If you live long enough, you'll probably see it all. I've celebrated New Year's Eve in swanky restaurants as well as friends' cramped apartments. Some years in a noisy ballroom packed with strangers; other times at home in front of the fireplace, with one special person. My attire has run the gamut from sequins and stilettos to bathrobe and slippers. I have quaffed vintage champagne with no less glee than when I swilled cheap jug wine. (Okay, admittedly that year was a long time ago.) But the point is that each celebration ushered in a new year filled with new experiences; and each of these diverse memories is a good one. The only thing that never changed throughout the years is the abundance of delicious food---usually doled out in small portions. Be it corn chips or caviar, everyone loves to nibble on New Year's Eve.
No matter where you are-geographically or emotionally-it's the perfect night to revel in whichever way you choose; and no time to spend locked in a kitchen, crafting dozens of intricate little doodads destined to be consumed within minutes. Instead, keep labor to a minimum and whip up a flavor-packed assortment of dips and spreads. Paired with ingenious dippers and served with flair, this is creative entertaining without angst.
Whether these appetizers are the prelude to a fancy dinner or take center stage as the main event, guests control their own destiny by serving themselves. Even fussy eaters are more adventurous when given the option to taste only a dab of something new. Best of all, most dips and spreads---like the favorite recipes that follow---are easy enough for the host to throw together at the last minute. Shun those tubs of ersatz dip from the supermarket---the ones you see at every party--and opt for homemade. You'll get more bang for your buck; plus, you can refine the menu to suit your guests. Country pâté from the deli is delish; but a quickly made Wild Mushroom and Walnut Pâté will win kudos from vegetarians and carnivores alike.
When the budget is bountiful, a tin of Beluga caviar usually does the trick. But if your portfolio suffers growing pains, spread the wealth by folding golden whitefish caviar and chives into sour cream for an elegant 24-Carat Caviar Dip; then add an unexpected twist by serving spears of Belgian endive and thick-cut potato chips alongside for dipping.
Not a fan of the fish egg? Try a recipe that features another luxury ingredient suitable for this star-studded night. When made into a dip or spread, a few ounces of something pricey remains equally impressive to your guests, yet ends up feeding a small army. Few can resist the lure of creamy Crab Amandine Dip, Deviled Shrimp with Bacon, or Smoked Salmon Spread with Scotch Whisky…and no one will suspect you didn't blow your Christmas bonus to finance this party.
When it comes to no-fuss appetizers, a wheel of brie screams "extravagance" to guests but whispers "easy breezy" to the host. This month even some of the most unlikely grocery outlets carry wheels of this cheese in a variety of weights, to serve any size of group. Brie is naturally glamorous on its own, but if you are looking to gild the lily, I'm your gal. Consider slicing the wheel in half horizontally to make Brie with Pesto and Pine Nuts; or popping it into the oven briefly for Baked Brie with Cranberry Salsa.
No doubt some waif in spandex will have already begun a diet, so you'd best have a colorful display of crisp veggies on hand for nibbling. For the rest of us, include a bowl of something yummy to go along with them-perhaps Chunky Blue Cheese Dip, Hummus with Smoked Paprika, or Warm Artichoke Dip with Scallions and Jalapeño.
Round out the menu with something sweet, like luscious Chocolate Velvet Dip, surrounded with dried apricots, plain butter cookies, pretzels, cubes of pound cake, and perhaps even a few candy canes for dipping. The next day begins a new year, when there will be plenty of time to eat sensible grown-up meals.
Two-Olive Tapenade with Capers
From Great Party Dips by Peggy Fallon, Wiley 2008.
Many commercial tapenades are processed into a smooth paste, which can muddy the bright olive flavor that should permeate this condiment. To ensure proper texture, forego the food processor and chop the olives by hand with a large sharp knife; it only takes a few minutes. This tapenade is especially nice spooned over a small log of goat cheese, to spread on Crostini or crackers.
Makes about 1 cup; serves 4 to 6
- 2 flat anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, drained
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 cup drained picholine or other meaty green olives, pitted and finely chopped
- 1/2 cup drained pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons drained capers, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 1 teaspoon orange juice
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- Freshly ground black Pepper
1. In a small bowl, combine the anchovies and garlic. Mash to a coarse paste with a fork. Add the picholine olives, kalamata olives, olive oil, capers, orange zest, orange juice, and thyme. Stir to mix well. Season with pepper to taste.
2. Transfer to a small crock or bowl and serve at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Goat Cheese Marinara with Shredded Basil
From Great Party Dips by Peggy Fallon, Wiley 2008.
Serves 4 to 6
Three simple ingredients yield triple the flavor you'd expect in this simple spread. Serve with baguette slices, crackers, Rosemary Focaccia (page 120), or Crostini (page 119).
- 1 small log (5 ounces) of soft white goat cheese (chèvre)
- 1 cup marinara sauce
- 4 large basil leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Disclosure: Samples of products discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or manufacturers.
2. Cut the goat cheese into rounds about 1/2 inch thick. Arrange the slices in a single layer in a 2-cup gratin or other small baking dish. Spoon the marinara sauce over the cheese.
3. Bake until the sauce is bubbly hot and the cheese has softened but still holds its shape, 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Stack the basil leaves on top of each other and roll lengthwise into a tight cylinder. Cut crosswise into thin slices. Scatter the basil over the hot marinara sauce and serve at once.
Peggy Fallon is the author of 8 cookbooks, including Great Party Dips and Great Party Fondues, both published by Wiley & Sons in 2008. She is also a regular contributor to Project Foodie. All of the recipes mentioned in this article appear in Great Party Dips.