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You don't often hear the word "easy" to describe planning, cooking and serving a dinner for eighteen people, but I actually pulled it off. (And for a total cost of about $100—that's about $5.50 per person- you couldn't find a caterer anywhere who could match that price!) The buffet looked lovely, full of bright colors. I decided to bypass the old "Lasagna" route. Everybody does lasagna or spaghetti for large groups, and I wanted this meal to be special. It was for friends and family, after a musical benefit concert they organized and performed. While I am a playwright, and very artsy in that field, I am not a musician, and I thought feeding the masses after the show would be my contribution to the evening.  

I'll start with the menu, and then tell you the easy way to put it all together.

Marinated Anti-Pasto Skewers
Baked Tomatoes with Basil and Olive Oil
Garlic Bread
Stuffed Colored Peppers
Roasted Red Pepper Alfredo over Bow Tie Pasta

The skewers were a real hit, they looked fabulous and unique,  but what really served me well was that it was a simple way to do anti-pasto without worrying about "plating".  You'll need skewers, wooden or metal, it is your choice. I chose wooden, for ease of clean up.

1 carton Grape Tomatoes
1 Carton Bertoli Cheese Tortellini
1 Jar Large Green Olives
1 Can Large Black Olive
1 Medium Container of Small Fresh Mozarrella Balls
Small Pepperoni Slices

**Balsamic Vinegar Marinade With Olive Oil
Olive Oil

**I actually made my own marinade, but I made it on the fly, with a little of this and that and so I can’t remember everything I put in it—Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon zest, crushed red pepper, sea salt, ground pepper, fresh basil- but as I can’t remember any of the measurements I used, I suggest getting a ready made one here. Later, I’ll try to recreate it and record measurements.

The night before the event, I put olives, tomatoes, and mozzarella in a baking dish and covered them with the marinade and refrigerated them overnight. The afternoon of the event, maybe 12:00 or so, I cooked the tortellini (about 5 minutes), and while it was cooking I got the other ingredients ready. I rinsed the tortellini in cold water after it was finished, and then arranged a pretty assortment on the skewers. On each one, I used 2 of everything except tortellini, I only used one of hose. I alternated ingredients, and piled them on a platter, drizzled with olive oil, and covered them and put them in the fridge until dinner.  


I did the "stuffing" part of the peppers the night before, as I knew the day of the party would be very busy. Once cooked, I put it in the fridge until the next day when it was time to assemble.

3 pounds ground meat
3 boxes Tony Chachere Dirty Rice Mix
6 Cups Mozzarella Cheese
9 Large Peppers in different colors. I used green, red, yellow and orange
Olive Oil

Brown the ground meat. Follow instructions on Dirty Rice Mix box. Add meat to rice mix while cooking. At this point, I stored the mixture in the fridge. The next day, I added the three cups of cheese to the cold mixture, ready to be put in the peppers.

Preheat oven to 325.
Spray non-stick spray on glass baking dishes.
Cut each pepper in half, vertically. Remove seeds.
Brush inside and outside of pepper half with olive oil. Put approximately 1 cup of Dirty Rice mixture in each one. Top with a little mozzarella. Repeat with the rest, making sure the outsides are well coated with olive oil. This will allow the pepper to cook and become tender, so you don't have to go through the extra step of parboiling.
Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the pepper is tender.

These are delicious and beautiful, yet only take 10 minutes to put together! I suggest preparing them on baking trays ahead of time, but not cooking until 10 minutes before your guests arrive.

5 Large Tomatoes
Parmesan Cheese, grated
Fresh Basil
Sea Salt
Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 425.  Spray baking sheets with non-stick spray. Slice tomatoes thickly, about ½ inch.
Chop basil. Arrange slices of tomatoes on baking sheet. Drizzle generously with olive oil. Sprinkly fresh sea salt and pepper over each slice. Use about 1 teaspoon of parmesan to sprinkle on each slice. Top with fresh chopped basil. Bake for 10 minutes. Serve.

3 large loaves Italian Bread
Softened butter (or margarine)
Parmesan Cheese
Garlic Salt

Cut loaves in half lengthwise. Generously spread butter (or margarine) over cut halves. Sprinkle garlic salt on top of the butter. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. Place under broiler for 2-3 minutes or until butter is melted and edges are browned. Slice into individual pieces.


I really wanted to make this a healthy feast, so I opted to make a lower-fat Alfredo sauce, with the flavor really being zipped up not by the fats, but by the roasted red pepper. This does NOT taste like a low fat dish, despite some of the lowfat ingredients. My other half wouldn't have anything to do with anything he even suspected of being lowfat!

2 large boxes bowtie pasta
1 cup of butter or lower fat butter/olive oil spread
16 ounces Neufchatel or lowfat cream cheese
4 cups 2% or skim milk
8 Tablespoons flour
¾ Cup Parmesan Cheese
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 jar chopped roasted red peppers

In large saucepan or Dutch oven, or in a crock pot, Melt butter over LOW heat. Cut cream cheese into small cubes and mix into the butter, stirring until it becomes creamy and combined. Slowly add flour and milk, alternately, whisking to mix completely. As it begins to warm up, add salt and pepper. Stir in parmesan until melted. Drain roasted red peppers. Chop the peppers into smaller pieces, if they are not diced. Add peppers to sauce. I made this ahead, and then put the sauce in the crock pot, on "warm" until party time.

3 hours before guests arrived, I assembled and cooked the peppers, then covered and kept them warm in the oven at 150. Then, because of all the prep-work I had done, I was able to go see the concert. Immediately after the show, I ran home, knowing I'd have a 15 minute jump on when everyone would arrive.

15 minutes before guests arrived, I put a pot of water on to boil, and cooked the bow tie pasta so everything would be fresh and warm.

Next, I turned on the oven to 425 and cooked the tomatoes, which were already prepared on baking sheets. Once done, I placed them on platters on the buffet. I then turned the oven up to broil, and browned the garlic bread and cut it and put it in baskets on the buffet. I pulled the skewers out of the fridge, already on a lovely platter and put them on the buffet. I then rinsed the cooked bowtie pasta and put in a large bowl, and covered with the Alfredo Sauce. Off to the buffet the large pasta bowl went. Lastly, I took the left over warm dirty rice mixture and spooned it on a large serving platter. I placed the stuffed peppers on the platter, on top of the rice mixture. This is in case anyone wants a little "extra", as most of the men did. I arranged the peppers so the 4 vibrant colors alternated. I put that on the buffet, and then, greeted the guests as they began to arrive!

Because I had done so much prep-work, I was able to go and enjoy the concert, and also be home to be a hostess for a tasty, elegant Italian Dinner. And now, here is also a little taste of the concert, which features everything from Opera to Rock and Roll.  

Since the link will be disabled because i’m not a premium member, you can go to youtube and look up Kennst Du das Land Stephen McCluskey and find the video of a song he sang from the opera “Little Women.”

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