There's a lot I miss about my usual holiday shindigs this December. No sipping eggnog in red lipstick and spangles, no parking myself in front of platters of camembert and Stilton, not even any sleeves of Ritz crackers with that unidentifiable orange cheese spread I look forward to year after year.
But while there won't be any parties, there will still be festive snacks and plenty of them. My plan for a grand but small-scale New Year's Eve celebration is to make an array of fun, tasty bites to nibble on throughout the evening — and if things get wild with a double feature, well into the night. Having a varied mix of dishes, ones that pair as well with Champagne as they do with a winter fruit shrub for the kid, will make it feel like a blowout even when it's just my family of three.
A menu like this should be filling enough to take the place of dinner, and very casual, so you can eat it snuggled on the couch, silverware strictly optional. Plus, because you'll probably be grazing over the span of an evening, you'll need things that are as good at room temperature as they are piping hot.
These four dishes hit all the right notes.
First, there's a dip, because everyone knows it's not a party without a dip. (Lockdown bonus: When it's only your immediate household, you can probably get away with double-dipping.) For this menu, there's not one, but two thrilling dip options. Or, technically speaking, one dip and one spread, since the fig-and-olive tapenade might be too thick to scoop without breaking your breadstick.
Instead, use a spoon to smush it all over a hunk of country bread, and pile some prosciutto and maybe a few persimmon slices on top to highlight the marriage of savory and sweet. The other option — green onion and white pepper-spiked sour cream strewn heavily with salmon roe — is just the thing for dunking potato chips and celery sticks, just to get a green vegetable into the mix.
Stuffed mushrooms — that party circuit stalwart — also make an appearance. But instead of the usual bland, stodgy caps, these are spicy, crunchy and oily in a good way, seasoned with harissa, cumin and plenty of parmesan, and rounded out with dried apricots. Conveniently, you can stuff them up to six hours ahead, then pop them in the oven when your stomach starts to growl.
Finally, to anchor everything and make it feel like a meal, there's a satisfying, ultrabuttery puff pastry tart, filled with herbed mascarpone and thinly sliced fennel that singes at its tips. To make it even fancier, the pieces get draped with silky smoked salmon and garnished with chopped capers (vegetarians can skip the fish and double up the capers). It's zesty, flaky and just exciting enough to make it feel like a special occasion. Which, even without the spangles, your small-scale holiday can certainly be.
Fig-Olive Tapenade With Prosciutto and Persimmon
- ½ cup dried figs, stems trimmed
- ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
- 2 anchovy filets
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, more to taste
- 1 small clove garlic, coarsely chopped
- ¾ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed
- Prosciutto, for serving
- Persimmon wedges, for serving
- Toasted country bread, crackers or breadsticks, for serving
Place figs in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit until soft and pliable, 5 to 10 minutes, then drain and coarsely chop.
In a food processor, combine chopped figs, olives, anchovies, lemon juice, garlic and rosemary. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil and process until mixture becomes a paste, 1 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides once or twice. Taste and add more lemon juice and olive oil if you like.
Spoon tapenade into a bowl or crock and serve alongside thinly sliced prosciutto, persimmon wedges and bread, crackers or breadsticks.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.
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Caviar Sour Cream Dip With Potato Chips
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 ½ tablespoons thinly sliced green onion, white and green parts
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- Kosher salt, to taste
- About 2 ounces salmon roe or other caviar, for garnish
- Potato chips, for serving
- Celery sticks, for serving
In a small bowl, mix together sour cream, green onions, chives, pepper and salt to taste. Let sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes so the flavors can meld (or chill for up to 24 hours before serving).
Spoon caviar on top and serve with potato chips and celery sticks.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.
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Crispy Stuffed Mushrooms With Harissa and Apricots
- 8 ounces crimini or button mushrooms
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
- ½ small onion, finely chopped
- 1 small red chile or jalapeno, seeded if desired and finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon harissa paste (see note)
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 6 tablespoons grated parmesan, divided use
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 1 ½ tablespoons chopped dried apricots
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Lemon wedges, for serving
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove the mushroom stems from the caps and chop the stems.
Place a medium skillet over medium heat, then add 2 tablespoons olive oil and let it warm up until it thins out, about 20 seconds. Add mushroom stems, onion and chile and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, harissa, tomato paste, salt and cumin seeds and cook until the tomato paste darkens and the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet. Stirring constantly, cook breadcrumbs until lightly toasted, about 4 to 6 minutes. Keep an eye on the pan as breadcrumbs can burn quickly. Remove from heat and immediately scrape breadcrumb mixture into medium mixing bowl. Stir in 5 tablespoons of the parmesan, cilantro, dried apricots and lemon zest, tossing well. Taste and season with black pepper and more salt if needed.
Place mushroom caps on a rimmed sheet pan, cavities facing up. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Using a spoon, stuff the oiled mushroom caps with the seasoned breadcrumb mixture.
Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon grated parmesan on mushrooms. Bake until the tops are crisp and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot or warm, with lemon wedges for squeezing.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.
Note: If you can't find harissa paste, you can substitute a mix of 1 tablespoon tomato paste and ¼ teaspoon cayenne.
Smoked Salmon, Fennel and Herbed Mascarpone Tart
- 1 large fennel bulb (or 2 small ones)
- 1 to 2 lemons
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided use
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, more as needed
- 1 cup mascarpone
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more sprigs for garnish
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- All-purpose flour, for dusting the work surface
- 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed if frozen (about 14 ounces)
- 4 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
Trim the fennel. Halve the fennel top to bottom, then use a paring knife to cut out the thick core in the center. Remove the tough outer layer. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, slice the fennel horizontally as thinly as possible. You should have 3 to 3 ½ cups.
Grate 1 ½ teaspoon zest from the lemon, then squeeze out 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice, keeping zest and juice separate.
In a mixing bowl, toss together fennel slices, lemon juice, olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper. Let sit for 20 minutes to soften fennel.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 425 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In another medium mixing bowl, use a rubber spatula to mix together the mascarpone, herbs, egg, lemon zest, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper until well-combined.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to form a 13-by-11-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score a ½-inch border around the edges of the puff pastry.
Spread mascarpone mixture evenly inside the scored border. Drain the excess liquid from the fennel and arrange the slices in an even layer on top of the mascarpone.
Bake until the pastry is puffed and golden, 22 to 28 minutes. Let tart cool on its baking sheet on a rack for at least 15 minutes before serving (or up to 4 hours).
To serve, cut tart into pieces. Drape each with a slice of smoked salmon, sprinkle with a little lemon juice, and garnish with capers, dill and black pepper.
Makes 8 to 12 servings.