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New Years Eve With The Editors

December 31st, 2012

Happy New Whatever!

Kelley McClain
managing editor

I’ve never been comfortable at a typical New Year’s Eve bash. I’m no Scrooge, it’s just that to me, those boisterous parties have always seemed rather contrived and forced. And while I’ll occasionally go out of my way to jump into the fray and do my best to participate in the hyped-up frivolity, I usually prefer a laid-back celebration at home.

Serving food at the holidays can be extremely stressful, especially when friends and family like a multitude of different foods. After much thought and consideration, I experienced a liberating epiphany: I’m not planning a menu to please my friends and family; I’m pleasing my tastes. Here, I propose a fantasy menu, cooked by a team of talented chefs and presented by a crackerjack team of servers. This is my reward at the end of a hard-working year and a reprieve in preparation for the year ahead.

First things first: A glass of wine. While my husband gravitates toward a big glass of red, perhaps a fine cru from St. Émilion, I usually reach first for Champagne. I’ll work my way to the reds later on. Music is mandatory—of the non-holiday variety, please. Some blues for me and acid jazz for my better half. Rather than hewing to the schedule of a formal dinner—a last supper of the year, as it were—I prefer a parade of passed hors d’oeuvres and appetizers, small portable portions that guests can carry as they move about the party to share joyful toasts and quiet moments of reflection. Clearly, I don’t have any grand traditions that must be honored, so no rules apply in terms of types of cuisine.

Katie Button’s esparragos blancos are a nice light start, as are leeks with Danish blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette from Hubert Roetherdt.

A bit of seafood always feels right. I could go for something as seemingly simple as Charles Phan’s bánh bèo: steamed rice cakes with mung beans and shrimp or as elaborate as Brian Lewis’ grilled Spanish octopus salad with black garlic aïoli, guanciale, pea shoots, duck fat potatoes, and pimentón.

I’ve always been a meat and potatoes junkie, and Josh DeChellis’ “barreled” beef—dry-aged rib steak roasted and flamed with wine and Scotch on a wine barrel head and apportioned for appetizers—would certainly hit the spot. I’m always willing to venture in to game meats as well. A rabbit confit in crisp potato slices with herb salad, truffles, and meat jus vinaigrette from Jean-Georges Vongerichten would do the trick.

Winding down for the evening, consider a drinkable dessert such as a foam-topped Espresso/Coconut Martini. And, Auld Lang Syne notwithstanding, cinnamon beignets with Valrhona hot chocolate are a delicious way to forget about portion control.

Jim Poris
senior editor

Way back when I was a teenager, the biggest New Year’s Eve party I gladly skipped out on was when at five-to-that-midnight moment the subway train I was riding pulled into Times Square, the doors opened, and I didn’t get out. The doors closed. The train bolted. And that was that. Been that way ever since with me and New Year’s Eve. I leave the crowds, the noise, the hoarse Happy New Year’s salutations, and the drunken hugs to others. Revelry to me is a fireside dinner for two with all the wedding china and glassware, multiple courses of food I gathered and cobbled and tweaked and babysat over the course of a few days, and a lot of wine that I’d never consider opening on, say, August 16. The first note my new year hears is a soft clink, not a shriek.

There’s time to prepare for New Year’s Eve, a becalmed run-up to the year’s last day after the frantic push to Christmas. Lots of prep time means a cold foie dish, say a torchon with some kind of Alsatian wine gelée, like the one Thomas Keller writes about in The French Laundry Cookbook. I always get in a side of Daniel Boulud’s smoked salmon from Rod Mitchell at Browne Trading in Portland, Maine. Serve that early on with Champagne (or a peat-bomb from Isaly), with Rhode Island johnnycakes made from farm-ground flint corn subbing for blini and last spring’s pickled ramps and shaved shallots as garnishes. For years now I’ve been getting in a geoduck from Taylor Shellfish in Washington State: blanch 5 seconds; chill; squeeze out water while still in shell; open; remove sheath from siphon; separate from body; hold siphon and body separately. The siphon winds up sliced like sashimi for a kind of shabu-shabu with a reduced oyster/matsutake dashi garnished with floating odds and ends like enoki, matsutake, yuzu zest (a pinch), a bit of scallion, or whatever as dipping sauce to take the chill off the shellfish. Sometimes I’ll next cook up some soba to sauce with the dipped-in dashi and garnish with scallions as a kind of pasta course.

Pièce de résistance? Usually a game bird, like a wood pigeon or grouse, or mallard, one of those buckshot-blasted wild Scottish things with a junipery wild blueberry sauce, crosnes, and who-know-what-looks-good-in-the market-in-dead-of-winter that day. Savoy cabbage? Red cabbage? B. sprouts? The whole dish is an excuse for a brambly Rhône or a Bordeaux with breeding, depending on how I feel. Then cheeses: runny ones, pungent ones, blue ones, red (crusted) ones, with big pears and preserved quince. Maybe a dessert. I probably would have made one—not festive but I’m a sucker for gâteau Basque. Partial to the stollen Thomas Haas makes in Vancouver, if I remember to order one or two from him. Chances are we’ll be too full, too tired, too done-in to eat it. But a bit more Champagne? Why not? It’s New Year’s Day. Clink.