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Prairie Fare: What to Do With the Food When Your Guests Can’t Make It

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension Service

Imagine this. You’re expecting several guests for a dinner party. You’ve been cleaning your house for days in preparation for your party. It looks as good as it’s going to get without any major purchases.

Your famous spaghetti sauce has been simmering all day, filling your home with a delicious aroma. The table is set.

You’ve been nervously listening to the radio all afternoon. A storm is scheduled to “pass over” the area. Suddenly storm closings begin to pile in and the announcers hurriedly read a stack of memos.

Your phone begins ringing incessantly. The party is over before it began.

Most of us, at one time or another, have been invited to a dinner party or hosted an event that’s been canceled due to weather issues. Depending on the season, travel advisories may be due to icy roads, blizzards, severe thunderstorms or tornado warnings.

What do you do with all the food? You have a few options. You could eat a lot. You could invite your next-door neighbors over for a “surprise neighborhood feed.”

Your best option is to take steps to keep the food hot or safely store it cold.

If the storm subsides and your guests will be about an hour late, keep the food at safe temperatures as you wait. You can leave prepared food in the oven at a reduced temperature. Place an oven-safe thermometer in the food and maintain the internal temperature of the food at 140 degrees. Keep salads and perishable desserts in the refrigerator.

If your guests can’t make it for about four hours, it’s safer to refrigerate the food and reheat it when your guests arrive. Leaving it in the oven for a prolonged period may dry it out, reducing the quality. When your guests arrive, it’s time to reheat the food. Reheat in an oven or microwave to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.

If your guests can reschedule within four days, cooked food can be stored safely in the refrigerator. Be sure to chill it quickly in shallow, airtight containers and reheat to 165 degrees before serving.

For longer storage, wrap the food container tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil or freezer wrap and freeze. Frozen foods will maintain their quality for up to four months.

Some foods freeze better than others. Most soups, rice and pasta dishes, such as lasagna, freeze well. Other foods, such as cream soups or cream-based sauces, will separate during frozen storage. The fat may separate or the sauce may become watery.

Your options for thawed steaks to grill or broil are somewhat limited. It’s only safe to refreeze the meat if there still are ice crystals in the meat. Even then, you may see some quality loss when the meat is refrozen.

If your guests can reschedule, ground meat and poultry can be kept refrigerated for a couple of days, and red meat, such as steaks and roasts, can be kept refrigerated up to five days.

Here’s an easy taco soup. You can prepare it in a slow cooker, where it can simmer for hours and still be safe for delayed guests.


Taco Soup

2 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 (15.5-oz.) cans pinto, kidney or other bean of choice
2 (14.5-oz.) cans stewed tomatoes
1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes and green chilies, drained
1 pkg. taco seasoning
1 pkg. ranch dressing mix
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 (15-oz.) can whole-kernel corn
6 c. water
Shredded cheese, corn chips and sour cream (optional)

Brown ground beef and onions; drain well. Place in large soup pot and add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil and reduce heat; simmer 1 1/2 hours. Top with cheese, chips and/or sour cream if desired.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 215 calories, 22 grams of carbohydrate, 5 grams of fat and 4 grams of fiber.

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