A Dinner Party First (For Me) - Ellen's Tastes Blog at Allrecipes.com - 164428

Ellen's Tastes

A dinner party first (for me) 
Mar. 18, 2010 8:30 am 
Updated: Mar. 18, 2010 2:52 pm
I've thrown hundreds of dinner parties since I was in college, when I served my first guests beef stew using my mom's recipe. But until last night, I've never had a guest take their first bite and, with zesty enthusiasm, say: "Oh my God, this is fabulous!" And then he couldn't stop eating it. I think he had three helpings. It's the only meal I've served that's gotten such a dramatic response!

Nearly all my dinner parties have been good, although over the years, my menus have changed along with my cooking interests and eating preferences. I seem to have settled in to making healthy (ideally organic) ingredients taste really really good. I knew Jane and Frank like spicy foods, so when I invited them for dinner, I settled on making my version of baked stuffed shells, which is based on a Cooking Light recipe.

Here 'tis:

Artichoke, Spinach, and Feta Stuffed Shells

The sauce:

2 cans fire roasted tomatoes (24 oz. total)
1 small (8 oz.) can of tomato sauce, salt free
1/4 c. pepperoncini, diced small and packed tightly
2 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. dried rosemary

The stuffing:

1 c. Greek feta cheese, crumbled
1 c. grated provolone, low fat
1/2 c. fat free cream cheese
1 c. cooked chopped spinach (squeezed so water is removed)
1 can (12 oz) chopped artichoke hearts (reserve 1/3 c. of the liquid)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh black pepper 

The shells:

20 big pasta shells

  • Pre-heat oven to 375°F
  • Cook the shells in a large pot until done (follow package directions). Rinse with cold water.
  • Place the sauce ingredients in a medium-sized sauce pan and simmer while the pasta cooks — and while you make the cheese and spinach stuffing.
  • In a large bowl, stir the stuffing ingredients together, adding about 1/3 c. of the artichoke liquid to bring the consistency to slightly creamy.
  • Spray a 9x13 glass baking dish with olive oil. 
  • When the cooked shells are cool enough to handle, fill each with about a tablespoon and a half of the stuffing and place each shell (stuffed side up) in the baking dish.
  • Ladle the sauce over the shells, evenly covering them all.
  • OPTIONAL: sprinkle the top with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.
  • Cover the dish with aluminum foil, and bake for 25 minutes.
  • Turn the heat off, and let the dish sit in the oven for about 15 minutes.

I served this with a green salad and home made Balsamic Dijon Vinaigrette, and garlic bread.

The Salad:

  • 1 small head red leaf lettuce
  • 3/4 c. pears (if canned, get the kind that are packed in water or light juice) or ripe fresh pears, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/4 c. roasted pecans (place on a pan in a 375°F oven for about 8 minutes)
  • 1/3 c. diced red onion
  • 2 tbsp. crumbled gorgonzola

Balsamic Dijon Vinaigrette Dressing:

Put the following ingredients in a jar that's got a lid:
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce (Annie's brand is made without high fructose corn syrup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
Place the lid on the jar and shake.

Garlic Bread:

This recipe is one I developed years ago and it's always appreciated. I've yet to figure out a way to make a healthier version that tastes as good. I'll keep you posted.

  • 1 loaf french bread, cut almost in half — so it opens like a book.
  • room temperature organic salt free butter*
  • Lawry's Garlic Salt*
  • *The quantity will vary, dependiing on the size of the loaf of bread.
  • Spread both sides of the bread with enough butter to thinly coat it. Sprinkle with the garlic salt. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in a 375°F oven for about 15 minutes. 
  • Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes, then slice into individual serving pieces.

Setting the Scene:

Nothing can put you and your guests in the mood for a dinner party better than a nicely set table. I browse through catalogues and websites to get ideas for table settings that will match the nature of the party (birthday, holiday, casual, etc.) For this dinner party, I used an ivory colored table cloth, mustard colored dinner plates, red salad plates placed on the dinner plates, topped off with paper napkins with a design that pulled everything together (red poppies on a light yellow background). For a center piece, I used a small round vase filled with 6 white tulips. Nothing fancy, but on the classy side for the RV resort we spend our winters in.... where most residents will serve you meals on paper or plastic disposable plates. Okay, I admit it: I'm a food and table snob ;)

Mar. 18, 2010 8:50 am
Oh, to dream...my RV is only 21 feet and the table is a catch all for everything...it's my office. That sounds wonderful!
Mar. 18, 2010 2:18 pm
Awesome... I love a good response like that. I may try this, however, it would be easier if you could post it also as a recipe. Please? =)
Mar. 18, 2010 2:52 pm
Sounds wonderful! I'm going to have to try those shells :)
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About Me
I've loved cooking since I was a kid, and still have my first (very battered) cookbook. Other than cooking, I adore interior design, writing, and playing bridge. Oh... and tasting new wines (or old favorites).
My favorite things to cook
As I've grown older, my tastes and philosophy have changed. I now use organic ingredients whenever I can, and I prefer using unprocessed ingredients.
My favorite family cooking traditions
Well, my mother (bless her) had 8 people to feed, so she made foods that were easy to prepare. My favorites were her baked ribs with barbecue sauce; english muffins topped with cheese, tomato, and bacon, and then broiled; and spaghetti noodles with tomato soup and cheddar cheese stirred in. I wouldn't make these dishes today, but they're full of fond memories.
My cooking triumphs
Adding orange juice to diced tomato sauce • Adding Cointreau to fresh fruit salads or a chocolate sauce • Adding tequila and bittersweet chocolate to chili • "poaching" salmon in orange juice, sprinkled with Old Bay and tarragon • adding cidar vinegar and soy sauce to vegetable soups • adding fresh mint to steamed red potatoes • knowing how to bail out a botched dish (example: over-steamed broccoli mashed with bleu or swiss cheese isn't nearly as bad as over-steamed broccoli on it's own).
My cooking tragedies
Over-steaming broccoli and most any other veggie... and a lasagna that was so loaded with oregano, no one could eat it.
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