Count down to 2018 from the comfort of your home with easy, last-minute nibbles

New Year’s Eve typically reveals two types of people: the party animal who wants to be in the center of all the action and the homebody whose idea of excitement is deciding whether to rock in the new year with Ryan Seacrest on ABC or CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Those in the first category love nothing more than counting down the minutes at the biggest, loudest party they can find. The latter just want a comfy spot on the couch, with a tempting array of finger foods to keep them company while watching the ball drop on Times Square.

This story is for the those who don’t need to leave the house to have a good time and are looking for easy yet amazing appetizers to set next to the chips on the coffee table.

If you like to munch all night long, how does a bowl of sweet-and-spicy toasted mixed nuts sound? Seasoned with chopped fresh rosemary and a sprinkle of cayenne, they’re on par with that silver bowl of nuts you might get at a swanky bar only better, because you can go heavy on the cashews.

If dips are more your style, nothing is better than a warm and gooey chili con queso — that addictive blend of roasted chilies and melted cheese that is ubiquitous in the Southwest.

For bigger appetites, there is always the mini Reuben that sets up shop in a homemade pretzel bun. You can prepare the buns earlier in the day and then assemble and toast them when there’s a lull in the live broadcast.

And finally, because 2017 should end on a sweet note — might we suggest cheesecake bites for an easy dessert? But instead of the traditional graham cracker bottom, why not feed your chocolate addiction with an Oreo crust? It comes together in minutes, and then you have the rest of the cookie package to dunk in milk on New Year’s Day. A spoonful of jammy raspberry topping is the crowning touch and a harbinger of the cheery times to follow in 2018.

Happy New Year!

Gretchen McKay:, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Mini Rueben Pretzel Sandwiches

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The original recipe calls for Gruyere cheese, which can be expensive, so I substituted Swiss. To make Russian dressing, mix 1 cup mayonnaise with ½ cup ketchup and ¼ cup sweet pickle relish.

For pretzels

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 cup warm (110 degrees) water

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

2 teaspoons coarse salt

Olive oil, for greasing bowl

¼ cup baking soda

1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Coarse sea salt, for sprinkling

For filling

4-ounce block of Gruyere cheese

4 ounces corned beef

¼ cup homemade or bottled Russian dressing

½ cup chopped sauerkraut, drained

Make dough: In large bowl, dissolve yeast and brown sugar in warm water and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons melted butter, flour and salt, and mix to incorporate the ingredients. Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until it forms a ball, 2 to 3 minutes. Grease large bowl with olive oil, place dough ball in bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and portion into 20 1-ounce balls. Roll into ropes, then twist into pretzel shapes. Cover pretzels with clean dish towel and let rise until puffy, about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In large pot over high heat, bring 6 cups water and baking soda to a simmer. Working in batches, carefully drop pretzels in the water and simmer for 15 to 30 seconds or until they float. Remove from water with slotted spoon and place on prepared sheet. Brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle generously with salt.

Bake 1 to 2 minutes or until just beginning to color. Brush quickly with some of the remaining melted butter and return to oven to bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove and brush once more with butter after baking. Remove pretzels and set aside to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, slice cheese and corned beef into 40 squares each to fit the pretzels and set aside.

When pretzels have cooled, split them in half. Spread each half with Russian dressing and assemble into sandwiches with 2 slices of cheese, 2 slices of corned beef and a pinch of sauerkraut.

Place on baking sheet and warm in oven just long enough to heat through and melt the cheese, about 2 to 3 minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 20 sandwiches.

— Adapted from “Peter Callahan’s Party Food” (Clarkson Potter; August 2017; $35)

Mini Cherry Cheesecakes 

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The original recipe called for cherries, but I substituted raspberries, which are easier to find in December. I also swapped a mini muffin pan for a regular-sized pan to create bite-sized desserts. This way you won’t feel guilty eating two or three.

12 Oreo cookies

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

⅓ cup granulated sugar

⅔ cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup raspberries, chopped

2 tablespoons Chambord raspberry liqueur

2 tablespoons honey

⅛ teaspoon cinnamon

12 fresh mint leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 24-cavity mini muffin tin with cooking spray.

Process Oreos in food processor until crumbly. Add melted butter; pulse for 30 seconds to combine. Evenly divide Oreo mixture between the muffin tins. Press mixture firmly to create the crust. Bake for 5 minutes.

Beat together cream cheese and sugar using a handheld mixer until smooth. Add ricotta, vanilla and eggs; beat until smooth. Divide mixture between muffin tins. Bake for 15 minutes until set. Remove from oven and cool. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Before serving, let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine raspberries, Chambord, honey and cinnamon. Bring to simmer over low heat and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until mixture is syrupy. Let cool to room temperature.

Spoon raspberry sauce over each cheesecake and garnish with mint leaves.

Makes 24 mini cheesecakes.

— Adapted from “In Style Parties: The Complete Guide to Easy, Elegant Entertaining Year Round” (Oxmoor House; October 2017; $30)

Roasted Mixed Nuts with Rosemary

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These nuts are salty, spicy and sweet and perfect for noshing.

1 pound raw whole cashews

½ pound raw whole pecans

½ pound raw whole almonds

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1½ tablespoons light brown sugar

3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread nuts in single layer on a greased rimmed baking sheet. Bake until roasted, abouty 5 minutes. Remove nuts from pan.

Melt butter with brown sugar in a Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat; stir in rosemary, salt and cayenne.

Add nuts to sugar mixture and toss to coat. Spread nuts in single layer on baking sheet. Bake until light brown, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool completely, about 20 minutes.

Makes about 5 cups.

— Adapted from “What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up” by Elizabeth Heiskell (Oxmoor House; October 2017; $30)

Spinach Queso

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This Popeye-approved cheesy dip will help fulfill your daily requirement of vegetables. Not really, but every little bit helps, right? Serve with homemade tortilla chips or toasted bagel bites.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups chopped baby spinach

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup whole milk

1 cup water

16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

4 Anaheim chilies, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced

Homemade or jarred pico de gallo

1 avocado, peeled, halved, pitted and sliced

Tortilla chips, for serving

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and cayenne, then drain spinach in colander.

Rinse and wipe out saucepan, then add cornstarch, milk and water, and whisk until well combined. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, and cook for a couple of minutes, until mixture begins to thicken. Add cheese, turn down heat to low and cook, stirring, until cheese has melted. Stir in spinach and chilies. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Transfer queso to serving bowl, small slow cooker or chafing dish over a flame. Top with pico de gallo and sliced avocado. Serve warm with tortilla chips.

Serves 6 to 8.

— Adapted from “Queso: Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip” by Lisa Fain (Ten Speed; September 2017; $15)

First Published December 27, 2017 7:30 AM


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