Looking to avoid running the gauntlet of New Year’s parties but nervous about hosting your own soirée? These simple tips and tricks will keep your year-end bash on track, so all you have to worry about is your resolutions.
Get a Head Start
The first rule of hosting: don’t leave everything to the last minute, or you’ll stress out your oven, yourself, and your guests as they watch you run around the kitchen. Take a page from parties of yore, and prepare this easy overnight baked ham with Riesling mustard glaze. The day of the party, slice and serve with store-bought biscuits, artisanal breads or crackers, the best mustard you can find and plenty of cornichons for a hearty platter that blows charcuterie out of the water.
Apply Small Appliances
Chances are, you’ve bought or inherited appliances you rarely use. Now’s the time to bring them out, whether that’s baking bread in the toaster oven or cooking rice in the microwave. You can also tap into your microwave’s steaming possibilities to make à la minute corn on the cob (in the husk).
The slow cooker languishing in your storage room should take a place of pride on your table this holiday. From roasting a whole chicken to keeping gravy, soup or mulled wine warm, a slow cooker is the secret weapon for any party planner. For a fun take on fondue, put out some dippables such as pound cake, waffles or even bacon, to dunk into a bubbling slow cooker filled with molten chocolate.
Bite Sized Bliss
Perfectly portioned bites make it easy for the host and guests to chase cutlery worries away. Using shot glasses to serve small tastes of soups, dips or even seafood means you can leave the flatware in the drawer (and lessen your clean up after the party).
Champagne is a quintessential element at any New Year’s Eve celebration. Why not add a festive touch with a create-your-own champagne cocktail bar? Ina Garten suggests letting guests experiment with crème de cassis, framboise, brandy and fresh fruit for their own personalized bevvy.
You’ve got your wine, craft beer and cocktail pairings all set for your main courses, but are you sure those pre-dinner cocktails your guests are sipping don’t clash with the passed hors d’oeuvres? Look for sweet and salty combinations that are versatile pairings with everything from sherry to a whisky sour, like these Gorgonzola-stuffed dates.
Pick drinks that can double as desserts with the addition of a sorbet or ice cream. Candy canes or gingersnaps can adorn a hot chocolate affogato, or a scoop of sorbet turns an Italian sgroppino champagne cocktail into dessert.
A blue cheese and chive butter can be a chameleon on the plate, appearing on a cheese board, topping a thick rib-eye or jazzing up some steamed green beans. Get creative with your cheese combinations: brie and cranberry or cream cheese spiked with orange can help add some flair to your flavours.
Think About Temperatures
To give your oven and fridge a break, and to ensure you’re not running between the two all evening, plan for a few dishes at room temperature. Roasted root vegetable platters can be prepared ahead, so all you have to do before guests arrive is reheat and uncover your creations.
Bring a Plus One
Rather than experimenting with untested recipes, take a cue from Ricardo and make a tried and true recipe — with a seasonal twist!
Streamline Your Shopping
With flexible ingredients such as puff pastry, one package opens up a whole raft of possibilities to cut down on your shopping and cooking list. Wrapped over a bowl of soup, it puffs up to a perfectly elegant dome, or for a sweet treat, try two different takes on pinwheels filled with hazelnuts or crunchy caramels.
Keep your guests entertained (and out of the kitchen) with some interactive food stations. Put out a container of skewers with a plate of pesto, tortellini and cheese, or a cluster of tea cups with a tureen of soup to let guests snack throughout the evening at their own pace. Make your own cupcake or tart bar with multiple toppings such as marshmallows and candied bacon, colourful icing, sprinkles and fruit. Looking for something simpler? Buy good quality mascarpone or ricotta, fresh figs and other fruit and a bakery item such as brownies.
Just Add Ice
It’s easy to underestimate the amount of ice you’ll go through over the course of the night. As the party heats up, keep your cool with a pretty prepared ice rings studded with fruit to chill punch bowls. Forgot to chill white wine or other beverages earlier in the day? Toss a handful of salt into cold water and ice to give your drinks a quick chill.
Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow
Make up guest beds well ahead of time (no one wants to be trying to fiddle with fitted sheets in the wee hours of the morning) and have a prepared casserole in the fridge to toss in the oven the next morning. A hearty breakfast such as a blueberry and cream French toast bake, served with lots of coffee, will make the start to the new year better for everyone.