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There are essentially two types of guests: expected and unexpected! If sufficient notice has been given a lot of ideas can be worked upon and the goodies prepared in advance. If someone unexpected drops in then it’s a moment of panic! Sometimes it so happens that there aren’t enough provisions or fresh vegetables in the house. This is a realistic situation that calls for creative thinking and prompt action. One can go shopping immediately but it uses precious time. One can order food from an eatery over the phone but these are expenses that can be avoided. One very good suggestion is to have a stocked kitchen so in such moments of despair there is not much stress. A creative cook is able to mix and match pulses and cereals and rustle up a meal that is colourful in spite of being sometimes without vegetables.

Instant goodies for unexpected

Serve an attractive chana dal pulao with the white grains of rice in delightful contrast with yellow dal. Roast papads and roll up tightly while still warm. Whip yogurt and add a dash of powdered cumin seeds and salt and red chilli powder Wind up the meal with hot suji ka halwa prettied up with fried cashewnuts and raisins.

Mix up some dals and boil. Meanwhile prepare a gravy with onions and tomatoes and garam masala. If the guests like garlic, use a generous amount. Finish off with a teaspoon or two of pure ghee. Serve piping hot with thick, flaky paranthas and a choice of pickles. A sweet note could be provided with a cold custard and finely chopped fruits.

Gram flour (besan) is a blessing in disguise. It can be transformed into a number of delicacies in a jiffy. The famed gatta curry is good with rice or roti or even pittla with bhakris.

For snacks mix finely chopped potatoes, onions and green chillies. Add gram flour and mix with water to get a batter of dropping consistency. Deep fry as small bhajiyas and serve with ketchup.

Deep fry small squares of bread. Top with baked beans, chopped onions and capsicums – they make excellent canapés.

Something like puri and aloo bhaji can be prepared within thirty to forty minutes. 

Refresh the old ideas

It is to be pointed out that not everybody enjoys new things at every meal…once in a while it is a refreshing idea to serve a new creation or a variation of the same old stuff. So if you are ready, the following pointers can give you some ideas:

Any leftover vegetable like paneer bhurji, baingan bharta, aloo matar ki sabzi or even leftover pulao makes good fillings for stuffed tomatoes. Prepare an array of tomato cases, green capsicum cases and onion cases and fill them up. Give toppings of breadcrumbs and grated cheese and let the tray bask under the grill for a while.

Pierce carrots, tomatoes, paneer cubes, onion chunks, capsicum cubes onto metal skewers and grill them. Brush with salted butter before grilling. Season with salt and pepper or even chaat masala and serve on a bed of lightly flavoured rice.

The repetitive combinations of dal chawal, roti sabzi, rajma chawal, idli sambar, dosa chutney, chicken curry and parantha, chole bhature can all do with reincarnations. Let us take dal chawal. Serve it by all means but after mixing it in a casserole dish and tempering with chopped onions and beaten yogurt. Garnish with chopped coriander. Turning them into closed packets can alter roti sabzi. Simply place some sabzi on one half of the roti. Fold over to make the round edges meet and present a semi circle. Seal the open ends with a little water and make indents with a fork all over. Lightly fry on the pan and serve with tomato ketchup. 

Simple ways to impress

Do you like to present dishes that are well garnished and look elaborate? The feeling one gets while presenting such a dish is that of achievement.
But there is a little secret behind this. The recipe might not be an elaborate one with tens of ingredients and dozens of steps. The recipe can be as simple as a boiled egg but on the table it looks like a page from a glossy recipe book. This means that the food you put on the table does not necessarily have to be the result of sweating for hours in the kitchen. With a little bit of creativity, a few garnishes even a humble sandwich can look like cook book material.

Some fancy trimmings can do the trick:

1. A sandwich with trimmed edges should look good provided the edges have been treated with a really sharp knife. Sprinkle with shredded beetroot and carrot.

2. Even boiled eggs are in for a makeover. Slice into half vertically. Scoop out yolk and mash well with a fork. Add a dab of mayonnaise and whisk to a smooth pate. Push through an icing syringe with star nozzle into the cavity of the white. Sprinkle with red chilli flakes and chopped coriander. If you had thought half a dozen eggs were enough, plan to double the numbers while serving!

3. Serve rice in a moulded form. Pack it in a small bowl and invert. Garnish with carrot strips.

4. Ice creams scoops can be decorated with the addition of little cake cutouts. Take a sponge cake and slice horizontally. Stamp out hearts, stars etc with cookie cutters. Place with the ice cream scoop or slice. The final plate thus handed over to the guest certainly makes him/her feel special.
A cook’s creativity and prowess comes to the fore when a time of testing comes. 

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