Spontaneous sociable needn't mean subpar snacking

One reason most of us love the holiday season is that it provides opportunities to spend more time at home with family and friends. One reason most of us who are the family chefs dislike the holiday season is the stress it provides when we spend more time at home with family and friends.

Certainly, some of the get-togethers are planned down to the last detail. But what's often more fun are those gatherings that tend to be spur-of-the-moment, or at least spur-of-a-day-or-so in advance. Inevitably, there's the stress of deciding what to feed folks after we've issued our generous last-minute invitation.

Our exercise du jour, then, is to plan ahead for those wonderful, spontaneous gatherings that aren't planned ahead. Certainly, we all have foodstuffs in the larder that we keep on hand in case of a can't-get-to-the-grocery emergency. Now's the time to take stock and figure out how to use these sometimes disparate items to create a seemingly coordinated menu. And just as we do when planning family meals, there's usually a theme that's most popular with the gang.

It simply takes a little creativity to come up with a plethora of good tastes based on what's already in the house, or what you like to get during a stock-up trip to the grocery or the membership warehouse.

Here's what we mean.

Tex-Mex

50-50 quesadillas

Although these days most home cooks worth their aprons would be embarrassed to serve tortilla chips and salsa to guests (even though the family noshes on them all the time), you probably have the chips and salsa and even queso dip on hand. If not, go for a couple of slightly more "exotic" salsas, like mango, pineapple or black bean. And do buy some guacamole (jar or frozen) and keep that available too.

To star in your last-minute show, fix these crab and chicken quesadillas, using stock-up ingredients that have a relatively long shelf life in the fridge. The quesadillas will only take you about 20 minutes to fix. So while they enjoy the beer or sangria or even pre-mixed Margaritas that you keep in stock, you can do these "grilled cheese sandwiches."

If you're seeking another comestible offering, chop about 1/4 cup vidalia onion and add to 1 can black beans (drained) in a medium pot. Add some chicken broth to moisten, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, while you do the quesadillas.

1 cup chopped scallions, divided

2/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream, divided

4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, divided

1 tablespoon minced garlic (from a jar), divided

3 medium jalapeño peppers, seeded, pith removed, finely chopped, divided

1 pound good-quality blue crab claw meat (the homogenized product from Phillip's has a really long fridge life)

1 pound cooked boneless chicken breast, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, "cooked" in the microwave, patted dry, divided

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided

1 1/2 cups shredded yellow cheddar cheese, divided