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In Need of Ideas for Lunch With No Set Timetable and No Last Minute Cooking - Ready When They Are

My husband is a serious pianist, taking tutoring from a professional musician who stays for lunch at our home after their sessions. Although their "lesson" is for one hour, it runs from 90 - 150 minutes each week. I never know. When they're finished with their piano work, they want to eat. Now.

During the winter, I didn't have much of a problem because a first course could be a soup or something waiting in the fridge, the main in the CrockPot or oven and dessert was either preplated or frozen to be ready when the coffee was served.

Summer is upon us and I'm stymied. Living the the desert southwest, our heat makes an oven at mid-day a very bad idea for the next five months. I should also mention that this is not a sandwich lunch, it is a traditional three course meal for a European professor.

I have served soups, composed salads, antipasti for first course. Seconds have included: baked pasta, braised meats and CrockPot main courses willing to wait. Desserts = fruit, torte, cake, ices and cookies.

Tomorrow's lunch = chilled borscht w/ sour cream & fresh dill, a fresh vegetable-garbanzo bean-shrimp salad and rum-braised pineapple with pecan shortbread.

Any ideas to help me through the summer? On non-piano days, we would normally eat a light noon meal which makes this even more challenging for me.
Edit: I should also mention that our kitchen is open and the piano is directly adjacent. Great for the rest of our lives - he plays and I cook - but it means that virtually no kitchen work goes on during their sessions.

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  1. Quiche or frittata, preceded by charcuterie plate, fresh fruit and good cheese for dessert? Are BLT's too pedestrian? You guys must REALLY like this professor!

    3 Replies
    1. re: berkleybabe

      cold soups like gazpacho or vichysoisse, poached chicken salad, lovely summer fruit and cheese for desert. variations on the chicken salad: shrimp salads, fresh halibut or salmon salad, fruit on the grill, cold duck breast salad, all good pate and charcuterie.

      1. re: berkleybabe

        My first thought, likewise, was quiches, frittatas, Spanish omelet, etc. Great at room temp.

        There are many room-temp salads based in green beens, and I especially like the mediterranean ones emphasizing olive oil.

        I also make a room-temp salad from roasted red and yellow pepper strips, which you let sit in a mixture of olive oil, S/P, garlic to taste, and perhaps capers. Some people do a salad like this with some vinegar, but I usually prefer the mellower approach. This is also good as a crostini/bruschetta topping, another worthy idea for last-minute assembly and serving.

        1. re: Bada Bing

          BB, TZT & BB - my first answer to you three was lost, so I'll try again. Thank you very much for your ideas. Somehow, I'd completely blanked on the idea of a quiche or fritatta. I am a fan of cold soups - serving chilled borscht tomorrow - and generally keep some kind in the fridge. It would be our usual lunch when we're alone but makes a stellar starter for these lunches. Mediterranean platter salads are also a favorite and I just needed a nudge to remember some of the wonderful other possibilities. With the summer vegetable crop arriving, I will certainly have a bounty. Thank you.

          How anyone could forget chicken salad - one of my all-time favorites - is beyond me, but I did. It can be ready and waiting, to be served with something else substantial for our main hot weather luncheon.

      2. My grandmother used to have a lot of drop-in guests, and she would have a rotating supply of some of the following: poached fish, fish mousses, pates, vinaigrette-based salads (bean, potato, beet, green bean, cabbage), roasted meats served at room temp, savory tarts, pickled vegetables, cold roasted vegetables, smoked or preserved meats, cheeses, and things like that. I wouldn't rule out a light broth-based soup, so long as you keep it light and fresh.

        3 Replies
          1. re: Bada Bing

            Yes, she was some grandma. She had a Hobart and two spare fridges in the basement.

          2. re: maxie

            Maxie - you gave me so many good ideas that I will thank you all summer long. As I mentioned above, I have strongly resisted the onset of summer's heat and completely blanked when hit with the reality of triple digits. Having a great stash in the fridge is better than $$$ in the bank. Roasted meats (or, more likely grilled) - chicken and pork being my favorites at room temperature - is a great idea. Some piquant sauces will perk up our luncheon along with a good salad. I really appreciate the opportunity to thank you and your grandmother for the inspiration.
            Edit: I've just remembered a three layer vegetable mousse with cold poached chicken in a mustard-mayonnaise gellee as well as one of my favorites, jambon persilee [a jelled parsley-ham combination].

          3. agree with quiche but also suggesting empanadas - can be baked in the am and served at room temp w/a green salad.

            1 Reply
            1. re: debvil

              I've never eaten a room temp empanada but have enjoyed Cornish pasties that weren't piping hot. This is an interesting suggestion and I would love some filling ideas. Dough? Thank you for taking the time to respond; I look forward to your answer.

            2. A room temp poached or grilled salmon with a dill dressing.
              Cold, boiled prawns with mayo based dipping sauce.
              Brisket with potatoes cooked day before & reheated in oven.
              Short ribs with mashed potatoes or noodles, cooked day before & reheated.
              Soup, steak salad, dessert
              With these, any fresh sides that you deem appropriate.

              Not exactly gourmet suggestions, but my goodness, is he expecting too much?

              3 Replies
              1. re: Gail

                Gail, it's not so much "what he's expecting" but what I want to do for his kindness. This is an international pianist who is taking time from his extremely busy schedule to spend hours here. My husband is the recipient of this largess and I feel, a wonderful luncheon is my way of saying "thank you".

                I have done the short ribs etc during our cool months and we've enjoyed them greatly. They're exactly the kind of food which waits well. Your suggestion os steak salad will be incorporated into my menus. Thank you.

                1. re: Sherri

                  Thanks for the explaination, Sherri, didn't realize he was doing this gratis.

                  More suggestions:
                  Charcuterie platter with cheese, bread & one of the soups below
                  Insalata Caprese
                  Would Mexican dishes work, since you are in the SW?
                  Taco salad
                  Tacos (meat cooked earlier and reheated quickly)
                  Shrimp cocktails (use key limes)

                  1. re: Gail

                    "Thanks for the explaination, Sherri, didn't realize he was doing this gratis."

                    I must have been unclear; shouldn't have used the word "largess" so freely, although my understanding is it means 'gifts freely given'. In our case, there is $$$ involved, the sessions are not gratis. But that, in no way, changes the fact that I want to do this. Money could not buy what my husband receives.

              2. You could try a Muffaletta or Pan Bagnat. They're not *really* sandwiches are they?
                And maybe cold fried chicken?

                1 Reply
                1. re: blue room

                  Last summer I served a fried chicken picnic for one of our lunches ( potato salad + cole slaw with strawberry shortcake for dessert) and it may be time for Rount Two. It was met with great success. Thanks for the reminder.

                  Pan Bagnat and muffaletta are inspired suggestions! Once again, I'm a "duh". Thank you.

                2. Middle-Eastern. You can do every bit of it ahead of time, it refrigerates for a week so that you can keep dipping into it, and there is no better hot weather cuisine. Choose from among hummos, tabbouleh, baba ganooj and any number of other eggplant salads and relishes, sliced cucumbers in vinegar or yogurt, sliced tomatoes, Greek olives, cheese, stuffed vine leaves, marinated artichoke hearts, white bean salads, etc. I make tabbouleh without tomato or cucumber (just bulgur, parsley, scallions, fresh mint, lemon juice, and olive oil) so that it doesn't get gloppy and keeps longer---so lemony and minty in hot weather, on crisp lettuce. All you need with this is pita bread and something cold to drink.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Querencia

                    "Middle-Eastern. You can do every bit of it ahead of time" -- now that is what I need! My pantry needs re-stocking and this is a great direction to head. Once I get firmly in the "summer mode", we'll major in Mediterranean food. Thank you.

                  2. We live in a climate that's hot and humid in the summer, so cold dinners are a big advantage.

                    There are actually a lot of soups that are normally served hot but taste good cold - generally, things that are creamy or pureed go well. You should avoid gelatin rich stocks, and bump up the seasonings. We've done cucumber and dill, potato and leek, squash, carrot ginger, tomato, spicy tomato, and so on.

                    For a spicy tomato, for example, I saute some onions, add a can of tomatoes, a can of stock, and simmer. Season with a bit of lemon juice, cumin, coriander, hot pepper, and a bit of cinnamon and cloves. Add a splash of milk or cream at the end, and salt and pepper to taste. It's good hot or cold.

                    For salads, there are also lots of options. Poached diced chicken is a good start for a lot of hearty variations - with mayo and walnuts and apples and celery, or with cucumber and tomato and onion and a yoghurt based dressing, or in a chicken caesar. Or a classic Italian salad with sliced fresh mozarella, basil and tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil. There's a Thai salad with cold sliced beef that's fantastic (I don't have a recipe on hand, though).

                    There are also salads based on grains which are good cold. Try cous-cous or soba (buckwheat)
                    based ones. Chickpeas make a great salad base - one of my favourites is with chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh mint, onion and celery thinly sliced, adn dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and a big of garlic.

                    For something fast but tasty in a pasta dish that's good cold, cook up some chunky pasta. Drain and toss with diced feta cheese, a can of chopped tomatoes, sliced black olives, fresh basil and (optionally) diced cooked chicken. Dress with olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic salt and pepper.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                      I had forgotten about the room temperature tomato pasta and thank you for the reminder. Coupled with some (cold) poached and sliced chicken, this will make a handsome platter.

                      Cold soups, as I may have mentioned, are something we use a lot here. New combinations & ideas are always welcome. Thank you.

                    2. Lots of great suggestions here; I'll just add a couple....A cold salad plate may be well received: think bumped up deviled eggs, blackened chicken or seafood salad, marinated or pickled vegetables, grilled pizza dough (cooked earlier in the day) slathered with a paste of onions, garlic, sundried tomatoes, etc. and cut into wedges to serve with.

                      I agree with the cold soup idea: an easy starter would be throwing your favorite jarred salsa into the blender and puree until smooth. Pour into bowls and top with poached shrimp or chicken then add dollops of avocado creme fraiche and maybe a crumble of queso fresco. Second course, room temp (grill the night before) thinly sliced skirt steak which has been marinated in your favorite seasonings. Serve with a potato salad made from roasted potatoes (again the night before or earlier in the day) jarred drained artichokes, red bell peppers, red onions, black olives, roasted garlic and o & v dressing. Dress while potatoes are warm and serve room temp. Dessert could be a simple flan or your favorite sorbet with cookies.

                      I don't see why you couldn't at least warm up the prepared dishes while your guest is there.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Cherylptw

                        "I don't see why you couldn't at least warm up the prepared dishes while your guest is there."

                        Cheryl, the time factor comes into play if i have to do this at the last minute. I never know when mealtime will be. As I mentioned, the sessions, while scheduled for one hour, always run between 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Last minute re-heating simply is not practical.

                        Your suggestions are marvelous and I appreciate your input. The Meditarranean potato salad and avocado creme fraiche will be terrific additions to our table. I make a lot of dessert sorbets, ice cream and granitas in the summer. They're such a refreshing 'finis' to our meals. Thank you.

                      2. You already have gotten many good suggestions but here is another one: room temperature chicken (or pork) cullets. I just made them and had forgotten how much I like them. Cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts in half and flatten them out.; dip in flour, then egg, then panko, they cook on med low temperature in butter; put them aside until you want them; serve with a squeeze of lemon juice a lemon slices. This is very simple but I think it can be an elegant dish. This time of year I serve with cold asparagus and home made mayonaise.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Fiona

                          Fiona, this sounds like a cousin to Vitello Tonnato minus the tuna sauce. What a great idea! I love cold anything and try to make extra cutlets for our 'normal' lunches the next day. I 'just happen to have' about 1/2 of a pork loin so I'll just bump them up and use these for our "piano meals" too. Thanks for taking the time to write.

                        2. There's a nice cold tomato soup in Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook. It's basically tomato juice spiced up with curry and a few other seasonings as well as some sour cream. I've adapted it by using V8 and fat-free yogurt. A nice change from gazpacho, and easier because there's very little chopping involved.

                          1. Update and a grand "Thank You" to everyone who responded for all the inspiration. You have given me several weeks worth of great meal ideas and I am warmed by this caring CH community. Thank you again.

                            Last week's lunch was:

                            2 cold creamy soups in the same bowl - zucchini and crooked neck squash, an Asian beef-peanut-noodle salad on greens with cappucino ice cream w/ chocolate truffles for dessert.

                            This week:

                            Spanish tortilla, chicken tonnato and a Caprese salad with fresh peaches in meringue shells w/ raspberry sauce. (I made the tonnato sauce with 3 egg yolks and used the leftover whites for the meringues. A 200 degree oven in the early morning hours did not prove to be a heat problem.)

                            As you can see, every single plate was ready in advance so when they'd finished with the piano, the meal was ready and waiting. It was perfect. You-all are the best! If anyone has more thoughts, I welcome them. Meanwhile, our Mediterranean-Mid-East menu will be on the horizon.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Sherri

                              I've actually bookmarked this page as summer meal ideas. I too hate to turn on the oven when it's hitting 100+. Thanks for the start on this Sherri and wishes to hubby to enjoy his talent.

                            2. So many great ideas on this thread -- I'm sure it will prove useful in the sticky days ahead.

                              1. My first vote was for mezze, but that's been pretty well covered already! I also thought that cold vietnamese options could be good - summer rolls (fill with shrimp, herbs, rice noodles), lettuce wraps (cold, cooked chicken mince with beansprouts, herbs and chillies), gado gado (room temperature cooked vegetable salad with boiled egg and peanut satay dressing, think this is malaysian actually). Now I'm hungry.

                                You could also try some sushi options - if making maki rolls is out of the question, perhaps nigiri? Top with salmon, shrimp, avocado, tuna, egg, roe etc.

                                1. Idea number 1
                                  Salad: Baby greens, pickled red onions, baked bread crumb coated goat cheese and spiced sweet pecans with shallot chive vinaigrette

                                  Do ahead: make pickled red onions up to one week ahead and store in fridge. Make spiced sweet pecans up to several weeks ahead and store in ziplocks or freeze (mine are made with maple syrup, butter and a mixture of spices - positively addictive). Vinaigrette up to 3 days ahead.

                                  Vitello tonnato
                                  Do ahead: Everything

                                  Fresh berries with Zabaglione
                                  Do ahead: make zabaglione in the morning. After cooking the sauce in a double boiler whisk into a bowl set into an ice bath until thoroughly chilled. Refrigerate and right before serving mix in cream and spoon over berries.

                                  Idea number 2

                                  Chilled Soup (potato leek, beet, gazpacho)
                                  Do ahead: everything

                                  Quiche or a frittata or creole eggs with remoulade
                                  Do ahead: quiche can be made the day before and warmed up. Frittata earlier the same day and warmed if desired. creole eggs earlier in the day and served cold or at room temp and the remoulade the day before.

                                  Bananas Foster
                                  Do ahead: caramel sauce

                                  1. Today's lunch was pre-assembled and perfect. So many of the ideas came from posters -- thank you all.
                                    We enjoyed a salad platter chock full of fresh flavors and everything had been cooked in advance and waited in the fridge overnight. I assembled the pseudo-Nicoise platter several hours before serving, left it at room temperature until they had finished and we sat down together.

                                    Cold poached chicken took center of the platter surrounded by: tomatoes & mozzarella, green beans, braised celery, artichoke hearts, pickled carrots, olive assortment, hard-cooked eggs, marinated garbanzo beans, French potato salad and several others that I am forgetting. A rouille-aioli accompanied. We had ginger parfaits with caramel sauce for dessert.

                                    Because of the professor's travel schedule - and ours - we'll take a hiatus for several weeks. I want everyone who made suggestions to know how much I appreciate your input. You have given me ideas for many more summer meals. Thank you all.