Among my favorite things about New Year’s Eve: glitz and glitter, champagne, debaucherous friends. Among my least favorite: waiting for cabs, waiting for cabs in the cold, waiting for cabs in heels in the cold and snow. Now, I’m no Scrooge, but there’s nothing worse than waiting for the coveted New Year’s Eve cab that inevitably will not come. And so, in the book of New Year’s according to Freya, proximity is everything. Plus, bars on New Year’s Eve tend to be crowded, sticky, and magically endowed with the right to charge exorbitant cover fees. As I’ve referenced before, to ring in 2011 I hosted a quiet dinner party for 30 of my closest friends spitting out 14 homemade pizzas and an unfathomable number of wine bottles. I will never do that again, but It was a blast. And the best part was that it all happened in my apartment, sans transportation, sans covers. Why put up with the nonsense when you can host a fabulous dinner party of your own? As the host, it’s your food, your drinks, and your invitation list (read: your choice of midnight kisses).
New Year’s may traditionally be all about decadence, but I’ve taken a healthy-ish 4-course approach, complete with snacks, drinks, and dessert. It just so happens that most of these tried and true recipes are from Mark Bittman’s various cookbooks and columns. His recipes tend toward the simple and straightforward, so they’re perfect for a night when you’re going to have all your burners on. I’ve also noted a suggested order of preparation to minimize fuss once the guests arrive, although that’s all up to you. Recommended: find a sous chef. You’ll appreciate the extra set of hands.
Cheers to a happy, healthy, and delicious 2012!
An icy concoction may sound odd for the middle of winter, but this shaved ice dessert/cocktail hybrid has the refreshing qualities of citrus with all the sparkle of a New Year’s Eve cocktail. Besides, it’s gonna get a little warm in here. This drink doubles as a palate cleanser between courses if you’re so inclined. You can do this without St. Germain—that was something I added to the original recipe—but it adds a sweet floral element, and makes for fantastic cocktails beyond the granita.
There’s nothing like popcorn to please a crowd and their noses. For those who have always been making popcorn in a microwaveable bag (that was me until recently), you’re missing out on the world of fresh popcorn. It’s nearly as simple as the microwave kind, but comes out naked, just waiting for you to dress it all up. My favorite is truffle salt, but any flavored salt would work, or get creative with whatever’s in your spice cabinet: cinnamon and sugar, curry, cayenne… options are endless.
First course: Butternut squash soup
In keeping with the season, butternut squash soup is one of winter’s most accessible dishes. The vegetable itself is so sweet and creamy that there’s little else needed to make it exquisite. This recipe came from a family friend, and I think it’s simply divine. I garnished with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of juicy pomegranate seeds for texture and festivity.
I can’t get away from this pizza, and I can’t say enough times what a great food it is to serve to a crowd. My suggestion is to let each guest have a say in the toppings, thereby involving everyone in the cooking process, as well as tricking them into helping you cook. It’s a win-win. Some wintery topping suggestions: roasted squash with ricotta cheese and fried sage leaves, thinly sliced potatoes with egg, deeply caramelized onions.
Broccoli rabe isn’t always on top of the hit list, but it should be. It’s a great, complex vegetable, part broccoli and part leafy green. It’s sweet and bitter all at once, and probably deeply under-appreciated. This recipe is accented with toasty fried garlic, and nutty Parmesan cheese. Mmmm, midnight garlic kiss.
For fans of Arrested Development, these little dessert bites should bring back happy memories of the banana stand. Sadly, there’s no money in this one, just delightful little sweet bites. I changed the original recipe to make these little bites rather than whole bananas for optimal sharing. You can use whatever toppings you want, like chopped nuts, coconut, shaved chocolate, and smashed candy canes.
Parboil and shock broccoli rabe
Right before guests arrive:
Pop and season the corn
Pre-cook pizza dough dough (2 minutes in the oven just to get it stable and easy to work with)
Coat bananas in chocolate and freeze
After guests arrive:
Bake broccoli rabe
Design and cook pizzas
Spiked Pink Grapefruit Granita
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook
Makes: 6 small servings servings
Time: At least 3 hours, largely unattended
1⁄2 cup sugar (optional depending on juice; I used none with Tropicana Ruby Red)
2 1⁄2 cups grapefruit juice
2/3 cup vodka
1/3 cup St. Germain (elderflower liqueur)
Grated grapefruit zest to taste, optional
1. Combine the sugar with 1⁄2 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool.
2. Combine the juice, vodka, and a pinch of the zest. Add some of the sugar syrup to sweeten the blend as you like (you probably will not need all of it; reserve the rest). Stir, taste, and add more zest or syrup as needed.
3. Pour the mixture into a shallow glass or ceramic pan and freeze for at least 3 hours, stirring to break up the crystals every 30 minutes or so. It should be slushy and crunchy with ice crystals. (You can make the granita up to a day or 2 ahead.) If the granita becomes too hard, pulse it (do not purée) in a food processor before serving, or set it in the fridge for a bit and stir once in a while to bring back the desired texture.
From Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook
Makes: 4 to 8 servings
Time: About 10 minutes
Note: Toss the popcorn with extra ingredients while it’s still warm and the seasonings will stick pretty well, even without adding any more fat. You can even cook popcorn in olive oil as long as you lower the heat as needed to keep it from burning; the flavor is delicious.
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup popping corn
2 to 4 tablespoons butter or olive oil, optional
Salt (and other seasonings of your choice)
1. Put the vegetable oil in a large, deep pan (6 quarts or so). Turn the heat to medium, add 3 kernels of corn, and cover.
2. When the kernels pop, remove the lid and add the remaining corn. Cover and shake the pot, holding the lid on. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until the popping sound stops after about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter or gently warm the olive oil if you’re using it.
3. Turn the popcorn into a large bowl; drizzle with butter or olive oil if you like, and sprinkle with salt while tossing the popcorn. Serve immediately.
Euthemia’s Butternut Squash Soup
Original Family Recipe
Makes: 10-12 servings
Time: 1 hour
1 or 2 big butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and roughly cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tbsp butter
1-2 onions diced
1 clove minced garlic
3-4 large carrots peeled and cut
6 cups water or stock
1-2 inch chunk of fresh ginger, grated
Greek yogurt for garnish (optional)
Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)
1. Melt butter, add onions and garlic to soften. Add squash and carrots, salt and pepper and saute until squash begins to cook a little, about 10 minutes.
2. Add water/stock, cover pot, boil, lower to medium-low and cook at least 30 minutes until the squash and carrots are very tender.
3. Grate in ginger to taste and a tiny dash of cayanne pepper. Cook another 10 minutes with ginger. Blend/puree in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.
Since I’ve posted the recipe for this before, check out my earlier pizza party post, full of tips and handy tools.
Baked Broccoli Rabe with Parmesan
From Mark Bittman’s column, The Minimalist
Makes: 6 servings
Time: 35 minutes
3 pounds broccoli rabe, washed and trimmed
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus some for greasing the pan
10 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Drop broccoli rabe into the water, and cook until bright green and tender, about 3 minutes. Remove, and plunge into ice water. Drain and really squeeze out all of the cooking water.
2. Place 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet, and turn heat to medium-high. Toast garlic in oil until golden. Chop broccoli rabe into pieces, about an inch or two long, and add to skillet. Toss, then turn off heat.
3. Add broccoli rabe mixture to a baking dish. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and bake until cheese melts, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.
Frozen Chocolate Covered Banana Bites
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes
4 ripe (but not brown) bananas, bottoms trimmed, but unpeeled
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup chopped peanuts or cashews, optional
1. Leave bananas peeled and freeze for about 20-30 minutes, until just slightly frozen.
2. Unpeel banana and slice into 1 inch chunks. Spear each banana chunk with a toothpick; freeze for at least 15 minutes or wrap tightly in plastic or foil and freeze for up to a week.
3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, a small saucepan over very low heat, or the microwave. Whisk in the cream and transfer the chocolate mixture to a shallow bowl. If you’re using nuts, put them on a plate next to the melted chocolate.
4. Dip the bananas first in the chocolate, then in the nuts. Eat immediately or put them in a wax-paper-lined airtight container and freeze them for up to a day or so.