and some you could NEVER even think might happen. Case in point: my family is “known” for our tabouli. We are asked to bring it most Thanksgivings, and do so dutily. However, we were headed to a Thanksgiving dinner several years ago, and my daughter got carsick. She promptly threw up into the tabloui. So…no tablouli. We really didn’t know what to do…so we just made a joke about it. We called it “ta-spew-li.” That’s the only solution we could come up with in order to deliver the news that our meal would not be including the tabouli that year.
Ta-spew-li. Yup. That was, indeed, an unexpected Thanksgiving surprise.