Just when you least expect to have company, you discover yourself playing host.
It's Friday, and your colleagues have invited themselves over for cocktails after work. Or you're leaving the theater with friends, and no one wants to go home.
Perhaps you have drop-in guests and that late-night game of Trivial Pursuit is winding down just as appetites are gearing up.
Impromptu entertaining needn't be forbidding. In fact, it can be quick and easy--downright fun with the proper company--and less expensive than one might imagine.
Importance of Ingenuity
Spur-of-the-moment entertaining is just that; guests don't expect an elaborate meal. While advance preparation is crucial to the success of more formal affairs, spontaneous get-togethers can be every bit as gracious with a bit of forethought and ingenuity on the part of the host.
It's a good idea to keep on hand a spare bottle of wine, a six-pack of beer or some chilled Champagne, since few liquor stores are open late at night.
A tin of nuts, a box of thin mints or a few interesting cracker selections might also be kept in the pantry to tide over hungry visitors until a meal can be prepared or to serve as an accompaniment to a simple one-course dinner.
Just such an ideal impromptu meal is this steak salad, taken from "The Frugal Gourmet" by Jeff Smith. It's light, yet filling, colorful and, most importantly, takes only 20 minutes to prepare, allowing you to spend most of your time with your guests.
Atmosphere is just as important as food, especially when your guests are waiting to eat. Some good background music and soft lighting (try replacing your white bulbs with pink ones) can enhance even a modest abode.
Don't overlook the kitchen as a potential gathering spot. Your guests won't. It serves as a more personal and relaxed environment, and since the dinner is a last-minute idea, they may be in there helping out.
Above all, relax and enjoy yourself. Even Emily Post believes that the idea of entertaining is to give everyone--including the host--a good time.
STEAK SALAD 1 1/2 pounds round steak, cut into 1 1/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 hard-cooked eggs
2 tomatoes, cut in wedges
Brown steak cubes in oil over very high heat.
Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, pickle relish, lemon juice, sugar and mustard in bowl. Mix until well blended. Add warm steak cubes and toss to coat meat well. Arrange meat on lettuce on individual serving plates. Garnish with eggs and tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 4 to 6 servings.