The text comes in: an old friend is in town last minute. Without thinking, you invite all of your mutual friends over for dinner. Everyone’s excited. Too bad you’re stuck at work, have no time to grocery shop, and all you have in the house is shriveled carrots and frozen meat.
Entertaining used to be mostly planned out and even formal. Back in the day it involved a second set of fancy dishes and maybe even a dining room versus eating at the family table in the kitchen. And for some home cooks, having people over still involves this much theater, sometimes. But then there are times you just want to hang out with your friends even if you don’t have time to buy cheese, make appetizers, and cook a whole meal from first course to main to dessert.
The modern approach to hosting when you don’t have the bandwidth is to just host anyway. Maybe your meal won’t be perfect, or maybe it will be even better than when you labor over ever detail. The key is spending time with your friends and family.
Open Your Freezer
There’s no shortage of articles written on what to keep on hand so you’re always ready for last minute guests (like this one from Food52 and this one from Food Network). Still, none of them say anything about meat beyond cold cuts. If you find yourself frequently in this bind, think ahead and stock your freezer with small portions of meat and you’ll always have something to make for a last minute party.
Then, the next time you find yourself wanting to entertain with a nearly bare fridge and no time to shop, just open your freezer. Pull out the smallest portions of meat and start defrosting. Small steaks, chicken breasts, chicken thighs, sausages, thin cut pork chops, and thin-cut short ribs are all good options for meat that can be quickly defrosted.
Small Portions Make Appetizers
Small portions of frozen meat can be defrosted in a bowl of cold water. The water must remain cold. Do not, whatever you do, defrost with warm or hot water; that’s begging for food poisoning. If you don’t have a lot of these cuts on hand, you can use them to make some starters like chicken or pork sate, small sandwiches, pizza if you also have frozen dough, and tacos if you also have frozen tortillas.
Large Portions Make a Meal
If you only find large cuts of meat in your freezer, you can work with them, too. A frozen pork roast can cook quickly in a pressure cooker. Larger frozen bone-in chicken parts or even a whole bird can become chicken soup. Josh Applestone cooks just about everything frozen, including steaks and pork belly.
If you’re someone who always stresses about having people over, and spends a lot of time fretting about tidying up, try this looser approach and see how it works. For some people, casual is the only way to go. They bring a salad or a side whenever they come over and pitch in at the grill. And they always ask you to potluck a little something in return when you go to their place. This easiness lends itself to groups – with or without kids.
Not letting perfection get in the way of breaking bread means you’ll see more of your friends and family. And don’t sweat the small stuff. One of the best meals we’ve had in a while was last minute ribs at a friend’s on a Sunday afternoon. At some point, when we were all licking our fingers, the host set a whole roll of paper towels in the middle of the table – just what we needed.