Whereas the big family gatherings of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas called for elaborate sit-down dinners, we loosen the rules for New Year's Eve. Stand up and mingle. Eat with your fingers. Run with sparklers, outdoors of course.
A New Year's Eve party menu of finger foods is a festive antidote to all the fancy meals that have gone before. Out with the old, in more ways than one, eh?
This year, ring in 2014 with an array of toppings for crackers, crostini and crispy bagel and pita chips. Grocery aisles are full of possibilities for the bases of your flavor towers, which can include offerings for meat eaters and vegetarians.
Read labels carefully when buying your bases because many are flavored with everything from sun-dried tomatoes to pesto to garlic. That's fine if those flavors pair well with your toppings, but they can easily overpower more delicate ingredients. It's better to go with a plain base and let the goat cheese do the talking.
You can approach your two-bite canapes a couple of ways. If you're making a sauteed mushroom and herb topping, arrange it in a bowl surrounded by pita chips or some such, and provide a spoon for guests to prepare their own bite. This works well for tapenade, too. Most of these toppings can be made in advance and warmed, if need be, just before serving.
For toppings such as roast beef with blue cheese or sliced pears, fig jam and sharp white cheddar cheese, prepare them and serve on a tray. Don't make too many at a time, or they can get soggy.
The last party of the year should be the best, don't you think? Turn to Page 6E for 10 tasty ways to make that happen, and a recipe for homemade crostini should you be that ambitious.
Toppings times 10
The following toppings can be used for pita and bagel chips, crostini or any other crusty base you come across in the grocery store. Be wary of flavored chips because the taste can clash with toppings. Keep the base simple and let the toppings do the talking.
1Saute button mushrooms in olive oil with chopped fresh thyme; spoon over a generous round of goat cheese.
2Smear crostini with fig jam and top with a slice of sharp white cheddar and thinly sliced ripe fresh pears. The juicier the fruit, the better. A drizzle of honey can stand in for jam.
3Layer a thin cucumber slice and smoked salmon on a crispy base or even a slice of cocktail bread. Dollop with sour cream and chopped fresh chives.
4A generous smear of cream cheese topped with hot pepper jelly on a multigrain cracker is a spicy mouthful.
5Mix blue cheese with sour cream and smear on a crostini, then top with a rolled slice of roast beef.
6Chicken and waffles are all the rage these days, and you can make a bite-sized version starting with mini frozen waffles. Toast the waffles and top with a warm chicken nugget and drizzle of syrup. These are best eaten as soon as they are made.
7A small spoonful of prepared pesto is topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on a crusty baguette slice.
8White beans and capers are a classic combination and as a topper quite flavorful. Drain and rinse a can of cannellini or great northern beans and smash them slightly. Add minced red onions, rinsed capers, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of white-wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Use a sturdy base for this heavy topping.
9Tarragon shrimp salad, made with tiny cooked salad shrimp, mayonnaise, minced celery and chopped tarragon, is delicious with plain pita chips.
10If you want to make avocado-bacon spread for New Year's Eve, buy your avocados today to ensure they are ripe by party time. To make the topping, spread the base of your choice with mashed avocado and top with crumbled bacon. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.