I don't have any memories of my parents entertaining when I was kid. There were the usual family holidays that required a gathering for extended relations, but other than that I can confidently say that I didn't grow up surrounded by frequent parties and gaggles of dinner guests.
However, there were less formal affairs; like friends and neighbours popping by for coffee while out for an evening stroll. Are people doing things like that anymore? Do last-minute get-togethers happen these days, or are our lives so busy that even casual gatherings are pre-planned and scheduled?
Julie and I decided to tackle the idea of an impromptu dinner with friends for this month's Gatherings (click here for a refresher) post. The kind you have when you wake up on Saturday morning and decided to call friends to see if they're free to come by for dinner and board games. It's the perfect way to pass the time during the cold weather months, especially in February and March, when winter's charm is fading away and the idea of spending another weekend evening indoors in nearly too much to handle. It’s also fun for the kids – trust me.
My go-to food for practically every meal is soup, and what could be better than a pot of bubbling potage accompanied by a DIY grilled cheese station when a last minute dinner is organized? The meal doesn't have to be fancy to be fun, and I rather think guests are relieved when they see something familiar and easy on the table. The menu – if you can call it that - is all about comfort food, and I can promise you it was a hit.
Here's how I did it:
- This can be made up to two days in advance, but since we're talking about a last-minute gathering, I would make this as soon as you have your plans in place.
- It takes less than twenty minutes to prep a pot of soup and the rest of the work is done on the stove while you busy yourself with something else.
- I like to make a puréed soup for this sort of dinner party; it can be served in coffee mugs, which makes for easier eating (no spoons!) and less dishes (hurray!).
- I made a simple butternut squash soup, replacing the curry with sage and the apple juice with cream, just because I had the ingredients on hand. Creamy tomato soup would be great here, too.
This is the dinner showstopper; a DIY grilled cheese station of assorted breads, cheeses, condiments, meats, fresh fruits, and veggies.
- The easiest way to do this is to make open-faced toasted sandwiches on a baking sheet. You can make two trays at a time, ensuring you don’t spend your evening standing by the stove flipping bread.
- Cheese melts best when grated so I would take the time to do that.
- If you meat needs to be cooked, do so in advance of your guests arriving.
- Pre-slice and pre-toast the bread and platter up an assortment of toppings, making sure to have some kid-friendly ingredients in the mix (like bacon, pizza sauce, and mozzarella cheese).
- Ask guests to assemble their sandwiches and when they are in the oven prepare the soup for serving.
- Pass out mugs of soup alongside plates of grilled cheesy sandwiches and everyone will be happy!
- Chocolate pudding pie. Swoon. This retro, comforting, and classic dessert is popular with both the kids and the adults. I'll be sharing the recipe in an upcoming post as it deserves its own space here on the blog. It's that good. My alternate title for this decadence is how-to-make-your-children-happy pie, and it should belong in the back-pocket recipe files of mothers everywhere.
- Other things I might think about serving with this menu is chocolate cake, a platter of oversized chocolate chip cookies, and maybe even something store-bought from the bakery. It doesn't always have to be homemade - it just has to be good!
For this kind of event, keeping everything else for your gathering simple really is the best idea. I like to use the IKEA Tekla dishtowels for cloth napkins. They are generous in size and cover the lap, ensuring no crumbs find their way onto the clothes of your guests. Some fresh flowers, tealights and music are the only other things need to complete the look of this soirée.
This month, Julie, made Luisa's meatballs for her impromtu gathering. I love the idea of plunking a large pot of rich red tomato sauce in the middle of the table alongside crusty baguettes for dipping and glasses of wine for drinking. I can't imagine anyone - kids included - who wouldn't come over for a last-minute dinner when something so tantalizing is on offer.