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Simply Entertaining: Dazzle 'em with improv

Thursday, September 05, 2002

When we were newlyweds, my husband (he was still learning the rules) would come home from work and announce that guests would be joining us for dinner that night. I wouldn't have minded if they were close friends. With friends, you can order pizza or throw burgers onto the grill.

But he would do this with acquaintances. It was sort of a compliment in disguise, as he thought I was a terrific cook and wanted to impress his buddies. I can't recall exactly how things progressed, but by the August after our June wedding, weeknight impromptu dinners were a thing of the past.

But every once in a while, we're all faced with either a last-minute dinner guest or a day with no time to think about what's for dinner. Eliminate the need to put the Pizza Factory on your speed-dial by stocking up on a few basic ingredients.

Whole nuts -- In need of quick munchies with a glass of wine before dinner? Toast nuts with some seasonings (herbs, spices, or a little Worcestershire sauce) and serve.

Individually quick-frozen (IQF) chicken breasts -- These chicken breasts (I get mine from the freezer case at Sam's) take only 20 minutes to bake and can be topped with barbecue sauce, pesto, salsa or just about anything for a lean, fast and tasty entree. Be on the lookout for IQF shrimp, too. I buy 5- or 10-pound bags of

frozen shrimp, keep it in the freezer and pull out just what is needed. Rinse the shrimp under cool tap water for a few minutes until it thaws, dry it off, and you're ready to cook.

Bagged coleslaw mix -- Mix this pre-shredded cabbage and carrot mix with an Oriental vinaigrette with traditional coleslaw dressing, or even stir-fry it for a good-for-you veggie side dish.

Canned beans -- Drain the beans, toss with a little oil and vinegar, add chopped onion or pepper, or any bits and pieces of veggies in your fridge for an easy salad. Thawed frozen corn also makes a colorful addition.

Tuna -- Add a can of drained tuna to the bean salad above to make a delicious lunch entree. Tuna is also tasty when pureed (with a few capers and maybe a spoonful of mayo) into a spread for crackers.

Grated or shredded cheese -- It can decorate a baked potato, spruce up steamed veggies or cover something that doesn't look so great.

Rice (real, not instant) -- Mix cooked rice with chopped dried fruit, a few toasted nuts and bits of leftover vegetables. Cook the rice in chicken or vegetable broth for added flavor.

Bananas -- Who doesn't have a few over-ripe bananas hanging around the kitchen counter? For a super dessert, saute with a little brown sugar and butter until the sugar dissolves. Serve alone or over frozen yogurt.

And don't forget a little garnish for the last-minute meal. A sprinkle of paprika, a wedge of lemon or a little sprig of parsley really perks up a plate.

Plum Spicy Glaze

Try this spicy glaze on chicken breasts, brushing on glaze when the chicken is almost done cooking.

  • 1/2 cup Chinese plum sauce
  • 1/4 cup Chinese mustard

Put the plum sauce and mustard in a small mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Makes 3/4 cup.

"Desperation Entertaining"

Curried Walnuts

Great-tasting microwave roasted nuts -- perfect for pre-dinner nibbling.

  • 2 cups walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Spread walnuts in a single layer on a microwave-safe dish. Microwave, uncovered, on high, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Mix 1 tablespoon sugar with curry powder and salt in a medium bowl.

When nuts have finished toasting, combine the vegetable oil and butter and the remaining sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until butter melts. Add toasted walnuts and stir. Cook until walnuts are shiny, about 1 minute. Transfer the nuts to the bowl with the spice mix and toss to oat. Let the nuts cool on waxed paper for about 10 minutes. Makes 2 cups.

"Desperation Entertaining"

Thursday, September 05, 2002

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