After spending the last year and a half in New England on our little 'life vacation,' and a couple of weeks bouncing between our parents' homes, then living out of boxes in our new house (before photo tour!) for the last couple of weeks, I finally feel a little settled.  A little.  Furthermore,  Emma is at her Mother's Day Out program today (she goes twice a week) and all I have on my list today is to make dinner for Mike and me tonight.  That's right, Mr. Darcy and I have the house to ourselves for the day, it is (for the most part) unpacked and organized and we get to cook, set the table, take photos and blog without juggling my Miss Emma.

I don't feel guilty one bit for being excited about it.  Well, ok, I feel a little guilty.  But, for a Mom who hasn't had a baby sitter for 9 months and has never spent any substantial time away from her little girl, I have to admit it does feel good to be back in my grove again.  Even if it is only a few of hours a couple of days a week - she goes to "school" from 8:30 - 2:30 - I highly recommend it.  And when it is time to pick her up, I get so excited I almost run inside to get her, like I can't get there fast enough.  Ahhh, the power of a little break from Mommyhood.
While I used to be the type to go to the store around 5 o'clock everyday to get ingredients for dinner, with our new schedule I plan to cook dinner while Emma's at school and then reheat  it or finish the cooking when Mike gets home and we've put Emma to bed.  So, I'm beginning to build my repertoire of make-ahead meals and modifying my recipes to work with our new schedule. Of course, planning menus that can be made completely ahead of time is one of my entertaining rules. So, I'm starting to think about planning our weekday dinners as I do a dinner party. I'm going to make everything ahead of time then do the finishing just before we're ready to eat.

For these nights, Mike and I have been having our own dinners after Emma's gone to bed.  I try to make these dinners a little more special - a little like date night.  I try to have something pretty on the table, but not fussy.  This pewter bowl of apples and a pitcher of honeysuckle (from our backyard!) is my idea of a great centerpiece for a casual dinner.

If you do some research online for make-ahead meals you'll find a lot of casseroles.  Casseroles are great, but they don't always feel like the most sophisticated thing to make.  I have a dirty little trick. Instead of making the casserole in one baking dish, I divide it up into individual bowls.  For some reason, just putting it into a beautiful single serving bowl and baking it turns it into something special - even entertaining-worthy (think : Lobster Mac 'N Cheese).
This recipe, Rustic Penne & Shrimp Pasta in a Parmesan & Red Pepper Cream Sauce, is one of my new favorites.  It is a great pasta dish for fall. It is hearty and decadent, but couldn't be easier to make.  You can make it completely ahead of time, then reheat just before serving.  It is perfect for a special weeknight dinner or would be great for a dinner party.

For an emailed, printable version of this recipe, sign-up here.

Rustic Penne & Shrimp Pasta in a Parmesan & Red Pepper Cream Sauce

an entertaining worthy make-ahead meal

New! Printable Recipes, here.

1 pound of penne pasta
2 tablespoons of sea salt
1/4 pound of pancetta, thickly sliced & diced into cubes
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 pound of shrimp, peeled
6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of rosemary
1/4 cup of roasted red peppers, sliced
1/4 cup of white wine
2 cups of cream
1 cup of parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon of cracked pepper
parmesan cheese
fresh thyme or rosemary
Add sea salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, brown the pancetta.
Cook for 4-5 minutes on medium high until brown, then add olive oil and shrimp.  Cook for 1 minute, then add garlic.  Turn down heat to a low simmer.

Deglaze the pan by pouring in the white wine and stirring to bring off the browning on the pan.  This will add great flavor to the sauce.

Add cream, red peppers and rosemary.  Simmer on medium low until the cream thickens slightly, about 5-6 minutes.  At this point, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente - undercooking just slightly it so when it continues to cook in the sauce and then bakes it will not be too done.  After sauce has simmered, remove it from the heat and add parmesan cheese.

When pasta is done, strain it from the water and add it to the pan without rinsing.  Toss together with the sauce and season with pepper.  Cook on a low simmer in the sauce for 2-3 minutes to help the pasta thicken the cream and absorb the flavor.

Ladle into individual oven-safe bowls.  Top with parmesan cheese.  Cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, if making ahead of time.
If you're ready to serve it immediately, place the bowls on a baking sheet and place them in the oven under the broiler on high for 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted.   Garnish with fresh rosemary or thyme.

If you've made it ahead of time, remove plastic wrap, place the bowls on a baking sheet and place them in the oven and bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes until bubbling.  To brown the top, turn on the broiler on high for 1-2 minutes until the cheese has browned.   Garnish with fresh rosemary or thyme.

For an emailed, printable version of this recipe, sign-up here.