Note: this is a sponsored post: Pepperidge Farm asked me to try their Stone Baked Artisan Rolls, and challenged me to find ways that a home cook can be rescued during this oft-harried season. You might rightly wonder how a semi-locavore like me goes about taking coupons and compensation for trying supermarket rolls? Well, it all goes back to realism — I am frequently asked by friends what I do when I just don’t have time to bake bread — what are the options at the market? I usually share my personal list of best-option supermarket breads, and when those aren’t available I tell people what ingredients to avoid. When Pepperidge Farm contacted me, I responded with a request for the ingredient list. While enriched flour is not ideal, it was thankfully unbleached, and the rolls contained nothing I couldn’t pronounce, no HFCS — i.e., a best supermarket scenario.* Seemed like something worth trying, especially for holiday emergencies.
And while I’m not beyond faking illness for some coupons (did someone say Extreme Couponing?) or radically adjusting my lifestyle for free food opportunities, the story below really and truly happened. Ask my kids the next time you see them, they might be permanently traumatized by the scenes they witnessed in the dark of that night.
And by emergency plan, I don’t mean anything that concerns stockpiling dry-goods (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or making sure you have a generator in the basement (does anyone actually have those?). I mean what you do when, during this season of generosity and giving, of sharing meals and visiting, your dinner plan serving 4-6 unexpectedly turns into serving 6-8, and you want it to still feel like a festive holiday.
Or, like the scenario that played out at our house just this week: someone (ahem… the cook) in your house falls prey to one of the countless bugs and viruses going around during this time of “sharing.”
Each Wednesday, we host a group of people from our church for dinner — usually, it’s a crowd of 15 (including us and 6 combined offspring). Yesterday afternoon, I had just gotten a giant stockpot of our beloved Tuscan White Bean stew into the oven to slow-simmer for a couple hours when I noticed I had that feeling. You know, when you kind of think your lunch didn’t quite settle right, and wow, that feeling is lingering, and I hope it doesn’t go down that road. Tim came home at 5pm, and I told him I needed to go lie down for a bit, before the crowd showed at 6.
Fast-forward that hour: on a downward spiral, I’m in bed, wearing my puffy winter coat, still shivering under two down comforters. Tim checks in, and asks what still needs to be done for dinner: he needs to make mac-n-cheese for the kids, and we needed bread to go with the soup.
If you know little else about me, you know I am a bread-baker. I make our sandwich bread about 75% of the time, and go through phases of making our dinner breads as well. There are many ways to make bread ahead: you can freeze whole loaves, to be thawed and crisped later in the oven, or you can freeze par-baked rolls, pizza crusts, and flatbreads, to be thawed and fully baked at a later date. While I often have something par-baked in our freezer, either homemade or from a local bakery, last night I had nothing, save for the fact that I’d fortuitously found the Pepperidge Farm rolls at the grocery store earlier in the day (those blissful hours when I still felt normal, part of the living).
Tim is great in the kitchen, but most often tackles breakfast. This was one of those rare times when it was so nice to be able to say, “Get the rolls out of the freezer, and follow the directions on the package.” He did as told, and by the time our guests arrived the kitchen smelled of fresh-baked bread and Tuscan herbs. Not that our friends would’ve turned and walked out the door if the meal had not been complete — but I felt better (upstairs, in that tossing/turning/freezing/burning sort of way) knowing that their bellies would be full and their bowls sopped clean.
So, tell me: what are your secrets for keeping your kitchen ready for what hits it during the holiday season? How do you make sure your guests feel warm, fuzzy, and well-fed, even when the unexpected happens? I’ll be posting next week, a few of my own ideas, and would love to add yours to the list.
* Ingredients for the rolls: Unbromated unbleached enriched wheat flour (flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid), water, contains 2% or less of: salt, white rice flour, malt syrup, yeast and sesame seed meal.