Being prepared for unexpected culinary challenges is one way to ensure that your surprise guests will be well-fed when they drop in for a visit. When you're working on a tight budget or dealing with an insanely rushed schedule, having a few reliable recipes on hand can transform even lackluster cooking skills into kitchen wizardry and delicious appetizers, entrees and desserts. Consider your pantry a magic bag of tricks, and make sure it's stocked with a few staples, like sauce bases and a variety of spices, that can dress up a meal.
If you think entertaining means home cooking, unexpected guests can spell stress and spark resentment. To avoid the hassle, fill your recipe file with simple dishes that come together fast and contain ingredients you can either find easily or keep on hand.
Making the best use of the ingredients you have on hand is one way to take the stress out of last minute entertaining. Pinwheel sandwiches are roll-ups that can use just about anything as a filling. Made with lavish bread or flour tortillas and cut crosswise into attractive wheels, these little sandwiches can fill in as appetizers or even full meals. You'll need a spread that will help glue the roll in place, a filling and possibly some veggies for color. Beyond that, the sky's the limit. How about cream cheese, thinly sliced purple onion and rare roast beef? Season the roll with a little ground chipotle pepper, and you're ready to dine. If you prefer lighter fare, try: Speedy Garden Rollups on for size.
Crackers and Topping
If you put it on a cracker, they will come. Keeping a variety of crackers in tightly sealed containers can be a fast and simple way to feed guests. From chopped olives to fine pâté, a cracker can be an elegant way to showcase what you have on hand. Need to dress things up a bit? Try keeping smoked oysters around, or run out to your local deli for lox. When you serve something simple, presentation matters even more, so add a wedge of lemon to the plate, or place your offerings on a bed of lettuce. Crackers will stay fresh and tasty for months if stored properly, and a single box can go a long way.
If the idea of lox is making your mouth water, a simple recipe for smoked salmon appetizers is probably just what you're looking for.
If you're comfortable whipping up a few eggs, they're a great way to feed a crowd. Eggs have a delicate flavor and texture that you can dress up or down with the addition of cheeses, spices and other ingredients. Once you learn how to cook an egg mixture without overcooking the outside, a world of custards and other fine egg based dishes will broaden your recipe repertoire in style. From stratta to soufflé, eggs will make a big impression on a small budget.
When a filling appetizer is on the menu, a spinach and egg dish may be the answer. This simple spinach and egg appetizer is easy to make ahead and freeze or serve warm from the oven: Easy Spinach Appetizer.
Bring on the Sandwiches
Don't sell them short: Sandwiches are quick, easy and delicious eating. It's no wonder that every few years a new sandwich sensation, like the pressed panini, inspires us to run out and buy the latest cooking gadget. Sandwiches are versatile and filling.
What they lack in beauty, they make up for in flavor, and one nice benefit of putting sandwiches on your guest menu is that a few loaves of different breads, spread and filling can yield enough variety to satisfy everyone at the table. The ingredients make convenient leftovers, too, so overnight guests can benefit twice from your hospitality.
There are lots of ways that a lowly sandwich can meet your exacting standards. Use an unexpected bread choice, like a pita pocket, or layer on some guacamole, chopped olives, or hummus. Turkey gyros are a good example. They're spicy, filling and will help give your gathering an international flavor: Turkey Gyros]
Single skillet or crockpot meals are a painless way to feed a crowd. You provide the ingredients, and the equipment does the rest. If you have the time to wait, you can assemble a meal and forget it until the tantalizing aroma draws your guests to the kitchen. It's a lazy way to entertain, which makes it almost ideal.
Another plus is that slow cooked dishes can take advantage of less expensive cuts of meat, so you'll be cooking great food and controlling food costs at the same time. Surprise entertaining can be an unexpected expense, and cutting corners with a crockpot meal is one way to take care of your visitors while minimizing the drain on your budget.
Crowd Pleasing Favorites
You'll never go wrong when you stick to the favorites. You may want to explore the mysteries of a Jamaican rub or an exotic side dish floating in peanut sauce, but spaghetti, chili, baked beans and potato salad have the advantage of being time-honored choices that won't disappoint. Need to make something in a hurry? Canned, frozen and take-out entrees are always an option, or you can cut corners by using prepared sauces, like tomato sauce that has Southwestern or Italian seasoning added. You can also buy refrigerated fresh pastas that only require a couple of minutes from package to plate. Cut minutes off prep time by keeping some of these time-saving ingredients on hand. In a world where you can get ready-to-eat bacon slices in a resealable package, labor-saving ingredients are the order of the day, so stock up.
Need a sure fire favorite in a hurry? Try this quick, tasty lasagna. Your guests will be saying "Mamma Mia!" in no time.
With more people limiting or eliminating meat from their diets, having a meatless entrée on hand is a good idea if you don't know the dietary preferences of your guests. Many recipes, like spaghetti and chili, lend themselves to a meatless treatment, but make sure to adjust the spices so the result isn't bland. When you're in a hurry, you can prepare a standard version of the recipe and then remove a portion before you add the meat. That way you can please everyone and still save valuable time and energy. Meatless meals are often lighter choices, too. So, consider them when you have strenuous activities planned for later in the day.
If you're letting out all the stops when serving meatless fare, try double-hearty double-quick veggie chili. It has flavor to spare, and it cooks up fast.
Pull out the Grill
Grilled meats and vegetables typically cook quickly and can require very little prep time. Grilling is performance art, too. While your steaks, chicken or burgers are sizzling their way to mouth-watering deliciousness, you're giving your guests some fresh air, a few distractions and maybe even a laugh or two. Where grilling is concerned, the food is usually good, but the company and camaraderie are definitely great seasonings and provide the essential ingredients for a memorable visit. Add a simple salad from the kitchen, and you have a meal fit for your favorite people. Eating outdoors can be casual and easygoing too, cutting down on the stress and cleanup.
If you want a change from your regular grilling choices, try tantalizing mesquite-grilled salmon fillets. They're fast, easy and will give your guests something delicious to talk about.
Serve a Filling Breakfast
Overnight guests have to eat in the morning, and what with arranging the bathroom schedule and adjusting to a more crowded household, breakfast can be a challenge. You can opt for a quick run to the local doughnut shop, or whip up some scrambled eggs and make your own breakfast biscuits or muffins. All you need to prepare them is a package of English muffins, some sausage patties, sliced cheese and eggs.
If the idea of whipping up scrambled eggs on demand worries you, you can make great scrambled eggs every time if you remember to keep them on low heat and fold the partially cooked egg toward the center of the skillet to keep everything moist. Eggs will continue to cook while the skillet is hot, so take them off the heat when they're still a little wet. This quick breakfast sandwich recipe will get you started.
Make a Simple Dessert
When you're entertaining, the last thing you want to worry about is dessert. If baked Alaska is definitely off your list of desserts to try one day soon, there's still a lot you can do with a container of quality ice cream, including serving it al fresco with no accompaniment. Another option is to keep a variety of attractive cookies in reserve for a quick dessert. Add a little after-dinner coffee, and you're done. The nice thing about this approach is that you can stock up on these items ahead of time. If no one's interested in dessert (and lots of folks aren't) your sweet treats will be safe in the cupboard or freezer until next time.
When you're inspired to prepare a nice dessert for your guests, why not try a low-calorie, high-flavor option that will entice even the most reluctant runway model. This chocolate mousse recipe is low in calories, easy to make, fast and delicious. Now, that's a dessert worth spending some time on.
Home Made Simple recipes are tasty dishes that even the most amateur cook can prepare. Try these deliciously simple recipes from the Home Made Simple.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Easy Dinner Party Planning Site. "Make-ahead Appetizers." Undated. 7/17/09.http://www.thedinnerpartyplanningsite.com/make-ahead-appetizers.html
- Easy Dinner Party Planning Site. "What's Your Definition of Easy Recipes for a Dinner Party? Undated. 7/17/09.http://www.thedinnerpartyplanningsite.com/Easy-recipes.html
- Ginsburg, Art. "Help, Mr. Food! Company's Coming!" William Morrow and Company. 1995.
- The Food Network. "10 Tips for Last-Minute Party Planning." Undated. 7/18/09.http://www.foodnetwork.com/quick-and-easy/10-tips-for-last-minute-party-planning/index.html
- What's Cooking America. "History of Sandwiches." Undated. 7/20/09.http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/SandwichHistory.htm