As the holiday rush slows to a crawl and we find ourselves recuperating from the long haul of family, friend and work parties --there's still New Year's Eve, the final day of the Gregorian year, to celebrate. In western culture, this night involves food, loud noise and sometimes a vast consumption of drink concoctions. While throwing an elaborate party or sit-down dinner with all the trimmings sounded good in November, it's not always necessary.
By the end of December, we've feasted, nibbled and chomped our way through too much heavy food and something light sounds appealing. An appetizer party is ideal for a New Year's Eve celebration, because it involves less hands-on work in the kitchen and sends people home with just the right amount of gastronomique satisfaction.
Keep your appetizers simple and innovative, and people will talk about the food for weeks. A trick to "wow" food is using good-quality products and accent flavors such as fresh herbs, infused olive oils, citrus and rich spices. Instead of hunting down a six dollar container of fresh raspberries, which aren't in season, use produce that's seasonal because it will taste far better.
Here's a few ideas for a fabulous appetizer party: Try a cheese plate; place wedges of your favorite cheese attractively on a platter equipped with cheese knife. Include at least one blue cheese, goat cheese, semi-hard (such as a Comte or Jarlsburg Swis) and hard cheese. Costco offers a nice selection with affordable prices in large quantities perfect for entertaining. Rainbow Foods has an amazing selection of artisanal handcrafted cheeses. Arrange fun crackers such as flat cracker bread, rye crisps or whatever appeals to you in baskets.
Photo by Abby LaForce Fig jam, caramelized onion and blue cheese crostini is a savory and sweet holiday appetizer.
For a festive touch, try a dried fruit and nut platter: Arrange dried apricots and Medjool dates, dried cherries, figs, etc. and add raw and toasted nuts, such as almonds and pecans. For these items take advantage of grocery store's bulk sections and check out Costco's selection.
Instead of hand-forming dozens of cookies, try bar cookies. They are fast to prepare and make large quantities with little effort. For a quick fix: take a brownie mix, and stir in your favorite additions such as nuts, dried fruit or coconut. Garnish with a drizzling of chocolate ganache (8 oz. of chopped dark chocolate melted and mixed with 1-Cup of heavy cream).
When issuing party invitations, and people offer to bring something - don't be afraid to delegate an appetizer suggestion, such as a protein, vegetable, carbohydrate or dessert. It's common to discover at parties four bowls of guacamole and chips and one dessert.
Place appetizers on large, decorative platters and garnish with fresh herbs (food looks more appealing with a large backdrop); Alaskan & Proud and Fred Meyer sell a large bag of "bird-stuffing" herbs, filled with sage, thyme and rosemary at affordable cost.
A popular appetizer that is tasty and crunchy are crostini with flavorful toppings; they can be inexpensive, easy to make in large quantity and quick to assemble. Here are a few recipe combinations:
Yields about 32
1 baguette, sliced into 1/3-inch thick slices
Heat oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange baguette slices on baking sheets, and brush with olive oil; lightly sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown. Note: Don't stray from the kitchen, these bake quickly. Let cool, and place in Ziplock bags or airtight containers. These can be made up to 2 days ahead.
Fig Jam, Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Crostini
1 jar Fig Jam
2 medium sweet yellow onions, caramelized and cooled
Favorite Crumbled Blue Cheese
Fresh thyme leaves
Spread a small portion of fig jam on crostini base, place about 1 heaping teaspoon of caramelized onions on top of jam, top with a few crumbles of blue cheese and garnish with fresh thyme leaves. Proceed with remaining crostini. These can be made at least 3-4 hours a head of time; they are best the day of serving.
Note: The best fig jam is St. Dalfour's "Royal Fig" is available at Super Bear Supermarkets. The trick to caramelizing onions is medium-low heat and good olive oil; slowly cook the onions and season with salt and pepper--patience is the key.
Hoisen, Chile & Lime Pork Tenderloin
1 pork tenderloin (around 1 pound), roasted, cooled and thinly sliced
1 small jar of hoisen sauce
1 1/2 tsp. chile oil or sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 green onions, sliced and 2 tbs. coarsely chopped cilantro, mixed in a small bowl
Combine hoisen sauce, chile oil or sauce and lime juice in a small bowl. Arrange sliced pork tenderloin attractively on crostini, spoon a small dollop of hoisen mixture on top of pork, and garnish with a pinch of green onion and cilantro mix.
Note: This crostini is also great with leftover or deli-sliced roast beef. These can be made 3-4 hours ahead, and refrigerated before serving. Roast the pork the day before, for easy assembly the following day.
Yield: about 32 drinks
This drink is attractive, do-ahead and convenient for large parties
4 bottles Spanish red table wine
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup triple sec
2 cups fresh orange juice
2 cups pomegranate juice or lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar +2 tbs., or more to taste
4 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 Orange & 1 Lemon, sliced
1 Fuji apple, cored and sliced
Combine all ingredients together and stir to dissolve sugar, place in a sealed container or pitcher and refrigerate at least 24 hours before serving. To serve: pour in wine glasses, and garnish with additional orange and/or lemon slices.
White Chocolate Martini
Yield: 1 drink
1 ounce vanilla vodka
1/2 ounce white chocolate liqueur
White chocolate curls
Combine liqueurs, pour over ice in martini shaker, shake and strain drink into glass. Garish with white chocolate curls.
Abby LaForce is line cook and pastry chef at the Gold Room.