I'm generally all for going from-scratch. I mean, why buy from the store what you can make yourself, right?
Right. Until the holidays hit and ain’t nobody got time for that.
Even I, the girl who jars who own homemade jams and chocolate sauce, gets it. You actually don’t have time for that when there’s a last minute invitation to some kind of holiday get-together and you have ZERO time to make one of your signature, from-scratch masterpieces. You tried to plan, but geeze, how were you supposed to predict that basically everyone you know would end up wanting to host their own Friendsgiving?
There are instances that call for tossing your desire for homemade perfection aside to just plain get. things. done. That’s when you bring out the big guns. This kind of situation calls for back-up--i.e. those handy pantry staples that provide just the shortcut you need to produce a dish with a from-scratch feel, without the time/effort/ingredients required to make it 100% from-scratch.
Here are the 6 grocery store items you need to keep on hand this holiday season for those last-minute "Oh sh*t" moments:
1. Instant potato flakes
These are the real deal, guys. Well... sort of. The important thing is that there's no washing, peeling, boiling, or mashing involved. Just add liquid to the dehydrated flakes (sub in chicken stock for half the amount of water called for in the instructions for richer flavor) and you're well on your way to some quick-fix mashed potatoes. Now, here's the key, to give them a homemade touch, you need to spruce your instant taters up with a few extra ingredients. A little garlic powder, chopped fresh herbs, sour cream, cheese, wilted spinach, or sautéed onions stirred in can upgrade your speedy spuds to totally legit side dish status in no time. You can also utilize the flakes to create a slightly more elevated potato dish like this Mashed Potato Soufflé, or if you have a little more time on your hands, these Herbed Potato Flake Rolls are to die for. Keep a box of instant potato flakes on hand this holiday season, because if nothing else, you can use them as a tasty breading on fish.
2. Cornbread Mix
Don’t hate before you try this: Mix 1 (8.5-ounce) box of Jiffy cornbread mix with 1 (15-ounce) can of creamed corn, then bake according to the box's instructions. You can bake a full pan or as muffins. This is one of my favorite little shortcuts as it makes for a shockingly tasty cornbread that I'm happy to bring to an event, and it literally takes me 3 minutes to throw it together. To customize the flavor profile, stir in cheddar cheese and sliced jalapeño, sundried tomatoes and shredded mozzarella, or sausage and chopped chipotles in adobo sauce.
3. Crescent Roll dough
You most likely already knew this stuff is the jam, go ahead an pick up a few cans to stash in the fridge on your next grocery run. Take what's typically served as a bread basket filler to an impressive app simply by adding a filling into the crescents as you roll. Ham + white cheddar, fresh mozzarella + pepperoni, Brie + apricot preserves, and browned sausage + cream cheese all make for crowd-pleasing combos. You can also take these to the dessert table by filling with sautéed apple slices tossed with toasted pecans, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Canned crescent roll dough is also your fast pass for tasty bites like Samosas, Savory Pinwheels, Cheesecake Squares, Pizza, and Pigs in a Blanket.
4. Boxed Cake Mix
There are many things you can make with a box of cake mix (other than a cake) but one of my personal favorites is dip. That’s right, the best of both the snack and dessert worlds in one. Combine ½ cup of cake mix with 1 (8-oz.) package of softened cream cheese, add vanilla extract and sour cream to taste, stir in sprinkles, and boom--Cheesecake Dip. Serve with graham crackers, pretzels, and fruit for dunkers. Other great cake mix shortcuts include blondies, cookies, and quick bread.
5. Bisquick Baking Mix
Fun fact: Bisquick is great for meatballs... and meatballs are great for holiday parties. Bisquick baking mix is obviously a shortcut for items like pancakes and biscuits, but it can also serve as a substitute for breadcrumbs in meatballs, which results in a seriously awesome texture. It's a great all-purpose quick trick pantry item to keep around this time of year. For meatballs, combine ground meat, egg, and Bisquick in a bowl to create your base mixture, then add the custom touches. The variations here are literally endless; give spicy Italian, sweet and sour, or cheeseburger meatballs a try for starters. This handy grocery store item can also get you on your way to scrumptious scones, gingerbread, savory hand pies, pizza bread, coffee cake, and more.
6. Packaged Pie Dough
This is an obvious one, but you can always save yourself a little bit of time, effort, and mess by picking up some pre-made pie dough for your favorite holiday pies, tarts, and hand pies. And there's honestly no shame in doing so in a pinch. You can also cut the dough into shapes, brush with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake for an easy--but delightful--sweet and crispy treat.