By Beverly Levitt
Pictures at a New Year’s Eve exhibition: the old man with his long white beard trailing scraggily behind him, preparing his departure; the newborn in diapers, floating innocently in space; the shiny silver ball slowly descending on Times Square; the strains of Lawrence Welk and his orchestra warbling “Auld Lang Syne.”
Those are the annual New Year’s Eve events when anticipation and jubilation are palpable. All that, and a few glitzy commercials, are available in our living room, simply by pushing Play.
But who wants to be a couch potato when we can welcome in the new year dressed to the nines, surrounded by friends, drinking and dancing. So who has been elected to host the big bash this year?
The good news is you don’t have to fight sleep driving home in the wee hours of the morning. The bad news is that you’ve just run yourself ragged shopping, schlepping and decorating the house for Chanukah, and you’re more than a little burned out.
Lest you forget the tale Grandma used to tell: “Whatever you’re doing the last day of the old year sets a precedent for the new.” So if you’re relaxed but organized, and pull off the party of the year on the 31st, you’ll be basking in that success all year long. And if you don’t …
“Relax, New Year’s Eve can go off like clockwork,” said Colin Cowie, event planner extraordinaire and author of “Entertaining With Colin Cowie.”
Cowie said the simple answer to New Year’s Eve jitters is punctilious planning and having an impeccable checklist with every detail included. “Since we have the most fun at the parties we give, it’s a joy to host an awe-inspiring New Year’s Eve buffet and, as a bonus, be a guest at our own party.”
He added, “Successful entertaining is about creating an atmosphere of gaiety.”
You need great music, spectacular cocktails and incredible food. And because this year New Year’s Eve falls on the eighth night of Chanukah, we have that much more to celebrate.
Set the pace of the party with music; it’s the tool that shapes the energy flow. At first, it should be mellow and welcoming — instrumental, jazzy, bluesy. As energy rises, complement the mood with something livelier. While people are eating, they’re more relaxed. Play mellifluous instrumentals so people can talk.
After dessert is served, as it gets closer to midnight, the energy rises again, and so should the music. As the clock strikes 12, turn up “Auld Lang Syne” to honor times gone by and old friends, especially Judah Maccabee.
For a special shout-out to the colors blue, white and silver, serve drinks such as silver champagne cocktails, blue Curacao midnight kisses, blueberry margaritas, blue Curacao martinis, blackberry-basil mojitos — all poured and shimmering on a tray. And the piece de resistance: our aquavit ice mold centerpiece with frozen blue flowers.
You also can serve one of the refreshing nonalcoholic beverages, such as Verjus, which tastes like a refreshing tart apple but is made from unripe green grapes. Other festive drinks without alcohol include a fruit punch of grape and apple sparkling cider, pineapple juice and blueberry sorbet, sparkling grape juice, mineral water with blueberries and lime, and blueberry juice and soda.
“Most importantly, pace yourself evenly. Don’t rush through the evening like you’re galloping on a stallion or, worse, crawl around at a snail’s pace. Even if you’re running late and people have to pour their own drinks, they’ll be basking in wonderful music and seductive smells flowing out of the kitchen and won’t mind a bit,” Cowie said.
So happy eighth night of Chanukah. Happy 2017. Pace your drinks, make sure every car has a designated driver, and cheers.
Frozen Aquavit in Ice Mold
A gorgeous holiday decoration for the table (from Colin Cowie)
1 bottle aquavit or vodka
1 round metal or plastic container 8 inches in diameter and 12 inches deep
Fresh flowers (mistletoe or any silver and blue flowers) and foliage
Place the bottle of alcohol in the middle of the container. Fill the container with water 3 inches below the neck of the bottle. Add flowers and foliage. Use ice cubes to wedge some of the flowers in place. Place in the freezer and allow to freeze for 8 hours.
Just before guests arrive, remove the ice mold from the freezer. Place the side of the container under hot water and remove the ice mold by slowly turning the neck of the bottle. Place the ice mold on a tray with a folded napkin underneath to absorb any melting ice. The ice mold will last 4 to 5 hours, but the napkin should be changed frequently. If the bottle is empty, you can simply refill it.
If using vodka, add lemon rind, chili peppers or berries directly into the alcohol to flavor it.
When making the ice mold, instead of flowers, use the same ingredient as flavoring. For lemon vodka, add lemon halves, wedges and foliage to water. They will float and form magnificent patterns in the ice. For berry vodka, add berries. For chili vodka, add dried, whole chili peppers.
Once the mold is set, you can store it in the freezer and refill the container to start another mold
Brandied Cheese Roll
Adapted from “The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook” by Marian Burros and Lois Levine
This should be made a few days ahead to allow the flavors to blend. The grapevine leaves make for a beautiful presentation. Or specialty stores such as Williams-Sonoma carry French paper leaves, which are perfect for placing the cheese.
¾ pound good blue cheese, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon minced shallots
½ teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and white pepper to taste
3 tablespoons brandy
2 cups finely chopped toasted walnuts, pecans or pistachios
1 jar brine-packed grape leaves, soaked in water to soften
½ cup dried cranberries, blueberries or currants
Using an electric mixer, beat the blue cheese and cream cheese together until creamy. Fold in the shallots, thyme, salt and pepper, and brandy; mix to combine thoroughly.
Divide the mixture in half. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap. Form into 2 roughly shaped logs, 1½ to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Drain the brine from the grape leaves and soak them in fresh water until they’re softened, about an hour.
When the cheese log is firm enough, roll each wrapped log back and forth on the counter to shape it into a more perfect log. Unwrap the logs and roll them in the nuts. Again, wrap them tightly and refrigerate for several hours.
To serve, bring the logs to room temperature. Spread the grape leaves on a platter. Place the cheese logs on top. Garnish with additional nuts and dried fruits. Serve with crackers. Serves 4 to 6
Gravlax With Dill-Mustard Sauce
From Colin Cowie
Gravlax will last one week in the refrigerator. Leftovers make delicious sandwiches.
1 side of salmon (4-5 pounds), boned, with skin intact
1½ tablespoons brown sugar
1½ teaspoons course sea salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry dill weed
1 cup fresh dill weed, chopped
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Party rye bread
Place the salmon on a platter skin side down. Check for any remaining small bones. Using a large fork, prick the salmon every couple of inches to allow the herb mixture to penetrate. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the top of the salmon, followed by salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the dried and fresh dill. Mix well and spread evenly over the salmon. Place a heavy plate on the salmon to flatten it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 days.
Remove the salmon from the refrigerator. Scrape the dill away. Slice the fish thinly. Serve on slices of buttered rye or pumpernickel with a dollop of dill mustard sauce on top. Garnish with a sprig of fresh dill. Makes 20 servings.
From Colin Cowie
12 ounces spicy brown mustard
¼ cup brown sugar, tightly packed
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
In a small pan, gently heat the mustard and sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, add the fresh dill. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Makes 1¼ cups.
Adapted from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins
1 box frozen puff pastry sheets
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the puff pastry dough into a 20-by-24-inch rectangle. Sprinkle half the Parmesan evenly over the dough and gently press the cheese into the dough with a rolling pin. Fold the dough in half crosswise; roll it out again to 20 by 24 inches. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Using a sharp, thin knife, cut the dough into 1/3-inch strips. Take each strip by its ends and twist until it is evenly corkscrewed. Lay the twists of dough on an ungreased baking sheet, arranged so they are just touching to prevent untwisting.
Set the baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Bake until the straws are crisp, puffed and brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Cut apart the straws with a sharp knife. Finish the cooling on a rack. Store the straws in airtight containers. Makes 20 straws, which will stay fresh for a week.
Baby Greens, Apples, Gorgonzola and Pine Nuts With Honey-Mustard Dressing
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 plump garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, minced
1 teaspoon Herbes De Provence
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds baby greens
1 large Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced thin
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
½ cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Mix all the ingredients in a jar; shake vigorously. Place the baby greens in a salad bowl. Toss with the dressing. Top with pine nuts and Gorgonzola. Makes 12 servings.
Marinated Chinese Green Beans With Shiitake Mushrooms
1½ pounds long Chinese green beans, sliced into 2-inch pieces
½ pound Shiitake mushrooms
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
½ cup toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
¾ cup walnuts, chopped
Steam the green beans and mushrooms until tender. Plunge immediately into an ice bath or run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Combine the vinegar, oil, soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over the vegetables and refrigerate for 2 hours. Bring to room temperature. Arrange artfully on a plate. Top with cilantro and walnuts. Makes 6 servings.
Sea Bass en Papillote
Adapted from “Two Chefs, One Catch” by Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver
1 small fennel bulb, fronds trimmed
¼ pound King Oyster mushrooms, stems trimmed, torn into ½-inch pieces
½ cup sliced shallots
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small zucchini, sliced crosswise, 1/8 inch thick
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sherry wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and ground cracked black pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 6-ounce local sea bass fillets, boneless and skinless (may use halibut, cod or snapper)
6 red teardrop tomatoes, halved lengthwise
6 yellow teardrop tomatoes, halved lengthwise
8 thyme sprigs
¼ cup butter, cut into 4 cubes
Canola or olive oil spray as needed
Using a vegetable slicer, shave the fennel bulb crosswise into thin slices. In a large bowl, mix fennel, shallots, garlic, zucchini, lemon juice, sherry wine, olive oil, salt, pepper and cayenne; toss to combine. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
On 4 parchment paper circles, place half the vegetable mixture equally onto one side of the fold. Season fish fillets with salt and pepper. Place on top of the vegetables. Place the remaining vegetable mixture on top of the sea bass. Drizzle juices from the bowl over all. Top with the thyme sprigs, butter cubes, and red and yellow tomato halves. Fold the other half of the parchment over the top of the fish until the edges meet. Seal the edges. Transfer packets to an oiled baking sheet. Spray thoroughly with canola oil. Bake 15 minutes. The packets will puff and brown as they bake. Transfer to a serving plate. Serve with a sharp knife so diners can slice open their own papillote. Makes 4 servings.
Mary Romano’s Struffoli
This classic Italian dessert is often served on New Year’s. It looks like a tree or bush of honey-coated fried dough balls and hazelnuts — perfect for Chanukah.
2 cups flour
5 egg yolks
1 egg white, beaten until stiff
1 envelope dry yeast
1 cup sugar
½ cup Galliano liqueur
2 tablespoons warm milk
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon candied citron
1 tablespoon orange or tangerine zest
1½ cups hazelnuts
½ cup candied sprinkles
½ cup powdered sugar (optional)
Combine the flour, egg yolks, egg white, yeast, sugar, liqueur and milk in a large bowl and let it rise for 1½ hours. Work with the dough; let it rise for another half-hour. Form into a ball and cut into 1-inch-thick pieces and roll them into balls that look like a hazelnut. Heat the oil in a deep pot. When it’s hot, fry the dough balls quickly until golden brown. Fry only a few at a time so they don’t stick together. Put honey into a pan and heat it through. In a bowl, mix the candied citron, orange or tangerine zest, and hazelnuts. Dip the struffoli first into the honey, then the fruit and nuts. Form pieces into a tree or bush shape, using honey to make it stick together. Top with sprinkles and powdered sugar if desired. Cover with cheese cloth until served.
RING OUT THE OLD, BRING IN THE NEW
Monday, 26 December— Send out invitations. Make 2 shopping lists — perishable and non-perishable. Consider using colorful, sturdy paper plates, glasses and cups to save time. Decide on decorations. Order fresh sea bass to be picked up 30 December.
Tuesday, 27 December—Assemble items for bar. Don’t forget cocktail napkins, ice bucket, tongs, ice cubes, wine, bottled water, mixes and trays for drinks. Choose 3 of our mixed drink suggestions. Remember Champagne bottle opener, flutes and… bottles of your favorite Champagne. Aquavit, Vodka, flowers and container for ice mold.
Wednesday, 28 December— Complete all shopping except Sea Bass and salad greens. Make first ice mold. Make Gravlax and place in refrigerator.
Thursday, 29 December— Make dill-mustard sauce for Gravlax; refrigerate. Make Cheese Straws, cool on rack, store in airtight container. Chop walnuts for Green Beans; put in air tight bag. Make second ice mold. Have music lined up.
Friday, 30 December—Make third ice mold. Make Struffoli; place on the table on a platter. Cover with cheesecloth. Set buffet table with appropriate bowl or platter for each recipe, including a punch bowl, utensils, and condiments. Purchase Sea Bass, lettuce greens, mistletoe.
Saturday, 31 December— Our party is called for 8 pm. Adjust times if yours is later.
11 am—Assemble Sea Bass with vegetables on parchment paper folded into an envelope. Place in baking dish and refrigerate.
12:00— Wash and dry lettuce. Place in plastic bags with a wet paper towel; store in refrigerator. Slice apples, squeeze lemon juice over them. Refrigerate. Toast pine nuts at 325 for 10 minutes, cool and place in plastic bags.
1:00— Steam green beans and mushrooms, cool. Pour marinade over vegetables, arrange on plate, top with chopped walnuts. Refrigerate.
2:00—4:00— Take your shower. Turn on music, have a glass of wine and relax.
5:00- Put breads and crackers on buffet table, cover with plastic. Grind coffee beans, have coffee pot, cream, sugar, tea bags and lemon ready to go.
6:00—Assemble salad, top with pine nuts and gorgonzola, refrigerate.
7:15—Heat oven to 400. Make mixed drinks in pitchers, put in bar area.
7:30— Place sea bass en papillote in oven. Put rest of food on the table.
7:45—Take sea bass out of oven. Set it on platter on the table. Pour mixed drinks into glasses, set on tray in bar area. Put ice in bucket.
- 7:50— Put on mellow, welcoming music. Light candles. Place Ice Mold on bar.
- 8:00— Guests begin to arrive. Now the fun begins.
8:30— Change music to something more bouncy and fun.
- 9:00— Check Aquavit mold to see if it needs refilling and napkin needs changing.
9:30—Change music to mellifluous instrumentals or sentimental Tony Bennett.
9:00 to 11:15— Make sure platters are refilled with food. Clear used items from around the room.
- 10:15—Pick the first puff off the Struffoli; put coffee, tea and accoutrements on table.
11:30 – Pass out flutes and cocktail napkins. Change music to something lively.
11:45— Bring out chilled champagne, pop the cork, and pour. You have 15 minutes to sip your champagne and mingle.
11:55— Start the countdown to the NEW YEAR 2017; stand under the mistletoe, and shout HAPPY HANUKKAH!