You might think that the biggest shopping day of the year is Black Friday, but it’s actually Christmas Eve. After all, even if you have every present bought, wrapped, and tucked away by Halloween, you might still fall victim to the worst last-minute disaster of them all: Realizing you don’t have the ingredients you need to make the dish you promised for your holiday office party or big family dinner. If you need a last minute dish, but don’t want to set foot in a supermarket on Christmas Eve, here are a few fast, strictly from the pantry dishes that can save you at the last minute.
I discovered this recipe around Thanksgiving and have made it a couple times since. It’s always well received, fast and easy to make, and since I almost always have an apple or two laying around, it’s great to make in a pinch.
What You Need:
(can easily be doubled, tripled, etc. depending on how many apples you have)
1 Tablespoon butter
2 Apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin (if you’re short on apples, slice them thinner to stretch them – also works well with pears)
2 Tablespoons maple syrup (in a pinch, regular pancake syrup, brown sugar, or honey will work too)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
How To Make It:
Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat, then toss in the apples and cook until golden brown. Add in the salt and syrup, mix, and cook until the apples are soft, about 10 minutes total. These are great on their own or over ice cream if you have it, and reheat pretty well if you need to make them ahead.
Honey Glazed Carrots
The savory side-dish cousin of maple apples, honey glazed carrots are the perfect slightly sweet counterpoint to a big holiday beast. I actually discovered these several years ago, and again it’s a “recipe” that’s more of a guideline. This one I borrowed from Sunny Anderson.
What You Need:
1 pound baby carrots (full sized carrots peeled and cut into medallions will work too)
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons honey (again, brown sugar will work)
Salt and pepper to taste
How To Make It:
Boil the carrots in salted water until tender (5-6 minutes). Drain and add carrots to a pan with melted butter and honey. Stir to coat and cook another 5 minutes, then season to taste.
One Banana Bread
Banana bread is the old stand-by recipe for getting rid of your old gross bananas, but I’ve found that it also makes a really good last minute emergency dish. It’s a little more creative than cookies (though, let’s be honest, if you have the stuff to make ’em, no one in the world will object to a batch of chocolate chip cookies), and this recipe is particularly well-suited to oh-no-I-forgot applications because it only requires one egg, one banana, and one stick of butter.
What You Need:
1 egg plus enough milk to equal one liquid cup
1 stick butter or margarine (softened)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
Optional: nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, cinnamon chips, etc.
How To Make It:
Unceremoniously combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until more or less smooth. Thoroughly grease up your loaf pans and pour in the batter. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 55 minutes depending on the size of your pan. This recipe also works well in a well-greased bundt pan, though in my experiments with muffin tins turned out a little weird.
Perhaps the most complicated-seeming dish on this list, any kind of candy made with sugar (pralines, penuche, caramel, fudge, etc.) is sure to impress your friends and family. Many people are intimidated by the idea of cooking with sugar, but it’s actually much, much easier than you might think. Pralines actually cook, cool, and set incredibly quickly, and depending on what ingredients you have on hand (evaporated milk but no corn syrup, for example), it’s easy to find an alternative recipe to make SOMETHING of what you have.
What You Need (ish):
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk (or evaporated milk or cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
*A candy thermometer or a small bowl of cold water
How To Make It:
Like a baking sheet with non-stick aluminum foil or wax paper (have this ready on hand as you’ll have to move fast once the candy is ready). Combine all ingredients in a saucepan slightly larger than you think you’ll need (the sugar will expand when it boils) over medium heat. If it’s your first time cooking with sugar, use a lower temperature for more control. Heat the mixture to between 234-240 degrees F, stirring until it begins to boil and then waiting until it reaches the appropriate temperature. If you don’t have a thermometer, periodically drip a small amount of the sugar mixture into a bowl of cold water. When it forms a soft ball that flattens when you take it out of the water, it’s done. Then, stir the mixture until it lightens in color and drop by spoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet and allow to cool completely.
If you totally forgot that you promised to bring a significant side dish to a dinner or holiday pot luck, even if you have nothing in your house but a gallon of milk, a tiny bit of flour, butter, and cheese, you won’t show up empty handed. Bechamel sauce (aka white sauce or alfredo sauce) is a last-minute dream come true, and will appeal to anyone that likes cheese. What is bechamel sauce? It’s when you melt butter in a pan, add an equal amount of flour, and cook it slightly (called a roux) then add liquid – milk or chicken stock – and, optionally, cheese, to make a creamy dreamy delight. Less butter and flour (1 tablespoon of each) will result in a thinner liquid, while more (1/4 cup of each) will result in a very thick liquid. This “recipe” is very, VERY forgiving, and can be used in a wide variety of applications, depending on what you have in your pantry.
- Mac and cheese – mix cooked noodles (your choice of shape, half a pound per 6 people) with a bechamel sauce made with 3 cups of milk and 3T each flour and butter. Add shredded cheese to taste, about 12 oz, and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Depending on the cheese you choose, this can create a traditional cheddary mac or a more mellow Alfredo bake. Dress up either with red and green peppers (if you have them) for a more festive look.
- Potato soup – boil peeled, cubed potatoes until tender, as you would for mashed potatoes (4 potatoes for 8 servings) and add to a bechamel sauce made with 2T flour and butter (or bacon grease) and 6 cups of milk for an 8-serving batch. Cook until thick and mash gently, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Dress up with cheese, sour cream, chopped green onions, and/or crumbled bacon – any potato fixings you have on hand.
- Au Gratin Potatoes – if we’re being honest, au gratin potatoes are really just mac and cheese with potatoes instead of noodles, and are made similarly. Slice 4 baking potatoes and 1 onion and layer in a baking dish, seasoning with salt and pepper. Prepare a bechamel sauce with 3T each butter and flour and 2 cups milk, cook until thickened and remove from heat, then stir in a cup and a half of shredded cheese until melted. Pour the mixture over the potatoes, cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.
- Just Cheese It – if you have a fondue pot you never use, now’s the time. While bechamel sauce isn’t a true fondue (traditional Swiss fondue is made with white wine or other alcohol), it’s fast and almost as tasty in a pinch. Make to taste and desired thickness with the cheese of your choice, bring a baguette, and you’re off the hook for your holiday party.
Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, even during the holiday season, when stress levels are high and you might not feel like there’s a whole lot of wiggle room. You might not want to dump any old thing in a chafing dish and shout “ta-da!” but remember, it doesn’t always take a complicated dish to please, and your family and friends would definitely rather have you with them than at the grocery store on Christmas Eve!