What Do You Serve an Impromptu Guest?

(Image credit: Rebekah Peppler)

‘Tis the season for good food, drink, conversation, and…unexpected guests? As we skip merrily into the holiday season, this year I’m remembering the thing the that always blindsides me: those impromptu get-togethers with old friends in town, an acquaintance re-met at the grocery store near a childhood home, or that long lost Great Aunt Mabel. “Sure! Come on over!” you insist into the phone. Then the panic sets in. What can I possibly serve these people??

My parents often recall a hilarious occasion when a few of my mother’s friends from high school dropped by their house when I was in town for the holidays. As they quickly tidied up the living room, I went to town rifling through the fridge for something to serve up. A half tub of ricotta and some strange jam yielded tiny toasts on grainy sliced bread, while a not-so-pretty log of goat cheese got rolled in freshly ground pepper and served alongside sliced pear. My father popped open a bottle of prosecco meant for another party coming up, and voila! A pretty nice looking spread in zero time.

As a home cook on a budget who prides herself on a combination of resourcefulness and adventure in the kitchen, I take these impromptu gatherings as a challenge. By far, my favorite thing to whip up is bruschetta, as I almost always have a few fresh tomatoes, often very ripe but maybe past their prime, which is a-okay in that case. I also almost always have lemons and love to put together variations on the now classic ricotta, honey, lemon zest crostini. Baking a wedge of brie is always a good bet, as is re-plating something store bought (and possibly half-eaten) like hummus or baba ghanoush, with a drizzle of olive oil.

Every kitchen is different though, in terms of what’s actually on hand when seemingly nothing is on hand. What is your favorite last minute trick for impromptu guests?