Now comes the third tricky part: you need some food to put on the table.
I’ve already told you I’m a terrible cook. I’m also a messy cook. This is a difficult combination for a would-be hostess. The first few times we had people over for dinner, I made the same kinds of meals for company that I make for my own family. Our guests would arrive and I’d still be cooking in a kitchen that looked like a landfill, and I’d literally dispatch Abby (age 4) to entertain our company in the living room while I finished up. By the time we sat down to the table, half of the food was cold, our guests knew all of our family secrets, and I was a frazzled mess. (Also, the ten-minute routine I had done three hours ago before I holed up in the kitchen was totally undone.)
I realized that on company days I needed to come up with some menu items that require minimum hands-on prep in the hour or two before being served, in order to preserve the order of my kitchen AND my sanity.
I hope that one day I will grow up to be a gourmet cook AND a gracious hostess in the same moment. But in the meantime, I fall back on one of these three options:
1. Pizza and salad.
This is the simplest option, and therefore the one that I use most often. I buy frozen pizzas (Kashi makes some fancy thin-crust options that are good), or I get a ready-to bake pizza from our grocery store deli. If I really want to make a good impression (or if I’m feeling rich), I get one or two pizzas from Papa Murphy’s and cook them up at home.
I get one of those fancy salad-in-a-bag kits from the grocery store and make it extra special by throwing in fresh avocados or tomatoes. Toss the salad and dressing in a pretty bowl, throw away all the packaging, and no one has to be the wiser.
2. Breakfast for Dinner.
Another crowd-pleaser, and this can easily be made gluten-free. I love the Easy Potato and Bacon Breakfast Casserole from Our Best Bites. This does take a bit of preparation, but it requires eight hours in the fridge, so it still meets my criteria for company night. I do all the cooking early in the morning, and then at dinner time all I have to do is slide the pan into the oven. (Also a delight: serving bacon without having your house smell like bacon.) If you like a main dish that is a bit more “egg-y,” you might try the Overnight Sausage and Egg Casserole or Chile Cheese Souffle Squares, both from OBB.
Round out the menu by cooking a pile of frozen or refrigerated biscuits (obviously this part is not gluten-free) and a nice (made-ahead) fruit salad. This dinner also pairs well with Shauna Niequist’s blueberry crisp topped with Greek yogurt.
3. Taco Bar.
This is another good option for guests with picky children or food sensitivities. Spread out a variety of individual items and let each guest build his or her own plate to taste. I stack a taco bar with some combination of these things, depending on my budget and the season:
- taco-seasoned ground meat
- salad greens
- taco shells and/or soft tortillas
- shredded cheese
- tortilla chips
- sliced olives
- black beans
- chopped bell peppers
- sour cream
You know you love an excuse to finish the night with something sweet. (Paired with decaf coffee, of course!) My easiest company dessert is vanilla ice cream with a couple of syrup options or with some fresh fruit. Almost everyone loves it and it’s easy to keep in the freezer for use any time. (Less easy is making sure that I don’t eat the ice cream between company nights!) If you want to be extra fancy, whip up a box of brownies to serve with your ice cream.
In the summertime when fresh fruit is less expensive, another simple dessert, and a somewhat healthier option, is a pile of chopped fruit topped with whipped cream. (Chocolate syrup optional but delicious if you’re serving strawberries and bananas.)
Thus concludes Hospitality for Dummies. This is everything I know about cooking, cleaning, and hostessing…it’s not much, but it’s enough to get started! Thanks for reading along.