Making friends and guinea pigs

I have been looking forward to having friends over for dinner since my return to Plano. This weekend, I invited Lori, Toni, Mike and Keith to come over.  At first I planned a Thai Curry, something much more in line with my “normal” meal choices.

One problem with me is in making commitments on my decisions. So, over time the idea went from a Thai Curry to a Greek Shrimp Scampi and on from there. The problem for me is that I try to pre-think what people will eat. Since I don’t eat meat, it is a little more difficult when carnivores are coming over. Well actually, since I am not a true vegetarian, it can also be a challenge when ethical vegetarians come over.

I really wanted to make Salmon or Scallops. That is something I do a lot. But I am on a budget since I haven’t had much work and lots of expense. Seafood is expensive, so I nixed that idea.

In any case, I finally wore myself out planning so decided to make Penne with Vodka sauce, a salad and who knows what else. I had made the Vodka Sauce before using fresh marinara I bought at Central Market and it was good. It was also easy to make.

I also wanted the meal to be in line with healthier eating. Vodka sauce has cream in it, a challenge.  I found a recipe on Jamie Oliver’s site for a light Caesar dressing using 0% Greek yogurt. I thought that might be interesting too and healthier. I have made his recipes with much success.

I recently came across this nifty site where you can put a recipe in and get a very cool breakdown of what you are taking into your body. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2356/2

 I put in the Vodka Sauce recipe and the outcome took all the color out of my face (which, with my white skin, isn’t really much of a feat).  The calorie count was out the roof. The fat count wasn’t far behind.

So now I had a dilemma. How to improve on it? So I tried. Less Vodka, ½ heavy cream and ½ fat free half and half, about 1/8 of the parmesan in the original recipe and measured portions of pasta.  I tried to find a good multigrain penne but didn’t find one that was right so settled on semolina.

I made the Light Caesar dressing http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/caesar-on-the-light-sideand it needed some fixing up. Instead of minced fresh garlic, I roasted mine. Fresh is so strong and cutting, I didn’t want to use it.  I added a little Dijon mustard and at the last minute threw in some chopped basil.

I added some steamed fresh broccoli to the menu too.  For dessert, I made a Red Wine Sauce to go over peaches and Ice Cream. I chose the ½ fat Dreyer’s Vanilla.

So you might wonder how it turned out. Well I had a fantastic time with my friends. It was so nice to have them and they seemed to have a good time. It lifted my spirits, which I needed.

My opinion on the food; I decided that my best meals are not planned dinner parties. Somehow I am never as happy with the outcome. I am really a “harried cook” when it comes to planned events.

 My girlfriend and fellow foodie Moira in Florida once said, she makes her best meals just cooking at home. I think the same is true for me. I do better when I invite someone for a dinner I had cooked for myself.

The outcome: The sauce was watery. I think the non-fat half and half isn’t the greatest product. I have read that before but took the chance.  The portions were not filling enough, though only one person mentioned that. I was hungry later.

I don’t know how anyone felt about the Caesar but I don’t think it would pass muster with “Real Caesar” lovers.  The yogurt was just a little too tangy.  If I did it over, I would use some non-fat mayonnaise with it to tone it down some, or add honey to cut the edge.   I think I would have preferred a basil dressing for flavor.

I slightly undercooked the broccoli.  For me it would be fine, but not for company. The Dreyer’s light was good. The peaches were flavorless so I added some partly defrosted frozen peaches. I don’t think that was a good idea. I am used to eating half frozen fruit in my cereal, but I don’t think it went over too well.  My friends much preferred Crème de Menthe topping to my home cooked Red Wine sauce.  Go figure. I could have just bought that.

Even though this meal was not on the 4 star list, it was not “bad” I don’t think.  I figure, at least I tried to make it tasty and healthier. Sometimes it works the first time. Other times it takes some trial and error.  

Maybe some recipes will never be as good without the fat. I remember hearing a popular nutrition guru say, if you are trying to lose weight, just because you ate one unhealthy meal doesn’t mean you give up. It would be like getting a flat tire and then slitting the other 3. You move forward from where you are.

So, I will either try these recipes again or find some better healthy choices. I find it a worthy and healthy pursuit.