Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Throw a Pasta Party!

Hello, Friends! I hope you are all having a great summer. Ours is crazy as usual. Right now Ron is in Mexico with the youth group and I'm at home with three kids, 2 of which got the stomach bug that's going around. Why can't they get sick when he's at home!?!

The good thing is, I'm at home to write in my blog and give you some more ideas. I often get calls from people who need ideas for dinner parties. One of the most popular meals I've done is a pasta bar. While you have to think ahead and time it well, it's very easy, especially for someone not very fond of cooking. It could also easily be made into a pitch in by asking your guests to each bring a specific item. (Make sure you tell them what to bring or else you could end up with 12 pots of linguine and no sauce.) Sorry this is kind of long, but If you are planning a big dinner, this is a fun one.

Start with a salad, of course. I usually do a basic Ceasar salad, but I got a recipe at Sam's the other day that would be fabulous. It's so good, try it with out soon! It would even be good with a little grilled chicken or some fancy white albacore tuna.

Artichoke Salad

1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped
1 small box grape tomatoes (or one medium tomato, chopped)
1 jar marinated artichoke hearts (4 hearts, quartered)
1 small red onion, sliced into rings
black pepper
1/2 tub feta cheese
1 cup red wine vinegar

Combine red wine vinegar with lettuce, tomatoes, artichokes, and onion. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well.

Immediately before serving, top with feta cheese crumbles.

I was amazed at how good this salad is and with no oil, it's also very light so if anyone at your party is watching their weight, they will like this. (Ceasar salad can be very high in fat.)

For the rest of the party here is my basic plan:

3 choices of pasta: Spaghetti, linguine, and cheese ravioli (I buy this in the freezer section)

2 choices of sauce: Marinara (no meat) and Alfredo (I use store bought sauces. Alfredo is just to complicated and Bertolli makes a great sauce. I also just doctor up the marinara with a little more garlic and a tablespoon of sugar.)

3 meats: Meatballs, grilled chicken strips, and some sauted shrimp. (I use store bought meatballs and frozen grilled mesquite chicken from Sam's. To make the shrimp melt 1/2 stick of real butter in a skillet. Add one clove minced garlic stir fry for thirty seconds. Add 1 pound peeled shrimp and stir fry until pink all the way through.)

1 vegetable: I stir fry broccoli, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, and red onions in olive oil and garlic. It's also good to add some butter at the end for extra flavor.

Now it might seem over whelming to look at this list and think about how on earth you are going to get this all on the table without anything getting cold. Get a friend to help or if you have a large kitchen, make the food prep part of the party. Borrow a crock pot or two and set your oven on it's lowest setting. Start with the Marinara sauce, meatballs, and chicken. Get them hot first and then put them in the crock pots set on low.

Boil the spaghetti and linguine first. After you drain them mix in a little olive oil to keep them from sticking. While they are boiling stir fry your vegetables. You could then put the veggies and pastas in serving dishes, cover with foil, and place in the oven to keep warm. (Turn your oven on to it's lowest setting.) The ravioli will only take about 10 minutes and is a little more fragile, so do it last. You can cook the shrimp and warm the Alfredo sauce at the same time. (Shrimp gets rubbery if it sits too long.) Stir the Alfredo sauce frequently or it will stick.

Set up your buffet with the salads first, then the pastas, followed by the meats and veggies, then the sauces. Your guests can fill their plates with their choice of pasta, their favorite meat and sauce. Most try a little of everything. Don't forget to have some Parmesan cheese on hand.

I'll do another post later for some dessert ideas. I hope you like these ideas! Ask away if you have any questions.

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Carb Watchers: Beware!!!

I was talking to one of my faithful readers the other day and she said she had just boiled a rotisserie chicken as I had suggested, but she wasn't sure what she could do with it. We had been on several retreats together where I had made my mother-in-law's Chicken and Noodles, which are always a big hit.

If you are on the Atkin's diet or are thinking about the South Beach Diet, or were once on either diet, don't read the recipe! I think you will get every carb you've lost or will lose by just reading it. Oh, but it is one pot on comfort food that will make you feel all warm and snuggly all the way down to your toes. My mother-in-law is a fabulous cook and this is one of the family's favorites. She usually boils boneless chicken breasts, but you can also do it with the remains of a rotisserie chicken. This will be one of the few times this has ever been written down because a) she just showed me how to do it a few times and b) it's not very complicated. The only part I have a hard time with is getting the gravy to the exact right thickness. At the end I'll give you some tips for that. Instead of making the noodles from scratch, which is a long, messy process, you can buy them in the frozen section at the grocery store near the frozen bread dough. The brand I use is called Rhemes, I think, and it's in a clear bag with green print.

Chicken and Old-Fashioned Noodles

(serves 6)
1 rotisserie chicken carcass

Place the chicken in a dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer about 1 hour. (If you are doubling this, just use a bigger pot and do two chickens at once.)

Remove chicken from the broth and let it cool. Into the broth add:

2 bags frozen noodles

Let simmer for about 15 minutes or until noodles are soft.

Combine 1 cup cool water with:

2 bags of dry chicken gravy mix (Pioneer or Old Mill are the best choices because they make more. If you can't find them, use 4 bags of the store brand.)

Stir into the broth mix and let cook until thick, stirring frequently. While waiting for the broth to thicken, clean the chicken meat off the bones then add it to the noodles. Add salt and pepper as desired, but taste it first because some gravy mixes can be very salty.

Serve on top of mashed potatoes. (I know, weird, but it really is better this way.)

I often add my gravy mix and then realize I didn't buy enough gravy mix. If this happens place two tablespoons of corn starch or flour in a mug. Add two tablespoons cool water to the mug and blend with a small whisk or fork until most of the lumps are gone. Add a ladle of hot broth to the mug and blend it in before adding all of it to the big pot. Stir well and let it cook for a minute. If it's still not thick enough, do it all again.

I have also made this recipe with beef and it is just as good. I just use canned beef broth, left over roast beef, and beef gravy. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

I know, it's been forever!

Hello, friends! I know. I'm the worst blogger ever. This blog has been waste of cyber space. I really did not mean to neglect it, I've just been busy. In fact, I'm writing this from my sister-in-law's house in Harrisonville, Kansas. We came for the North American Christian Convention in Kansas City where Ron did his thing at the teen convention running the show, while I was the back stage hostess with my friend, Michelle. It was a lot of fun. They put us in a suite that was bigger than our house and we ordered room service three times. I'm sooo spoiled!

I don't have any recipes right here with me, but one thing I've learned on this trip as the hostess is if you have chocolate to share everyone will be your friend. If it were possible through this blog to give you chocolate, I would bring you Scharffen Berger chocolate. Ron and I went to the Scharffenberger factory in Berkley, California. I had never heard about it at the time, but it was in my AAA guide book and when you have "factory tour" and "dark chocolate" in the same line you have me hook, line, and sinker. Scharffen Berger Chocolate specializes in dark chocolate and is one of the best in the world. In Knoxville you can buy it at the Fresh Market. It's expensive but even Ron thinks it's worth it. You can't eat a whole bar, it's too rich, so if you need to justify it, remind yourself one bar will last three or four days. Here's there website if you want to learn more. www.scharffenberger.com Try it out, you'll love it!