How to expand your holiday picnic

Jim Hillibish

Does this sound like you: Spend two days preparing a Fourth of July cookout for eight. Then your cousin calls an hour before the start and announces (not asks), “I’m bringing some of my friends along.”

Last time he did this, “some” was eight hungry, six-foot carnivores who drank all the beer in 30 minutes.

This is why they pack frozen chicken breasts in 5-pound bags. If you don’t have one, check your neighbors. Defrost in the microwave, soak an hour in a milk bath, then coat with barbecue sauce. Grill covered, 10 minutes to the side, depending on thickness. That will help fill them.

I keep a few large cans of pork and beans for such emergencies, but they always need some work.

For a 20-ounce can, brown two chopped hamburgers (1/2 pound) in a quarter cup of chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper and add to the beans in an oven-proof pot.

Then stir in 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon mustard and a tablespoon of molasses or maple syrup. I like a half teaspoon of hot sauce. Place strips of bacon on top and bake, covered, for an hour. Remove cover and bake another 30 minutes to reduce liquid. This is cowboy beans, and it feeds a rodeo.

Your hamburgers, neatly planned, will take a beating. One way is to “stretch” the meat is by adding a cup of fresh bread crumbs and 1/4 cup minced onion to each pound. This expands patty production by about 30 percent. Hey, it worked for your grandmother in the Depression.

If you need more buns, grill slices of bread lightly coated with olive oil. Call them “Italian toast.”

To cut burger seconds, offer an array of toppings such as extra cheese, piles of lettuce, roasted peppers and onions, dill and sweet pickles, chopped-olive pate, thick tomato slices and copious condiments. The scheme here is to create a large, filling salad on a bun.

Another trick is to add bacon to the burger meat. It’s beloved, and the fat satisfies appetites.

You cannot expand on hot dogs, but wait a minute. If you have a can of chili in the pantry, heat it and pronounce it  coney sauce.

Your bowl of carefully crafted potato salad may last but moments. That’s easily expanded by throwing in more veggies including celery, onions and cucumbers. If you need more dressing, sour cream is perfect in a pinch. Adding celery seeds (whole) is a good cover for your stretched salad.

Single-serving desserts, while impressive, must be avoided. You need something like a big sheet cake, where you can adjust the servings on the fly. Ice cream is the perfect topper in planned situations. For emergencies, all manner of cut up fresh fruits can be easily expanded with canned fruit and divided to fill all.

Oh, yes, the drinks. Tell Junior the party’s BYOB, strictly enforced, and put an armed guard on your cooler.

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