Holiday time and the sipping is easy. As for the food—I have four words to help you take your New Year's Eve bash over the top: fire up the grill. Yeah, it's cold out there—especially if you live up north, but live fire and wood smoke add high drama and depth of flavor you just can't achieve on the stove or in the oven.
So what makes a great holiday hors d'oeuvre spread? Three words: snap, crackle, and salt. Appetizers should be small enough to snap up with your fingers and salty enough to drive you to drink. The appetizers offer a contrast of textures, the most important texture being crunch. (I'm thinking crisp bacon exterior with gooey cheese center.) The short list of world-class starters includes poppers and chicken wings, dips and chips, mini sandwiches and sates.
Here are 7 indispensible tips to help you take your New Year's Eve cocktail party over the top.
1. Variety matters and so does abundance: If hors d'oeuvres are the only food served at your party, figure on 6 to 8 pieces per person. Serve at least 3 to 5 different items—the more the better. Your reputation as a savvy host and accomplished grill master is directly proportional to the elaborateness of your menu.
I always like to put the word "easy" before the word "entertaining," because I think entertaining should be easy, fuss-free, and uncomplicated, especially for the host or hostess. Making foods that are easy to put together, simple in their essence, and even easier to clean up are the key when entertaining on easy street. That the holidays are still in full swing and New Year's is just around the corner means that there is still time to flex your easy entertaining muscles. Any recipe that can go under the broiler and be done in minutes is my kind of easy. This shrimp hors d'ouevre is just that.
We all are familiar with the old-school appetizers of bacon-wrapped chicken livers, scallops, or dates. Well, there's also bacon-wrapped shrimp. Basically anything wrapped in bacon tastes good, right? These shrimp are jacketed in strips of flavorful applewood-smoked bacon. A dusting of hot paprika also adds to the smoky flavor of the finished bar bite. Clean-up is also made simpler since the pan is lined with foil. These hors d'ouevre are great for parties, especially on New Year's eve. They pair well with a variety of cocktails or a simple glass of bubbly. Now wasn't that entertaining made easy?
If you are not serving Prime Rib for New Year's Eve, but still want to be a little bit fancy, this Pepper Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Savory Mustard Sauce is the perfect choice. It's reminiscent of crusting our rib roasts and encasing them in salt, pepper or spices, except it's a lot lower in calories.
It's also perfect if you have already started your New Year's resolution to better health and fitness. However, I will admit the mustard sauce is not low in calorie. But, you can easily control the amount of drizzle to enjoy on your portion. Don't skip this wonderful sauce. I also used my trusty meat thermometer to cook the tenderloin. It's hard to imagine making pork tenderloin without it. It's so easy to overcook.
I used a medley of peppercorns to make my crust. Does using a variety of colors make a difference? Absolutely! All colors offer a slight variation in flavor and heat and are easily ground in your spice mill.
We haven't cracked the champagne but the table is set and we are ready to celebrate! 2012 was such a great year and it deserves a celebration in style. I have to admit I enjoy a New Year's Eve filled with pomp and circumstance. My kids are finally old enough where I can get back to the New Year's Eve parties we enjoyed so many years ago.
When the boys were little, we celebrated New Year's Eve "East Coast Time". We'd watch the ball drop at 9 PM here, blow some horns and off to bed they went. My husband and I would vow to stay up and crack the bubbly at midnight, but when you have little ones, you are just tired. We would usually fall asleep on the couch and wake up at about 1:30 AM...New Year's long gone.
One of the best New Year's Eve celebrations we've had was when we were in the Carribean on a cruise during the New Year's holiday. What a party. Everyone was dressed formal, the champagne was flowing freely, bands were playing on every deck, club and bar and dinner was formal and amazing. There was no worry about driving or getting home. We had a babysitter on the ship and my kids were fast asleep while we enjoyed the night. I highly recommend taking a cruise during this time, it was lovely. And warm.
New Year's eve has got to be the most over-rated holiday of the year. I'm all about celebrating any holiday, even the ones I have never heard of but I always dread New Year's eve. Something about being forced to stay up late, wearing a sparkly, tacky hat and tooting a horn, trying to be cheerful and chatty when I am actually dog tired from the Christmas holidays. Otherwise the option is to stay home and feel depressed that everyone else is out having a good time except for me.
I discovered several years ago that the answer to all of my New Year's eve trauma was to go to work. Since I work for a major airline and the 'Senior Mamas" (our semi-affectionate term for the stews who have been flying for 35+ years) don't want to work on any holiday, I can pretty much pick up any trip I want. I debated on a 5 day trip to Prague or Stockholm but decided it was too cold. I looked at long layovers in Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires but decided I wasn't in the mood to always be looking over my shoulder. Bingo, 50 hours in Honolulu popped up on my computer and I took it immediately.
Wanna save about $100, $200 or maybe more? Stay home for New Year's eve. And Valentine's day. This also works for birthdays and anniversaries. I'm not suggesting you be a party pooper, just that you do your celebrating at home. Turn what could be loud and boisterous into intimate and romantic with a meal just for two, or four if you prefer a little more company.
This isn't about a big multi-course extravaganza, in fact I suggest the opposite. Something simple, yet elegant and a bit of a splurge since you're not going out. One great menu is a seafood platter, mostly raw oysters, clams, poached shrimp, cracked crab, or if you can't handle that some takeaway sushi served with champagne will do nicely. The other idea is fondue. Don't laugh, it's really good! Make it two course and have cheese fondue followed by chocolate fondue.
The secret to fondue is to thicken the wine first, heating it gently after adding a slurry of cornstarch and kirsch or water, THEN add the cheese. Use whichever recipe suits your fancy (there are plenty on the internet) but if you use this technique you can't go wrong. Because fondue gone wrong is not pretty. I like to go light on the bread cubes and serve boiled mini Yukon gold potatoes, baby boiled white onions, and asparagus spears, but do whatever you like. For those on the Atkins diet, sausage chunks would be delicious, I'm sure.
I'm not a big drinker, but I do love an occasional vodkatini, the Cosmopolitan being the prototype. A vodkatini is a cocktail made with vodka served "up" (without ice). It often includes vermouth, liquers, fruit juices, and fresh fruit.
Since it's peak blood orange season here in California, I was inspired to create my own cocktail, which I have named a "Blood Orange Vodkatini." The name "Blood Orange Vodkatini" may be more cosmopolitan than a Cosmopolitan.
Blood oranges are stunning. Peel back their orange and red speckled rind, and you'll discover a brilliant crimson flesh that is pleasingly sweet and tart. In this Blood Orange Vodkatini, the tangy blood orange juice is balanced by the sweeter Grand Marnier, creating a bright, smooth, and refreshing cocktail.
I was ecstatic to be reminded of an old tradition by Martha Stewart in her magazine this month.
I remember doing this on New Year's Eve with some foreign friends many, many years ago and everyone had a lot of fun partaking in the simple ritual.
According to Martha, it's a Spanish tradition (my friends were French) to quickly eat a dozen grapes at midnight.
The fruit being a predictor of the year ahead: Each sweet grape representing a good month, each sour grape a less-than-lucky one.
So join the fun, thread a bunch of grapes onto skewers and serve each in a glass of Champagne right before the countdown.
This is great because children and non-drinkers can also participate. Just put the skewer in Sparkling Apple Cider or whatever beverage you are serving for the toast.
“Eat poor that day, eat rich the rest of the year… Rice for riches and peas for peace.” – Old Southern saying for New Year’s Menu
Collard greens, black eyed peas, cornbread and pork are the foodstuffs of the South, rich in legend, lore, and superstition. Money or not, every Southern family I know dines on these same vittles for their New Year’s supper. Not too poor of eating if I say so myself.
According to this Farmer, the New Year’s Day menu is a Southern supper at its finest. Steeped in tradition, flavored with history, and doused with a touch of superstition, this meal encompasses the South’s ebb and flow of classicism and eccentricity–a meal of our heritage. Here in America’s Deep South, the cultures of Europe, Africa and the Native Americans combine with their respected refinements and sentimentalities making this meal fit to usher in a new year.
Growing up in rural Middle Georgia, we knew our food’s legacy before it arrived on our tables. This Farm to Table movement of late has always been the custom for those of us raised in a more bucolic fashion. We know our farmers and growers. In his blessings before a meal, my brother-in-law’s father always gives thanks for “not only the hands that prepared the food but grew it as well...” whereas our New Year’s meal is of no exception.
Here we go again.
This is where Magical Thinking meets Enlightened Acceptance.
Here are some examples of Magical Thinking:
1.) I’m going to lose 15 lbs. this year.
2.) I’m going to eat right this year (less sweets and fat).
3.) I’m going to walk the dogs more often.
4.) I’m going to read more rather than play Jewel Quest on the computer.
5.) I’m going to re-do the garage/kid’s room/my office, without spending any money.
6.) I’m finally going to read that material about learning to do books on tape for extra money.
7.) I’m going to plan meals more so that everyone in the house isn’t grazing the whole day, including me.