New Year’s Eve Dinner

New Year’s Eve is a festive time in our house, with a feeling totally different from Christmas and the Christmas season. While Christmas is about comfort and family and Joie de Noël, the celebration of the coming of the New Year is about ambitions and hopes and dreams.

We like to put on a good, high class buffet spread for the New Year’s celebration. We put on lots of good music, have great conversations with old friends, and we toast midnight with a flute of bubbly! For a good New Year spread, this is what we include:

Crudités – In lieu of a salad on your New Year’s Eve buffet, a large and complete vegetable tray gives a cold and crisp start to the meal as well as a welcome break from the complex and rich hot offerings of the buffet. Additionally, a crudités is very convenient finger food. My personal preference is to avoid so-called “baby” carrots, and take the time to cut batons. Match the cut of your celery. Include anything that you like or that you find interesting in the produce section of the grocery or at your farmers’ market. Simplicity is your friend, so try to avoid composed elements on the crudités.

Bread – If you have time to bake a couple of rustic loaves for New Year’s Eve, this can be an impressive touch. However, if like most of us you do not, leverage your local Boulanger or Trader Joe’s! Great rustic breads and rolls are readily available at many grocery stores, so do not feel bound to make your own. Have a good volume on hand and serve it with your best olive oil and balsamic vinegar if you like. Bread serves multiple functions in the buffet line, so have a good variety on hand.

Standing Rib Roast – This is our tradition, and it creates a noble centerpiece for the New Year’s feast, standing upon its rack. For an even more beautiful presentation, if you have a butcher who can produce special cuts for you, go for a long-bone standing rib! Recipes are readily available from the Internet and numerous cookbooks. An excellent and simple one is Food Network host Alton Brown’s available at the Food Network’s website, listed in the links accompanying this article. Serve it with a side of jus, homemade horseradish sauce, blackcurrant jelly and good, spicy mustard, if you like.

Salmon in Aspic – This is an old-school, Escoffier-esque recipe, but it makes a beautiful counterpoint to the standing rib for your New Year’s Eve dinner. The flavor marries well with the other flavors on the table and it is an offering for the non-beef eaters in the crowd. Be forewarned: This is a time consuming work of art, and you will need to put some time aside for it the day before. This is also an old, classic, and recipes are readily available – the one on Epicurious.com works well, listed in the links accompanying this article. If you do not have this much time, a simpler salmon recipe will do.

Yorkshire Puddings – Roast beef is just not complete without the Yorkshire Puddings to go with it! There are numerous recipes for this one, but mine is from Samuel Chamberlain’s beautiful and iconic cookbook/travelogue from 1963, British Bouquet. Following is the excerpt:

Allow all the ingredients to reach room temperature before mixing the batter. Measure out one scant cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sift the mixture into a bowl, make a hole in the center, and pour into it 2 beaten eggs. Stir them very gradually into the flour until the batter is well blended and smooth. Add gradually, stirring all the while, 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup water. When you have a perfectly smooth batter, beat it well. Let it rest for an hour. Beat it again and pour it into a rectangular shallow 9-by-12 baking tin heated in the oven and containing a 1/4-inch coating of drippings from the roast beef. The drippings must be sizzling when you pour in the batter about ½ inch deep. Bake the pudding in a hot oven (400° F.) for about 20 minutes. Lower the heat to moderate (350° F.) and bake the pudding for 10 or 12 minutes longer. It should be well browned, crisp and puffy. Cut it in squares and serve it with the roast beef.

The only change I make to this classic old recipe is that I put it in jumbo muffin tins, which produce popover-like individual puddings. This is a compromise for the buffet line, as I prefer the texture of the pudding out of the rectangular pan.

Hoppin’ John – This is an influence from my southern relations. You have to have black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day to assure good luck in forthcoming twelve months! Getting my current batch of relatives to eat black-eyed peas is hard enough – I don’t even try to get them to eat the Collards for wealth in the coming year. Recipes abound, but try the one from Paul Prudhomme’s first book – it rocks.

Salted Fingerling Potatoes – These are delectable any time of year and with just about any meal. Or, for that matter, as a snack while you are re-watching The Quiet Man on DVD. I like them on buffets because they are easy to eat and not too sloppy. One word of warning: Make about double the recommended recipe – everyone loves these! The recipe I use is very simple:

Ingredients:
1 1/4 lbs. Kosher or rock salt
2 quarts water
2 lbs. small fingerling potatoes, washed
4 tablespoons butter (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives

Method:

In a large pot, combine the salt, water, and potatoes and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the pot to a cooling rack and let stand for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve as is or with butter, pepper, or chives. Alternatively, you can serve these with your favorite bleu cheese sauce, in which case you may need to produce triple what you think you need.

Desserts! – Whatever you like the best! We have to have a New York cheesecake and a pecan pie with our New Year’s Eve dinner. Sticky toffee pudding is a favorite, as is homemade ice cream. This is going to be a late night, so bring out the dessert line after you have cleared the entrées. Try to pair well with the bubbly that you have selected for your midnight toast. Because most of our friends are not hardcore Champagne aficionados, I usually have a Demi-sec on hand as well as a Brut, and I pair the desserts with the wines. Fruitbasket cakes, fruit tarts and dark chocolate are all good choices-a tray of truffles is a decadent and popular choice for any New Year’s Eve buffet. Additionally, with all the New Year’s resolutions flying around, it is nice to have a fairly healthy alternative to the cheesecake available, such as a selection of fresh fruits. Nothing goes better with a Rosé Brut Champagne than a bowl of beautiful and fresh ruby red strawberries!

I hope that this guide is of some assistance in preparing your New Year’s Eve dinner, and have a wonderful and safe New Year’s Eve!