Make it simple and fabulous

When I was a single person living in my tiny studio in New York City, I dreamt of the big New Year's Eve date, the fancy party, the jazz club at midnight that I could never, ever afford. Later as a married person, living in the country, New Year's Eve lost a bit of its gloss and hype. For one thing, I had a date.

These days my idea of a party is a simpler celebration, along with my date and some good friends. I barely even remember dreaming about the days of starry, glitzy events (well, almost never.) This year, I want to encourage people to cook and entertain. Make it a resolution.

The recipes I've gathered would feed an easy-going party of eight or 10, maybe a dozen, especially if you double- or triple-batch the shrimp. Or prepare one or two of these dishes, then add your own favorites. Or add something picked up from the Strip, maybe a cheese-and-cured meat assortment or a pile of raw veggies and a decadent dip?

Another way to go is to ask guests to make one of the recipes. Or bring one of these dishes to a friend's house. They all transport well (you'll want to saute the shrimp on site) and use easy-to-find supermarket ingredients. Plus they're pretty easy to prepare and have bold flavors and across-the-board appeal, with a fancy twist. Who doesn't like a little smoked salmon and flaky pastry? A juicy, well-seasoned meatball, a creamy, mildly spicy savory pie and this Sizzling Shrimp from a new book by Kathy Hunt. Add a dessert and break out the bubbly. Hey, it's New Year's Eve!


Instead of buying a plastic-packed, pre-cooked platter of shrimp, make it yourself. It's easy. Just follow Kathy Hunt's instructions.

"For 10 to 12 guests, you'll need 3 pounds of 16- to 20-count shrimp, a small stockpot filled with salted water, a large bowl of iced water and more ice as needed.

Bring the salted water to a boil. As it's heating, devein the shrimp, if you like, leaving the shells on. Do this with an inexpensive deveining knife or sharp paring knife. Insert the blade tip beneath the vein on the shrimp's back and pull upward. The vein usually comes out in one swift swipe.

Once the water has boiled, add the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp turn coral and begin to curl, 1 to 1½ minutes. Using a strainer or slotted spoon, remove the shrimp and place them in the bowl of iced water. Allow the shrimp to cool for 5 minutes, adding more ice as needed.

Drain and peel the shrimp. Place on a platter and serve with cocktail sauce, hot sauce or lemon wedges."

-- Adapted from "Fish Market: A Cookbook for Selecting and Preparing Seafood" by Kathy Hunt (Running Press, 2013, $22)

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp

I won't lie -- these are spicy! If that's not your thing, be more careful than I was about seeding the chiles or use only one. Get everything ready ahead of time and the cooking is done in a flash. Crusty toasted slices of French baguette are a must to sop up the juices. This will serve about six as appetizers. You will probably want to double the ingredients and make it twice or even thrice. It comes from a very useful new book "Fish Market" by Western Pennsylvania native Kathy Hunt.

1/2 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 to 3 chiles de arbol, split open, seeds removed

1 pound (16 to 20 count) shrimp, thawed, peeled and deveined, tails left on

Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1 French baguette, sliced and lightly toasted

Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and chiles and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add shrimp, sprinkle with salt and black pepper and cook, tossing, 2 to 4 minutes, or until cured and coral in color. Pour shrimp and oil into a warmed serving bowl. Scatter the parsley over top and serve with the bread.

Makes 6 appetizer servings.

-- Adapted from "Fish Market: A Cookbook for Selecting and Preparing Seafood" by Kathy Hunt (Running Press, 2013, $22)

New Year's Eve Meatballs

These don't have a sauce, nor do they need one. But if you prefer, heat up your favorite marinara sauce to serve with them. I like them as is, spooned onto small plates and eaten with a fork. Make them a day or so ahead if you like and reheat in the microwave or the oven. The water seems an odd addition but it keeps them light.

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for the pan

1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

1½ pounds lean ground beef

1/2 pound sweet bulk Italian sausage

2 large eggs

1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs

1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup cold water

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat or brush 2 rimmed baking sheets with some olive oil.

Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic and pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly browned, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to large bowl. Add ground beef, sausage, eggs, bread crumbs, parmesan, parsley, water, salt and pepper. Mix well but lightly with hands or 2 forks, just until blended. Don't overmix. If you wish, fry up a small patty to check the seasonings, adding more salt or pepper if desired.

Shape into 1½-inch meatballs and arrange without touching on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating pans in oven once, until meatballs are browned and cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes about 40 meatballs.

-- Miriam Rubin

Chili-Cheese Pie

This savory pie was inspired by a recipe in Maya Angelou's book, "Great Food All Day Long." The results will be better if you bake the crust blind before filling it, as instructed. Otherwise the crust may not completely cook on the bottom. This I know because I tested it out.

You can make this earlier in the day and serve it at room temperature or warm it briefly in the oven. Refrigerate any leftovers, as they are welcome for breakfast the next day.

Pie pastry for a 9-inch, single crust pie (store bought is fine, but the frozen crusts which come in a pie plate may not hold all the filling)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium red bell pepper, coarsely chopped (1 cup)

1/2 cup chopped sweet white onion

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

4-ounce can diced green chiles, drained

2½ cups shredded sharp white cheddar, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fit pastry into 9-inch pie plate and flute edge. Line pastry with sheet of foil and fill foil with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 10 minutes, until edges are white. Remove foil with weights and bake 5 to 7 more minutes, pressing pastry down with a spoon if it puffs or slips, until it's golden in spots. Transfer to wire rack and cool briefly.

Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion and pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until very tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool briefly.

In large bowl, whisk eggs, flour, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper until smooth. Whisk in milk and cream, stir in chiles.

Sprinkle 2 cups shredded cheese in bottom of crust. Spoon bell pepper mixture evenly over. Pour egg mixture on top. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Bake until puffed, firm and browned 35 to 45 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes 8 appetizer servings.

-- Miriam Rubin

Smoked Salmon on Puff Pastry

You can bake this a couple hours in advance, but add the smoked salmon and capers just before serving and cutting. While it might look dramatic to present the pastry whole, you'll get a mess of crumbs so cutting is best done in the kitchen. If you're expecting a crowd, double the recipe to make 2.

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 ounces goat cheese (half a 4-ounce log), at room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

1 egg yolk

3 tablespoons chopped red onion

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 sheet puff pastry, from 17¼-ounce package, thawed according to package directions

6 ounces sliced smoked salmon (most packages hold 4 ounces; buy 2 and freeze any leftovers)

Capers, if desired

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray or brush lightly with oil.

Put cream cheese, goat cheese, sour cream and egg yolk in medium bowl and beat with electric mixer until fluffy and smooth. Beat in red onion, lemon zest, salt and pepper.

Roll out pastry on lightly floured board with floured rolling pin to a 12-inch square. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly on top, leaving a 1-inch border at all sides. Bake 18 to 22 minutes, pressing down on pastry if it puffs up in the center, until it's puffed and browned around the edges. Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes. Then transfer to cutting board.

Arrange smoked salmon on top. Sprinkle with capers, if you wish. Cut into pieces to serve.

Makes about 30 pieces.

-- Miriam Rubin

Miriam Rubin: and on Twitter @mmmrubin.


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