Whether you forgot to add more water to your rice, or you forgot about the fish broiling in the oven, not having a main course to serve guests is many a host’s worst nightmare. Yet, with a full pantry, and a little creative genius, you can turn your disaster into a winning moment by thinking on your feet.
I always keep bread, olives, deli meats, and cheeses on hand, not only to offer as a midnight feast should the party keep going into the night, but also because I’ve learned the hard way that the potential for a slight cooking disaster is commonplace among my dinner parties. And if not, there is always takeout (just dress it up).
Typically, dinner parties are timed to perfection — every course is to be served on time, and enjoyed while still warm. Yet, traffic or a delayed departure are facts of life. If your guests are delayed, hopefully they will let you know, and you can hold off cooking the main course until they arrive. Your guests are a priority, to an extent, and you can brush off the late start as if you just decided to give more time to enjoy cocktails.
Assuming you’ve let your guests know what time dinner is to be served, if it’s been 45 minutes to an hour, and you still haven’t heard from them when you’ve called both cellphones and the house, it’s time to move on — the party will continue without them. (And should they arrive two hours later, give them a cocktail and serve them a plate of whatever you have, warmed up. Don’t let them spoil your night.)
Your first course was served with style and grace and then the power went off just as you were finishing off your braised lamb chops, leaving you alone in the dark kitchen. Even if you’re not lucky enough to have a gas stove, there is no need to panic. While a romantic dinner for eight may not be the theme you were going for, a candlelit atmosphere makes for a memorable evening. Serve what you can (lighting up the grill outside, if necessary), and supplement with whatever is in the pantry — or the ice cream in the freezer. And if all else fails, at least you’ve got alcohol.
When you’re the parent of two young kids (or a four-legged pet), don’t be surprised if one of them crashes the party. Take it as a compliment — even they know you throw the best parties around. Get up, ask one of your guests to ensure everyone gets more food and drink, and quietly slip away to tuck the little one back into their bed (or cage). If your guests are entertained by the little one’s presence, then let them stay for a bit — they’ll be apt to grow bored. Just don’t make a habit of it.
You’re carrying a tray of butternut squash ravioli, made fresh by hand that afternoon. Yet, as you near the corner, you slip on a spill on the floor and the ceramic platter — and dinner — flies out of your hands. Don’t even think about salvaging the pasta mingling with shards of pottery. This is where dried pasta and a jar of pesto come in handy. It might not be as tasty as the raviolis, but at least your guests won’t go hungry.
You brought out the broccoli soup shooters and guests raved about your braised lamb shanks over orzo. You’re onto the flourless chocolate cakes next, but as you’re pulling them out of the oven, you realized you forgot a course — the salad.
Instead of apologizing to guests about the missed course (that is, unless it was to be the main event), just let it slide — they probably didn’t even notice.
Maybe the olive oil you used to dress the salad was rancid, or the breadcrumbs used in the meatballs were stale and faintly tasted of plastic. Whatever it was, always check the quality of your ingredients — tasting all of them — and inventory your pantry to see what you need. After all, you wouldn’t buy smelly fish at the market now, would you?
Last year, I had my friend help me make a pie. I gave her all the ingredients, including my flour, salt, and sugar in labeled canisters. Dessert turned out beautifully, but when I went in for a bite something was quite off — she had confused salt for sugar.
While a ruined pie like mine is a hopeless case, a bit too much salt or sugar can be tempered by the addition of a little fat (butter) and acid (lemon juice or vinegar). Or just pull out the grahams, marshmallows, and chocolate bars you have stashed away and create s’mores by the fire.
Your husband invited over his tennis buddies, and their wives, the other day, but forgot to tell you — until you get a call two hours before the party was to start from one couple saying they were running 30 minutes behind. Instead of threatening divorce, or making him do all the cooking (because he just might not be able to), think quick, easy, and simple — a rotisserie chicken from the market, roasted sweet potatoes, a hearty salad, and plenty of wine. And no one has to know you had less than two hours to pull it off.