Monday, January 7, 2013

Resolve to Have People Over: Weekly Menu 1/7/13

Pasta salad, enchiladas, shrimp and more - dishes to host a casual dinner party

Happy New Year, friends! After going somewhat dark here on the blog over the past couple of weeks to unplug and enjoy family and friends, I'm back and inspired by the "cook new things" challenge on one of my favorite blogs, Dinner a Love Story. The challenge I'll take on is to cook 14 new dishes in the next month.  That sounds a little crazy now that I see it in writing.

While I ramp that up after doing no cooking on vacation, I bring you some Easier Simpler Better favorites. The theme this week is "Resolve to Have People Over" because I want to make a bigger effort this year to invite friends over for dinner, especially friends that we don't see as often as we'd like. So many times I psyche myself out when it comes to inviting friends over for dinner. "I won't have time to pull it off! There won't be enough food! The house is a bomb!" But I'm trying to remember how I feel as a guest. Food pretty much always tastes better when someone else made it for you. It's such a nice break to have someone else figure out what's for dinner. Guests will happily bring a salad or dessert. No one will notice if the floor is vacuumed.

Here are some favorite no-fail recipes that are great for sharing and can be easily doubled. And they can mostly be made ahead so you can enjoy your good company when they arrive. Cheers!

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad - a casual dish for entertaining friends

Sides: Baked sweet potatoes

  • Buy feta cheese that's already crumbled
 Make Ahead Notes
  • Slice Romaine lettuce, tomatoes and basil; chop tomatoes and parsley
  • 3 cups skinned, shredded roasted chicken breast (I use store-bought rotisserie chicken)
  • 3 cups hot cooked penne (about 6 ounces uncooked pasta)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/3 cup creamy Caesar dressing
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; toss well to coat.

Recipe adapted from

Orzo with Shrimp, Feta Cheese & White Wine

Orzo with Shrimp, Feta, Tomatoes and White Wine - an easy casual entertaining dinner

Side: Crusty Italian bread
  • Use pre-grated Parmesan cheese
  • Buy frozen, raw shrimp that are already peeled and de-veined
Make Ahead Notes:
  • If using fresh, grate the Parmesan cheese ahead, lightly cover and put in fridge for later
  • If using frozen shrimp, place them in a colander and run cool water over them for a minute or two to start defrosting. Drain and place in a covered bowl in the fridge until ready to cook.
  • Rinse, dry and chop basil to use later. If you have a kid who’s handy with scissors, have them cut up the basil with a clean pair.
  • 8 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush 11x7-inch glass baking dish with oil. Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain well and return orzo to same pot. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons basil; stir to blend. Arrange orzo mixture in prepared dish.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and sauté until slightly pink, about 2 minutes (shrimp will not be cooked through). Arrange shrimp on top of orzo. 
  • Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to same skillet. Add garlic and sauté over medium-high heat 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juice; cook 1 minute. Stir in wine, oregano, crushed red pepper, and remaining 1/4 cup basil. Simmer uncovered until reduced to thick sauce consistency, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper; spoon over shrimp. 
  • Bake orzo until heated through, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup feta cheese and serve.
Find the recipe on Epicurious

Honey Lime Chicken Burritos

  Easy way to use cooked, shredded chicken: Homey Lime Chicken Burritos

Sides: Guacamole + chips or the avocado and black bean salad found in a previous Weekly Menu

Short Cuts
  • Use rotisserie chicken instead of cooking the chicken yourself
  • Use bagged, shredded cheese
Make Ahead Notes
  • If shredding cheese yourself, do this ahead and put in fridge for later
  • Juice the limes; mix up the honey-lime mixture and set aside for later
  • 4 chicken breasts, cooked & shredded
  • 1 12-15 oz. bottle salsa verde (green salsa)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 TBSP chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 8-10 flour tortillas
  • 4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • In a large bowl; whisk together honey, lime juice, chili powder, garlic powder and salt.  Add cooked, shredded chicken to the lime mixture.  Let sit 10 minutes.
  • In a 9×13 pan, pour 3/4 of the salsa verde bottle to cover the bottom of the pan.  Set aside the remainder sauce.
  • Take a flour tortilla and fill with a couple tablespoons of  chicken and cheese.  Roll up and place seam side down in the salsa verde pan.  Repeat process until all tortillas are filled.  After you have removed all of the chicken, there will be some remaining lime sauce in the bowl.  Add the remaining salsa verde and heavy whipping cream to the lime sauce and mix.  Pour mixture over the filled burritos and cover with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until cheese is brown & bubbly.

Recipe adapted from The Krazy Coupon Lady site

Baked Stuffed Pasta Shells

Pasta Shells Stuffed with Ricotta and Mozzarella and Baked

Make Ahead Notes 
  • Chop herbs - have a kid cut them with clean scissors if you can
  • Combine cheese filling and refrigerate for later
  • Cook pasta shells - be sure to rinse well with cold water and drain 
  • If possible, assemble the shells completely and just bake when you are ready to eat
  • 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 1/4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (Reserve 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 8 ounces spaghetti sauce (jarred or homemade)
  • fresh basil, chopped, for garnish 
  • In an 8 quart pot, bring water to a boil and cook shells for 8 minutes or until al dente.
  • Drain and cool immediately with cold water.
  • Drain and place open side down on paper towels.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the rest of ingredients except the spaghetti sauce.
  • Reserve the 1/4 cup of Mozzarella.
  • Place a thin layer of spaghetti sauce into the bottom of a 12 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Spoon the cheese mixture into each pasta shell and place open side up, in a single layer, in prepared pan.
  • Pour the rest of sauce over the stuffed shells.
  • Loosely cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
  • During last 5 minutes of baking, remove foil and sprinkle remaining Mozzarella cheese on top.
  • Bake 5 more minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped basil.
Recipe from

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