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Help planning an alfredo dinner! (Green bean, veggie questions)

So for Valentine's Day, I'm planning on going all out (as much as a broke college student can) making a shrimp alfredo dinner for my boyfriend and I'd like a little bit of help planning. There will be a Caesar salad topped with Olive Garden dressing (can't help it- I love the stuff!), bread (either for dipping in an herbed olive oil dip or to mop up the alfredo sauce), sides (?), and dessert (likely something light).

Is it possible to cook the shrimp in the sauce without the sauce burning or becoming too thick? How would you do this? I was thinking of halfway cooking the shrimp in a little olive oil and garlic (it will most likely be frozen and this would help thaw it) and then pouring the sauce over it and simmering for at least 15 minutes to allow the sauce to take on some of the shrimp's flavor.

Also, I'm debating on sides. I'm not sure if I should even do sides and, if I do, what I should do. I'm thinking of either:
-Roasted or sauteed broccoli
-Roasted or sauteed zucchini
-Green beans
-Roasted or sauteed veggies (carrots, onions, broccoli, zucchini....?)

It's the last two I'm unsure of. If I did the veggies, I'm not sure what veggies to do- what would go good with alfredo (give me lots of suggestions- my boyfriend is not a huge fan of veggies so I'll have to pick and choose based on his tastes and mine)?

On the green beans, how to cook them? I'm honestly leaning towards canned because I prefer soft green beans and I'm not a huge fan of the taste. I thought about simmering them in a little bit of broth and garlic, but I've also thought about trying my hand at cooking frozen green beans. How/how long would I have to cook them to get them soft (not quite as soft as canned, but still soft) and mask some of the overwhelming veggie taste of them?

Finally, how many, if any, sides do you think I need? I'm thinking one, MAYBE two sides since there will be a salad course. Also, I'm open to other side suggestions; this was just all I could come up with considering mine and my boyfriend's tastes (mostly his, as he's picky; he wouldn't eat mushrooms, olives, most green veggies, etc, which eliminated a lot of options).

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  1. First of all it sounds like a great evening.

    I'd cook the shrimp separately either by gently poaching or -- like your idea -- in olive oil. I like poaching because Alfredo is heavy and I hate to add more oil.

    Regarding your sides... I honestly don't think you need any. A heavy pasta with protein, a good quality bread, an interesting salad. That's all you need. Pasta bread and salad is a go-to meal in our house.

    What I'd suggest instead of a side is a starter or dessert.

    At any rate, please don't resort to tinny mushy canned green beans. All it takes to make green beans softer is more cooking time. Have you ever tried green beans with onion and bacon?

    5 Replies
    1. re: C. Hamster

      Thanks for the suggestions. I'd intended on the salad being the started and have plans for dessert- strawberry cream pie or something similar.
      However, I'm weird and I actually like canned green beans, although they're not my favorite. I like fresh veggies, but green beans have a strong taste and are a little too crisp for me. But I love them cooked with bacon and onion (especially with a little bit of beef bouillon) but I'm not entirely sure how much I'd like the bacon with alfredo. How long would I need to cook them to get them fairly soft and to kind of mellow out the flavor a little?

      1. re: ForeverBirds

        It's hard to say how long to cook them... Just keep cooking them until they are done to your liking. Depends on the freshness of the beans and the tooth you desire. Just keep checking them by tasting.

        I threw the bacon idea out just because it came to mind but you're right probably not the best thing to go along with Alfredo. If you are really set on the beans, maybe cook in some chicken broth with a garlic clove to mask the taste.

        But I still think you don't need them. Alfredo is such a very rich dish that it screams out for a counterbalance -- texture and acid. That's what your salad brings to the table (so to speak) and why I like to eat them served together.

        But if that's not what you want to do (fine, of course) you might consider something at least a little acidic as a side you serve with the pasta.

        Since you are giving it do much thought I'm sure the dinner will be a big success!

        1. re: C. Hamster

          I'm not dead set on the green beans- I was just tossing around ideas in my head. The acid comment makes me think of maybe doing lemon roasted broccoli instead (and again, this is all just depending on if I do sides- still not completely decided. The salad will probably be enough).

          1. re: C. Hamster

            http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/13/din... presents a well cooked approach to green beans. There's a whole range of flavor possibilities in vegetables depending on how long they're cooked. You can play them like a harp.

          2. re: ForeverBirds

            I have a great recipe from the 60's using canned green beans, but they must be italian or romano beans.
            Fagiolini trifolati
            In a skillet heat a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter then lightly brown a heaping tablespoon of chopped parsley. Add a small clove of minced garlic and the drained beans and saute gently- the beans should get a little fried. Add salt and pepper to taste and a tablespoon of parmesan and serve.

        2. I totally agree with C. Hamster. There is no need for a side. I do have to say my husband likes the shrimp sauted but just in a non stick pan or a grill pan with just a pinch oil. He likes the flavor. I would defrost shrimp under running water put them on the side in some paper towell to dry. and when the pasta is ready salt and pepper them and saute them up. they only take 2 to 3 min on the first side and 1-2 on the second. Lay them on top decoratively. Then do a simple light dessert like gelato or sorbet with a crisp cookie. It will be fabulous. Have fun

          1. Do you like tomatoes? I've been cooking green beans with Roma tomatoes since seeing a similar recipe on the Cooking Channel show 'Extra Virgin':


            1 Reply
            1. re: SheilaGirl

              Tomatoes are one food I wish I liked but I never could quite do. It's the same with mushrooms and yogurt, actually. I wish I did like them because I've seen tons of recipes for tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar that look really good. It's weird- I like tomato based products but not actually tomatoes.

            2. How about an Italian style green bean salad - takes care of 2 sides at once. Lots of recipes, but here a basic one (you don't have to follow their recommendation for bean type)
              I prefer to start with a good quality frozen green bean than canned.

              Shrimp don't need, or benefit from long cooking. So it will be hard to infuse shrimp flavor into your sauce without over cooking the shrimp. The best way to get shrimp flavor into a sauce is to cook the shrimp shells in water for about 30 minutes, and use that broth as the base for the sauce. But I think that's more work than what you want. Shrimp are there more for a contrasting texture than a distinct taste.

              16 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                Alfredo sauce doesn't use broth ...

                You might be able to poach the shells in the milk or cream but that might discolor it and make it fishy.

                1. re: C. Hamster

                  If my dairy base was powdered milk or evaporated milk I could use the shrimp broth to make a creamy sauce. Another way to get shrimp flavor in a sauce is to use 'shrimp base' as the salt. However, I bet the OP is using a jar of 'alfredo sauce'.

                  Speaking of jarred Alfredo, I have bought, from Grocer Outlet, several jars of Alfredo sauce with poblano peppers. It's not something I normally buy, but the price was good, and I am a sucker for all things Poblano. Anyways, I found it makes a great 'Green bean casserole'.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Omg...that not true forever birds, is it? You aren't using jarred are you.

                    1. re: LaLa

                      Debating- jarred is cheaper (broke college kids, remember?), and easier when you're cooking other items. Plus, I actually like the jarred stuff- as long as it's Bertolli's. I've never actually attempted homemade, although I've had it, and it will mostly depend on how expensive decent-quality cheese is.

                      1. re: ForeverBirds

                        Since you seem to care a lot about this dinner I would strongly encourage you NOT to use jarred sauce. Real Alfredo sauce, which couldn't be simpler, isn't anything like jarred stuff.

                        You seem to be interested in cooking. So do it!! It's fun and rewarding .

                        1. re: C. Hamster

                          There's no such thing as 'Real Alfredo sauce'. There's a pasta dish that goes by the name of Alfredo, but that does not have a sauce. You just put a lot of butter and cheese on the pasta, not a sauce. No shrimp in it either, since a 'real' Italian doesn't mix cheese and seafood. But the OP didn't ask how to make an Alfredo sauce.

                          ForeverBirds, stick with the sauce that you know and love, and don't let us picky cooks spoil your fun.

                          1. re: paulj

                            Oh nonsense. Italy may not have an Alfredo sauce, but the United States does indeed have such a thing. Authentic Italian, no. A real thing, yes.

                            1. re: ChrisOfStumptown

                              How is the 'real American Alfredo sauce' different from the jarred stuff?

                              1. re: paulj

                                Homemade does not contain Water, Enzyme Modified Egg Yolks, Modified Corn Starch,Sugar, Whey Protein Concentrate , Xanthan Gum, High Maltose Corn Syrup Solids or Soybean Oil at least in the recipes I have seen.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  The home version of Alfredo is butter, cream, and cheese tossed with pasta. It's pretty good I think, and if someone likes it, they should enjoy it regardless of its pedigree. I understand your point that the original was butter and cheese.

                                  Jarred sauce will have thickeners and use less dairy. Cream, butter, and cheese are expensive.

                                  I agree with you about shrimp and cheese by the way. Not a great match.

                            2. re: C. Hamster

                              I may not be able to. I checked at my local store, but unfortunately I do my shopping on Sunday night so they're usually out of everything! And wouldn't you know it, they were out of almost every kind of cheese except blue and cheddar. Maybe I'll have better luck when I go back.

                              Of course, I highly doubt my boyfriend will care, considering he's the kind of guy who firmly believes Ramen counts as actual pasta and should be a staple at every meal XD

                            3. re: ForeverBirds

                              ForeverBirds---my mom made (and still makes) a killer alfredo from basic ingredients that was *NOT* overly complicated or expensive. Might be worth a try:

                              Boil a 1 lb. box of dried pasta in lots of salted water. Meanwhile, gently simmer (don't quite bring to a boil, but get quite warm) a couple cups of heavy cream. When the pasta is al dente, drain, return it to the pot with the burner on its lowest setting, and toss it with about 1/2-3/4 stick of cubed butter. Using a wooden spoon, begin stirring in handfuls of grated Pecornio Romano or Parmesan cheese (my mom always used the pre-grated stuff in the tub---someow it turned out great. I think she used the entire tub for that much pasta.) When the cheese starts melting, ladle in your hot cream and keep stirring. Season with lots of black pepper, a little salt, and some fresh chopped parsley.

                              Here's my suggestion: make a small test batch and see what you think. Note that this doesn't reheat well (the cheese sauce becomes kind of oily and separates), so on the big night, you'll want to make it right before serving.

                              Oh and by the way, there's a kind of interminable debate on these boards about whether alfredo contains cream. Traditionally, it did not. But it sure is tasty and gives the dish a nice texture!

                              1. re: ChristinaMason

                                The Kraft stuff for topping spaghetti with? I'm surprised- I read on one website to never, ever, use that stuff. But if that's an option maybe I will try it. (I already toss some into my jarred alfredo to thicken it and make it stretch a little further. Can't be much worse can it?).

                                1. re: ForeverBirds

                                  No, no, not the Kraft green can! Oh dear. This is in the refrigerator section, normally with other shredded cheeses, but it's sold in plastic tubs, not shakers:




                                  Please, please don't use any cheese from Kraft for this recipe. If you can't find the pre-grated cheese in tubs, a wedge of Romano or Parmesan and some elbow grease will also do :)

                                  1. re: ChristinaMason

                                    I have to agree that fresh Parmesan either pre-grated or a hunk that you grate at home is superior to the green can. I used the can for years because I thought it was more convenient and thought all the hype over the green can was unwarranted. However, a few months ago I found myself with a leftover hunk of Parmesan from a macaroni and cheese recipe and since then have been using it and the difference is quite noticeable and it's no less convenient than the green can. Although the green can is good for some things, like my grandmother's addicting garlic bread.

                      2. re: paulj

                        That actually looks like a pretty good idea- it seems fairly easy and uses ingredients I already have on hand. Thanks for the suggestion!

                      3. Roasted vegetables might be nice, but I agree in that you don't necessarily need a side dish. Also this post might be helpful to you http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8710....

                        1. It sounds like you have a nice night planned, and I'm sure your boyfriend will appreciate all the thought and effort you're putting into making sure it's a great meal.

                          A couple suggestions:

                          1) Make sure your shrimp are fully thawed before you start cooking. To get them to be a little more flavorful, you can drop the frozen ones into a bowl of cold salted water---this will help them thaw more quickly and plump them up a little bit, ensuring they have a nice firm texture. Once they're thawed, dry them off thoroughly with paper towels. When your pasta alfredo is done, melt 1 or 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat. While the skillet heats up, sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper on both sides and mince a clove of fresh garlic. Chop a few Tbsp. of fresh parsley and set aside. Have 1/3 c. white wine and a pinch of red pepper flake ready. Now, add your shrimp to the hot skillet and cook, without moving, for about 90 seconds.Using tongs or a fork, check one to see that the underside has turned pink and is starting to turn a little golden--you want them to get some color. Once confirmed, quickly flip all your shrimp. Cook 20-30 seconds more and dump them into a bowl. Lower the heat to medium and add another tsp. of butter to the pan. Stir in your crushed garlic, watching it carefully, until it just begins to turn golden. Pour in the white wine and scrape up the browned bits. Let the liquid cook down by about half, then return the shrimp to the pan, add the red pepper flake and parsley, taste for seasoning (add salt or pepper if needed), warm everything just through, and plate your shrimp or move to a serving dish. If you want, you can gently stir a tsp. or so more of cold butter into the pan, with the heat on low, to slightly thicken the sauce before you plate.

                          All this probably sounds more complicated than it is. The important thing is to start with fully thawed, dry, lightly seasoned shrimp, cook them just until they have a bit of color on both sides, then remove from the heat, make a quick pan sauce, and warm everything back up together. Shrimp cook VERY quickly, so infusing the pasta sauce with their flavor, as others have said, is not really possible with a long cooking time, unless you like shrimp rubber.

                          2) For sides, I think you should go with what you like. You seem to be leaning toward canned green beans, and you know you'll enjoy those. With everything else you're making, take the stress of more complicated sides off. I actually think bacon goes well with alfredo. You can lightly sautee a couple pieces of chopped bacon in a pot until the fat renders and add about 1/4 of a chopped onion and maybe a minced clove of garlic. Let those soften slightly, then add a can of green beans with some of their packing liquid, season with pepper, maybe a sprinkle of paprika or seasoned salt. I like to add a bay leaf for a little extra flavor.

                          3) For dessert, how about a creative twist on your strawberry cream pie idea? You can make a vanilla panna cotta, which is like a cream custard (it's kind of like eating solid whipped cream...so good). Then make a strawberry sauce by pureeing frozen strawberries with a few Tbsp. of sugar in the blender. You can add a Tbsp. of rum or amaretto if you have some. Here's a recipe for panna cotta--you can sub. a 1/2 tsp. or so of vanilla extract for the vanilla bean if needed (add it to the hot cream mixture at the end). http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mi...

                          The plus side with the panna cotta is if you can find a heart-shaped bowl or silicon baking mold, you can make a heart-shaped dessert for Valentine's Day. And it's very easy to make, but looks so elegant. Just be sure to make it at least 3 hrs. in advance so the gelatin has time to fully set up in the fridge.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: ChristinaMason

                            I love the suggestion on how to cook the shrimp, but I was wondering if there was an alternative to the white wine? I'm not 21, so it's not exactly easy or legal for me to get my hands on it.

                            1. re: ForeverBirds

                              Sure! You can use a little chicken broth instead. It will still taste good. You can trying adding a dash of white wine vinegar to the broth to give it a little bit more depth as well. And most grocery stores carry "cooking wine" that I doubt you would get carded for--although be careful, because these are often salt licks!

                              1. re: ChristinaMason

                                Dear God never ever use supermarket "cooking wine"

                                It's repulsive, sorry.

                                Unsalted chicken stock or water or water with a small amount of wine vinegar (only if it's at hand don't buy it) would work.

                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                  Yeah, it's not great. But it's about the only thing someone underage can even get their hands on easily. And it can do the trick, just don't drink it!

                                2. re: ChristinaMason

                                  Thanks- I read about using a mixture of white grape juice and vinegar and was kinda debating, but that was as a replacement in shrimp scampi. I think the broth flavor would meld together better with alfredo, personally. (Plus I could use leftover broth for the other sides if I have them!)

                            2. A word of advice when planning any menu.
                              Try to use Vegetables that are in season. They will be cheaper and of better quality that things being grown in far away places.
                              From your list the Broccoli is in season. Some other choices this time of year include: Brussels Sprouts, Chard, Kale, Brocolini, Broccoli Rabe, Spinach, and most Root Veg.
                              I would think one side is plenty.
                              As stated above a gentle saute of the Shrimp with some Garlic and Parsley separate and then put on top of the Pasta will ensure that they are cooked correctly and that your Alfredo Sauce does not over reduce or split.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: chefj

                                This is February. In 2/3 rds of the USA no vegetables are in season. Even the broccoli is imported from California or Mexico.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Growing areas of California and Mexico are much closer and of better quality than Central or South America which is where things like Asp., Green Beans, Zucc. and the like are mostly coming from in February.

                                  1. re: chefj

                                    We are actually getting excellent green beans from Mexico right now (up in western Canada). I am shocked at the quality and taste of them. We are gobbling them up in our household right now. Not sure what the availability in is in the OPs neck of the woods.

                                2. re: chefj

                                  I was going to see about getting my grandfather to give me some of his vegetables, if he has any. He usually cans most of them, but some of them he freezes and will pass along to the rest of the family if we need them. He's just feeding himself and usually can't eat all of the produce from his garden.

                                3. Try roasting green beans some time. They get pretty soft and have that great roasted taste (roasting brings out the best in just about any vegetable).

                                  1. I would definitely make a homemade Alfredo sauce (milk, butter, Parmesan...it's simple and inexpensive ). Sauté your shrimp separately with some garlic and olive oil, and then add on top at the last minute before serving. I've never heard of having shrimp with Alfredo sauce but I imagine it could be good.

                                    As for veggies, just do the salad and bread and that's it. Don't mess up your meal with canned green beans.

                                    1. ForeverBirds, whatever happened with your meal? Update us :)

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: ChristinaMason

                                        Kinda didn't go as planned, but was still enjoyable. I'd planned a candlelight dinner but ended up with a really bad head cold. So he showed up and surprised me with all the ingredients so I wouldn't have to go shopping and we cooked together and ended up eating in bed while watching a movie. We made a salad, shrimp alfredo, and a side of carrots and simmered green beans. With pie for dessert. I am slightly ashamed to say a lot of shortcuts were taken- bagged salad mix with croutons and cheese tossed in, canned alfredo sauce, etc, but I was sick so it was ok. It ended up being a really good night and a delicious dinner anyways.

                                        1. re: ForeverBirds

                                          Sounds amazing. Sometimes even if a well-thought out perfect plan seems ruined, it turns out for the best anyway! This reminds me of a Thanksgiving at college. Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday and I love visiting with family and spending all day cooking and then eating home-cooked tried-and-true lifelong favorites for days. But, one year my parents decided to fly away and I wasn't able to make it home. My boyfriend and I stayed at school and planned to go out for a nice dinner only to realize that in the smallish town that every restaurant was closed except for a Wawa. It was a night of hot dogs, soft pretzels and red wine with a Family Guy rerun marathon. It was fantastic. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed yourself and I'm sure your effort was much appreciated.

                                          1. re: ForeverBirds

                                            That sounds really romantic and a nice gesture on his part. Sounds like a winner to me. And now you have lots of good ideas from this thread for recipes to tackle individually when you're feeling better. :)

                                        2. Just a note: Canned green beans are neither better nor worse than fresh. Just different. And there are two main ways of cooking fresh beans: French and Southern. French is to blanch or steam, shock in cold water, drain, and sauté just before serving. Which gives the beans a crisp texture and, yes, a very vegetable-y taste. Southern is to braise the beans with liquid and pork, low and slow. Which gives the beans a porky flavor and a soft texture, similar to...canned!