I have to admit before I begin this post that I have a love affair with grocery shopping—I literally go wild at Safeway and generally end up buying a whole host of things, which means my fridge and pantry are always fully stocked. My mother actually banned me from going to the grocery store for an entire month and dared me to be creative with what I had—let’s just say I didn’t starve. Anyway it is important to this post because I understand that generally people do not have some these things just “lying around.” But hopefully I can give you some tips on what to stock up on so you can quickly pull together an elegant, effortless dinner for your friends.
The impromptu dinner party can be daunting for some, but I generally relish the challenge. Today, Saturday, it is already 2pm and my friend is coming at 5pm. I go to my fridge to see what peaks my interest…shrimp. I always keep frozen shrimp in my freezer; it is quick, easy and can be a great addition to any salad, a good main course, or the dish I am thinking about tonight. I decide that since it is so late in the day and I don’t have time to go to the grocery store, I will make my “go-to” appetizer and dessert as well. The menu is as follows:
Appetizer: Roasted Chickpeas
Main Course: Shrimp and Mediterranean Couscous Salad
Dessert: Espresso Chip Meringues by Giada De Laurentiis (with my own spin)
This menu is easy and fun—it flows together nicely, is a three course meal, and does not leave your guest(s) feeling extremely full. Plus I will share with you how to turn the couscous salad into an effortless Sunday dinner (perhaps in tomorrow’s post). I decided since the theme of this post is impromptu, that I would give a play-by-play of my afternoon, showing you just how easy it is…
At 2:30pm: Set the table. I always keep fresh cut flowers on the table and do a very simple place setting. Also, I put a bottle of white wine in the fridge so it is properly chilled. Then, I set about tidying the house. (Note: I already have all the ingredients, but if you don’t, plan 30 minutes before to pick up last minute things.)
At 2:45pm: Make Roasted Chickpeas and put in oven (recipe below). I put them in the oven now because they take a while and I like to serve them at room temperature (when they come out of the oven, just put them in the serving dish—covering them will make them soft again.
At 3:30pm: Make the Couscous (recipe below). I make the couscous now because it needs to be at room temperature when you add the tomatoes and other ingredients.
At 4:00pm, Take out the Chickpeas and make the meringues (recipe below). I always like to make the meringues and keep them in the oven. Once you turn them the second time, after the 30 minutes, turn the oven off and leave them on the cookie sheet until serving time. Plus, I think it’s always fun to surprise my dinner guests with a decadent dessert.
At 4:45pm: Start thawing, peeling, and preparing the shrimp (recipe below) and put together the couscous salad.
At 5:00pm: My friend arrives; I finish last minute prep work and enjoy a glass of wine.
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, lay on a paper towel to drain excess water.
3. In a large bowl, add dry chickpeas, olive oil, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, black pepper, and salt. Toss to coat.
4. In a large oven proof skillet or cookie sheet with raised edges, spread chick peas out in a single layer. Cook for 20 minutes and then toss (add a dash more salt, if desired). Place back in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until chickpeas had and start to “pop.”
5. Let cook for 5 minutes and serve in a decorative bowl.
2 cups couscous
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups tap water
2 pounds frozen, raw shrimp (I usually use Waterfront Bistro)
½ tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 roma tomatoes
2 6.5 ounce jars Cara Mia marinated artichoke hearts
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1. Put two cups of water, 1 tablespoon butter, and 1 teaspoon olive oil in a pan with a lid, bring to a boil. (Note: I have found that adding both butter and olive oil makes the couscous both buttery and fluffy.)
2. Once water boils, remove from heat, add two cups of couscous, and cover for 5 minutes.
3. Place in a large mixing bowl, set aside and let cool.
4. Next thaw and peel shrimp. (Note: because the shrimp is frozen, when it thaws it can retain water—I usually blot the shrimp with a paper towel to remove excess water.
5. Heat a small skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the two pounds of shrimp and red pepper flakes. Cook until shrimp are pink—about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
6. Next drain artichoke hearts (do not rinse) and cut each quarter into thirds; add to the bowl with the couscous.
7. Next dice the tomatoes and add them to the bowl with the couscous and artichokes.
8. Once the shrimp is cool, add to the bowl, along with the chopped parsley.
9. Next add the lemon juice and stir the couscous salad.
10. Serve (or put in fridge until you are ready to serve).
Giada’s Espresso Chip Meringues with a Twist
3 egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of fine sea salt
¾ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup strawberry or raspberry jam
1 pint raspberries
1. Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. Using a handheld mixer, beat the egg whites and salt until frothy, about 1 minute. With the mixer on medium-high speed, gradually add the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Add the cream of tartar, vanilla extract, and espresso powder. Increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture is thick and holds stiff peaks, about 3 to 5 minutes.
3. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chips. Drop ¼ to ½ cup of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool completely while still in the oven, about 2 hours.
4. Before serving, heat 1 cup of raspberry or strawberry jam and 2 tablespoons agave syrup in a pan over medium-high heat. Once melted, drizzle the jam on a plate. Place one meringue on top of jam and sprinkle raspberries over top.