I can hardly believe that it is the end of another decade. Doesn’t it seem like just a few days ago that we were celebrating the turn of the millennium? Time certainly flies!
For me, Christmas is focused on kids in my life, but New Year’s Eve offers the chance to kick back and celebrate with my friends, sisters, and brother. It’s a more “adult” affair, because I don’t know too many five-year-olds who can graciously stay awake until midnight! This year, I’ll be hosting a casual cocktail party with finger foods that can be prepared in advance. That way, I’ll be able to raise a glass and have a nibble with my guests when they arrive. Here are some of the easy appetizers on my menu:
Mini Goat Cheese Cheesecakes look sophisticated and are so savory, but they’re a cinch to make in a mini muffin tin. Bake off the tart shells, made of refrigerated biscuit dough, the morning of your party. Whip up the filling and refrigerate it until you’re ready to fill and bake the shells. A few minutes before your party begins, spoon the filling into the cups, bake for 10 minutes, and you’re good to go!
Want to really impress your friends? Make up a batch of gougeres, a fancy French word for cheese puffs. Nothing could be simpler, and no one will believe that you actually made them yourself. Start with the recipe for Cream Puffs & Éclairs. This dough, called choux pastry, (pronounced shoe pastry), is the same base for gougeres – just add in some grated cheese and chopped herbs, and leave out the pastry cream filling. Follow the recipe through the first quantity of 4 eggs. When the last egg is nearly incorporated into the batter, add 1 cup of grated sharp cheddar or gruyere cheese, 3 tablespoons of grated parmesan, and 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped chives or thyme. Pipe and bake the dough according to the recipe. I love these bite-sized poppers because you can customize the cheese and herbs to your liking. Serve them immediately, or make them in advance, cool completely, and stick them in the freezer. The day of the party, preheat your oven to 375° and bake the frozen puffs on a sheet pan. They’ll be wonderfully crispy after 5 minutes.
Every party is better with a cheese plate, and with so many kinds of cheeses available in the grocery store, a great looking assortment comes together easily. For a gourmet touch, try this recipe for buttery and fragrant Rosemary and Cracked Black Pepper Shortbread, made in a springform pan. Who says it’s just for cheesecakes?
Rosemary and Cracked Black Pepper Shortbread
1 Cup Butter
1/3 Cup Sugar
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 325°. Prepare a 10” springform pan with vegetable pan spray. In a medium mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar, pepper, rosemary, and salt. Add flour and mix until dough holds together in large clumps. Press dough into prepared pan. Score raw dough into 16 wedges and prick with fork. Bake 24-28 minutes, or until shortbread is very lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes before removing the collar of the pan; cool completely before breaking apart to serve.
Makes 16 wedges.
Here’s to a happy, healthy 2010 filled with family, friends and delicious food to share with them!