Taking the fear out of impromptu hosting

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes get caught up in the moment and agree to things that will later cause you stress. Enter weeknight dinner parties.

My sweet husband loves to host our friends, neighbors and random co-workers after work because he is kind and generous and knows that he can make a mean whiskey drink at the drop of a hat. I’m much more of a planner when it comes to having guests over and the thought of someone “dropping by” fills me with second guesses about the state of our kitchen or the dog hair clumps that are inevitably in every corner of our house.

But taking a cue from Ben, I’ve learned to let things go (for the most part) and welcome guests into our home no matter what state our house is in. Our most frequent impromptu guests are our good friends “The Mookies” who live down the street from us. While we set a “no cleaning necessary” rule, I still go into slight panic mode when we get the text that they’re heading over. Fortunately, shoving clutter into our bedroom and shutting the door cleans up most of the mess and they appreciate dog hair as just extra bits of love around the house…

Over the last few months, I’ve learned to keep a few things in mind on a weekly basis to ensure we can welcome friends with open arms, drinks and a few snacks whenever they’re in the neighborhood. And if our house is a disaster, then we just move out to the deck where people expect to see dirt.

I always stock up on a variety of cheeses, jams and crackers to keep on hand. While I love Whole Foods with a passion, HEB has solid options that are about half the cost. Arranging everything on a cheese plate and pouring your guests a glass of wine makes guests feel like you love them (you do!) and that they are worthy of the good stuff (they are!)

Because we live in Texas, I also keep Velveeta, Rotel and tortilla chips in the pantry in case of emergency situations or critical girls nights. If you’re not from Texas, it might seem a little sketchy to keep a block of cheese in your pantry – it very well might be, but I’ve eaten Velveeta queso since I was two and haven’t grown any extra limbs. Girls night calls for plastic-consistency cheese and you should keep the supplies ready to go. When my parents lived in Georgia for a few years when they were newly-weds, my mom would have my nana ship her Rotel. Apparently you couldn’t get it in Georgia back then. Fortunately, I found it at a Kroger when we were visiting Ben’s mom in Atlanta and can efficiently make my in-laws queso any time they please.

Aside from having snacks on hand, you might have to cook an actual meal for your impromptu guests. Fear not, fearless chef! Keeping with the Tex Mex theme, let’s talk about quick, easy and delicious tacos that serve between 5-10 guests.

This past Tuesday, Ben’s mom was in town and we wanted to have the Mookies over for dinner so they could hang out with her for a bit. Unfortunately, it was around 3 p.m. day-of when we decided to invite them over. Enter panicked Kristen trying to determine what to make. I spent about five minutes Googling dinner party recipes before remembering that tacos have worked well the last few times I’ve cooked for a large group.

By keeping the fixings for queso on hand at all times, I only had to pick up a few ingredients at the store on the way home from work:

  • Avocados (4-5 small)
  • Tomatoes (2)
  • Cilantro
  • White onion (1)
  • Taco meat (if you have more time, try salsa chicken in the crock pot – recipe below, or just use ground beef – 2 pounds)
  • Tortillas – for those of you who live in Texas and have access to an HEB, always, always get the “homemade” kind that are warm and delicious in the store. If you don’t have access to homemade tortillas then try the ones that require you to heat them up for a bit to fully cook. The pre-made ones always smell funny to me).
  • Salsa (We like Clint’s salsa, but as long as you don’t get Pace picante sauce, you’ll be fine)
  • Other essentials: Shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, rice (we use Uncle Ben’s), taco meat seasoning, tortilla chips and maybe some black beans

After you pick up all the fixings, it’s time to get started with making the actual meal. I recommend starting with the guacamole so you can chill it in the fridge for a bit and then making the tacos last because they take a total of 15 minutes.

Guacamole is one of the easiest things to make because you just combine mashed avocados, onion and tomatoes, garlic salt, onion powder, salt/pepper and lime juice to taste. Sometimes I throw in Cayenne if I’m feeling crazy. The queso is just as easy (and usually Ben’s job) and you just cut up the Velveeta, add the can of Rotel and heat it up in the microwave for two minutes at a time until it’s softened. We love throwing cooked taco meat in, but only if queso is our main meal…don’t judge.

For taco filling, ground beef is the easiest and you can just brown it along with some taco seasoning for about 10 minutes. We also like to throw chicken breasts in the crock pot and toss them with a can of Rotel or 3 cups of Salsa and leave it to cook all day. When we come home, we have easily shreddable salsa chicken.

Showcase your taco fixings in fun bowls and then have your guests serve themselves. Dinner served.

The most important aspects of hosting impromptu dinner parties (to me) are to pour your guests delicious drinks, make them feel welcome and to sit down and enjoy the party yourself. And worst case scenario, Domino’s is just a phone call away…

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