I admit it: I don’t like surprises. Especially when they show up at my doorstep just around dinner, grinning in glee when I answer the door and explaining, “Hi! I just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by. Can I come in?”
My mother brought me up to be polite (translation according to my mom: “Little white lies are acceptable as long as you’re not hurting someone’s feelings.”). So I inevitably find myself ushering in the unexpected dinner time guest at least once every few months.
“Gee, something sure smells good,” Mr. or Ms. Unwanted Dinner Guest usually says after entering my home. “Hope I didn’t interrupt your dinner!”
Please Pass the Grilled Cheesus
When you’re caught in the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” dilemma, you can survive easily and even gracefully by having these items always stocked in your cupboards and freezers:
1. Grilled Cheesus: If you saw that famous and brilliantly choreographed “Glee” episode entitled the “Grilled Cheesus,” you know just how powerful a simple grilled cheese sandwich can become. (If you missed the episode, catch it on a rerun!)
Fact: almost everyone loves melted cheese. The difference between a great grilled cheese sandwich and a ho-hum one? Ah, the secret’s in the sauce …and cheese…and bread.
Always have on hand an assortment of cheese, from mild Monterey Jack to the sharpest of cheddar. Pair up those cheeses with wonderful breads in your freezer, such as rye, sourdough, and corn. When your unexpected guests appear, casually say, ‘Oh, I was just going to have a simple sandwich and salad.” Then grill up a fabulous cheese sandwich, offering them their favorite combo.
Prepare a simple salad, for example with Romaine lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and a chopped scallion, with a few black olives on top. Serve with a great salad dressing (that’s the secret sauce, of course), such as balsamic vinegar mixed with olive oil and Italian herbs, and sprinkle with a dash of grated Parmesan cheese. Voila!
2. Upside Down Days – and Cake: I once was caught with absolutely nothing in the house but…desserts. I had just cleaned out the refrigerator and was getting ready to head to the grocery store – when the doorbell rang. My “guess who” guest truly was someone I was delighted to see: an old friend from my UCLA days! The challenge: should I offer to take her out to dinner…order in pizza…or grin and bare the cheesecake?
“Would you like to have dessert for dinner?” I offered hesitantly. “I’ve got….really good peanut butter cookies – homemade. And fabulous vanilla ice cream. Oh, and cinnamon apple sauce.”
My guest did not hesitate with her response: “Bring it on!” We had a delicious, decadent dessert dinner. Moral of the story: always keep a few good desserts on hand, so that if it’s someone you know well, you can sweeten up the evening with an indulgent all-dessert buffet.
3. Pass the Pasta Please: Having an assortment of pasta on hand also can save the dinner un-date. From elbow macaroni to please guests with little kids to a more elegant angel hair pasta, pasta offers the opportunity for infinite variety. You can make as much or as little as you like, opt for a simple tomato-based sauce or a fancy and more time-consuming cheese based sauce. Experiment when guests are NOT in your home with different types of sauces. Serve with a simple salad, offer ice cream for dessert, and you’ve scored another great evening winning at Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!