Quick Pantry Snacks for Unexpected Guests

by Mikey Rox on 21 July 2011 9 comments
Photo: dana robinson

When you live in a city like New York, unexpected guests are uncommon. It’s hard enough getting people to come to my uptown condo with an invitation (city-dwellers tend not to leave their own neighborhoods), so it’s a rare occasion when I’m surprised by someone popping by unannounced.

The suburbs are a different story. For some reason, suburbanites think it’s A-OK to hop in the SUV, roll up to someone’s home, and knock on the door just because they were “in the neighborhood.” Call me crazy, but I think that’s strange. In fact, if you pulled into my driveway without calling first, I would pretend that I wasn’t home, mostly because you’re being creepy.

Either way, we’re all bound to host impromptu guests at some point or another, whether it’s the weirdo PTA president from your son’s school wanting to discuss the bake sale or your husband’s work colleague who needs to kill some time before an event nearby. So you can rise to every occasion, here are some quick snack ideas from your pantry (with a few fridge staples mixed in) to satisfy those last-minute (and, hopefully, wanted) callers. (See also: Stretching Meals for Unexpected Guests)

PB&J Bites

There’s something about a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich that makes long-buried memories flood right back. Especially if it’s on white bread — which, apparently, nobody eats anymore. To take this old-school classic to the next level for company, use star-shaped cookie cutters to cut out bite-sized pieces of bread that you can slather with a nutty spread and grown-up jams like blackberry or raspberry. Just don’t forget to make use of the scraps. Let the unused bread and crust go stale before putting it into a food processor to make homemade breadcrumbs or chopping the pieces into chunks for fresh salad croutons. If you’re feeling lazy, at least feed it to the birds.

Doctored-Up Popcorn

Dressing up popcorn couldn’t be quicker or easier. After three minutes in the microwave, top it with melted butter and Old Bay for a spicy, crab-seasoned kick (a fave that harkens back to my Baltimore roots), or toss it with black pepper and grated Parmesan for a tangy, cheesy kick. Want a little sweetness to balance out the salt? Toss plain popcorn with Milk Duds — a trick I learned from a lady at a movie theater once. Surprisingly good.

Trail Mix

Get rid of bottom-of-the-jar nuts, raisins, dried fruits, M&Ms, and granola for a hodgepodge of flavor that’s surprisingly filling. FYI — whole cashews and Craisins together are quite the combination.

Sliced Apples and Nutella

Just slice the apples (and squirt them with lemon juice so they don’t brown) and serve them alongside a ramekin of Nutella for a fresh-fruit-and-hazelnut appetizer. Other variations could include melted chocolate semi-sweet chips melt down in minutes in a double boiler or a homemade caramel sauce that can be made by boiling a can of condensed milk for three hours.

Ritz Cracker Mini-Pizzas

When I took Home Economics in middle school, this was one of the first items we made; latchkey kids need to eat, after all. Top the crackers with a dollop of pizza or pasta sauce, a small handful of cheese, and any other toppings you have on hand. Pop the mini-pizzas in a 400°F oven for a few minutes. Few ingredients, lots of flavor.

Turkey and Cheddar Triscuits

It's as fast as it sounds. Line up the crackers and top with a squirt of Dijon or deli mustard and thin squares of sharp cheddar — or your favorite cheese — and a half-slice of turkey. A little tip — either put the finished product in the fridge until the guests arrive or make five minutes before their ETA. You don’t want the fresh meat and cheese to dry out; it’s unappetizing.

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Jell-O Mold

When I would stay with my grandmother on the weekends, she always had fresh Jell-O on hand, which is why I’m partial to it. I prefer it plain — maybe some Cool Whip on top — but company won’t be impressed by that. They will, however, give you props if you spike lime gelatin with booze and toss in some pomegranate seeds or cranberries to create a sweet and sinful treat for the eyes and mouth. It takes two minutes to make and about four hours to set.

Pudding Pops

A great summertime treat. Prepare instant chocolate pudding (in about three minutes) and put the mixture, with sticks, in the freezer for a few hours to harden. Bill Cosby himself couldn’t do it better.

Tortilla Chips and Salsa Velveeta

There’s a block of Velveeta in my pantry, but I can’t remember why I bought it. Unless I can recall, I plan to cut it into cubes, melt it down, and mix it with salsa served along chips. An oldie but still a goodie.

Spiced Honey Pretzels

When I raided my pantry to come up with these snacks, I found a bag of pretzels. In their regular, straight-from-the-bag state, pretzels are nothing special. Enter Google, which has a million and one recipes that take this figure-friendly chip alternative to the next level. I particularly like this recipe for Spiced Honey Pretzels. Onion and chili powders marry with the sticky-sweet bees' treat to create a crunchy, no-guilt carb fix.

Garlic Pita Chips With Marinara Sauce

If you have pita bread at home, cut the rounds into quarters, and toss with olive oil, a pinch of salt, dried Italian herbs, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder. Bake the triangles at 450°F for five minutes or until golden and crispy. Serve with warmed pizza or pasta sauce.

Marinated Olives

This olive recipe combines lemon with garlic, olive oil, and rosemary. Assorted olives should rest in the mixture for at least an hour so the flavors can properly combine.

Spinach/Ranch Dip

Commercials are fantastic, albeit dangerous. Earlier this year — probably around Super Bowl time — Hidden Valley Ranch advertised its packet of ranch powder, found in the salad dressing aisle, as a spinach dip. All you’ll need is a block of frozen spinach, a large container of sour cream and the ranch powder. It’s a speedy recipe, but it does require some fridge time because frozen spinach usually needs to be boiled first, which is quite important to remember; you want to give your guests a light snack, not E. Coli.

Pasta Salad

At any given time there are nine boxes of pasta in my pantry. In the Sunday circulars, there are often coupons for Barilla and other brands, so I stock up. To make an off-the-cuff pasta salad, boil your favorite shape and toss with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh or dried basil, and Italian dressing or pesto sauce. Chill for two hours for a light and filling snack.

Have go-to snacks that you make for unexpected guests? Let me know what they are in the comments below.

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Meg Favreau's picture

Mmmm. Marinated olives. I could eat my weight in them.

I usually use dried beans, but I try to keep a can of chickpeas around so I can throw together a quick hummus for guests.

Mikey Rox's picture

That's a great one, Meg!

Guest's picture

I always keep my good snacks locked away in a draw because my friends raid my cabinets when they come over

Guest's picture
TK

Great ideas Mikey - and, may I just say that I love your posts - you sound so down to earth and, well, just nice!

Mikey Rox's picture

Thanks for the compliment, TK. Very much appreciated!

Guest's picture

Haha this was too funny! I agree about the weirdness of surprise house guests. I love the pb&j idea! Very classy probably need to put the pinkie out for that one. I've never tried making pizzas on ritz crackers but I have done it with English muffins!

Guest's picture
Caroline H

Hey Mikey - one that you may not have sitting around at all times but is incredibly easy is marinara sauce and a large block of goat cheese stirred together and melted in the microwave, then served with sliced baguette for dipping. A favorite of mine!

Guest's picture

I always have the ingredients for bread for my bread machine. Who doesn't enjoy fresh bread?

Guest's picture
Guest

I've made pizza with tortillas before, but Ritz sound great too! The only problem is that rare box of Ritz around here pretty much always goes straight into chocolate for the delicious/easy chocolaty salty goodness my grandmother-in-law makes. So good.

Love some of these ideas. :)

Also, on the rare occasion that someone shows up without calling first I just don't answer the door. Honestly, I won't put up with it. I love having people over, but I think it is incredibly rude to just show up without warning. Maybe that is because we are college students and still learning how to keep a somewhat clean duplex (with 3 cats, 2 dogs, 3 rats, a tortoise, and occasional foster dogs).