Effortless attitude with Julia Child skillz!
November 10, 2010 4:23 PM   Subscribe

Foodie-filter: Help me think of food equivalents of, "Oh, this old thing?"! Looking for tapas-style food that can be thrown together at the last minute but is still impressive.

The new beau (yay!) is coming into town for a few days next week on his way through to Bigger Town. His company will be putting him up in a hotel in town, but I would like to be prepared on the chance that he spends a night or two at my house.

What are some yummy ingredients I can have on hand in the fridge to, say, whip together for brunch? Or make for dinner? I'm thinking of things like smoked salmon, capers, and goat cheese on toasted baguette rounds--more tapas or appetizer dishes than full-on beef beef bourguignon.

The goal is to not have to spend hours at the stove, either before his visit or during, but have enough on-hand to whip something up if the mood strikes. I should add that while gourmet ingredients are fine, I also don't want it to appear as though I bought out Dean & DeLuca solely in preparation for his visit--as my mother once said with regards to relationships, never start something you aren't prepared to do for the next sixty years. Thanks, foodies!
posted by stellaluna to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
Round of brie, sliced through the middle (so you have two circles), spread with a nummy spread, like a fig jam, or a chutney, topped with toasted walnuts or other nut. Slap halves together, bake in oven til gooey, serve with fancy crackers and delicious vino. For extra fancy, wrap in phyllo. Also, olives are always good to have on hand, and several kinds of nice cheeses.
posted by Polyhymnia at 4:33 PM on November 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Eggs, bacon, good bread, cream. You can do a super-quick frittata, omelet, or French toast. You can poach a couple eggs to fancy up a salad. You can make spaghetti carbonara, and he will worship you as a god(dess).

Also olives, and maybe a handful of marcona almonds. Do you have a little bit of lavender? Throw the almonds in a pan for just a minute or two with a little butter or olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and a pinch of crushed lavendar.

Have some Bailey's for your coffee, and have some decaf coffee for the evening. Oh and a few nice teas. And some honey. (The honey can go in tea or on the almonds or with goat cheese and toast rounds or ... well there are always uses for honey.)
posted by cyndigo at 4:34 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, this does take a bit of preparation in advance, but it only takes 5 minutes for the magic to happen! Make your own labneh (or lebneh, if you prefer). Here is a great recipe that includes a nutty/olivey topping. It's not much more involved than brie baking, and much more impressive (after all, how often can you brag about making your own cheese?).
posted by oohisay at 4:43 PM on November 10, 2010

If you are not against premade pie crusts for speed, a good quiche is perfect! Hearty without being too heavy, sophisticated enough to be impressive without too much effort. Throwing in random fancy ingredients adds to the wow factor. I once had to make an impressive dinner on the fly and I threw some leftover duck together with some spinach into a quiche. Everyone was blown away.

So you will need: a pie crust, eggs, heavy cream, a good chese (gruyere tends to be good for this), delightful tasty bits to throw in. Stir, throw in the oven for a bit and voila! A few simple but good quality ingredients can go a long way.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:47 PM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Muhammara. In a pinch I have used good honey instead of the pomegranate molasses, but get the molasses if you can. Put on either bread or roasted meat.
posted by oflinkey at 4:49 PM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Here are two quick to make "stuff on hand" recipes I discovered over the weekend. They went surprisingly well together too. I just served the tuna salad on the plate next to the potatoes rather than putting it on lettuce or a pita. My husband raved about the potatoes; and I liked the tuna salad so much I made another batch yesterday for lunch.

Tuscan Style Tuna Salad

Greek Lemon Roasted Potatoes

posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:53 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine used to call Tom Ka Gai the best cook-at-home date food ever, because it's insanely easy and yet "fancy." I serve it over rice, sometimes with peas. The part that takes the most effort, honestly, is cutting up the chicken. :)

The soup base is sometimes tricky to find; around here Safeway seems to be the best bet, but in Austin I saw it at Whole Foods.

True story: it is in fact one of the first meals that I made for the guy that I've been with for 13+ years now. He LOVES it, especially when he has a cold. (His dad loves it too, which is a nice score for me.)
posted by epersonae at 5:07 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've found that people are really impressed by unexpected cake. By that I mean something like an "everyday cake" as described on Smitten Kitchen. The Dorie Greenspan dimply plum cake that's been floating around the Internet for a while would be an especially good one (if you can find plums). It's nice to be able to offer a sweet snack or easy breakfast by pulling out a lovely homemade cake. I've definitely done the, "Oh this? I just whipped it up last night..." to rave reviews with buttermilk/yogurt-based or fruit-topped cake.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:18 PM on November 10, 2010

Response by poster: What wonderful suggestions! I see I came to the right place; these all look like they would fit the nonchalant yet delicious bill perfectly. Keep them coming, please!
posted by stellaluna at 5:26 PM on November 10, 2010

Caprese salad! (And leftovers from the top-notch mozzarella --> top-notch pizza)
posted by kmennie at 5:42 PM on November 10, 2010

I love making tea sandwiches with shredded ginger and carrot mashed up in cream cheese. Spread between dainty bread with the crusts cut off, cut into pretty shapes, and voila.
posted by mynameisluka at 5:45 PM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For snacks, shove some blue cheese into good quality dates. (Take out the pip, obviously)
posted by kjs4 at 6:28 PM on November 10, 2010

Slice an organic, crispy, perfect apple -- maybe a pink lady, or maybe a couple of different apples. Maybe include some banana, sliced and tossed in a little lemon juice, and maybe a few pieces of walnut or pecan or slivers of almond, maybe a little flaked coconut, bonus if you can add some seedless tangerine sections cut in half. Put the fruit pieces on a fancy plate or two, and grate some whole nutmeg and cinnamon on top with a microplane. Prep time: 3 minutes. Cleanup: negligible (the microplane can even go in the dishwasher). Glory factor: 87%. Bonus: good for breakfast

Get some very fresh, very crispy asparagus. Rinse, snap the base ends off, steam lightly, put on plate, pour a little bottled dijon mustard vinaigrette on top (or just lemon juice). Put lemon wedges next to everything on the plate, maybe throw on a few olives or pieces of fresh pimento pepper for pretties. Prep time: 10 minutes. Cleanup: steamer pan big enough to fit whole asparagus spears. Glory factor: 83%
posted by amtho at 6:36 PM on November 10, 2010

Riffing on the caprese salad --> pizza idea, I've been making this stale bread pizza a lot lately. It's very easy to put together and definitely hits the nonchalant yet elegant yet comfort food sweet spot.

Make some ricotta gnocchi and freeze it by putting the pieces on a tray in the freezer overnight and then transferring to a freezer bag. Cook in boiling water (don't defrost first) and toss with tomato sauce or pesto or butter or anything else you would put on pasta.

Kimchi soup is insanely easy and delicious.

Frittatas (aka Spanish tortillas) are easy and sophisticated enough for brunch or dinner.
posted by (Over) Thinking at 6:40 PM on November 10, 2010

For brunch, you can assemble this overnight french toast the night before and it comes together easily in the morning. To make it a little fancier I'll sometimes do a sort of bananas foster style topping in the skillet while the the french toast is baking; I just chop up a banana or two and add the fruit to a pan in which I've melted some butter and brown sugar, throw in a little rum if I have it and maybe some walnuts. Also, it's pretty simple to make berries/granola/yogurt parfaits. And yes to frittatas!
posted by katie at 6:55 PM on November 10, 2010

Skinless, boneless chix breast are always in your freezer, right?

When company comes, thaw & slice them lengthwise in strips 1 inch wide.

Coat in a mixture of flour and spices (curry powder works fine, but have fun)

Fry the chicken fingers in hot oil till done, and xfer to paper towels.

Pour off all but 1T of oil. Lower heat, add garlic and saute very briefly.

Add white wine, chopped tomatoes (can or fresh), & oregano, and cook down a bit. This is your sauce.

Serve with lemon halves and sauce.

People go wild over this.
posted by LonnieK at 7:27 PM on November 10, 2010

Try this: buy a can of guava paste/cheese and some crackers. Unmold the guava paste onto a pretty plate and serve with the crackers. Unbelievably tasty, pretty sophisticated and dead easy. Some manchego cheese would also go well with this.
posted by peacheater at 7:57 PM on November 10, 2010

Best answer: This Mark Bittman article should be helpful. (He's done a whole series of seasonal "101" pieces for the NYT Dining section--poke around for the others.)
posted by neroli at 8:14 PM on November 10, 2010

Grape tomatoes stuffed with creamcheese with cayenne pepper & whatever spices you desire.
- slice the tomatoes in half, squeeze out the guts
- mix the tomato guts+ creamcheese+ cayenne pepper+ basil in a small bowl
- stuff creamcheese mixture back into tomatoes with spoon

It goes surprisingly fast, and was a huuuuuuuge hit a recent party. If you have no vegetarians, you can add crumbled bacon to the cream cheese for mini blts. This is a classic appetizer from the 50's & 60's. My mom has horror stories of stuffing tomatoes with creamcheese for dinner parties. Personally I don't find it that bad, but some people get weirded out by tomato guts. they are weird

Also, thin slices of baguette+ brie+ drizzle of honey (OR Carmelized onions). If you toast the whole mess you get an extremely easy appetizer that's ridiculously addictive. Also, if you don't have access to great cheese, and the good stuff is pricey, pre-slicing it and distributing it on the bread prior to the party saves you $$ on cheese. I like to lay everything out on a cookie sheet, and then pop in a warm oven just as the first guest walks in. After 15 mins, the 1st guests have something to help with/keep them busy, as everyone else shows up. This lets them be useful, and it frees you up to put out any last minute fires. (not that I'd know or anything)
posted by larthegreat at 8:37 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually for a single beau, the stuffed tomatoes might be overkill. delicious delicious overkill.

So I substitute: a fantastic poached egg over a english muffin with a slice of good swiss cheese. I always feel like poaching eggs makes them better than ordinary eggs. and and you can make the poached egg in the mircowave so clean up is almost nill.

If you wanted to blow someone's mind, you could have hollandaise sauce on standby to pour over said poached egg on muffin, but that's more effort.
posted by larthegreat at 8:46 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of putting together cheese plates. Sometimes specifically to impress, but also sometimes I want a snack and just do it for myself. Inevitably if I'm doing the latter, anyone who sees said plate of awesome demands to share.

The classic cheese plate is soft goat cheese (such as chevre), a runny or washed rind cheese like brie or taleggio, a firm cow or sheep's milk cheese (gruyere? manchego?) and a blue. But of course you can put together whatever you happen to have on hand, or if there's a particular cheese you like, don't like, whatever, that's also fine. Add a hunk of good bread and maybe some fruit as well. Pour a glass of wine or maybe really good beer. Enjoy!

Can you poach an egg? Poached eggs with anything is always impressive. And yet takes no time or special tools or ingredients. Seriously, put a poached egg on top of leftover casserole and people will think you are a celebrity chef.

Bagged mixed greens (wash first!) topped with chevre or parmesan and a good homemade vinaigrette cannot be beat. Dead simple, but seriously elegant. You can throw in some other goodies if you have veg on hand - a perfectly ripe tomato, some leftover roast potatoes, a little carrot or bell pepper. But honestly, the basic salad is fabulous on its own.

A good friend of mine always puts out olives and maracona almonds when company comes over, even if company is just me. She's classy like that.
posted by Sara C. at 9:46 PM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

A bunch of olives, green and black, a couple cloves of garlic and a dash of oil in the blender. Easy tapenade, serve with crackers or french bread slices. So simple and tasty and always impresses.
posted by conifer at 6:01 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes to bean salads (Tuscan tuna and white bean=dynamite, tri-color, black bean marinated with mango, etc.), eggs hard-boiled ahead of time or shirred (oven baked), muhammara, other Middle Eastern dips and spreads (Turkish yogurt and eggplant with walnuts and parsley, hummus traditional or black bean, salsa, cranberry jalapeno), marinated olives (similarly done oranges and fennel are good too), spiced and toasted nuts (Ina Garten's is my favorite, but there are tons everywhere for all kinds of nuts), everything to make a good salad last minute (pre-washed and dried greens, simple vinaigrette you can keep in a jar ahead of time and then shake again right before dressing, toasted and maybe seasoned nuts, good salad cheese, cut up veggies of your choice--last minute if you just add a piece of chopped fruit it's great btw), or a composed deli-type salad (Mexican roast beef, the ingredients for a Cobb or waldorf, or something like Orangette's sopressata, melon, fresh mozzarella, arugla, etc. drizzled in oil). Grab one of those rotisserie chickens that feeds precisely about 2 or 3 people, shred the meat, and make a fast chicken salad with flavors of your choice like Chinese anise and cinnamon, curried, French savory-stye, etc.; chicken salad is mad versatile (or do this with tuna, or an egg salad or egg-style tofu salad). Salade Nicoise is classy and simple too, once you've amassed the ingredients beforehand. Baked or marinated tofu (Mollie Katzen's take is my favorite). Sausage of your choice, simply topped with peppers or fruit sauteed in the fat left from cooking the sausage (thanks, Rao's!). Frittata with apple in it. The Splendid Table's cheater's "pizza"--take puff pastry to make a rectangular pizza "shell", brush with oil, topped with all kinds of classy flavorful greens like arugula, split grapes, red onion, melt-friendly cheese, etc. tossed in a bowl with olive oil, baked until golden, 20 minutes maybe.
posted by ifjuly at 7:31 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dates wrapped with bacon and baked until bacon is done.

Roasted cherry tomato bruschetta.

Oven roasted potato wedges with aioli (garlic lemon mayonnaise). You can make your own mayo for the aoili, but Hellman's with some garlic and lemon isn't all that bad in a pinch.
posted by sarajane at 8:57 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

lox or smoked salmon, capers, lemon juice, cream cheese, red onions, and bagels for a delicious, easy, and luxurious-feeling brunch!
posted by aka burlap at 10:02 AM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and also this orange and olive appetizer, which is extremely easy and tasty. Every time I've made this people have been really impressed--i think because it's a semi-unusual but pretty inspired pairing of flavors.
posted by aka burlap at 10:08 AM on November 11, 2010

It may sound... not very fancy... but I like to do stir-fry if I'm wanting to impress people on short notice. You can use fresh or frozen ingredients, it doesn't really matter. The impressive part is whipping up a delicious sauce from whatever you have on hand.
I suppose this requires a little bit of experience, so you know what tastes good together. If you need some pointers to get you started, I like this particular recipe from 101 cookbooks.
posted by purpletangerine at 11:44 AM on November 11, 2010

If you're meat eaters it's fun to make sausage pinwheels out of store bought ingredients. We use crescent roll dough from a can, and Neese's Sausage (I like the extra sage, my MIL loves extra hot). Roll your dough out in one bit rectangle, pinching the perforated edges back together, distribute the sausage evenly over the surface (you have to pull pieces off, it doesn't spread very well). Roll up, slice into thin rounds, bake according to the crescent roll directions.
I like this because you can have the two basic ingredients on hand, just in case. If you don't use them for this, you can use them for something else. They won't go bad for at least a week (probably longer).
posted by purpletangerine at 11:50 AM on November 11, 2010

Mart Bittmans 101 appetizers: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/19/dining/19mini.html
posted by xammerboy at 12:08 PM on November 11, 2010

Hummus with flatbread or pita.

A selection of olives or cheeses.

Charcuterie plate (good salami, some prosciutto, maybe some coppa).

Apples or melon with cheese.
posted by Gilbert at 12:09 PM on November 11, 2010

Papas arrugadas (Canarian wrinkly potatoes)

So easy, so good, and you'll want to have the Spicy Mojo from below on nearly everything.

Boil small potatoes (black potatoes work best, but any will do) in very salty water, about as salty as the sea. When they are finished the salty water will crust on them and wrinkle the skins.

Make a Mojo (I usually make the Spicy one) in a blender or food processor (just toss everything in) and drizzle on top.
Spicy Mojo
- 3 cloves of Garlic
- 5 g (1 tsp.) Cumin
- 1-2 pickled green Sweet Pepper or Bell Peppers*
- 5 g (1 tsp.) pimentôn (hot chili)
- 5 g (1 tsp.) salt
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
- 2 tbsp. wine vinegar

*Pickled Jalapenos work very well too

Cilantro mojo
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 5 g (1 tsp.) cumin
- A nice bunch of cilantro
- Salt
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp. vinegar

Another easy one is Taro Root Fritters. Simply peel and then finely grate up a couple of Taro Roots and mix with dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and a pinch of corn starch. Fry up spoonfuls in hot oil and serve with a sauce made of two Piloncillos (the pyramid shaped cones of sugar sold in Mexican grocery stores but an equal amount of unrefined brown sugar works too), a cup of water, and two cinnamon sticks. Simmer on low until about as thick as cheap Maple Syrup and drizzle on top of the fritters.
posted by wcfields at 3:45 PM on November 11, 2010

Puff pastry is your friend. If you keep it in your freezer, you can make tons of impressive things as fast as it takes to defrost the package. I like this recipe for rustic rosemary tarts with goat cheese. It's easy enough to have the goat cheese, rosemary, and lemon on hand. I don't mix the cheese with cream, just with milk or whatever I have on hand. You can also make caramelized onion tarts, sweet tarts with apples, jam tarts, whatevs. You can also use the pastry to cover individual dishes of pot-pie filling, which is no more than chicken, veg, spices, and a white sauce. Oh, and cheese straws! Impressive, effortless.
posted by ms.v. at 3:59 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's also kale chips. Just take a bunch of kale, rip it into bite-size pieces off the stalk, wash to prevent grittiness and thoroughly dry/spin. Toss with enough olive oil to coat and a salty seasoning of your choice (to be honest, I plebe-ishly adore bacon salt on this). Put in a single layer on 1 or 2 cookie sheets lined with parchment and bake at 350 to 375 for 15-20 minutes, til crisp and beginning to brown on the tops/edges. Tasty.
posted by ifjuly at 4:03 PM on November 11, 2010

Slice a baguette, toast a bit, spread with goat cheese, toast a minute longer. Pull it out and plate it and drizzle on honey.

Good anytime, easy to make, and finger-licking good!
posted by mdiskin at 5:21 PM on November 11, 2010

Late to this, but candied bacon and dutch baby with cinnamon apples or chocolate chips generally never fails for breakfast for boys. For the bacon, dip thick-cut slices in brown sugar and cayenne pepper and bake on a wire rack in the oven till crispy. Dutch baby is just eggs, milk, flour and melted butter- mix it and toss it in the oven too. Slice up an apple and saute till tender with some more brown sugar and cinnamon if you have time, or just throw some chocolate chips in the dutch baby. Both require little actual in the kitchen time and the dutch baby right out of the oven looks pretty impressive.
posted by IWoudDie4U at 12:42 PM on November 12, 2010

Response by poster: You guys are the best. Ended up making eggs florentine with good coffee and bacon for breakfast. Really, I probably just could have had pounds of bacon on hand and he would be happy! Also made dates w/ blue cheese and bruschetta for snacks, and a nicoise salad for dinner--at least the meals we ate at home.

Thanks for all the suggestions, though--I tried to mark the ones we made, but I'll definitely be coming back to this question for upcoming holiday parties. How did I ever live without that Bittman article?
posted by stellaluna at 2:04 PM on November 22, 2010

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