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Impress your guests without much stress

Convenient, easy-to-store items such as evaporated milk can be used to create great dishes.
Whether it's an impromptu gathering of family or friends or a planned special occasion, preparing a big meal can be a stressful experience.

But a few simple tips can help you enjoy your next entertaining meal as much as your guests will.

The first step to creating a less stressful meal for large numbers is to shop smartly, say experts who advise stocking your pantry with convenient, easy-to-store items that you can turn to in a pinch, like evaporated milk, dried pasta and chicken broth.

Here are some other top tips to create a satisfying meal that you will enjoy as much as everyone else.

Choose appropriate recipes for your skill level and your guests. Don't get caught up making an elaborate dish that people may not appreciate.

Consider a buffet; it makes serving a lot of people easier and requires less work to set the tables.

Don't be afraid to serve ready-made foods for the side dishes, like instant mashed potatoes. Not all your dishes need to be made from scratch.

Put friends and family to work for you. Most parties end up in the kitchen anyway, so put those extras hands to good use.

To impress the guests without much stress, here are two recipes you can try at your next meal for a large group.

Cheesy Creamy

Pasta Casserole

1 pkg. (16 oz.) any tube pasta

(rigatoni, mostaccioli or penne)

cup ( stick) butter or margarine

cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

tsp. ground black pepper

1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk

cup water

1 can (14 oz.) cream-style corn,


1 jar (4 oz.) sliced pimientos,

drained, divided

1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped, divided

1 cup (4 oz.) shredded

cheddar cheese

1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Chihuahua

or Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; set aside.

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt and black pepper until smooth. Gradually stir in evaporated milk and water. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes just to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat; set aside.

Spread 1/3 of white sauce on the bottom of prepared dish. Top sauce with half of pasta, 1/3 of sauce, half of creamed corn, half of pimientos and half of poblano.

Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Repeat with remaining pasta, sauce, corn, pimientos and poblano. Top with Chihuahua cheese. Cover with foil.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional five minutes.

Makes eight servings.

Baked Potato Soup

cup ( stick) butter or margarine

cup chopped onion

cup all-purpose flour

1 can (14 oz.) chicken broth

1 can (12 fl. oz.) evaporated milk

2 large or 3 medium potatoes,

baked or microwaved

Salt and pepper to taste

4 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

cup (2 oz.) shredded

cheddar cheese

3 Tbsp. sliced green onion

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, for one to two minutes or until tender. Stir in flour.

Gradually stir in broth and evaporated milk. Scoop potato pulp from one potato; mash. Add pulp to broth mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture just comes to a boil. Dice remaining potato skin and potatoes; add to soup. Heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Top each serving with bacon, cheese and green onion.

Makes four servings.

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