Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Perfect Lunch With Friends

[side note: for the writers out there, I'm starting a new workshop on my Just Write It list about conflict and emotion. Join if you write fiction and are interested!]

I had four friends over to the new house yesterday for lunch and it was wonderful. The company was fabulous (can't wait to have you all back, Julie, Cathy, Marci and Kayleen!) and the food turned out great, despite lots of stress on my part, LOL.

In case you're wondering, here's what I made:

Appetizer: Olive Medley Pinwheels (they were an award-winning Better Homes and Gardens recipe...the only problem I had was finding an olive bar at my local grocery store, so I ended up having to use canned olives. Sigh. Don't get me started again on my local grocery stores)

Beverage: Pomegranate Fizz: I saw this on Barefoot Contessa the other day and thought it looked good. I read the recipe on Food Network, then read all the comments and took people's advice. I added a full bottle of Pom Pomegranate Juice, to 3 1/2 cups of Sparkling Water (a one-third to two-third ration...the FN recipe has the wrong quantities; I saw that episode too and she did say and make 1/3 to 2/3s), then only squeezed in one half of a lime. I also added about a tablespoon or so of granulated Splenda (since I had that on hand and didn't see the need to buy Superfine sugar just for this). I didn't bother with the lime slices because I served it in champagne flutes.

Meal: Insalata Rustica (I totally love this salad. This time, I skipped the dried cherries, as people have said in the comments at Bon Appetit. I also didn't add mozzarella chunks because DH ate all the mozzarella, LOL. And...this time, I accidentally baked the grapes for like 40 minutes, and they were SO much sweeter. They were halfway to raisins and they were just SO yummy. Next time, I'll do them that long again. I had just enough salad left over for lunch the next day too and it was just as good the next day ;-).

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup with Spinach: this one was a recipe I kind of invented, after reading a "healthy" tomato tortellini and deciding it was too healthy, LOL.

French Bread with Parmesan Garlic Spread (I bought the bread and spread...had good intentions to bake from scratch but I ran out of time).

Dessert: Carrot-Cake Cupcakes...of course ;-)

A few tips for hosting something like this -- I did it up fancy, because...I wanted to. When my husband and I bought our dining room table, my daughter said it would be such a waste because no one ever uses their dining room except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am SO not one of those people. I love eating in the dining room. Not just for parties, but with the family, too. We've eaten in there as a family a few times already, and after I get an easier-to-wash tablecloth, LOL, we'll be there more often.

I set the table the night before, got out the fancy silverware and the nice napkins. The wine glasses for ice water and the champagne flutes for the pomegranate drink. Really, how much more work is that? My dishwasher has wine stem holder thingies, so it's just as easy to wash those in there as it is regular glasses. And everyone gets a chance to feel special for an afternoon.

My friends asked me for the soup recipe (everyone had seconds and thirds). I haven't taken a picture of it even though I've made it twice, once for me to test the recipe I invented (I made it when I was sick and forgot) and then yesterday. I was going to photograph the last bowl, but then DH ate it, LOL.

This makes a big Dutch oven's worth of soup, so you have plenty of soup to eat. It's VERY good, IMO.

Don't skimp and use non-fresh ingredients in the places where it calls for fresh. The fresh makes a HUGE difference in the taste, believe me.

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup with Spinach

1/2 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, Italian style
2 large basil leaves (fresh) or 4 small, chopped
1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 small can tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
8 ounces fresh Spinach leaves
8 ounces frozen Tortellini stuffed with cheese
1/2 cup heavy (or whipping) cream

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven (or similar pot). Add onion and garlic, cook and stir until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, basil, tomato sauce and paste. Bring to a boil and add Parmesan cheese. Add spinach leaves.

Using a hand blender (or a regular blender if you're not a clumsy person and can pour, blend, pour back), puree the soup in the pan. I know that sounds intimidating, but the trick to doing that is starting on low, with the base of the hand blender on the bottom of the pan. As you get more pureed and get more confident, you can turn up the speed. Puree until all the chunks of tomato are smooth, the spinach is minced, and the soup is well blended. Add tortellini and cook about 6 minutes, until tortellini is cooked through. Stir in heavy cream (add more if you want the soup to be creamier) and cook until heated through. Serve.

That's it! Start to finish, this soup takes...maybe 30 minutes, if that. It's really easy. And REALLY good. Not to mention good for you (except the heavy cream, but hey, life needs a little fat here and there ;-)



  1. Anonymous3:12 PM

    We love our dining room too! (It's red.) Get some placemats to use for family or casual dinners with guests--the hard "cardboard" kind(they're some kind of pressed board, not really cardboard!) wipe off easily and look great--they have various botanical prints and other classic designs.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, Peg! It sounds like a great idea. They also sound more durable than cloth.


  3. Your lunch menu sounds delicious, Shirley! I'll have to try your recipes.

    I enjoy using the dining room too, and use placemats when I serve from the stove.


  4. Shirley,

    Thanks for a wonderful time. The food was especially good and you presented it with such flare! The pears in the salad were yummy!

    Your book covers with our names on them, held up by your personalized booklights to show us where to sit were the perfect touch.

    You've inspired me to plan a nice meal on our family's stay-cation for spring break :)



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