Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ding-Dong! Feeding unexpected guests

So you're vacuuming your living room or paying bills, and the phone rings. It's your friend saying that she's in town so how about if she stops by for a quick visit? "I'll be there in 5!"

Being the fun-loving, nurturing foodie that you are, you want to have something yummy on the ready. But you're no Bree Van de Kamp so chances are you don't have freshly baked blueberry muffins on your cooling rack. What to do?

I actually love when people (veg*n or not) drop over unexpectedly. (For one thing, just the thought motivates me to keep the house presentable.) Years ago, I would struggle with what to serve; I never felt prepared. Nowadays I have a secret stash of non-perishable (or easily replaced) "emergency guest food" and it pays off when I see the look of delight on my guest's face when they're served instant (but special) nibbles. Here are my ideas:

1. Keep a can of stuffed grape leaves in your pantry. You'd be surprised how many people love these things, or have never tried them and discover they love them. They're best with fresh lemon slices, but don't fret if you have none on hand. Right out of the can (they're also good gently heated), arrange prettily on a small platter and hand out cocktail napkins. If you have hummus in the fridge, throw some in a little bowl for dipping.

2. Keep at least 2 bottles of sparkling water, and some sort of fruit juice. Refrigerated juice eventually spoils -- not true for canned juice (like pineapple or Goya Nectars) or juice boxes/aseptic-pack juice. A fruit juice (or white wine) spritzer is a lovely, refreshing beverage for a wary traveler. Don't forget to keep ice in the freezer (and despite what my dad thinks, you don't need an ice maker hogging your freezer space. Old fashioned ice cube trays work just fine.)

3. Have a bag of chips (which last a few weeks unopened) and a jar of salsa ready. I recently discovered Trader Joes Organic Corn Chip Dippers. They are essentially organic Fritos and they are fantastic. If you have the space, keep a jar of black bean dip too. When my "guest stash" is a few weeks old, I replace it and open the old one for my family and use them for Nacho Night. Salty, crunchy heaven.

4. Always keep sliced up raw vegetables in the fridge. For you and your family, of course; but who says you can't share with guests? Serve with hummus or black bean dip (see tip #3) and nut butter. If you have a container of mock sour cream, blend it with an envelope of dip mix (check the label -- get one without MSG, such as Simply Organic).

5. A vacuum-sealed can of salted, roasted cashews isn't as healthy as raw cashews, but it lasts a lot longer in your pantry and will make your guests feel pampered.

6. Tea. Yes, a no-brainer; do have a selection of caffeinated, non caffeinated, and herbal. If you're not a frequent tea drinker, buy a variety pack of individually-wrapped bags (the wrapper can be recycled with the paper).

If you are given an hour's advance notice...

1. Keep a box of (preferably organic) baking mix in the pantry, or mix together the dry ingredients for your favorite quick bread or muffin recipe, stored in a baggie (make sure the recipe is taped to the bag!). In minutes, your house will smell like a bakery.

2. Now that affordable vegan marshmallows are readily available, keep a box of crispy rice and the marshmallows (hide from the kids and/or the husband) and margarine on hand. They take only a few minutes to make. Who wouldn't love being greeted by the scent of just-made rice krispy treats? (Who cares if they're not "set" yet? They're great warm and gooey too.)

3. Got veggie dogs in fridge? Or soy meat balls in the freezer? This idea works for both. Mix together bbq sauce and any flavor of jam/jelly (really any without seeds... grape jelly always works) at a ratio of 2:1 in a small saucepan. If using veggie dogs, slice them into cocktail size, heat with sauce, and serve with toothpicks. If using soy balls, defrost in the microwave or in boiling water, heat with sauce, and serve with toothpicks.

4. Got space in the freezer? Vegan options for heat-and-eat hors d'oeuvres are on the rise. How about some mushroom bites? Or Health Is Wealth Line of veggie Munchies? Try the "Egg" Rolls, Potstickers, and my personal fave, the Buffalo Wings. You can also make your own fancy vegan appetizers, and freeze them for those unexpected drop-ins.


Lisa said...

Love these tips! Gotta get some marshmallows...

The Veg Next Door said...

Great tips and kudos for your mention in Vegetarian Times.