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On New Year's Eve, count down to 2011 with these 10 appetizers, drinks

With the bustle of Christmas behind us, we look toward the super-shiny clean slate of the new year.

But wait. Before the resolutions kick in (and the guilt that comes when we've broken them by the end of January), there's one more celebration. Actually two, if you count New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, both of which call for friends and family to gather for auld lang syne and all that stuff (i.e., football). We hope the former doesn't cause the latter to be marked with a Vise-Grip headache, the product of too much revelry.

Since we're in the mood for counting, or rather counting down, the following list of bites and sips should put you in the out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new-year mood. We start and end with a festive drink, and in between, give suggestions for appetizers and one chunky chowder for a New Year's meal.

Join us in raising a glass — and a fork — to 2010 and 2011. Hurry, the ball is starting to drop.

10. Champagne Cosmo

A festive sparkler gets the party started.

9. Cajun Pecans

End the year on a spicy note with simple-to-make and easier-to-eat nibbles.

8. Beer Dip

I am not kidding, I've made six batches of this dip since the beginning of December. It's starting to become a staple. Everyone loves Beer Dip, and it's especially fitting for a football game potluck.

7. Cheesy Spinach Balls

These bite-sized hors d'oeuvres can be made ahead and then heated for the party. In addition to the cheese and spinach, they also include sausage — and you can use pork or turkey. Or substitute crabmeat. Lots of options here, all delicious.

6. Italian Cheese Plate

Put out a platter of Italian cheeses for noshing. Cheese is always at its best flavor-wise when it's room temperature, so make sure to set it out 30 minutes before guests arrive. For your Italian repast, consider Gorgonzola for the bite, Taleggio for its fruity tang, fontina for its friendliness and a big hunk of Parmesan for the salt. There may be more interesting Italian cheeses at local specialty markets. Ask for help. Also include assorted Italian olives and fresh baguette slices. A scattering of dried fruit and some hazelnuts would be delicious, too.

5. Seafood Chowder

Hearty Seafood Chowder is a luxurious way to toast the new year. Offer it as part of a New Year's Eve gathering or a casual New Year's Day gathering. The recipe calls for 2 to 3 pounds of mixed seafood, and we'll opt for shrimp, scallops and some sturdy grouper. Serve it with a big Caesar salad and sourdough bread.

4. Marinated Feta and Olive Skewers

Easy to make and eat, these bite-sized appetizers look pretty on a platter. They can be made hours ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. It's almost like a Greek salad on a stick, minus the lettuce.

3. Mini Savory Clafoutis

A clafouti is a crustless quiche, and these mini versions will pop in the mouth quite nicely, alternating with a sip of champagne. You'll need a mini muffin pan to make them, and some imagination won't hurt either. Use Gruyere, fontina, goat cheese or smoked Gouda. Crumble in chopped cooked shrimp, cooked bacon bits, sauteed mushrooms or diced bell peppers.

2. Nutty Chocolate Shortbread Wedges

Close out 2010 with something sweet besides that midnight kiss from your special someone. Nutty Chocolate Shortbread Wedges can go from your house to theirs just as easy as from the kitchen to the table. If it's a big crowd, make two batches, though we don't recommend simply doubling the recipe. That sometimes leads to problems in baking, and we don't want to end the year on a disappointing note.

1. Champagne toast

Champagne from France is always welcome, but California sparklers work just as well and can cost far less. Consider wineries like Domaine Chandon, the Napa Valley arm of the famed Champagne house of Moet & Chandon. There's a nice oomph thanks to the blend of pinot noir and pinot meunier in this non-vintage Chandon Blanc de Noirs. Plan to spend about $22 a bottle.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586. Information from the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and Los Angeles Daily News was included in this report.

Party tips

The following tips about party food will help you host a successful get-together:

• Offer variety: some items hot, some cold. Include something with meat, poultry, seafood and cheese, as well as something vegetarian and gluten-free. Six pieces per person per hour is a safe formula to use.

• Offer one or two miniature sweet items, either on the buffet or passed toward the end of the party.

• Passed hors d'oeuvres must be one-biters. Use a quarter as a benchmark for size.

• Have some anchor items on a buffet that don't require a lot of replenishing, such as crudites, a cheese and fruit display and fish or whole meats, such as a tenderloin, a side of poached or smoked salmon, a smoked turkey or ham.

• Include in your food offerings items you have purchased from outside sources. Caterers sell hors d'oeuvres by the dozen that you can pick up and reheat.

Washington Post


Cheesy Spinach Balls

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

2 cups cubed herbed stuffing mix, preferably Pepperidge Farm

1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup regular or low-fat mayonnaise (do not use nonfat)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 cup pecorino cheese

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or chipotle powder

Optional: 8 ounces mild Italian sausage (pork or turkey), cooked and drained, then crumbled (may substitute 8 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over to remove any cartilage or shells)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have a few rimmed baking sheets at hand.

Combine the spinach, stuffing mix, onion, eggs, butter, mayonnaise, cheeses, garlic powder, salt, cayenne pepper or chipotle powder and the sausage, if using, in a large bowl; mix well. Arrange 48 to 52 rounded tablespoonfuls an inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes (or 15 to 20 minutes, if frozen), until the spinach is lightly browned. Serve warm.

Makes about 52.

Make ahead: The balls can be assembled 1 day in advance or even baked and reheated (in a moderate oven until warmed through, about 5 minutes, or in a microwave oven on high for 10 to 20 seconds).

Source: Washington Post


Seafood Chowder

1 pound boiling potatoes

2 slices bacon, cut into

¼-inch pieces

2 cups diced celery, cut into ½-inch dice (½ pound)

1 ½ cups onion, cut into

½-inch dice (½ pound)

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup flour

1 ½ teaspoons chopped garlic

¾ teaspoon dried sage

1 ½ teaspoons dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried thyme

4 cups seafood broth (or chicken broth)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 quart half-and-half

¼ cup finely diced tomatoes

¼ cup diced scallions

2 to 3 pounds chopped fresh seafood, such as a combination of scallops, peeled shrimp and a firm fish such as grouper or salmon

Cook the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring the water to a simmer, and gently cook until the potatoes are tender, but not too soft, about 20 minutes depending on the size (a knife should pierce the potato fairly easily). Drain the potatoes and set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel and cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottom pot, saute the bacon over medium-high heat until it renders its fat and becomes crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Strain the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan.

To the pot, add the celery and onion and cook in the fat until the onion is translucent and the celery is softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the butter and melt over medium heat. When the butter is melted, whisk in the flour to form a blond roux. Stir in the garlic, sage, parsley and thyme. While stirring, slowly pour in the seafood broth. Stir in the potatoes and bacon. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Taste and season as desired with salt and pepper.

Decrease the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes to develop the flavors. After 20 minutes, stir in the half-and-half, tomatoes, scallions and seafood. Simmer gently until the seafood is cooked through. Taste again and adjust seasoning as desired. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

This makes about 4 quarts of chowder. Serves 8 to 16.

Source: Adapted from Annabelle's Keg and Chowder House in Ketchikan, Alaska


Marinated Feta and Olive Skewers

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

2 teaspoons orange zest

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces feta cheese, cut into 24 (1/2-inch) cubes

24 (6-inch) wooden skewers

24 fresh mint leaves

12 pitted green olives, halved

1/4 large English cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

Combine fennel seeds, orange zest and juice, and pepper. Gently stir in the feta; marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or at least 3 hours in the refrigerator. (Can marinate overnight to save time.)

To assemble: Place 1 mint leaf on a skewer, about 3/4 inch up; add 1 olive half and 1 cucumber chunk. Place 1 cube of feta on the end. These can be made several hours in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Makes 24 skewers.

Source: Fine Cooking


Mini Savory Clafoutis

Butter or oil for the mini muffin tins

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 1/4 cups whole milk

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch cayenne pepper

Grated or crumbled cheese (about 1/2 cup total) such as Gruyere, Parmesan, fontina, goat cheese or smoked Gouda

3/4 cup crumbled cooked bacon, chopped sauteed mushrooms or chopped black or green olives

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, chives, dill or flat-leaf parsley

Position a rack in the top third of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter or oil mini muffin tins.

Put the cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl. Whisking steadily, slowly pour in 1/2 cup of the milk, mixing until quite smooth. Whisk in the whole eggs and egg yolks, mixing again until smooth, and then gradually whisk in the rest of the milk, the cream, salt and cayenne.

Put 1/2 teaspoon of the grated or crumbled cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of bacon, sauteed mushrooms or olives plus a pinch of fresh herbs into each muffin cup. Add 2 tablespoons of the batter and bake until the clafoutis puff and start to turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes and then carefully run a paring knife or offset spatula around the rim of each muffin cup. Carefully lift each clafouti out of its cup and serve.

Makes 48.

Source: Fine Cooking


Nutty Chocolate Shortbread Wedges

For the shortbread:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature; more for the pan

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1 large egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

For the glaze:

A generous 1/2 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into two pieces

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted and cooled, or chopped pistachios

Make the shortbread: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

In a medium bowl, combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Scrape the bowl. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating on medium until just combined. Add the flour and mix on low speed, scraping the bowl as needed, until the dough begins to clump together, about 1 minute. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan, scattering the pieces of dough evenly. Using your fingertips (lightly floured, if necessary), pat the dough onto the bottom (not up the sides) of the prepared pan to create an even layer. Bake until the top no longer looks wet and the dough just barely begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes.

Shortly before the shortbread is done, make the glaze: Melt the chocolate and butter on the stove or in a microwave. Stir until smooth. When the shortbread is done, transfer the pan to a rack. Pour the warm glaze over the shortbread and, using an offset spatula, spread the glaze evenly to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Scatter the nuts evenly over the glaze and gently press them in. Let cool completely until the glaze is set. Remove the shortbread from the tart pan and cut into 12 or 16 wedges. Serve at room temperature.

Source: Fine Cooking


Champagne Cosmo

1 1/2 cups cranberry juice

1/2 cup Grand Marnier

3 tablespoons lime juice

Lime zest for garnish

2 bottles (750 ml) brut sparkling wine or Champagne, chilled

Combine cranberry juice, Grand Marnier and lime juice in a small pitcher and mix well.

Cut 8 thin strips of zest (about 1/4 inch wide by 3 inches long) from two limes and drop them into 8 flutes.

Divide the cranberry mixture equally among the flutes and top with chilled sparkling wine.

Source: Fine Cooking


Cajun Pecans

2 cups pecan halves

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons coarse salt

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

¾ teaspoon paprika

¾ teaspoon garlic powder

½ to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

Lightly toast pecan halves, stirring once, on a baking sheet at 350 degrees, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven; reduce oven to 325 degrees. Let pecans cool.

Put them in a large bowl with Worcestershire sauce, coarse salt, ground cumin, paprika, garlic powder and ½ to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce. Toss to coat.

Return to baking sheet and spread into single layer. Bake 15 minutes. Loosen nuts with spatula; let cool.

Makes 2 cups.

Source: Party Nuts! by Sally Sampson


Beer Dip

2 (8-ounce) packages of softened cream cheese

1 (7-ounce) bag of shredded cheddar cheese

1 packet powdered ranch dressing mix

6 ounces of beer

In a medium-sized bowl, mix all ingredients. Blend well with a beater and chill for at least 1 hour.

Serve with sturdy pretzel rods.

Note: I sometimes use the Mexican cheese blend instead of cheddar and use Rolling Rock for the beer.

Source: Janet K. Keeler,

Times food editor

On New Year's Eve, count down to 2011 with these 10 appetizers, drinks 12/28/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 6:54am]
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