At the moment, I am not cooking much as I am not at home, but I joined my dear friends at their place for lunch the other day, and had to share this simple entertaining idea.
Here's the scenario... With very little notice, your friends decide to join you in the early afternoon (in this case, we were "the friends"). In this situation, is lunch in order? Should you cook something? Arrange snacks? Just drinks? What to do?
Certainly, there is no easy answer. If you cook something, and they are not hungry, not only do you potentially waste, but you could also make them feel forced to eat, since you went to the trouble of cooking. But if you assume that it's drinks and snacks only, and they come over famished, they may not enjoy their time as much (I mean, I know when I am hungry, I get cranky. Can't speak for the rest of you though).
So, what is the answer? Do what Russell did in setting up a beautiful spread of breads, deli meats, cheeses, fixins for sandwiches and a few accompaniments (dried fruit and nuts, pasta salad), all of which were available already prepared at the local grocery store. Minimal effort, but maximum impact, if you set it up right.
Notice that I said that his spread was "beautiful." Presentation is really key here because you want your guests to feel like you expected them. Not that you noticed from their faces that they were hungry then threw all the stuff in a pile on the table. Then, everyone can help themselves, eating as much or as little as they like and using the ingredients they want. The setting is casual, comfortable, and a great way to catch up with friends.
The best part about this set up is that nothing gets wasted. If it's not eaten, it gets repacked and saved for tomorrow's lunch. No harm done.
So next time you have company coming over at the last minute, don't sweat. Just play it smart like Russ and your guests will be able to enjoy the great company over a casual bite. And I assure you, make it beautiful and you will get compliments equal to those you would get if you slaved over the stove for hours.
Here are a few ideas of what you could include in your spread, but of course, use your imagination!