Ok so the title is a bit of a lie. You won’t be ready for anything. You won’t be ready for the nuclear apocalypse or the boiler breaking down, but you will be ready to whip up an unbelievable feast at the drop of a hat.
There are certain times of year, Christmas for instance, where guests are liable to drop in at any time. If you’re anything like me, your automatic reaction to people arriving at your house is to try and feed and water them as soon as possible. There are a few core kitchen staples that I like to keep in stock all year round so that I’m ready to whip up a delicious, impressive meal.
If you’ve ever invited a friend over for a cuppa and a chat that turned into a glass of wine and a chat, that turned into two glasses… and the next thing you know it’s 8.30 and nobody has had dinner and that portion of spag bol you defrosted last night just won’t go between two. Either you turf your lovely pal out, or you have to fork out for a takeaway. Neither option is good.…
Or maybe you want to be that person that texts their friends saying “hey, what are you doing tonight? Come over for tea. Bring wine”. That friend that turns an impromptu dinner into something spectacular. Well, here are 11 items that you need in your arsenal to make sure that you are ready to host with very little notice.
1) Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is a staple in every sense. Yes, it’s going to come in handy for a multitude of dishes that you might serve, but it can also be great for helping to jazz up some otherwise simple thrown together dishes. Toasted bread rubbed with a clove of garlic and drizzled with olive oil is a great appetiser, or you can serve it alongside bread to dip. It’s also key to whipping up a good salad dressing, or drizzling over veggies before you roast them or after they’ve been steamed. These little touches help make it seem like you’ve made a tonne of effort.
Mainly for gin and tonics, obviously. But lemons are also great to have in for zesting up your cooking. Mix with olive oil for a salad dressing, use the zest and juice to marinade meat, or squeeze over your steamed broccoli or boiled peas for extra pizazz. Lemons are in my shopping basket every week.
If I have butter in the house, I know that I will be able to make something delicious, no matter what. I can whip up most simple cakes or a brownie, as well as some simple puddings – crumble topping or a caramel sauce. Moreover, I know that whatever else I’m cooking will be delicious because it’s been cooked in the stuff. I usually go for unsalted butter as it’s more versatile; the salt crystals can burn if you’re cooking with it. If I know that I’m likely to be hosting, I’ll grab a pack of salted butter too as this is best for spreading on bread and toast.
4) 70% dark Chocolate
I like to have two bars of 70% dark chocolate in the cupboard at all times. If I have two bars of this chocolate in, I always feel like I can make a dessert. Sometimes I just melt the chocolate to pour over ice cream, but usually I whip up my favourite chocolate puddings (you can find the recipe here).
5) Vanilla Ice Cream
Wonderfully versatile as it goes with everything! Chocolate, fruit, coffee, cakes, pies and pastries… you name it, vanilla ice cream goes with it.
6) Savoury Nibble
This varies depending on the season and usually depending on what special offers are on! Sometimes it’s spiced nuts, sometimes little puff pastry thins flavoured with cheese, or olives, or sundried tomatoes, sometimes it’s a bag of crisps, or some breadsticks. Anything really, just something salty and crunchy that your guests can snack on whilst you pull together the main course.
7) Amaretti Biscuits
Served on their own with coffee or sweet wines, these little biscuits are a pudding on their own. They are also excellent for crumbling over ice cream, panna cottas and cheesecakes for extra crunch and sweet almond flavour. Make sure you buy the crunchy ones, not the more expensive soft biscuits. That variety will last forever. I always have a bag in the cupboard and often crush up a couple of biscuits to adorn desserts.
8) Tin of anchovies
Tinned anchovies are so jam packed with flavour that they are, in my eyes, hosting essentials. For die hard anchovy fans, you can serve them simply one toast with olive oil but I do concede that this is an acquired taste! However, their intensity also means that a little goes a long way. Even when the fridge is completely bare, if you finely slice a clove of garlic, roughly chop a couple of slippery anchovies and fry them gently in olive oil, along with a pinch of chilli flakes, you’ve got yourself a super quick, unbelievably delicious pasta sauce. Simply boil up some spaghetti and slacken the umami oil into a sauce then serve with a lot of fresh black pepper and shavings of parmesan. It can’t fail to satisfy! I also like to use the garlic and anchovy oil to dress greens. Steamed broccoli, blanched kale, sprouts and cabbage all pair beautifully with the pungent saltiness of the anchovies. The extra umami punch of the dressing means that you need less of it on your plate, so even if you only have enough for two, adding the flavourful dressing can make it feel generous enough for four.
9) Can of chickpeas and/or borlotti beans
Pulses come into their own when you need to bulk out a dinner to go between more guests than you were expecting. Added to stews, soups, tray bakes and salads they make everything go that little bit further. Alternatively, you can drain them and blitz them up with some olive oil and lemon juice to create a simple hummus style dip. Cut up some veg like carrots and radishes, and tip some savoury nibbles into a bowl and you’ve suddenly got an elegant starter.
When in doubt – put an egg on it! There are few dishes that aren’t improved with the addition of an egg. Poached egg in soups, boiled eggs in salads, or crispy fried eggs on top of a spicy rice dish, eggs can help to bulk out meals meaning that nobody leaves feeling underfed. Much like butter, having eggs in the house means that you have a tonne of desert options available to you. Custard anyone?
11) Sheet of ready rolled puff pastry
This can be an absolute life saver ingredient and so I always have one in the freezer. It can work as a starter or main, topped with cheese, some vegetables like tomatoes, courgettes or beetroots. It can go on the top of a stew to transform it into a more filling pie. It can go on top of cut up apples, strawberries or blueberries to make a dessert. Or you can sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon and roll it up to create elegant little sweet biscuits to serve with possets or pannacotta or ice cream. Find my recipe here.