Monday, January 14, 2013

New Year's Eve 2012: Jazz, Drinks, and Hors D'Oeuvres

New Year's Eve 2011 was a night longed to recapture throughout the entire year following it; the first party I threw on my own. So as New Year's Eve 2012 (and my birthday) rolled around again I was excited to celebrate in style and aimed to match or top last year's Moroccan fĂȘte. The Moroccan bug had bitten me hard last year. There was no turning back once I'd set the menu - full of tagines and salads. I waffled a lot over this year’s theme but finally decided on “Jazz” and opted to serve only appetizers. The idea carried through tremendously well.

This year's party was in my new apartment, which is luckily a lot bigger than my old place . Throughout the course of the night almost everyone that had been invited, plus guests of theirs showed up! My home felt full and joyous, never crowded and stuffy. Everyone brought sparkling wines, and their own beverages of choice. A few of my friends even brought a signature cocktail - the Wild Hibiscus Royale made with whole hibiscus flowers in syrup, rose water, mint and topped with sparkling wine. Floral and bubbly - just my style! As the jazz music improvised and played on a full and vibrant menu was served.... 

To start, I decided I had to have a homemade vegetable platter – done in my style. The ladies of my family always make their own vegetable platters for parties; why pay someone to breakdown and arrange raw produce? My way includes: celery and carrots (never baby carrots), red pepper (no need for gassy green or other colors), cucumber spears (better than crinkle cut rounds), green beans (a favorite of my Aunt Maureen’s vegetable tray), and finally cauliflower (a different splash of color than broccoli and one of my favorite things to eat everyday). The arrangement was done by alternating the green selections amid the rainbow of colors around a dish of homemade (but admittedly rather flavorless) yogurt and herb dip:
20121231-img_0946 Next was creating a fruit platter I’d want to see served at a party. In general I avoid fruit salads when I’m out and about in the world. So much melon! Damn filler fruit! My guests deserved a mix of luscious fresh and dried (it is winter, after all) fruits. Blood oranges made an appearance last year in the romaine and orange flower water salad so they were in, along with navel oranges. Grapes, watermelon, blueberries and strawberries are always party pleasers so they joined, too. Then I happily found cherries at Fairway so they made the cut and for dried fruit I chose apricots and cranberries. In all, it was the most colorful platter on the table:
For the main appetizers I went with a mix of hot and room temperature choices to make for easy timing throughout the evening. Last year’s planning happened quickly and organically way ahead of December 31st thanks to Paula Wolfert’s wonderful tome on Moroccan cuisine. Literally a few days before this year’s party I found myself scrambling for hors d’oeuvre ideas I could easily make without too much preparation. I hit the cookbooks hard and came out with a stellar mix of recipes from some of my go-to cookbook authors and a few creations of my own.

Cheryl Sternman Rule’s Ripe became one of my favorite cookbooks in the time it took me to get home on the 6 train from the IACP Book and Blog Festival this past April. I’d made her Watercress Butter over the summer and saw it spread on water crackers and being gobbled down by my guests. My predictions were spot on and full mouths questioned “mmm, what is this!?” The garlic and lemon laden appetizer was a total pleaser.
After these three options became musts the whole menu went in a very fruit and vegetable driven manner. I’d received Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris cookbook for Christmas from my brother and had found a spinach-in-puff-pastry dish. Ina intends it to be served as a side dish or vegetarian main course but I thought it would be just fabulous (as Ina would say) cut up into one-inch squares for the party. The filling is a breeze to make and is encased in store bought puff pastry. On top of all that it can be made a day ahead, therefore an excellent choice! This was served piping hot out of the oven and lead to an empty platter in merely minutes:
20121231-img_0963There was some Valbreso Feta (also called just French feta) I’d had in my fridge since Christmas and wanted to come up with a dish to use it in a simple way. The cheese itself is very creamy, unlike regular feta that crumbles. A crostini seemed to be the answer. Caprese-style swapping mozzarella for the feta worked perfectly. To give an extra kick the toasted baguette was rubbed with whole garlic cloves then spread with the feta, topped with tomatoes and basil chiffonade that had been seasoned and marinating in their own juices the afternoon before the party. I loved all the hors d’oevures I served, but this was the one thing I was fantasizing about the next day:
20121231-img_0940 Some might say a party isn’t a party unless there’s bacon. As not to disappoint I chose two pork-laden options. First, a classic cocktail appetizer – Devils on Horseback. Opting to go without stuffing, I followed Martha Stewart’s directions minus the Stilton. This ended up being a superb make-slightly-ahead option, I roasted these up before guests arrived and kept them hot in the microwave until the masses showed. My friend Marlie had given me this Olive Boat from Fishs Eddy that was the perfect way to serve these little devils:
When I visited San Francisco in February I stocked up on cookbooks at Celia Sack’s Omnivore Books. One of the items on my list was to find a very Californian cookbook that was also versatile. Finally I’d asked Celia which book is her go-to and she recommended The Sunset Cookbook (as in Sunset Magazine). Within a few moments browsing the appetizer section I found prosciutto wrapped Brussels sprouts. As you may well known I’m a huge fan of roasted sprouts so this recipe with them tossed in olive oil and maple syrup then roasted, cooled, wrapped in cured pork and served at room temperature was an easy sell:
As this New Year’s was my second year in a row throwing party, I'd say I can officially call it an annual event. Since my guest list merely expands, rather than rotates, I thought it would be fun to bring continuity year-to-year by serving a favorite dish from the previous year at next year’s party. The kefta meatballs I served as an appetizer last year went faster than swag at a food blogging conference. They were the obvious choice:
20121231-img_0954The messiest and spiciest dish of the evening were my lettuce wraps. Playing on the Cheesecake Factory’s appetizer I marinated chicken in a wasabi soy ginger dressing and served them with rice noodles, shredded carrots, green onion, chopped peanuts, and a spicy peanut sauce for topping:
And the last savory menu item was these little eggplant bites that came into existence due to my neglecting to delete an eggplant from my FreshDirect cart. Upon seeing it in my delivery box I realized all I’d need was a little tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese to do a vegetable-based pizza-bite like finger food. These were the final item to come out:
20121231-img_0993 And last but never least – dessert!!! There were spicy chocolate madeleines made by me, but the highlight was a specially made birthday cake. When my friend Jocelin asked me if she could bring anything I replied with bubbly (always welcome) and a birthday-appropriate dessert. I’m one hundred percent comfortable throwing myself a party, but I’ll never feel it is right or good karma to bake myself a birthday cake. So I’m happy to say how glad I am to have truly spectacular friends who are also pretty sneaky and know how to pull off a sweet surprise. Jocelin’s sister and my friend, Marlie, an FCI-graduated pastry chef, made me a sparkling buttermilk cake with rose butter cream topped with a homemade calla lily. These ladies know how much I adore rose flavored pastries and that pink frosting will never cease to please me on my birthday cake (long ago they introduced me to bright pink strawberry frosting at another special birthday where the guest list consisted of the two of them, my sister and their sister Ashley). The cake was as delicious as it was stunning! Here is her instagram photo complete with the flower centerpiece:
I'm so proud to say this party was yet another hands-down success. The next day, my birthday, as I recovered in bed by watching 30 Rock and eating leftover cake I even started planning for next year... you'll have to wait 'til next year to see what comes about for ringing in 2014! 

Now I absolutely must give very big thanks to my great friends who helped me once again this year throughout the night - from decorating before hand, helping me in the kitchen, bringing extra wine and snacks as RSVPs came pouring in hours before, etc... Thank you to Ann, Nate, Chelsea, Jocelin, Marlie, Katie, everyone who showed up to party and a very very important thank you to Angela who is responsible for ALL of the beautiful photos of this year's food in this post!!! She does a wonderful job and is also a mean garlic-rubber! It was a lesson well-learned from last year- take photos of the food! 
Thank You my friends! See you next year! 
Happy New Year!


Bas said...

Since it´s an annual event, I´d like to invite myself to the following event.

Kathleen said...

It may be appro to invite the persons who gave birth to you to one of these spectacular fete'.

bars in Singapore said...

I really don't think anyone has put it that way before!. Your blog is definitely worth a read if anyone finds it. I'm lucky I did because now I've got a whole new view of this. Thank you!