My New Year’s Feast

I can’t believe it’s the tenth day of 2008 and I haven’t told you about my New Year’s Eve menu yet! I’m quite excited about it and I hope you will be too because I was immensely pleased with how it all came out. But before I tell you about the food, I have a confession to make: I hate New Year’s.

It’s just an over-dramatized night that is anticlimactic and extremely expensive. So, this year presented yet another challenge of not spending $100+ to be at a crowded bar and not waiting endlessly on street corners for a cab home.

My solution: invite friends over and make dinner. R and I invited over another couple and opted to make it a low-key New Years for far less money and far better food. We wanted a menu that would have that “wow” factor, but wouldn’t tie us to the kitchen all night. Here’s the breakdown dish by dish:

Dish 1: Raspberry-Brie Bites
I had high hopes for this recipe that I saw on Not Derby Pie. Rivka’s picture was so gorgeous and the recipe sounded simple and fabulously indulgent. But something wasn’t quite right. Maybe I didn’t let the puff pastry thaw enough (don’t even get me started on how I had to literally crawl INTO the freezer at the grocery store to snag the last box!). Or maybe I over-filled the pastry with too much jam. But they were nowhere near as beautiful as her picture, hence no picture displayed here. Ugly and splattered as they were, every bite was deliciously sweet and creamy. I will try definitely try these again.

Dish 2: Butterflied Chicken
This is a recipe that I’ve told you about before. Actually, I believe I raved about it. We had some issues communicating with the butcher at Whole Foods as he didn’t understand what we meant when we asked for a skin-on, boneless, butterflied chicken. What we got was a mess. So instead, we opted for skin-on, boneless, butterflied chicken breasts – one for each of us.

I love the simple beauty of this dish. Even raw, the lemon, rosemary and garlic rub make the perfect contrast with the pinkness of the chicken.

chicken with rosemary

This was a great choice for the night because it tastes fantastic and you can put it all together ahead of time. Here are the before and after shots. Mighty pretty, if I do say so myself.

butterflied rosemary chicken raw butterflied rosemary chicken cooked

Dish 3: Mixed Greens Salad with Dried Cranberries and Walnuts with Balsamic Vinaigrette
It may be a mouthful of a title, but the salad was light and refreshing. The cranberries and walnuts were the perfect addition to the simple salad, giving it crunch and sweetness without being overbearing. R made the dressing from scratch and basically kept adding balsamic, salt and pepper to olive oil until it tasted good.

Dish 4: Lemon Risotto in a Cup

lemon risotto

We found this recipe on the Food Network from one of Giada’s episodes. I loved the idea that these were individually portioned to make the perfect side dish. I like to call R the Risotto King because he truly has mastered the art. He knows exactly when to add more stock, how often to stir and can achieve the perfect consistency of the rice. We have a classic Parmesan Risotto that we make a lot, but this was a new recipe for us.I loved this recipe for a number of reasons. 1) The tartness of the lemon and smooth, creaminess of the mascarpone were the perfect combination. 2) It looked so cute in the lemon cups! 3) The lemon cups forced me to use portion control so I didn’t eat the entire pot. It really came out perfectly and I was very happy with the presentation of it all. (Get the recipe here.)

Dish 5: Individual Orange and Chocolate Cheesecakes

chocolate orange cheesecake

This was also a Giada-inspired recipe, but it was just something I stumbled across that sounded good. The meal had been on the heavier side, so I wanted to end with something light and sweet – and the little bit of chocolate didn’t hurt either. When I was making the recipe, it didn’t seem like very much batter, but it was the perfect amount for a mini muffin tin. The recipe was very simple and, aside from needing time to cook, rest and chill, wasn’t especially time-consuming. R made the chocolate cookie crust that gets pressed into the bottom of the muffin tins, while I made the filling. The real challenge came when we needed to put the muffin tin into a dish of water to bake. We should have measured this before because the tin was just slightly wider than the Pyrex dish that we had, but with some skillful maneuvering, R gently wedged it in there.

Generally, I’m not a huge fan of cheesecake, but these tiny bite-size desserts were positively pop-able. The best part was the orange zest-sugar mixture that got sprinkled on top and gave it an added burst of flavor and texture. The perfect end to our meal. (Get the recipe here.)

As you can tell, I’m very proud of our little dinner party. We still ended up spending more time in the kitchen than I would have preferred, but it all turned out splendidly and I couldn’t have been happier. Of course the champagne didn’t hurt either…

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  • Hillary

    Wow! I’m so impressed Max! You pulled that elegant menu off quite well – everything looks delicious. I may just copy you for next year.

  • melissa

    that looks just lovely! :)

  • Yvonne

    Although that looks fabulous- I wouldn’t know what to do without our traditional New Year’s Day dinner. I have included it below with the meanings of each of the foods chosen.

    pork – for health/”the meat of life”
    applesauce – for the “sweet moments” that life can bring
    cabbage – for the “sour moments” that life can bring
    black eyes peas – for luck
    spinach – for money/wealth
    potatoes – represent the main sustenance needed to get through the year
    bread – “to sop up” the plate so that nothing goes to waste
    dessert – for the hope that each day of the new year would be blessed with some form of sweetness
    white wine – “to open your senses, while remembering that moderation leads to appreciation

    The main ingredient for dinner is a pork roast, as large as you can afford (or when I was growing up it was a ham, which in the south goes well with those black-eyed peas. Then, after John and I got married we usually have a roast). In true fashion, leftovers should be turned into a variety of dishes, if there is any left. The pork represents the meat of life, health. The ability to purchase a roast/ham after Christmas was seen as a reason to be thankful and hopeful that the New Year would be a healthy one. Yvonne’s method is from Betty Crocker and is to mix 1 bag kosher sauerkraut, drained, 1 medium onion, diced (about ½ C.), ¼ C. water, 2 tsp sugar (I use 2 packets of Splenda), and 1 tsp granulated beef bouillon. Mound in center of square baking pan/dish; place pork roast on top (about 3 pounds). Roast uncovered in a 325 degree oven for about 2 hours (Roast should register 170 degrees on meat thermometer (if you don’t have one- just be sure that, when the meat is cut it is no longer pink, and that the juice runs out clear and no longer pink). Sauerkraut/cabbage reminds us that life has its sour moments. It also reminds us that those sour moments provide benefit. Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage that has been pickled and fermented so it also shows us that with a little planning; a surplus of something can be preserved and made to last.
    Always serve with applesauce to remind us of the sweet moments that life can bring in the New Year. Canned is easiest because you can get a small portion, although it doesn’t matter (just be sure to get a name brand, as store brands can be very watery).
    The next ingredient is potatoes. Mashed potatoes are a true Ring family tradition- having them mashed means that you can ladle the black-eyed peas right on top of the potatoes on your plate! The potatoes represent the main sustenance needed to get through the year. With just a few extra spices or ingredients, bland potatoes can be flavorful. With a little extra effort, the routine of life can be made more exciting.
    The balance to the sauerkraut is a loaf of hearty rye bread, although white loaf bread will work too, and growing up we even had Jiffy Corn Muffins if we had ham and black-eyed peas! The bread (whatever kind) is used to sop up drippings left on the plate because nothing should go to waste. Frugality was a very common theme growing up in early times, and it is a theme we should try to remember still. After eating sauerkraut, a bite of rye bread even tastes sweet.
    Notice there was no vegetable above just lots of starch and meat. While many people considered sauerkraut a vegetable, in the south it isn’t. So we make black-eyed peas. They represent luck for the future. If you had potatoes, meat, and were then lucky enough to have beans (protein), you would be fine! The other southern favorite is greens- and in our home it was spinach! Canned spinach is the easiest form to cook. I use 2-3 cans since my kids like it so well. The brand that I prefer is Popeye’s Spinach, but really any name brand is good. Flavor it with red wine vinegar, butter, and salt. The southern tradition adds that this is representative of money or wealth expected in the New Year.
    Dessert ends the meal to give us hope that each day of the year will have at least a few minutes of sweetness. Apples were often used in earlier times because they were close to the end of their shelf-life (from the days before refrigerators were common) and any apples that remained after New Year’s Day were turned into applesauce. Whether or not used for dessert, applesauce is necessary to serve with the pork! Some form of sliced apples would find their way into a pie or a strudel or, if you desire you could even make whole baked apples. Whatever your choice, remember that the dessert is an important part of the meal too!
    Another recipe for the pork roast (if you choose to cook the sauerkraut separate from the pork):

    Braised pork roast
    1 3-5 pound pork roast (it’s going to have a layer of fat on at least one side, but don’t cut it off and
    throw it away- cook it fat side up so that the juices run down through the meat as it cooks)
    1 onion, peeled and cut into quarters which are separated
    1 stalk of celery, remove the leaves and cut into 4 or 5 chunks.
    2 14 ounce cans of chicken or vegetable broth
    2 cloves of garlic
    5-7 whole peppercorns
    2 tablespoons of salt
    1 allspice seed
    Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Place the roast fat side down in the skillet and cook for about two minutes. Using tongs or two forks turn the roast a quarter of a turn and cook for two minutes before repeating with the remaining sides. What this does is sear the meat so the juices stay inside the roast. Since you’ll be cooking it in liquid it will also provide a semblance of a crusty exterior. Place the roast in the center bottom of your Crock-Pot. Add the remaining ingredients to the Crock-Pot, tucking the onion, celery, and garlic evenly around the roast. You should have the roast half to three-quarters covered with liquid. Since it isn’t covered completely you’ll be flipping it several times throughout the day. Turn it to high and cook it for 4-6 hours. If you prefer your roast a bit less done, you can use a meat thermometer and cook your roast until it reaches 170 degrees F.
    Remove the roast from the Crock-Pot and place it on a cutting surface. Take a piece of foil and drape it over the top and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing. This should give you just enough time to get the other stuff on the table. Letting any cut of meat rest will permit the meat fibers to relax as they cool slightly and retain the juices instead of letting the moisture get squeezed out as it’s sliced.

    Mashed potatoes
    1/2 pound of potato per person
    1-2 tablespoons of butter per person
    Salt and pepper to taste
    Milk to make smooth, but if you’re cooking for John Ring be sure to leave a few lumps!
    You can peel the potatoes if you like. If you leave the potatoes whole you’ll have to plan on boiling them for 30-45 minutes, but if you cut them in quarters (or dice them) you can reduce your cooking time to 20-30 minutes. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the potatoes and reduce the heat to medium. Cover the pan and poke a potato after half the expected cooking time with a fork until it pierces easily and removes without a struggle. Overcooking them just makes them taste soggy. Drain your potatoes and turn them into a large bowl. Add the butter, milk, and salt and pepper and then you can use a hand masher or a hand-held mixer to create mashed or whipped potatoes.
    Sauerkraut (cabbage)
    Purchase sauerkraut in a jar or if you’re lucky, a bag from the refrigerator section. I use the kosher sauerkraut from the refrigerator section of the grocery store. You’ll add this to a small pan and heat it over medium-low heat until it is warm, if you decide not to cook it with the roast.
    Purchase a loaf of rye bread, although as a girl growing up I only remember white loaf bread I prefer the rye now as a grown up. There are lots of bakeries in town, and most bakery goods can be found at grocery stores today. However, remember if you are serving a ham with the black-eyed peas- then Jiffy Corn Muffins (sweet corn bread) are a must for Grandpa Fisher and/or Dad!
    Since you are serving pork, serve a nice (white) chardonnay or pinot grigio with it (or a Riesling if you prefer a sweet wine). I prefer Café Chardonnay by Gallo as it is less expensive and not too dry, but if expense is not an issue, Danzante Pinot Grigio (2006) is excellent, as is Francis Coppola Bianco Pinot Grigio (2006). The wine is to, “open up your senses to a bottle of health but remember moderation leads to appreciation”, according to Jamie Smith of Sommelier in Las Vegas (the only restaurant to hold the exclusive Wine Spectator’s ‘Grand Award’. And in true southern style, even with the wine, somewhere there just has to be a pitcher of Grandma’s good sweet tea!

  • Leah Warner

    Hi Maxine:
    Love,love,loved your menu. I agree that it is much nicer to stay home on New Year’s Eve. In younger days, we used to get-together with 2 other couples to eat and play Canasta. Lots of conversation and fun. Everyone is gone now but me but I still have my happy memories. I love to try new recipes. I will add these to my recipe collection. Thanks so much.

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