Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dinner Party

Last week, Carolyn and Lon came over to unwrap the remainder of their wedding gifts. Carolyn's mom and sister joined us for the activity. Well, as you may know, I LOVE cooking for a crowd. I actually look for a reason to cook for a group of people. So I made Shrimp Bruschetta for the appetizer (copy-cat recipe from Red Lobster), 2 kinds of Manicotti for the main dish: Sausage and Spinach, and Apple  Strudel for dessert. It was scrumptious!

Shrimp Bruschetta
12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 French baguette
1/4 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
2 large, fresh basil leaves, chopped (or 2 teaspoons prepared fresh basil)
2 tablespoons diced red onions
1/4 cup balsamic dressing (use your favorite or substitute equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Nonstick cooking spray, as needed
4 bamboo skewers (soaked in water for 2 to 3 hours)
Place 3 shrimp on each skewer, all facing the same direction. Push shrimp together tightly to hold together.
Brush shrimp skewers with canola oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Prepare the grill by spraying the grates with nonstick cooking spray. Turn grill to high.
Grill skewers for approximately 2 minutes per side, until shrimp are opaque and firm. Remove skewers from grill and chill in refrigerator for 3-4 hours (shrimp skewers can be made one day ahead).
Slice French baguette into 1/2-inch slices. Brush with melted butter and season with garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
Toast baguette slices in pre-heated 350-degree oven for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and hold at room temperature.
Combine tomatoes, basil, onion and balsamic dressing in small bowl; toss gently to incorporate dressing.
Remove shrimp from skewers and toss with tomato mixture.
Top toasted baguette slices with shrimp mixture.

Manicotti (Sausage or Spinach, you choose)
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 pound sausage or frozen spinach, thawed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
14 (8-ounce package) manicotti
1 (15-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups marinara sauce
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, onion and sausage. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until the meat browns and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and cool. (Skip this step if using spinach)
Brush 1 teaspoon of oil over a large baking sheet. Cook the manicotti in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly softened, but still very firm to the bite, about 4 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the manicotti from the pot to the oiled baking sheet and cool.
Meanwhile, combine the ricotta, 1 1/2 to 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and parsley. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper to taste, and mix. Stir the cooled meat mixture (or spinach) into the cheese mixture.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Brush the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil over a 13 by 9 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce over the bottom of the prepared dish. Fill the manicotti with the cheese-meat (spinach) mixture. Arrange the stuffed pasta in a single layer in the prepared dish and spoon the remaining sauce over.
Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese, then the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan over the stuffed pasta. Dot entire dish with the butter pieces. Bake the manicotti uncovered until heated through and the sauce bubbles on the sides of the dish, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let the manicotti stand 5 minutes and serve.

Apple Strudel
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, halved, and thinly sliced

a splash of apple juice
2 T. lemon juice
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1/2 c. crushed graham crackers
2 T. butter, cut into pieces
6-7 sheets phyllo dough
1/4 c. butter, melted for brushing the phyllo sheets
1 T. granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the apples, apple juice, lemon juice, cinnamon, brown sugar, cookie crumbs, and butter in a large bowl. Remove the phyllo dough from the box, unfold, and cover with a damp towel. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on the work surface and brush lightly with melted butter. Repeat with the remaining sheets, brushing each with melted butter, stacking when done, being sure to keep the unbuttered phyllo covered. Place the apple mixture on the nearest third of the phyllo stack, being sure to leave a 2-inch border. Gently lift the bottom edge of the phyllo stack to cover the filling and fold the side edges over. Continue to roll the stack away from you until the filling is completely sealed in and the seam is on the bottom. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Sprinkle with cinnamon and confectioners' sugar. Top with homemade whipped cream.

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