You know you’re getting old when you still haven’t recovered from the weekend yet and it’s Thursday. Tomorrow will practically be the weekend again! I had a pretty action-packed couple of days with friends at our place by the beach this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which I called ‘Michelle’s quarter-life crisis weekend’, because I turned 25. Old, right? I did, however, receive a fair bit of comfort from this over the weekend due to surrounding myself with plenty of friends who were older than me (haha). I also enjoyed the way my workmates scoffed at my complaining about being old (“hmph, what does she know?”) and the way my family merely laughed at my pointing out my first wrinkle (and this is especially bad news because its not a happy laughter line, its the grumpy frown line).
So I guess things can only get worse from here and that’s why I decided to celebrate with a whole-weekend-long party. We drank beer and wine and rotten peppermint-flavoured sherry, cooked a spit roast with beef and pork and a barbeque with chickpea burgers and sausages and made salads and dips and cheese platters and sandwiches and cakes and fruit platters. We also played table tennis and totem tennis and klop!, went swimming in the (freezing) ocean and played Pictionary in front of the heater. All in all, it was a fun weekend. And I’m still recovering.
In the lead-up to the event, I had only one problem – I really wasn’t sure how many people to expect. When you send out an open invite telling people to come whenever they feel like it anywhere between Friday and Sunday evenings, and to bring some food if they feel like it but kind of just whatever, you need to be open to anything. The main event was on Saturday evening, which was conventional enough, but even then I wasn’t exactly sure who was coming (and who wasn’t) until they were there. These were the thoughts that went through my head during last week in my ‘planning stage’.
So I called my trusty mum – Queen of catering for unexpected guests. Some people call her a hoarder, but I call her prepared (I also call her a hoarder sometimes when it suits). For years during summer, our family’s place at Torquay has been a hub for people coming or going to or from the beach, stopping by for a coffee and biscuit, some dip and cheese or a massive barbeque. Generally my parents will come to the house for a couple of weeks, and without really planning anything much, they will have a different lot of friends here pretty much every day and night. It used to be pretty rare to have a meal with just my immediate family when we were here during summer.
For this reason, Mum has become an expert at throwing together a delicious platter of food. She’s also mastered all the tricks when it comes to extending a meal to feed more people. “The trick is to have a few bits and pieces in the cupboard and the freezer that last a while,” Mum says. I asked her for a few secrets but luckily didn’t actually have to use many. It was great that my amazing friends brought heaps of food along with them so we ended up having closer to too much than not enough. However, I had peace of mind knowing that if we needed them, I could whip up straight away one of Mum’s instant creations. Cutting corners at its finest.
Chuck a tin of five-bean mix in a bowl (rinse and drain it first) and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Mums’s tip: “If you want to extend it, something crunchy like celery or capsicum can go well. You can add a tin of corn as well if you like.”
“You can always extend meat by cutting it thin,” Mum says. “If you’ve got steak, chicken breast or sausages, strip them into multiple pieces, marinate them and toss on the barbeque. All of a sudden, you’ve got a platter of meat.” This is a bit of a psychological experiment – when the option is between one large piece or multiple small pieces, chances are people will be happy to take less on their plates the first time around.
“Adding beans makes meat go even further. You can make it Mexican-style,” Mum adds.
Throwing a few slices of potato, pumpkin, corn, or any other vegetable really, on the barbeque alongside the meat really helps to bulk up the meal and add interest. Plus, guests will end up eating both salad and vegetables without even realising it.
Boil up some pasta, drain it and stir in a jar of pesto for an instant and tasty pasta salad that can be served warm or cold. Mum says add sundried tomatoes or olives to give it extra interest.
Frozen berries are a great, long-lasting gourmet ingredient that can be whipped out of the freezer to become a delicious coulis in an instant. Just stew them up in a saucepan, add a bit of water and sugar if needed, and serve with ice cream or cake or whatever you’ve got.
Greek yoghurt – Mum’s super food
Instead of buying piles of perishables for those ‘just in case’ situations, cover all bases with a tub of plain Greek yoghurt. “You can use it for sweet or savoury,” Mum says. Tzatziki for entree, spooned onto lamb for main, and with fruit or cake for dessert. Oh, and on muesli for breakfast and in a smoothie for brunch. A perfect all-rounder!
Mum’s final tip will probably be a risky one for some people. When you’re half expecting someone might drop in and you might invite them to stay for coffee or a meal or even the whole weekend, just be a little bit prepared all the time.
“Always have a packet of chocolate biscuits and something special in the back of the fridge like shortbreads, ginger thins or a block of chocolate. But you have to be strong enough not to eat them. Just keep them hiding in the cupboard just in case!”
What do you reckon? Can you do it? Do you have any other great quick, emergency meal ideas to feed unexpected guests?