What should I make for dinner when I don't know exactly when it'll be?
April 18, 2016 9:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm having 3 friends over for dinner on Wednesday. We're all med students, and two of them will be coming off shifts at the hospital, which will end some undetermined time between 5pm and 8pm. (Most likely between 5 and 6.) What is something good to make when you're not exactly sure when folks will arrive? Note: I don't have a slow cooker or intend to get one, and I don't have a microwave. I do have a stove and an oven.

No dietary restrictions for this bunch.
posted by ocherdraco to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Chili, soups and stews are great for this, where an extra hour or two on low or simply a quick reboil won't hurt at all.
posted by Karaage at 9:27 PM on April 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Chili and cornbread. The chili can simmer forbasicallyever, and you can have the dry and wet ingredients in two bowls for the latter so it's just mix and bake. Add a salad and Bob's yer uncle, or whatever you say there. Sub your favorite recipes for the examples above.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:29 PM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Kale-based salads keep well and won't wilt.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:36 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pasta only takes 8-10 minutes to boil - you could get the pot boiling, put a top on it to keep it warm and then boil the pasta when they show up.
posted by Toddles at 9:37 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Cook it the night before or days before. Buy tortillas, tomatos, avocados and whatever else you like to put in tacos. When they come over, fry up chunks of meat in a skillet and serve. 15 minutes tops from when they arrive. On the plus side, as a med student, you'll have leftovers that should keep for the next week+.
posted by just.good.enough at 9:40 PM on April 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

Burgers cook fast and the rest of the prep (making patties, cleaning and cutting produce) can be done well ahead of time.
posted by primethyme at 9:41 PM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Pizza. You can buy pre-baked crusts and have a whole mess of toppings options ready to go.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:55 PM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

How about combining two favorites and making a chili pasta? It's hearty, quick, and very little clean up!
posted by sheepishchiffon at 9:59 PM on April 18, 2016

Puerco pibil. Time the four hours to finish at 5:30; at 6:00, turn the oven off; it'll stay warm and awesome for ages inside its foil-covered coffin.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:35 PM on April 18, 2016

Curry, then make the rice when they arrive. You can leave the curry on a very slow simmer, adding water as needed, or you can aim to have it ready for 5:30 and then leave it on the side until your friends arrive (I'm pretty cautious about food but this doesn't seem excessive when you know it's freshly prepared and very hot at the start of the time and you'll reheat thoroughly before serving).
posted by kadia_a at 11:07 PM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you have the time, cassoulet. If not, any kind of poultry / sausage / bean or lentil one-pot combo, e.g. (is what I'm feeling right now, mayhaps I'm not the only one). Or, for a quickie, brown some onions & garlic with chorizo, throw in a bit of red wine and lentils (canned is fine), eat with crusty bread. Any kind of bean casserole. You could pretty quickly warm shepherd's pie or moussaka (served with a tomato and green onion salad, that'll keep. Or, have washed greens ready and let guests dress it themselves).
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:47 AM on April 19, 2016

You could make any number of different things to bake in parchment parcels (en papillote)(this list is pretty inspiring) ahead of time and then pop them in the oven when each person arrives. Fifteen minutes of appetizers later, fresh hot lovely food for each tired med student. Serve with bread to dip in the juices.

Having an array of antipasto snacky things would be a good idea, and it isn't just olives and cheese these days. Yummy lightly pickled and dressed vegetables of all sorts are a good salad substitution that won't wilt and are delicious cold and at room temperature.
posted by Mizu at 1:01 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Make a Spanish Tortilla ahead of time? I often make one and then have slices of leftovers. Good with any of the chili, salad, stewish ideas.
posted by Gotanda at 4:10 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

All a slow cooker is, is "a big stew pot that is heated from a heat source other than your stove." So you can accomplish pretty much the same thing using a stew pot or Dutch Oven and your stove, or oven.

Stews are your way to go. The longer they sit on low and slow heat, the better they get. Or, you could go with jambalaya and a simple mixed green salad. The recipe there is close to how I make it; I get away with just sauteeing the sausages, then sauteenig the aromatic vegetables, then skipping straight to jumping everything in all at once and simmering a half hour. You could get through that recipe up to the point where you're about to add the rice, and then when your guests are on their way, go to that final step. It'd only take 30 minutes from there.

A simple green salad, a loaf of French bread, and maybe fresh fruit for dessert and you're good.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:53 AM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Lots of chicken dishes would work for this - not a whole roasted chicken, but thighs or other bits that don't take as long. Do the prep / marinade ahead of time and have it in the fridge. Have some beverages and decent snacks out for guests as they arrive - cheese, crudites, hummus, crackers, nuts, olives - so if they have to wait for an hour or so they won't be waiting hungry. When your last guest arrives (or better yet, get them to text you when they are on their way), pop the chicken in the oven. Here's one of my favorites, but I'm sure there are others with a shorter cooking time.

Better yet - just have substantial appetizers and forget about a main dish.
posted by bunderful at 4:55 AM on April 19, 2016

You're not going to sit down to dinner the second they walk in your door, right? There's going to be a little bit of lingering, drinking, and chatting. So you have some time to finish up a dish just as everyone arrives.

You can certainly do something like a meat-and-two or meat-and-three in under a half hour. Pork chops, steaks, anything you would sear in a heavy skillet on the stovetop. One per person. Vegetables can be things that work well roasted in the oven - cauliflower, brussels sprouts, potatoes, root veggies. Very little prep for all of this. You can cut vegetables ahead of time and stash them in the fridge until you're ready for them.

What will make this a great dinner and not just a good dinner is a pan sauce. Cook the meat, then saute a little bit of aromatics in the pan, add some liquid to deglaze, let it cook down, thicken with something. Maybe some herbs in there. Done.

Total menu, as suggested by me:
-Skirt steak, seared simply, salt and pepper. High heat in a heavy pan. Cook to medium rare, let it rest about ten minutes when it's done. Buy one large piece and cut it into slices against the grain after it's cooked. Fan those pieces out on plates like you're a fancy-ass restaurant.
-Small potatoes and brussels sprouts. Mix them if you want, separate if not. 425F oven, split them in half, salt and pepper and some olive oil. Toss them in rimmed baking sheets, maybe 15-20 minutes in the oven. Those go on the plates. Don't like brussels sprouts? Cauliflower will work. Pick something hearty that can be roasted. If these are done early you can drop the oven down to like 300 and they'll keep there for quite a while.
-Pan sauce. Get a shallot and chop it up. When the meat's done, throw that shallot in the pan. Maybe some garlic. A minute or two at medium high heat. Add red wine, about a cup to a cup and a half. Sub in chicken or beef stock if you'd rather, or make a mix of it. Throw some whole parsley and a rosemary sprig. Got a bay leaf? Why not. Let it cook down for a few minutes. Now take about a tablespoon of softened butter and work in about the same amount of flour until it kind of looks like a dough. Drop that in your sauce and whisk vigorously. Remove the herbs. Drizzle that sauce over everything. Maybe make some nice patterns like the fancy-ass restaurants do.

The point here is that this is all fungible, and if you don't like one thing you can swap it out for something else. The basic process is the same regardless.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:35 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

2nding curry and rice, plus if there are any markets near you that sell Indian food, frozen naan bread is incredible. (At least in the opinion of this non-Indian person.) I had always assumed that an already-completely-baked frozen bread product would be crap, so I'd never tried them until recently, but they literally only take around 90-120 seconds to go from frozen to ready-to-eat in a pre-heated oven and I like them as much as any I've had in a restaurant.

Also I love Udupi-brand frozen masala dosas but I guess those are technically breakfast food, Wikipedia would seem to indicate?
posted by XMLicious at 5:36 AM on April 19, 2016

Are your guests all showing up together, or possibly staggered? If staggered, I'd lean toward the suggestions for stews (probably with a side salad), as I'd want to minimize jumping up to do last-minute prep each time someone new shows up.
posted by lazuli at 5:47 AM on April 19, 2016

Make what you're going to make, set dinner for 6:30 (really 7:30), and serve chips and hummus and cheese until then.
posted by suedehead at 6:27 AM on April 19, 2016

I'd make an oven-roasted bbq pulled-pork. (Tons of recipes online.) Serve with rolls, bread, or even hamburger buns, and a cold vegetable salad for a side dish, like this broccoli raisin salad.

The pork can stay in the oven as long as you want. Especially good if guests are not all arriving at once. Just put it back in the oven between waves of guests.
posted by The Deej at 6:49 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Crustless spinach quiche - can be served cold, room temp, or fresh from the oven.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:06 AM on April 19, 2016

One of my friends has done a taco bar type thing on her counter in situations like this, and it has been delicious.
posted by aaanastasia at 9:49 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go with backseatpilot's suggestion, because it's the closest to the kind of dinner I was hoping to have in the first place, but I thank you all for these many good suggestions! This kind of dinner is bound to happen for me again, and I'm glad to have such a great list of possibilities for the future.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:55 AM on April 20, 2016

Dinner was a great success! The whole thing went over very well.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:25 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

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