Usher in the New Year
With a Soirée or a Daytime Bash
Each year, as the ball drops at midnight in Times Square, we're glued to the TV watching the huddled crowd of thousands go wild with excitement. Confetti flies from upper stories, streamers zoom overhead, and the jubilant shouts of "Happy New Year" fill the air. In a matter of seconds the atmosphere is frenzied with happy voices as we, our guests, and the Times Square crowd officially welcome in another year, a new beginning, a fresh start.
Whether our New Year celebration bids farewell to the "old" year on New Year's Eve or welcomes in the new year on New Year's Day, we can bet the celebrants will be in a festive mood and ready for some tasty bites and zesty beverages.
We plan to start the New Year's Eve gatherings on the late side, often about nine or even ten in the evening. That's because many friends enjoy going out to dinner before the party and joining together afterward for nibbling on finger foods, tidbits, and some New Year spirit.
Beverages may become the main focus if guests arrive after a hearty dinner, so we're prepared with a few choices to tempt the party crowd. Sometimes we'll talk to guests well ahead to determine what their beverage preferences may be. On the other hand, as hosts of the party, we assume partygoers will be delighted to guzzle the creations we've prepared especially for the occasion.
For the early starter crowd, a more substantial meal might include informal, make-ahead foods like a crock-pot of Barn Burner Chili with add-ins like chopped onions, corn kernels, chopped olives, and shredded vegan cheese to keep the guests well fed. We always provide some whole-grain breads and an array of tasty toppings to partner with the chili and prepare a couple of salad dishes to round out the meal. Often, we consider a tossed salad with a colorful selection of veggies and plenty of greens along with a grain-based salad.
At our New Year's Day Open House Party, two giant stockpots gently bubbling with a couple of deliciously robust soups stand tall on the stovetop. One might be the well-seasoned Split Pea Vegetable Soup, while the other might be a zesty Mulligatawny or creamy Sweet Potato Soup. We plan ahead and toss a few whole breads into our bread maker, freeze them, and have them defrosting the night before the gathering.
We're always mindful of the football fans who won't want to miss that exciting moment their team scores a touchdown. Simple foods like chili or soup allow them to enjoy the festivities while glued to the TV.
Frequently, we like to shake our guests out of their familiar comfort zones and urge them to explore the unfamiliar. Bread toppings like Shiitake Walnut Paté and Smoky Garlic Spread provide a great opportunity to introduce wildly innovative flavors, some savory, others pungent.
We recognize today's busy lifestyles leave many of us little time to spend preparing complicated dishes, so we always welcome easy preps and are grateful when guests offer to bring "a little something." We consider that "something" a blessing, and accept it graciously.
We've noticed people are rather sentimental about holidays like New Years and tend to revert to long-standing traditions like singing Auld Lang Syne and kissing at midnight. We're prepared with streamers to toss when the radio or TV announces the momentous countdown and ready to pour special beverages so guests can clink their glasses to wish each other a happy new year.
We save one or two special treats like cookies or confections to serve with coffee or tea after the midnight excitement. Something sweet and a hot beverage guarantee a warm and happy conclusion to the festivities.
For the New Year's Day Open House party, our invitation is specific in determining the length of the party to avoid people showing up before we're ready or long after everyone's left. Either the make-ahead Chili or Hearty Soup Choices work well for events that have guests coming and going at different times. Finger foods are always a hit as are hearty grain or bean-based salads. And we can't forget that something sweet never fails to send the party folk home with a smile.
When the last guests bid goodnight, we take a moment to reflect on the "old year." We both smile and bid personal farewells, and, then, look ahead with hope for a great new year. We usually have a resolution or two and quietly seal those thoughts with personal promises as we start clearing the table and putting dirty dishes into the dishwasher.
MENU FOR AN IRRESISTIBLY DELICIOUS NEW YEAR GATHERING
Smoky Garlic Spread
Whole Grain Bread selection (English muffins, pita, 100% whole wheat bread)
Persimmon Coconut Walnut Bars
Decked out for the holiday in its festive winter coat of pecans, peppercorns, and fresh herbs and served with crackers, this tasty log of well-seasoned tofu will delight a hungry crowd of party guests with a single schmear. It has lots going for it--great flavor, attractive looks, and a crunchy topping for appealing texture. It works perfectly as a make-ahead starter. If you leave it in the fridge for more than three days, it will still maintain its wonderful flavors, but the pecans lose their crunch. The recipe makes two logs so you can spread the joy around by placing each log on a separate platter and serving each in a different room.
NEW YEAR LOG ENCRUSTED IN SPICY PECAN GREMOLATA
Yield: about 15 to 25 servings
1 cup (240ml) pecans
2 tablespoons black or mixed peppercorns
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water
Leftover Spicy Pecan Gremolata
Other ways to enjoy the filling:
This is an easy, robust, and delicious chili with flavors that intensify when made a day ahead. For a crowd of 50 you'll need to quadruple this recipe. I make two pots of mild chili for the timid folk and two pots of the spicier variety for the stouthearted souls. The recipe makes a fairly mild chili. For a zestier bite, use 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes and add an extra tablespoon of chili powder. While the recipe contains directions for preparing the chili in a stockpot, it is portioned for a 6-quart crock pot. For a 4-quart size, cut the recipe by one-third.
Before tossing the ingredients into the crockpot, you'll need to water-sauté the onions for close to 30 minutes to coax out their sweetness, a process called caramelizing. Usually sautéing is done with vegetable oil or some kind of fat, but this recipe is flavorful and delicious without the fat. The caramelizing process is slow and gentle, using only medium or medium-high heat to avoid burning the onions. Because onions prepared this way contribute so much to the savory chili, you'll find it's well worth the time invested. ahead and left in the freezer until shortly before serving. This is one of the delcious main dishes in Zel's cookbook, Vegan for the Holidays.
BARN BURNER CHILI
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
2 green bell peppers, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 1/4 cups ( 540 ml) water
Note: Consider replacing the chestnuts with 2 cups (480 ml) bite-size chunks of peeled fresh or canned yams. They add pleasing flavor, texture, and healthy goodness to the chili.
A deliciously rich tasting spread, the paté is easy to assemble and offers plenty of versatility. Serve it with whole-grain crackers or toasted whole-wheat pita or try one of the suggestions below. You can also enjoy this savory, ultra-creamy paté as an appetizer. Any way you choose to enjoy it you'll reap the many health benefits of walnuts. They're not only a delicious, nutrient-dense food, but they are also an excellent source of plant-based Omega 3 fatty acids.
SHIITAKE WALNUT PATÉ
Yield: about 1 2/3 cups (400 ml)
1 small onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon water plus more as needed
1/2 cup (120 ml) raw walnuts
The addition of liquid smoke makes this garlicky tofu spread an instant favorite. It's delightfully savory and begs for an earthy whole-grain bread or pita.
SMOKY GARLIC SPREAD
Yield: about 2 1/2 cups (500 ml)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Nothing comforts like a bowl of hot soup brimming with vegetables and zesty seasonings when the weather turns cold, rainy, windy, or snowy. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day can be any or all of those, causing guests to make a dashing beeline to the soup kettle. Mulligatawny Soup originated as a meat or chicken-based soup in East India, which explains the multitude of seasonings. As the soup traveled to the West, different ingredients were added, reflecting the influences of many creative cooks. In this vegan version, tofu makes the soup hearty enough to be the main dish. Accompany the soup with plenty of whole grain bread. You can even enhance the soup by adding cooked brown rice to the stockpot or putting the brown rice into each soup bowl and spooning the soup over it.
MULLIGATAWNY VEGETABLE SOUP
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 large broccoli crown, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large green apple, unpeeled, cored, and chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced
1/2 red or green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 whole cloves
3/4 cup (180 ml) water
1 quart (1 liter) vegetable broth or water
2 cups (480 ml) coconut milk
Old-fashioned split pea soup can deliver comfort and satiety in a single bowl. Enhance it with vegetables, and it only gets better. While some people prefer pea soup completely pureed, our preference is to partially puree the soup leaving some of the vegetables intact to provide a pleasant texture. For serving a large gathering, we always double this recipe. If, by chance, there is some soup left over, it's even better the next day.
SPLIT PEA VEGETABLE SOUP
Yield: 6 generous servings
9 1/2 cups (2.25 liters) water, divided
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed in a mortar and pestle
Freshly ground black pepper
3 large carrots, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
*Though the parsnip is optional, it does impart an irresistible touch of sweetness, making the soup much more flavorful.
CHUNKY VARIATION: To the already listed vegetables, add any of the following:
2 to 4 stalks celery, diced
1 or 2 broccoli crowns, chopped
1/4 head cauliflower, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
Sauté the vegetables in a small amount of water until they are softened and add them to the stockpot after pureeing the peas. Cook gently for about 5 to 10 minutes to blend the flavors, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
The entree may be exceptional, and even lavish, but everyone will most likely remember the dessert. If you loved peanut butter since you were a kid and could never get enough of it, you'll find this well-endowed frozen peanut butter torte easy to love. It's deliriously rich in flavor, densely packed with peanut butter, and perfectly accented with cinnamon to bring out its sweetness. The list of ingredients relies mostly on simple, whole foods, yet this tasty torte gives the impression of a much more complex preparation. The bonus for the host is that this exceptional treat can be prepared several days ahead and left in the freezer until shortly before serving. This is one of the delcious desserts in Zel's cookbook, Vegan for the Holidays.
CINNAMON PEANUT BUTTER TORTE
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) whole almonds
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) dried cranberries
I look forward to the fall and winter season for the stunning bounty of wonderful fruits that come to market. I welcome them all, but there is one special fruit that brings me extreme joy--the Hachiya persimmon. This fruit has two distinct personalities. Before it's fully ripened, it has an unpleasant, astringent quality that quickly turns people away. But patience pays off. When the fruit is fully ripened, a process that can take up to one or two weeks, it becomes totally softened and squishy all over. That's when the flavor is exceptionally sweet and offers a taste of nirvana with every bite. The Hachiya persimmon is a delightful experience simply eaten as is, skin and all, but it also adds wonderful flavor and a pleasing moistness to holiday treats like these irresistible bar cookies.
PERSIMMON COCONUT CHESTNUT BAR COOKIES
Yield: about 32 bars
1 cup (240 ml) chopped walnuts
3/4 cup (180 ml) dried unsweetened coconut
2/3 cup (160 ml) packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (120 ml) black raisins
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup (240 ml) Hachiya persimmon pulp
1 tablespoon Ener-g Egg Replacer
Easy Icing (optional)
2 to 4 tablespoons soymilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar