After spending more than a year in the house during quarantine, it’s safe to say that some of our entertaining skills have gotten a bit rusty. As we adjust to our new normal by playing host, post-pandemic, things can seem a bit overwhelming. From deciding on what food to prepare, to how to set the table, getting back to social interaction while wearing “real” clothes, along with the idea of entertaining it, can all seem a bit stressful.

When I’m entertaining, I like to take a simple yet sophisticated approach to my recipes and entertaining style. I am most successful with my entertaining when I am creating simple meals with minimal preparation time but maximum flavor.

Here are few tips for playing host, post-pandemic:

1. Start small: Getting back into the swing of things, when it comes to entertaining, can be a lot. When you host smaller gatherings, you can really attend and focus more on the details. You will also get a chance to connect with your guests more and enjoy yourself at the same time.

2. Clean, clean, clean: Have a cleaning station. Let’s be honest, everyone’s level of comfort with social gatherings is different. Make sure to have a station for masks and hand sanitizer.

3. Prep: Place all plates, silverware and napkins out. The night before, prep as many dishes as possible. Also, don’t forget to prepare your floral arrangements.

4. Menu: Simplicity is best. Don’t stretch yourself too thin with cooking. Make something that your guests will prefer and that’s delicious. It’s okay to over-impress; however, don’t forget that the simple things work out every time.

5. Have fun: Don’t stress out. A lot of things that we freak out about, guests don’t even pay attention to. So relax and have the best gathering ever!

Recipes:

Pesto Basil Shrimp with Chickpea Pasta

I have really become a huge fan of chickpea, pea and lentil pasta. Not only are all these food items a good source of plant-based protein, but they’re also an excellent source of fiber. To be completely honest, I have made this dish for friends and family, and I’ve never told them that it’s not traditional pasta. They actually don’t even notice!

When to Prepare This Recipe:

This recipe is perfect for a book club gathering. Enjoy with garlic bread and a salad. This dish would also be perfect for a “Meatless Monday” supper. It can be made for the entire family or as a single serving.

Ingredients

One (1) container of pesto sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 boxes of chickpea pasta

1/2 cup shaved Parmesan

1 pound of large uncooked shrimp

1/2 stick of butter

1 tablespoon red flakes

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Basil to garnish (optional)

Directions

• In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain well. Set aside.

• Season shrimp with garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

• Turn the stove on medium and add butter to a large skillet.

• Add shrimp and sauté, until bright pink.

• Add the pasta into the pan with the shrimp. Stir in the pesto.

• Make sure the pesto, pasta noodles and shrimp are well blended.

• Scoop out the desired amount into a bowl.

• Garnish with chopped basil and shaved Parmesan, if desired.

Cheese & Charcuterie Board

Whether you’re hosting family for the holiday season or just having friends over for dinner, cheese boards are the way to go. What I like most about them is that they are visually impressive and minimal prep time is needed. Your guests will be thoroughly impressed by the fanciness of your board.

You can purchase these brands at stores such as Kroger, Whole Foods or your local farmer’s market. When you first see the cheese section, do not become overwhelmed. The key to a fancy-looking cheese board is, well, the board! There are countless boards to choose from that come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from circular, rectangular, oval or square.

During day events, I like marble and light wood boards; and in the evening, I like to use slate and dark wood boards. There isn’t a right or wrong way to select your board. The most important thing is that it needs to be large enough to hold all of the goodies that will be displayed on it. It’s pretty impossible to mess up creating a cheese board unless you have all of the same types of cheese on the board. But how boring is that?

When creating your board, it’s important to add a variety of cheeses that vary in texture, flavor, colors and shapes.

This is the fun part: garnish, garnish, garnish! It is important to leave little or no space available on your board, which means that your cheese board is going to need some friends. You need to have a balanced blend of salty and sweet. Add savory bites such as olives, nuts, meats, pickles, crackers and crostini. Examples of your sweet items would be honey and chocolate; dried fruits, like, cranberries, raisins, and mango; and fresh fruits such as grapes, strawberries, blackberries and apples.

When to Prepare This Recipe:

This cheese board is perfect for when you’re having a grilling shindig. It’s the perfect item to have for friends and guests so that they can have something to nosh. It’s also ideal for holiday gatherings at the house.

BBQ Chicken Flatbread Pizza

When it comes to making an at-home pizza, I don’t always feel like going through the process of kneading the dough, rolling the dough and waiting for the pizza dough to rise. That’s why this BBQ flatbread pizza is definitely one of my favorite recipes to prepare because it has minimal prep and cook time.

The barbeque sauce: When it comes to the barbeque sauce that you will be spreading on your flatbread, you can use any brand and/or flavor that make your taste buds joyful. I actually prefer to use sweet and spicy barbeque sauce because it causes the flatbread to have a sweet and savory flavor. But whichever barbeque sauce you choose to use, just make sure that it has a thick consistency.

Flatbread is the ideal substitute if you do not want pizza dough, because it offers great flavor, and there are various length and shape options that you can select from. When preparing the chicken for this recipe, you can opt to prepare the chicken yourself, purchase it pre-cooked, or use leftover cooked chicken from a previous meal. I totally understand that pre-shredded cheese can make life a little easier. However, I highly recommend using grated cheese, if you have the time. And if you do decide to grate your own cheese, you will definitely see that it melts better and has a much more flavorful taste.

When to Prepare This Recipe:

This recipe is perfect for when you’re tailgating a little league game, hosting a slumber party at your home or if you’re hosting book club. 

Ingredients

2 pieces of flatbread

1/2 cup barbeque sauce of your choosing

2 cups of cooked chicken

2 cups grated Colby and Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 red onions, sliced

1/2 bundle of cilantro

Directions

• Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

• Spread 1/4 cup of barbeque sauce on top of each of the flatbread.

• Evenly distribute the grated Colby and Monterey Jack cheese on top.

• Add the cooked chicken, and then evenly distribute it on top of the flatbread.

• Add the sliced red onion.

• Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. (Be careful. The top of the flatbread will be hot and bubbly.)

• The bottom of your flatbread should be slightly crispy.

• Top with cilantro.

Enjoy!

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