Essentials for Impromptu Entertaining

Guests on the way but little time to prep? That’s the story of my life. Whether it’s holiday guests or friends stopping by to visit the new baby, I love having people over, so I try to keep a few things on hand for “impromptu” entertaining. These items include champagne, salty and sweet nibbles, cheese and crackers, good quality tea and (gasp!) premium baking mix. Check out the video for my reasons why!

Always have champagne on hand—it creates an instantly festive mood!

Always have champagne on hand—it creates an instantly festive mood!

How to Make a Melty Falafel Pita Pocket (with Trader Joe’s Cheat!)—Episode 13

I love falafel, but it’s not the kind of thing I can make from scratch on an average day. Okay, I’m probably not making this from scratch ever. There’s little incentive to when you can make a tasty falafel pita pocket starting from Trader Joe’s pre-made falafel, which I think are delicious and very authentic tasting. But you do need to doctor the dish up for full effect. For the uninitiated, falafel is a vegetarian Middle Eastern dish that’s like chickpea chicken nugget of sorts, minus the meat. The chickpeas, spices, and sometimes fava beans are mashed and formed into a little patty and deep-fried. It’s considered a fast food/street food, but if you throw in a good amount of veggies it makes a healthy lunch and is great for on-the-go.

Melty Falafel Pita Pocket

With fresh veggies and warmed in the oven, falafel is a great weekend lunch.

With fresh veggies and warmed in the oven, falafel is a great weekend lunch.

Whole wheat pita pocket, cut in half

Pre-made falafel, such as Trader Joe’s

Chopped Lettuce

Chopped cucumber

Chopped tomato


Feta Cheese

Cooking spray

Heat oven to 375.

Cook falafel according to package instructions. Set aside. Spread 3-4 heaping tablespoons of hummus in pita pocket half. Add 3 falafels, halved. Top with lettuce, tomato, cucumber and about a tablespoon feta cheese. Spray pita pocket with cooking spray and heat in oven until hummus is warmed and melty, about five minutes. Enjoy!

My top: Michael Stars Double V-Neck tee

Photo: Kofi Oliver

Egg and Vegetable Fried Rice (with a Trader Joe’s Cheat!) – Episode 4

It’s easy to make fried rice a meal when you add a little extra protein, either meat or eggs, and a heaping of fresh veggies. In this episode, I’m going for a vegetarian option, so we’ll be adding eggs, scallion, and other crisp-tender goodness. Oh, by the way, yeah, I start with a bag of Trader Joe’s frozen vegetable fried rice. But believe me, the few little tweaks you see here take the meal from “Okay, that was easy and tasted good” to “Okay! I could even serve that for guests!”

If you’d like to make this recipe from scratch and ditch the prepared rice, just use 4 cups of day-old COLD rice from the fridge, and add about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, mixed with a few teaspoons water for your sauce at the end.

Egg and Vegetable Fried Rice (with Trader Joe’s Cheat)

Chunky vegetables makes fried rice so much more delish.

Chunky vegetables make fried rice so much more delish.

One bag frozen, prepared veggie fried rice, like Trader Joe’s brand

Two cups fresh broccoli florets

one bunch scallions, roughly chopped

2 eggs, beaten

Two medium-sized chopped carrots

1 Tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce or Teriyaki sauce

1 Tablespoon sesame oil, divided

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, divided

  1. Heat 1 ½ teaspoons of vegetable oil in wok, over medium-high heat.
  2. Add eggs and scallions, breaking up as it cooks. When egg is light golden brown, push mixture to one side of pan.
  3. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of sesame oil to wok.
  4. Add Broccoli and carrots to wok. Cook over medium-high heat until still crisp (about 3 minutes), combining with egg and scallions.
  5. Add remaining oils and bag of frozen Trader Joe’s vegetable Fried Rice, or 4 cups cold rice. Cook until heated through (and rice is a bit crispy), about 5 minutes.
  6. Just before removing from heat, add soy sauce and stir well.
  7. Serve with Sriracha Sauce, if you’re so inclined. Yum!

Easy Biryani with Green Beans and Hard Boiled Egg – From Episode 1

At the end of Episode 1, one of the roasted chicken “reinvention” recipes I mention is Biryani, but you know I don’t make this from scratch! I start with a frozen bag of Biryani, and add all kinds of fresh, colorful goodness. 

Easy Biryani with Green Beans and Hard Boiled EggsEasy Biryani with Green Beans and Hard Boiled Egg

(Serves 2-4)

 1 cup (eyeball it) Cooked and shredded chicken

1 bag frozen Trader Joe’s brand Biryani

1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 ½  tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

2 hard boiled eggs

Indian spice blend, such as Masala Biryani (available in specialty food stores)

Hot chili sauce, such as Sriracha sauce

The Jamaican Jerk chicken leftovers work great for this dish because they have similar spicy curry flavors—but you can use any flavor of chicken (or beef or lamb, for that matter). We’re using green beans because we had some leftover, but you can use any veggies you have—bonus if it has a nice, bold color that complements the biryani.

Place a tablespoon of Indian spice blend in a small bowl. Peel hard boiled eggs and roll them in the spice to coat, just like you would an Easter Egg. Cut eggs into quarters; sprinkle a bit more spice blend on top. Set aside.

Heat 1 ½ teaspoons oil in a skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add chicken and green beans, sauté about two minutes (green beans will still be very crisp). Move green beans and chicken to one side of pan. Add remaining oil to the other side of the pan, then the bag of frozen Biryani. Cook biryani by itself for 30 seconds to thaw then mix together with green beans and chicken and continue cooking until almost heated through, stirring occasionally. Stir in eggs, and 1 tablespoon water. Cover and reduce heat a bit. Simmer until eggs are heated, about 3 minutes. Serve with Sriracha sauce. Delish!

Photo by Lauren Hunter