Monday, March 21, 2011
This past week was my sons’ Spring Break from school. It ended up being a busy week, with lots of activities with my sons’ friends and their families. With the weather being warm as it was, my sons and their friends actually went swimming in our pool several times this past week. On two of the afternoons when the friends’ parents came to pick up their sons, those occasions turned into impromptu get-togethers. It was like, “Hey, the boys are still enjoying themselves. We’re just cooking dinner and unwinding by the pool. Why not join us?!!”
Dinner one of those nights was two rotisserie chickens on the grill, seasoned potato cubes, a tossed salad (which was already made and in the fridge, and there was plenty), cornbread (a recipe I quickly threw together), and ice cream. Another impromptu dinner was a hamburger cookout: burgers and all the fixin’s, chips, sliced veggies, fresh fruit, ice cream and packaged cookies.
Both impromptu get-togethers were really enjoyable. Now we certainly didn’t serve anything that could have been considered “fancy” or “gourmet.” Some of what I served wasn’t even homemade. Our house was somewhat tidy, but it wasn’t super clean. But despite all that, those meals were just about as pleasant as a dinner I’d planned and prepared for many days or weeks in advance. That’s because what makes a get-together truly special is the people you have over and the conversation—and you can have that whether you’re eating filet mignon or hamburgers.
Now truth be told, the rotisserie chickens we served weren’t exactly cooked to perfection. Someone in my household (I won’t say who) wasn’t keeping a very close eye on the chickens when they were on the grill…that is, not until we noticed the flames shooting out from the grill. The chickens were almost totally black on the outside. The inside was pink and red in spots. My husband ended up cutting the chickens into smaller pieces, scraping off the skin, and cooked them on the grill some more. Our guests suggested we add some barbecue sauce to them and that did wonders. We actually got in some good laughs that evening, as we saw my husband “rescue” those chickens from the flames—like he worked for the local fire department.
It all made me think of the importance of being ready for and willing to take advantage of impromptu entertaining opportunities. You end up missing out on a lot of fun if you aren’t. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Your guests don’t care if your home isn’t super tidy, if you serve “easy dinners,” or if something you’ve prepared doesn’t turn out that well (i.e., burned rotisserie chickens!). What matters most is that you make people feel welcome, and you can do that regardless of the quality of your food or the condition of your home.
That said, there are items you can have on hand to be more ready for spur-of-the-moment hospitality. My list of such items is below. I don’t have all of these foods in my freezer/pantry all of the time, but I always have at least some of them. I was glad I did this past week, because these items made me a lot more confident to utter the words, “Would you and your family like to stay for dinner?” So here’s my list:
FREEZER ITEMS TO HAVE ON HAND:
1. Hamburger patties
2. Hot dogs
3. Hamburger and hot dog buns
4. Cookie dough rolls—ready to slice and bake (You can make your own up, or buy them.)
5. Unbaked pan of lasagna (homemade or commercially-prepared)
6. Chicken pieces or roasters for grilling
7. Steaks for grilling
8. Bags of seasoned potato cubes for oven baking
9. Garlic bread
10. Ravioli or manicotti (without the sauce on yet)
11. Dinner rolls (ready to bake)
12. Veggie mixes (with cheese sauce, etc.)
13. Stir-fry mixes
14. Egg rolls
15. Homemade pizza crusts
16. Frozen shredded mozzarella for putting on homemade pizzas
17. Ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, etc.
18. Homemade unfilled pie crusts (regular pie crust or graham cracker crusts)
PANTRY ITEMS TO HAVE ON HAND:
19. Pickle and relish jars/ketchup/mustard
20. Potato/tortilla chips
21. Bottled BBQ sauce
22. Meat marinades (dry packaged/bottled)
23. Canned pizza/pasta sauces
24. Canned pizza toppings (olives, mushrooms, etc.)
25. Bottled sparkling waters/sodas/juices
26. Packaged rice pilaf mixes
27. Ice cream toppings for sundaes (fudge sauce, caramel, nuts, etc.)
Obviously it also helps to have a large freezer and pantry for storing all this food, and a large microwave oven for thawing frozen meats. I also couldn’t live without an outdoor grill. Grilling has got to be one of the easiest ways to entertain. Even if some of the food sustains 3rd degree burns, that’s okay…usually. Half the fun is just sitting around the grill and chatting while the food is cooking. (Of course, if you get too caught up in conversation, that’s when you end up with a “blackened” chicken!)
Those are my thoughts on impromptu entertaining. Do any of you have thoughts to share on this subject?