How can I eat everything that is warm and hearty, without just eating melted cheese and heavy cream? All I want is mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled cheese, and cheesy soup on these freezing cold days… well, and maybe on any kind of day…
My dear family came over for dinner right before the new year to celebrate my dad’s birthday! We were going to see a play based on C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, which depicts a beautiful dream of heaven – contrasted with a picture of hell as a place where people get whatever they desire, and end up moving farther and farther away from each other as a result. I love Lewis’ depiction of heaven as more “solid” than us as we are now. The grass is more solid, the water is more solid – and it all physically hurts humans as they arrive. Humans are shown as mere ghosts compared to the greater reality of this perfect place, but it was neat seeing how some changed in heart and in appearance as they stayed in “heaven” longer and longer.
The play was in D.C. at the Lansburgh Theatre, so I jumped at the opportunity to host my family for dinner before we drove over together. With an occasion as special as my dad’s birthday, I wanted to put together a menu that felt special, but that was also somewhat nutritious in the middle of the holiday season.
As a starter course, we ate the creamy, roasted root vegetable soup that I shared earlier this week. I was really impressed that my whole family tried it out and seemed to enjoy it! There are some picky eaters in the group. :)
For the main course, alfredo shells! Or “shellfredo” as The Cooking Jar calls it in the recipe I used. I made two versions – chicken shells and mushroom shells. For the mushroom substitution, I simply sautéed very finely-chopped mushrooms in olive oil. I also added a little cooked spinach to both versions and some extra feta on top. You may be wondering how this was a healthy meal. Well, I substituted Jo Cooks’ cauliflower alfredo sauce to nix the heavy cream and add another vegetable in! It was delicious.
As a side, I roasted a gorgeous spiral of sweet potatoes by smitten kitchen that I’ve been wanting to make since this mini crispy potato roast. Next time, I may paint on a little less olive oil and butter before baking. However, it was a beautiful dish and definitely a hit with the group!
This is what the roast looked like pre-oven…
I am a big believer in making dinner parties as easy as possible on myself when it comes to prep right before guests arrive. Many of these dishes can made in advance. I could have made the shell filling ahead of time – a good idea, since it can take awhile to fill up each shell – and I did make the cauliflower alfredo sauce beforehand. I peeled and sliced all of the sweet potatoes the night prior. I also made the dip ahead of time and the soup, which was just reheated on the stove before we ate.
Finally, with all of the cooking going on, I served a simple bagged salad from Trader Joe’s that always seems to go over well with company. You can look at beautiful pictures of the salad here. It’s only about $5 and includes spinach leaves, dried cranberries, sugared pecans (yum!), a packet of raspberry vinaigrette, and blue cheese crumbles – which I usually serve on the side, since blue cheese can be polarizing.
I didn’t want my mom to contribute, but she was insistent, so I let her bring some delicious fudge chocolate and peanut butter bars. We served Spiral Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon, water infused with fresh fruit, and Izzes. Between dinner and the play, it was a special evening together.