by Amy Daniels

‘Tis the season…for last minute parties and unexpected guests! It seems that no matter how well prepared you think you are for the holidays, there is always at least one point when you find yourself in a festive-food related panic. Keeping a few extra staple items in your refrigerator and pantry can cut down on holiday stress by giving you easy solutions to unexpected food prep.

Emergency Holiday Food Shopping List:

• Refrigerated Crescent Dough (non-perforated to save time)
• Refrigerated Cookie Dough (any form and flavor)
• Frozen Veggies
• Frozen Fruit
• Cream Cheese
• Shredded cheese

Crescent Dough

I’m pretty sure that refrigerated crescent dough is the duct tape of the food world. You can make buttery, flaky crescents, as the name suggests, or use the dough to wrap around just about anything. Wrap triangle shapes around individual items, make filled hand-pies, or roll it up for pinwheel style creations.

The beauty of the crescent dough creations is that regardless of what you do with the dough, you follow the same baking instructions: preheat oven to 375oF, then bake 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. 

With the exception of raw meat, you can really put just about anything on or in this dough. Use what you have on hand and trust that the buttery flaky dough will make it seem fancier than it really is. Here are a few easy options for last minute recipes:

Ham & Cheese Pinwheels: Unroll the dough on a sheet pan. Cover with a layer of ham (or other sliced deli meat) and a layer of any variety of cheese. From the longest edge, roll into a tight cylinder. Cut slices approximately 1 inch wide. Lay flat on pan and bake according to package directions (Variations: Add cream cheese with herbs and seasoning; fine chop broccoli (or spinach) and layer with ham and cheese)

Leftover Dip Pinwheels: Unroll the dough on a sheet pan. Spread cold, leftover dip to cover the dough. (Note: need to make it go a little farther? Add cream cheese, sour cream, or chopped vegetables). From the longest edge, roll into a tight cylinder. Cut slices approximately 1inch wide. Lay flat on pan and bake according to package directions. (This is an amazing way to use leftover spinach artichoke dip or salsa).

Mini Fruit Puffs: Cut dough into approximately 1 inch pieces and press into the bottom of a mini muffin tin. Add a 1/2 tsp of cream cheese to each cup. Add a 1/2 tsp of jam/jelly/preserves to each cup. Bake according to package directions. (Variation: add a couple of frozen blueberries to each cup and then bake).

Cookie Dough

Keeping refrigerated cookie dough on hand makes it easy to pop a tray in the oven and have cookies ready in about than 20 minutes. Follow the baking instructions and make simple cookies, or dress them up a little with other things you have on hand:

• Chop up candy canes and sprinkle the peppermint flavored flakes on top of cookies as soon as they come out of the oven and are still soft and warm.

• Place small balls of cookie dough on a baking tray, and flatten slightly with your thumb to create a small well. While the cookies are baking, unwrap Hershey’s Kisses, Rollos or peanut butter cups, then remove the tray from the oven with about 2 minutes of bake time left. Place a chocolately candy in each cookie well and return to the oven and bake for the remaining time–cookies should be fully baked and candy will be melty.

• Make it into biscotti. Flatten cookie dough into a rectangular log to about 1 inch thick on a baking tray. Bake according to directions + 3-5 minutes (don’t let it burn, but let it overcook a bit). Remove tray and allow to cool completely. Slice into strips, laying each strip flat on the pan. Bake for an additional 4-7 minutes per side.  (Note: It’s not exactly like traditional biscotti, but it’s still fun to dip in coffee. Bonus points if you drizzle with melted chocolate after second round of baking.)

Frozen Fruit & Veggies

Frozen fruits and veggies are very easy to incorporate into dishes to add an extra colorful element, or to expand a recipe a bit.

• Add frozen peas to a creamy or cheesy pasta dish. 

• Add some frozen chopped spinach to just about anything savory–soups, casseroles, you name it. 

• Frozen veggies, can be roasted. Preheat oven to 425oF, toss your frozen veggies with olive oil and some seasonings in a single layer on a tray, bake 10 minutes, stir, bake 10 minutes more. Voilà.

• Throw veggies in a casserole dish with your favorite “cream of” soup, add cheese of some kind if desired, and top with breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs. Bake at 350oF for about 30 minutes.

• Add frozen fruit to hot oatmeal  for an easy breakfast to feed a crowd.

• Make a baked fruit crumble–you don’t need to be a master baker or follow an exact recipe. Fill a casserole dish to halfway with fruit. Add milk (half cover fruit), sprinkle with flour and sugar (or other sweetener). Have cream cheese on hand? Drop small pieces throughout the pan. Give it a quick stir and put in a 350oF oven for about 20 minutes. While the fruit base thaws and bakes, make a quick topping out of crunched up Nilla wafers or oats, soft butter, brown sugar, a little bit of flour and cinnamon. Exact proportions aren’t super important–use more wafers/oats than anything else; use enough butter that it all sticks together pretty well. Sprinkle/spread on top of fruit base. Bake another 10-15 minutes, until your topping starts to brown.

‘Tis the season, my friends. If you find yourself in a pinch without a dish to contribute to a holiday gathering of friends, family, or co-workers, don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Ultimately, your presence is more important than another appetizer. Holiday parties are notorious for an overabundance of food, and if you show up unprepared, there will probably still be a table full of goodies. If you feel you absolutely have to bring something, stop at a grocery story and pick something up.

May your kitchen be toasty and warm and your pants not overly snug.

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