27 Dec

Art of Entertaining: The Perfect New Year’s Eve Party

The perfect New Year’s Eve is different for different people.  Some like to seek out the city’s best parties. Others like to stay at home and host their own celebration, while others prefer a relaxing evening with family or friends.  Either way, New Year’s Eve is the chance to reflect on the year that has passed and imagine what the year ahead will bring.

Whatever your ideal, the food and drink should match the spirit of the day. I like to celebrate at home, and my favorite way to host a New Year’s Eve get-together is with lots of little bite-sized items.  With the big, formal Thanksgiving and holiday dinners behind us, New Year’s always – at least in my mind – begs for an easygoing, casual and fun approach. Something that doesn’t require everyone to sit at the table, and guests can feel free to come late or leave early, nibbling all the while.

Whether you call it tapas, hors d’oeuvres, snacks or little bites, the approach is the same: a variety of items you and your guests can nibble on throughout the evening whether at the kitchen counter or chatting in the living room. I love small, bite-sized, finger or fork-only items that, at best, need a cocktail plate or napkin to eat.

Here a few of my menu suggestions when hosting your own New Year’s Eve party:
CHEESE: You can never go wrong with cheese. Pick up a variety or three or four, blending different types (cow, goat, sheep) and textures (soft, semi-firm, hard). Or pick your family favorites – entertaining should always be about sharing what it is you love and enjoy. Go beyond crackers only and add some flatbread, toasts or artisanal baguettes (my favorite baker is Brotgarten Breads, available at the Perk Up Café in Broad Ripple.

VEGGIES: We’re not talking about carrot sticks or celery sticks here. It is winter now, so put a little warmth into your vegetable platter and roast your veggies. Toss asparagus spears, sliced red peppers, Brussels sprout halves, cippolini onions and sliced baby squash in olive oil and top with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper. Slide under the broiler for a few minutes, just until tender, and serve with a nice drizzle of balsamic vinegar. This will give you a huge amount of guilt-free goodness without a lot of effort!

LITTLE SANDWICHES: This one is a little indulgent, but well worth the time and money if you want to impress. Start with whole beef tenderloin. Rub it with oil, salt/pepper and your seasoning of choice. I love a little smoked Spanish paprika. Since I’m crazy about the grill, even in the winter I will bundle-up, take it to the grill just to sear and get some grill marks and flavor — not to cook it.   The nice thing about this is it can be done a day or two before and then back in the fridge until New Year’s Eve. The night of, rub it with a little olive oil, crushed garlic and fresh herbs (I like rosemary, thyme and a little parsley) and pop it in a 475-degree oven until the temperature reaches just under 140 degrees. This should take about 20 minutes for four pounds. Remove from oven, let rest for 10 minutes and place on platter with garnish. Keep it simple for yourself, and let guests carve their own beef to make little sandwiches. Here again bread matters, so choose great quality soft rolls. Also, condiments will really make the sandwich sing, so don’t miss this opportunity. Kahn’s makes a great bacon mayonnaise that I absolutely love. How can you go wrong with bacon and mayonnaise?  Try creating your own version or blend roasted garlic, or sundried tomatoes, or fresh rosemary (or whatever your imagination offers) into a high quality or homemade mayonnaise. For the traditionalist, you can offer sliced tomato, lettuce and onion as accompaniments.

DIPS: I share most people’s guilty pleasure for crunchy things. Our gourmet store Vine & Table offers some fabulous signature dips, so quite often I make a trip into Carmel just for their Queso Dip, Spinach Dip, or Artichoke Parmesan Dip. I’m a pita chip person, but flat breads, crackers, chips or toast will work beautifully with these dips.

FAMILY RECIPE: Have a specialty of your own? Make it! Guarantee if your guests are aware of your specialty, they will be looking forward to having it.

PASTA: Pasta makes a great small plate. It is a satisfying dish, but, it doesn’t have to be overly filling. I always pick pasta shapes that are easy to eat, so no Fettucini, or angel hair. I love cream sauces as they can be the framework to so many flavors, and happily if a guest has a mishap, cream sauces are less likely to stain than tomato sauces!

SOMETHING SWEET: I love pastries. In fact, if I could do nothing more I would have pastries and champagne. My favorites are those with chocolate. Our chefs prepare two pastries I can’t get enough of: mini Opera tortes (genoise cake, marzipan, mocha buttercream, chocolate gananche) and macaroons. I would seriously suggest picking up a few dozen. Or, you can make your own mini-cupcakes, filling them with a variety of fun flavors. I tend not to bake much, so my favorite go-to bakery in the area is Confectionieress in Zionsville. If you are looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, go see Mica and Victor.

SOMETHING TO DRINK: For me, it is a martini for the night. The trick of the trade when you have a lot of guests is to keep it simple by making a large batch in advance. I like to prepare my non-alcoholic ingredients in a glass pitcher and my garnishes ready in a bowl. That way, I can pour the prepared recipe into a shaker with the ice and then simply add vodka, shake, garnish and serve. Now, of course… something bubbly is a requirement to ring in the New Year!

Whatever your ideal New Year’ Eve, I hope you enjoy it tremendously with your favorite friends, family and food; and wish your 2014 to be rich with happiness.

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