Take the burden off yourself and put the guests to work! Frozen pizza dough can be the foundation to a fun and delicious evening. Roll out the dough, spread on jarred sauce and sprinkle with cheese and favorite toppings. Mix things up and use pesto instead of tomato sauce. Stop at the store and grab convenient toppings such as pepperoni, rotisserie chicken, sliced mushrooms or frozen broccoli.
Packaged dips don’t go bad for some time, so keep a few on hand to pull out as an appetizer, an afternoon snack, or if you simply want to serve guests a nibble and not necessarily an entire meal. Try hummus, guacamole, or even favorite salad dressings. Pair with baby carrots, sliced vegetables, pita, pretzels or crackers. Dress up dips by topping with fresh herbs, diced vegetables, or other complementary ingredients that can be stirred in or layered on top.
Naturally sweet fruit makes a perfect dessert! Serve a colorful fruit salad or make a quick parfait by layering fruit with cookies and yogurt, cream or ice cream when impromptu guests stop by.
Lasagnas, casseroles, soups and other dishes of this kind are easy to put together when you have free time to cook. Freeze portions, then thaw and reheat when company arrives (or you need a quick weeknight meal for the family). Frozen homemade cookie dough makes reliably tasty treats -- pair with ice cream for a sweet snack or dessert!
Taco bars are an easy way to get dinner on the table since everyone loves personalizing their own plate. Make sure to always have a box of taco shells and a package of seasoning mix in your pantry. When ready, cook the meat, chop up vegetables (or to make your life even easier, buy pre-cut veggies), and serve bowls of cheese, sour cream, salsa and other taco condiments.
Cheese and Crackers
Cheese and crackers are great to grab when you need to serve a quick appetizer or snack. Simply put, they’re a classic combination that everyone adores. Keep a few different types of crackers and cheeses in the house so you can offer a variety to guests.
The freezer is the best place to turn when an unexpected guest is hankering for something sweet. Ice cream, popsicles and frozen yogurt are things you can always have on hand. Throw some fruit on top, add sprinkles or cookie crumbs, and tah-dah! -- dessert is ready.
Nuts and Dried Fruit
Nuts and dried fruits are easy to keep on hand. Serve them in small bowls and let fingers find their way. If you want to get creative, experiment by adding your own flavor profiles to the nuts: do a quick pan roast, mixing the nuts with tasty spices (for example, cumin and salt, cinnamon and sugar, etc.).
Fresh vegetables and fruit are always reliable go-tos when guests catch you off guard. They’re delicious, refreshing, satisfying and nutritious. Serve baby carrots, sliced sweet yellow peppers, chopped celery, or even some apple slices for an easy snack that’s both filling and fulfilling. Pair with a packaged dip, melted chocolate, peanut butter, salad dressing, etc. Don’t even have 10 minutes? Check your grocer for pre-cut fruit and vegetable options.
Cheat with Meat
Need to serve a complete meal? Cheat! Grab a rotisserie chicken, pre-cooked shrimp or smoked fish as the centerpiece of the plate. Serve with a simple salad (to save more time, use packaged lettuce) or visit the prepared foods department and grab some roasted vegetables. Pair these foods with a fast and convenient grain (think minute rice or couscous). Before you know it, with little effort you’ve composed a balanced (and impressive!) meal.
Order Take Out
Order a selection of dumplings, sushi, wings, pizza or other easy-to-serve appetizers from your favorite local restaurants. Serve the food on nice platters for a pretty presentation. Or stock a selection of frozen appetizers to pop in the oven last-minute as well. Try tasty versions of spanikopita, samosas, popcorn shrimp, or other bite-sized finger foods.
Fun with Fondue
Make dinner and dessert interactive -- as if the preparation couldn’t have started until the guests arrived (wink wink!). Fondue can be served as fast as the cheese (or chocolate) can melt. Use basic cheeses, such as Swiss or cheddar, that you may already have in your refrigerator; keep bags of chocolate chips in your pantry that you can just pop into the microwave; use common groceries for dipping, like fruit, bread, pretzels and marshmallows.
Looking for a quick and classic appetizer? Everyone loves melted cheese! Simply place a wheel of brie on a cookie sheet and bake at 300° F. until cheese starts to ooze. Dress it up by topping with everyday items like jelly or slivered nuts and serve with crackers or bread.
Need to plan for a last-minute sleepover or brunch guests? A frittata is a great dish that can be thrown together using anything you stumble upon in your kitchen -- even leftovers! This dish is extra convenient: make it in advance, freeze, and thaw when desired.
Pre-Made Frozen Foods
Frozen food doesn’t have to taste like it's been hanging out in the freezer. There are some versions that are convenient but don’t sacrifice taste and quality. Glance through the products your store carries to see what you can find, and store a selection in the freezer until needed to whip out for a quick appetizer, snack or dinner fix!
Hot Dog Dinner
Select a few variations of sausages (chicken and apple, spicy Italian, turkey, or even tofu). Cook, slice, and serve with toothpicks, mustard or ketchup for an easy appetizer. Or for an entree, serve whole sausages on a bun (go crazy and toast the buns!) with a few specialty condiments.
You can always count on pasta when you’re in a pinch. Pick a fast-cooking meat (try frozen meatballs, sausage, or shrimp) to toss in with the cooked pasta and call it a meal. Stir in a jar of sauce, some chopped vegetables and add a favorite cheese before serving.
Make a meal on a stick! Before guests arrive, chop a selection of raw meats and vegetables. Your work is practically done. As guests arrive, give each a few kebab skewers and have them assemble to their taste. Since meat and vegetables will already be covered, all that’s left to think about is a starch -- try a simple side of pita bread or rice prepared in an automatic rice cooker.
Gourmet Grilled Cheese
Bread and cheese are two things most families have at the ready. Compose a “fancy” grilled cheese by throwing in some jam or sliced fruit. Use different types of cheese, drizzle with truffle oil, or add some cooked vegetables. Need more for the meal? Serve with soup -- either canned or pre-made from your grocer or local restaurant.
No time to rinse, chop, and prep a salad? Buy packaged, pre-washed lettuce instead. Toss greens in a bowl with your favorite salad dressing, nuts, dried fruit, beans, deli meats ... anything and everything but the kitchen sink! Serve with bread or crackers, or if time and energy permit, a gourmet grilled cheese!
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By Cricket Azima
Don't get caught empty handed when last-minute guests pop by -- check out these quick and easy ideas to wow them.