Setting the Stage: Unexpected Dinner Guest – Food

When faced with an unexpected  guest, you’ve got to get creative. For me, Step 1 is to quickly survey my ingredient options and find a tried-and-true recipe that’ll be easy enough to adapt to the ingredients on hand.

One way to “prepare” for such an occasion is to try to always keep your pantry stocked. Personally, I don’t eat a lot of pasta but it’s cheap, has a long shelf-life, and is easy to dress up so I always keep some on hand. This practice has saved me more times than I can count.


I found this recipe for Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese by Rachel Ray (you know, 30 Minute Meals) and modified as needed. The recipe calls for macaroni, I swapped that out for rotini because that’s what I had, but also because this was a meal for adults. I didn’t have thyme (or time, sarcastic lol), but I did have sage. I didn’t defrost the butternut squash as the recipe suggests, as we know this was a meal I didn’t know I was going to make. I just roasted it  from frozen while the other ingredients came together. Also, I only had an Italian mix from Trader Joe’s. So no Cheddar was melted in the making of this recipe.

I didn’t grate the onion either mostly because I thought that was weird and would make a big mess that I didn’t have time to clean up. I just did a fine mince. Life went on.

Setting the Stage: Unexpected Guest( via

You may have notice an ingredient I have yet to mention. It’s bacon. It’s somewhat of a secret ingredient for me. I’m not proud but historically, when I had to dress something up (like for a special occasion meal , not Tuesday night dinner) I just added bacon. It always adds just the right amount of pizzazz to make an ordinary recipe extraordinary.

*Side note: On a recent trip to TJ’s I reached for a package of bacon as I was planning to make split pea soup, but with all the recent bad press about bacon causing cancer, I just could not do it.

Literally, as I approached the bacon aisle I began to slow my usually hurried steps — Was anyone around? Would anyone see me? Yes and yes, but what’s the big deal? I’m not a criminal! I’m just a girl who wants to make delicious soup. Playing it very cool I glanced over the bacon offerings, eyed my usual selection (uncured) and coyly extended my hand to grab when again,  I became all self-conscious — oh god did that yogi see me?

I stepped back to weigh my options, when suddenly a light turned on. I knew exactly what the right move was. Pancetta. It’s perfect. It’s like bacon but it’s housed by the cheeses and at press time there is no real war on cheese.  No crossing picket lines here. My genius saved the day again. Isn’t that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard ? I couldn’t bring myself to buy the bacon, but Pancetta, not a problem.

Do you do stupid shit like that too? Please tell me you do.

Anyway, back when buying bacon didn’t make you feel as though you were committing an act of treason, I bought some which meant I had it on hand so I added it to this recipe. Please understand it was a different time.

It was just the finishing touch to complete my thrown-together masterpiece. Mostly following the directions of the recipe, it came together in 30 minutes as promised.  Most importantly it was  enjoyed by all.

What pantry staples do you keep stocked? Also, what will we do without bacon?




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