“Live intentionally, expect little, give much, love extravagantly, and create your best life.”
Nothing makes me happier than when friends tell us they feel as though our home is beckoning them with open arms, whispering an invitation to sit down, put their feet up and relax. There are so many cozy corners, fireplaces, reading nooks and tea tables that our guests are often torn as to where to settle in.
I share this because entertaining for me is one of the great balancers in my life. I love connecting with people over food. I believe that if you can open your heart and break bread with those you love, everyone who is touched by your generosity of spirit is being called into greater love and harmony themselves.
They key to achieving this – without stress – is to keep entertaining casual and inspired. Yes, it is possible to accomplish both.
Having a few good friends over to laugh, eat and enjoy each other’s company is my idea of a perfect evening. Being joined by extended family for a Sunday outdoor multigenerational brunch is heaven on earth. But spending all night in the kitchen preparing, cooking and cleaning? Not so much fun. That’s why I always keep a handful of staples in my pantry and refrigerator. That way entertaining guests, expected and otherwise, is never a problem. I’m ready to welcome our guests at a moment’s’ notice with grace and ease.
Here’s a list of what I like to keep handy to entertain when friends come calling.
In Your Refrigerator
This is your foundation. Try to include a variety of textures and flavors. The majority of cheese belongs to one of four categories: aged, soft, firm or blue. Try to keep one of each on hand. Some examples are:
● Aged –cheddar, gouda, gruyere, manchego and Parmesan-types like Parmigiano-Reggiano.
● Soft – Brie and Camembert, as well as well as decadent double and triple cream cheeses like Delice de Bourgogne and Explorateur. One that I always have on hand is Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, a triple cream taste sensation.
● Firm – Swiss-style cheeses such as Emmental and Gruyère. The same bacteria that give such cheeses their eyes also contribute to their aromatic and sharp flavors. Other semi-soft to firm cheeses include Gouda, Edam, Jarlsberg, Cantal, and Kashkaval/Cașcaval.
● Blue Cheese – Gorgonzola Dolce, Valdeón, Stilton
Another way to select cheeses is by the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep). This will ensure a range of different flavors on the plate.
Cheese and crackers are a super easy snack or appetizer that everyone will enjoy, especially if you include varieties of cheese from mild to potent. Remember to always take cheeses out of the refrigerator one hour before you serve them as the cold diminishes their flavor.
Dry Sausages – I especially love the Creminelli brand because of their dedication to their animals and their staff. They have several different and delicious varieties of hard salami that, sliced up, go so well with the crackers and cheese we’re already talked about.
Of course, pepper jam is a natural to the above suggestions, and with its addition, you’ll have a charcuterie tray to be proud of! Choose mild to please everyone or spicy for a little extra punch! Mix it with cream cheese and you have a spread with a fantastic kick. If you want to surprise your guests for dessert, spoon it over high quality vanilla ice cream.
Lemons and Limes
Quickly cut up lemons and limes into wedges or slices, and you’ll have a lovely garnish for that glass of ice water. It’s little touches like this that make you feel like the ultimate hostess! (As an aside, the addition of a little lemon or lime is also a great way to get more water into your system!)
Veggies that can be eaten raw with fingers are a great healthy choice for both adults and little ones who may want something to snack on. Celery, carrots, cauliflower, and sliced red peppers make a colorful, nutrient-dense snack tray. Quick dip choice? I always keep a bottle of organic ranch dressing in the refrigerator.
From mild to molten, salsa and tortilla chips are a natural and irresistible treat. If you have a garden, salsa is super easy to make fresh yourself, or just keep a few jars or your favorites in the pantry for a snack in a hurry.
More than 900 years ago, Omar Khayyam already knew the elements of an exquisite yet simply memorable evening when he said, “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou.” Have bottles of both red and white on hand and ready for your next friend emergency. Keep whites stored in the refrigerator and reds in the pantry. My newest favorite is Miraval wine, a beautiful light pale pink wine with a touch of a floral taste. It is a joint venture between Famille Perrin and Hollywood A-listers, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. So, so good.
Who doesn’t love a cold micro or craft brew in the summer? For casual gatherings, there’s just no substitute. Keep a couple of interesting six-packs in the fridge that will appeal to most tastes, like a lager or an ale. Beer is also a perfect match for an impromptu summer barbeque on the beach.
In Your Pantry
Tortilla Chips and Crackers
All those jams, cheeses, sausages, and salsas will be lonely without chips and crackers to put them on! Try stone-ground wheat crackers, butter crackers, and of course, water crackers. And go for something a little unique with tortilla chips made from blue corn. There are so many healthy choices, just be sure and read the labels and avoid the following ingredients – Cottonseed and palm oil (they’re higher in saturated fat than other oils), sugar.
Expensive truffles aren’t necessary, but they sure are delicious. Quality chocolate is delicacy that everyone enjoys. Even M&Ms are a sweet treat when presented in a pretty crystal bowl. And of course, kids love them!
Coffee and Tea
I’m known for calling people over for a cut of tea. It’s so English and a perfect accompaniment for solving any number of problems! Any time of the day or night, offer your guests coffee and tea. It’s an instant welcoming gesture that will help warm their soul inside and out. Keep a few different flavors of tea in your pantry that will appeal to a variety of tastes. Both caffeinated and herbal.
These bite-size nutritional powerhouses are packed with heart-healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. They’re ideal to tide your guests over until the main meal is served. Plus I always serve a small bowel alongside my charcuterie tray! The three varieties I always buy in bulk are almonds, cashews, and pistachios
In Your Freezer
Frozen fruit such as peaches, cherries, and raspberries make for quick treats in the summer, but they can also create some lovely drinks, too! Pair wine with frozen fruit and you’ve got sangria. Or, put some in the blender with yogurt, ice, and juice for a delicious smoothie. And how can we forget – add rum for a daiquiri or tequila for a margarita!
Your local grocer is sure to have several varieties of frozen appetizers. Spring rolls, egg rolls, mozzarella sticks, hot pretzels…even miniature quiches! These may not be the healthiest option, but they’re a quick, hot bite to eat if you’re guests want something a bit more substantial.
These are a phenomenal grab and go when you need to cook up something quick and flavorful. Soaking them for 20 minutes in hot water releases their incredible flavor. Chop them up and sauté them with onions and then add them to arborio rice along with organic chicken bone broth and you have a wonderful warm and delicious risotto. Sprinkle with some hard parmesan cheese and fresh cracked pepper and your guests will be blown away – I promise!
Organic Chicken, Vegetable and Beef Broth or Stock
I am never without at least two boxes of each of these to flavor rices, vegetables, sautés or for reheating foods. Delicious, nutritious and oh so handy.
Organic Arborio Rice
I keep mason jars of many different rice’s in my pantry for spur of the moment meals including basmati, both long and short grain brown rice, wild rice, and jasmine but my favorite ‘go to’ is Arborio rice. I use it for both risotto and paella since it can absorb liquid and flavors over slow cooking. The result? Unmatched creamy texture with a chewy core.
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Hopefully, these seventeen suggestions will give you some ideas for how to stock your fridge, freezer, and pantry so that when company stops by, you’ll be ready…even if you’re not! Just use these ideas as a loose outline of things that are quick, easy, and satisfying.
Most importantly, when friends and family do stop by – allow yourself to relax and just enjoy the moment. Welcome them to your table and celebrate the great stuff of life.
What are your easy entertaining staples? I can’t wait to hear how you effortlessly entertain your tribe of dear friends.