How to Care For Unexpected Guests.

 

You’re expecting me to say "Eat them" aren’t you? Well, news for you, dear readers, the "Maternal" is in my nom-de-plume for a reason… Food is life and cooking is a great way to express love and all that, but what do you do when your denmate comes home and says "I invited a couple of buddies over for dinner, they’ll be here in an hour. Is that a problem"?

Curb that instinct to throw a frying pan and shriek "Yes, it is a problem!". Take a deep breath and remember how much you love this schmuck, and divert your anger towards vigorously preparing a meal.

What to fix? That depends upon who you’ve got coming over and how much time you have. Naturally, Mama Jackal is assuming that you have enough breeding not to just shrug and say, "We’ll get McDonald’s". These are friends, and you don’t give friends, even unexpected ones, fast food.

These are the Maternal Jackal’s constants for throwing together an impromptu meal of any scale:

 

 

So, your first course is taken care of, courtesy of the bagged salad, your unexpected guests are sipping wine and your denmate is providing pleasant conversation as you’re occupied in the kitchen. Well, your denmate damn well better be doing their bit in entertaining. If they’ve turned on the TV, feel free to ignore my injunction about eating packmates and serve up your denmate as the entrée, instead.

If these are casual friends, who are deeply impressed that you didn’t meet them at the door with a snarl and sack of Big Macs, you can keep it simple and still impress them. Get enough steak to serve all concerned, let it marinate for a few minutes in splash of soy sauce with some crushed fresh garlic mixed in, and fry it up. Steam a handful of whatever vegetable looked freshest in the supermarket. Mama Jackal is particularly fond of asparagus - steam that only for a minute until it brightens. Serve with bread and more wine, and you’re done. Total prep time - including a brief grumble at your packmate and running to the market, about an hour - if you like your steaks well done.

Wait? This person is your - or your denmate’s - boss? Or worse yet, they’re family. Well, Mama Jackal certainly hopes that you got more warning than "Hi, honey! Look who’s joining us for dinner!" If the latter is the case, don’t be a martyr, go out to a restaurant, instead.

But if you have had sufficient warning, and you want to cook, here’s how to look impressive: do everything as above, but smother the steak in a fancy sauce and buy a cake for dessert. Really, that’s it. Sauces always knock everyone’s socks off, for some reason.

Oh, you wanted a legitimate soup course? Mama Jackal has an answer for that, too. If you have a stockpot and at least two hours warning, brown yourself up a mess of onions - about one and half pounds per person. Don’t skimp on the browning, as gooey caramelized onions are the heart of this dish. Get the onions into a stockpot, if they're not there already and pour in enough beef or chicken stock to cover, plus a bit. Add a bay leaf and herbs to taste and let it simmer forever. It will be delicious and you will be hailed as a host par excellence.

And suddenly what was a major pain in the ass has become a minor domestic miracle. Of course, never let your denmate forget who was responsible for this - a future column will be How to Carry A Well Packed Grudge and events like this must be remembered...

Always smile with your teeth - The Maternal Jackal.

Afternote


The Maternal Jackal's own mother said, upon reading this page,
"Come now, balsamic vinegar and olive oil should be available in the most casual of kitchens."
Which just goes to show that even the definition of 'basic' can vary wildly - and there's two sides to having a nigh-gourmet cook for a mother.

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