A festive, but easy, New Year's gathering

  • Article by: BETH DOOLEY , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2013 - 2:43 PM

By the end of the holiday season, even the cook is tired. But your end-of-year gatherings don’t have to be difficult to prepare.

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Endive and snow peas combine to make a great appetizer for the Thanksgiving meal. ORG XMIT: 1113863

 

On New Year’s Eve, I’m ready for a perfect low-key night at home by the fire with my family and friends. After all the wrapping and unwrapping, the elegant meals, the late nights, I’m itching to get “back to normal.” But I’m not quite ready to call it quits. What to do? Send out the word for a casual open house with no expectations. I want friends to drop by and stay if they’re able, or go on to other events. I keep things simple, whether it’s appetizers or good cheer.

The first step? Chill the Champagne. It is New Year’s Eve, right? Champagne goes with everything. It’s the perfect match to all the leftovers I’m repurposing from that festive ham, smoked turkey, olives and great cheese. There is nothing more satisfying than turning delicious odds and ends into fabulous party fare. These no-fuss selections can be assembled in 20 minutes or less and served at room temperature. They don’t require anything but a small plate and fork.

Given the loose parameters of the evening, it’s always hard to estimate how many folks will drop by and how much they will eat and drink. It never hurts to have backup crackers, cheese and fruit. Offer a balance of light finger foods as well as heartier selections for those who plan to settle in for the night.

Here are some guidelines to help calculate quantities. I’ve found that the easiest, low-key parties are the ones I enjoy the most. Here’s to the best of the year.

The numbers: Plan on variety, mixing rich options with lighter offerings. Some people will make a meal of this, others just nibble. For eight to 10 guests, figure that each person will eat about three pieces of four different appetizers. Round up or down, depending on the “guestimate.”

No mess: Avoid really messy foods or things that are difficult to eat with a fork.

Timing: Everything here can be made ahead. It’s your night to relax, too, so don’t get stuck in the kitchen.

Make some/ buy some: The salad bar is a great source of inspiration — pitted olives to stuff with chèvre; pickled sweet and hot peppers, to stuff with hummus; and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), ready to serve.

Quick options: There has to be something in this mix that interests you!

• Cheddar popcorn: Make real popcorn, toss it with melted butter and grated sharp Cheddar.

• Stuffed endive leaves: Fill endive leaves with sour cream and smoked salmon or trout, or herbed soft cheese, or chicken or egg salad.

• Stuffed medjool dates: Cut and pit the dates and fill each with a piece of manchego cheese or cream cheese with a toasted walnut.

• Pears, Parmesan and prosciutto: Wrap a small slice of prosciutto around a slice of pear and Parmesan.

• Old-fashioned rumaki: wrap canned drained water chestnuts with bacon, brush with a little maple syrup, secure with toothpicks and broil, turning once, until the bacon is cooked.

• Maple-glazed sausage: Cut bratwurst or Italian sausage links into 2-inch pieces and sauté in a skillet until cooked and no longer pink, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drizzle with just enough maple syrup to lightly coat and cook a minute longer to create a glaze. Serve on toothpicks. These can be made ahead and held in a low oven until ready to serve.

 

Beth Dooley is the author of “Minnesota’s Bounty.”

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