Appetizers a quick and tasty way to celebrate
When I was very young, my parents collaborated with our neighbors to create a full blown New Year’s Eve event … a fancy dinner, a live combo for dancing, the whole ball of wax.
In more recent years, (at least when I wasn’t on call at a veterinary clinic), New Year’s Eve has tended to be a more quiet affair — watching the ball come down in Times Square on TV with my wife, toasting in the coming year with a glass of homemade eggnog and perhaps enjoying a cookie or two left over from Christmas baking.
But New Year’s Day has become a day for socializing and eating, really more of an all-day nosh than a formal meal. Visiting friends, trying a cheese plate here, an appetizer there, and finishing off with Cheryl’s wonderful almond cookies at the Munson’s New Year’s Day Open House (subject of a Food Fare column in December 2017).
Unfortunately COVID-19 made such large gatherings ill-advised for 2020-21 and, now again, for 2021-22. But this doesn’t mean that eating is out as we usher in the new year … whether it’s just you, an intimate celebration with a spouse or family members, or perhaps a visit with a few friends, those new year’s resolutions about losing a few pounds can wait until Jan. 2. And you might as well try some new recipes while you’re at it, keeping in practice for that next big party, whenever it should come.
So for this column, I’ve put together a holiday plate. Ideally your plate should have something sweet, something spicy and something salty, with different textures, a protein or two, some veggies to make you feel virtuous, and a few nods to New Year’s food traditions to help usher in a happy and prosperous 2022.
Food Fare: The more varieties, the merrier when it comes to holiday cookies
All of today’s recipes have been chosen to minimize time spent in the kitchen during a season when you’re often likely to be busy elsewhere. Most have components that can be made in advance of the actual day, if not the full dish, so that you just have do a little assembly or add some finishing touches when it’s party time. And while it’s nice to know you can make your own puff pastry, phyllo cups, crackers and guacamole, there’s no reason not to go with Tostito’s Scoops, store-bought guac and sheet puff pastry during a hectic holiday week.
So here’s my menu for this year’s celebration:
Foods in the shape of a ring or circle are thought to bring good luck, so our centerpiece is a brie wheel, baked in the oven, topped with honey and a cranberry-pomegranate sauce and garnished with a sprig of rosemary (still going strong in my herb garden) and our second recipe — the Sweet, Spicy and Salty Pecans. The nuts can be made several weeks in advance and leftovers make a tasty afternoon snack or a great addition to salads. Bagel rounds would be the perfect accompaniment for the brie but none were to be found at the store, so I dished up a variety of round crackers in their stead.
Shrimp chasing their tails also form rings, so our third appetizer is Chile Lime Shrimp Bites. I first made these for friends a few weeks ago for a small women’s basketball viewing party and I experimented with using homemade phyllo and puff pastry cups as the shells, which worked well. But this time around I was in a hurry and served them in the Tostito Scoops the recipe called for. Add guacamole, shrimp marinated in taco seasonings and sauteed until just tender with a sprinkling of fresh lime juice and a dusting of chopped cilantro and you have a great bite. I did find that the scoops got a little soft with time, so these are best assembled just before serving.
And since greens symbolize wealth in the new year (and because you’re unlikely to find a container of four-leaf clovers at the local grocery) we served ours on top of a bed of arugula, the sharp peppery lettuce contrasting nicely with the guacamole and warm spices.
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Today’s final appetizer is a Cheesy Spinach Dip Triangle. The original recipe calls for a festive Christmas tree design instead of triangles, but as one commentator put it, “This recipe is absolutely delicious,” but you should “just cut the thing into squares. It makes more of them, it makes them easier to whip out when you need a quick appetizer, and you won’t find yourself swearing and brought to tears by a vaguely Christmas tree shaped lump of dough that won’t cooperate.” When I have time to get fancy I’ll try making it as directed, but when I was putting out a full plate of food in just a couple of hours, I took his advice.
The dip — cream cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic and parmesan cheese with a little lemon zest for brightness and red pepper flakes for heat — was delicious on its own. Sandwiched between sheets of soft flaky puff pastry with a little melty mozzarella, it was perfect. Best of all you can make these puffs in advance and crisp them up in the oven just before serving.
And to fill in the cracks, a few more treats for the new year. Grapes — eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight for good luck, one for each month. But make sure they’re all sweet — sweet grapes represent good months, while sour ones might indicate a few bumps in the road, and we don’t need any more of those next year. Ham for prosperity, pomegranate arils for renewal and regeneration and cherry tomatoes rounded out the plate — not sure that the tomatoes have any symbolism, but they’re a round vegetable (OK, they’re really a fruit) and help to make us feel virtuous.
Given the December COVID upswing, the Munsons sent out a cancellation notice for their open house again this year, but they also added a save the date for New Year’s Day 2023. I’m hoping we’ll all be able to attend …
Happy New Year, everyone! May 2022 be good to us all.
Story continues below the video.
Sweet, Spicy and Salty Pecans
Source: Moore Or Less Cooking
4 1/2 cups pecans
2 egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
6 tablespoons butter
1. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Add sugar, salt, cayenne pepper and paprika.
2. Fold in pecans and melted butter.
3. Pour mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
4. Bake at 325 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
Notes: If the nuts are sticky after cooling, that means they are a bit under cooked. Place them back in the oven for a few minutes and let cool again. Store nuts in an airtight container for up to three weeks.
Chile Lime Shrimp Bites
Source: Barefeet in the Kitchen
12 large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon taco seasoning homemade or store-bought
1 tablespoon light flavored olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup guacamole homemade or store-bought
12 Tostitos Scoops
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Additional lime wedges, for serving
1. Place the shrimp in a small bowl and sprinkle generously with the spice mix. Toss to coat. Set aside to marinate for at least 5 minutes.
2. Heat the olive in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook 2-3 minutes. Flip the shrimp, or stir, and cook an additional 1-2 minutes until shrimp are opaque and slightly pink. Immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a plate. Squeeze lime over the shrimp.
3. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of guacamole onto each tortilla chip. Top each chip with a shrimp and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with additional lime wedges, if desired.
Cheesy Spinach Dip Triangles
Source: adapted from Lena Abraham, Delish, Dec. 13, 2018
1 (8-ounces) block cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped artichoke hearts
1/2 cup frozen spinach, defrosted, drained and finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
1 1/2 to 2 cups shredded mozzarella
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir cream cheese, artichoke hearts, spinach, Parmesan, sour cream, garlic, lemon zest and red pepper flakes (if using) until combined. Season mixture with salt and pepper.
2. Unroll both pastry sheets onto baking tray, put on top of the other. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut the dough into squares and then triangles.
3. Remove tops and spread cream cheese mixture on bottom triangles. Sprinkle with mozzarella then top with second triangle.
4. In a small bowl, mix together butter and garlic powder. Brush over tops of the triangles and bake until golden, 30 minutes.
Cranberry Pomegranate Baked Brie
Source: Liren Baker, Kitchen Confidante, Nov. 13, 2016
12 ounces fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
1 cup pomegranate juice (see notes)
3/4 cup granulated sugar more or less to taste (see notes)
1 cup pomegranate arils
16 ounces brie (two 8-ounce wheels)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup candied or sweet and spicy pecans
Rosemary for garnish (optional)
Crackers for serving
1. Combine the cranberries, pomegranate juice and sugar in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and let it cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the cranberries have all popped. Adjust sweetness to taste by adding more sugar, if necessary. Stir in the pomegranate aerils. Transfer to a glass container and cool completely. This can be done a few days in advance.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place wheels of brie on ovenproof serving dishes or a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for about 7 minutes, or until the cheese is starting to soften. Top with the honey and cranberry pomegranate sauce, and return to the oven for 2-3 more minutes, or until the brie gooey and soft.
3. Remove from oven, top with candied walnuts and garnish with rosemary, if using. Serve warm with crackers.
Notes: Depending on the pomegranate juice you find, there can be a difference in strength and sweetness — note that pomegranate juice that is fresh tastes different than pomegranate juice from concentrate. Either will work, just taste and sweeten your sauce with sugar accordingly.