You may run out of time to prepare a last-minute meal at home, but you needn't run out of options.
With a sprinkle here and a drizzle there, your grocery's prepared foods can morph into a delicious and fun dinner, especially when enhanced by wine.
Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio2009
The Dolomites, Italy
Suggested retail and availability: Widely available for $10 or less (distributed by: Southern Wine & Spirits, Bolingbrook)
Fresh, lively and squeaky clean with green apple-y flavor and acidity, Mezzacorona remains a leader in quality and value while other Pinot Grigio's grow in price and shrink in complexity. Founded in 1904, this cantine sociali (cooperative) now pools the talent of 1,500 growers and 6,500 vineyard acres in one of the world's respected winemaking enterprises. Serve as an aperitivo and with international antipasti including Greek dolmes, Vietnameses spring rolls, shrimp cocktail and veggies with dip.
Start with an antipasto courtesy of the deli and produce departments. Pick one-to-three each of cheeses, cured meats and vegetables of varying shapes (small mozzarella balls and chunks of pecorino; hard salami and summer sausage; celery and olives, for instance.) Arrange on a platter, sprinkle lightly with olive oil and serve with breadsticks.
For your secondo, split a precooked rotisserie chicken in half, place in baking dish and baste liberally with olive oil mixed with Italian seasonings (including garlic salt, basil, oregano and rosemary.) Cover, warm and serve with a prepared, warm-able pasta salad, such as "Sicilian" with olives and sun-dried tomatoes.
With a few minutes more, prepare your own pasta or new potatoes, drizzled with olive oil and shaved cheese.
Your grocer's wine aisle stocks Italian whites and reds to continue your international theme. Begin with a bright Italian white (see Ross' Choice.) With dinner, red wine lovers may enjoy a switch to Gabbiano's Chianti, "Il Cavaliere" label (featuring a colorful knight), under-$10 at most groceries.
For a heartier meal, begin with canned mushroom or tomato bisque (creamy soup), bumped up in flavor with a tablespoon of Madeira. (Avoid "cooking" wine; imported Madeira for your pantry is worth the extra stop at a wine shop.) Serve with a warmed baguette from the bakery.
Follow with a packaged "heat and eat" meat like beef in burgundy sauce, pot roast or pork tenderloin, simmered with a splash of the white or red wine you'll serve with dinner (see below.) Serve over rice or pasta.
With a few minutes more, steam green beans (or thin, French-style haricots verts) and drain; saute shallots (or finely chopped onions) in butter, add the beans, sprinkle with chopped parsley, tarragon and lemon juice; saute lightly and serve.
Maison Louis Jadot makes whites (the unoaked, 100 percent Chardonnay Macon Villages) and reds (Beaujolais-Villages) that millions of wine lovers throughout France and the world love, both around $10, brought to you by your local grocer.