We are of two minds when it comes to New Year’s Eve: We either want to be dressed to the nines at a fabulous ballroom-esque gala, or gathered with friends in a casual setting at home. This year we’re opting for the latter, so we’ve put together a menu perfect for a casually elegant night in. For further tips, we’ve crafted test kitchen dossiers on both Cocktails and Hors d’Oeuvres for this month, so take all the notes you need to. Don’t forget that the rest of our Entertaining section has further tips on decor and the trimmings. Now get that celebration started, and say adieu to another year!
Cocktails, finger foods and dessert. Is there any better way to ring in the New Year?
LIGHT HORS D’OEUVRES (2 to 3 servings per person)
HEAVY HORS D’OEUVRES (2 to 3 servings per person)
SETUP NOTES (from our Entertaining section)
One of the most impactful ways to make a statement to your guests is by presenting your feast in a sumptuous display. Depending on the size of your space, you have several options: We suggest setting up a main table, and if space allows, several side tables, which will enable you to disperse the food setup around the room so all your guests do not gather (and clog) one area. If your space is smaller, you may not be able to avoid this, in which case we recommend staying with a single table setup.
For the main table, you want to craft an array of goodies that appeals to the eye, and the best way to achieve this effect is to create a series of levels on the table for your various dishes and platters. This creative effort instantly transforms any menu into a formidable display, and creates a variety of eye candy for the guests who approach.
Find some sturdy elements you can use to build levels on which to place serving dishes. We have used upside-down pots, bowls, boxes, and bricks in our displays. All of these will be covered with a cloth, so it doesn’t matter how attractive they are — they just need to provide a solid foundation. Cover them with a large cloth, then use smaller cloths bunched around the levels to make an attractive nest. If you are particularly creative, you can accent the table with decorative items like branches, dried flowers or candles, provided their scents and/or leaves do not interfere with the food.
We suggest keeping all elements requiring chafing dishes on the main table, as you will more easily be able to monitor them. We also recommend staying with a flat surface for side or accent tables, as they are easily bumped. You can use these for crudités, breads, cheeses, or cold hors d’oeuvres.
BAR SETUP NOTES (from our Cocktail Party dossier)
This is the critical component. For a cocktail party, you will need to decide whether there will be a bartender or self-serve setup. If it is the former, and the barman is a professional, he will likely have a repertoire he prefers to serve. For our purposes here, however, we will assume a self-serve setup.
At its most basic, your bar should include the following items:
Whiskey (at least Bourbon and Scotch)
Common fruit juices – fresh, or those not from concentrates (i.e. lime, cranberry, grapefruit, etc.)
Cocktail olives (you may want to keep the juice in a small glass container for dirty martinis)
Ice (app. 1 pound per guest per hour (for about 3 servings)
[Mixologist’s Notes: Though troublesome, buying a bunch of fun ice molds and making your own ice with mineral water would also be a nice touch. Also, carbonated mixers in cans are easier to chill and manage.]
Wine glasses (champagne, red, white)
[Mixologist’s Note: You may also wish to consider disposable plasticware shaped just like the cocktail and wine glassware and/or champagne flutes.]
For those who might prefer wine to cocktails, it is best to include an assortment of red, white, and sparkling wines (see Alder’s favorite $10 wines for some suggestions).
MISE EN PLACE
For those curious about the meaning of mise en place, it is a French culinary term for “set in place.” If you have ever watched a cooking show, or been inside a restaurant kitchen, you will notice that next to the cooking area, things are set up just so. Ingredients, sauces and critical elements are ready to be used, whether pre-cooked, pre-chopped, or ready as a garnish. This kind of organized setup enables a cook to focus on the actual act of cooking itself without distraction. Our intention with this section is to use the same approach at home, enabling you to host your own special occasions with flair.