30 Minute Meals for Last-Minute Guests by The Kitchn's Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan

Posted by on Dec 14, 2011

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Jenafer Gillingham


Preparing a meal for last-minute guests — some of us love it and for others it's the stuff of nightmares. Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, author of "Good Food to Share: Recipes for Entertaining with Family and Friends" has dealt with the challenge often. The founding editor of Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn.com offers some easy tips and recipes for hosting your next spontaneous dinner party.

Best-Laid Plans

Not all of us were born with the entertaining gene or the ability to keep it cool under pressure. For those who get wound up by unexpected guests, Sara Kate recommends taking it slow and planning for surprises.

“Planning really helps. A lot of people get overwhelmed by putting together meals because they haven’t planned their approach and get overwhelmed by all the other pieces,” she says. So, always have a few recipes in mind and keep the necessary ingredients at the back of your cupboard. Use those supplies exclusively for last-minute meals.

Pantry Raiding 

A few essential pantry ingredients Sara Kate recommends having on hand include high-quality oil — which, stored properly, won't go rancid — and grains like rice, pasta, couscous, and barley (i.e. foods that you can soak or boil). Unexpected staples like anchovies and dried mushrooms can add a meaty flavor to last-minute meals.

Sara Kate also suggests having good Romano Parmesan for an intricate layer of taste. Fine cheese can last several weeks in the fridge.

Easy Meals for Last-Minute Guests

Have a young dinner companion? One of Sara Kate's favorite meals for kids is a simple bowl of pasta. She says, “One minute before the pasta is done cooking, I add a shredded green like kale or collards. In a separate bowl, I whip together 1/2 cup per person of grated Parmesan, 1 or 2 egg yolks and some of the boiling pasta water.” When she tosses the pasta into the egg sauce, the heat from the noodles cooks the eggs into a savory sauce.

The Standing Dinner Party

Another of Sara Kate's favorite speedy meals involves a little of that planning she hinted at earlier.

“One thing I like to do on a Friday night, if I have the energy, is to have friends over for pizza. I keep pizza dough in the freezer,” she says, and will pull it out to thaw after getting home from work. "We all stand around the wooden kitchen island and drink wine while we prep the pizza with whatever is in the fridge.”

For more 30 minute meals for last-minute guests, head to Sara Kate's blog, The Kitchn.

cover of Good Food to Share
Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan's Good Food to Share (Williams-Sonoma): Recipes for Entertaining with Family and Friends is published by Weldon Owen Press .

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