Whether your New Year's festivities include planning a big cocktail party or hosting a simple dinner, odds are you'll want something to feed your guests over the hours as they count down to 2012.
Here are 25 easy-to-make little dishes to choose from — they're not recipes really, but ideas you can adapt to make your own. No matter whether you're planning fancy hors d'oeuvres or are looking for some simple nibbles to keep the natives from getting restless as the clock winds down, we should have you covered.Many can be prepared hours — even a day or two — in advance. A couple — the jumbo shrimp and quick-pickled carrots — require a day or so of marinating. At least one, the baked brie, needs a little oven love before the guests arrive. Nothing complicated, just a little planning.
You'll still have time to worry about the more important things, like outfitting the bar and chilling the Champagne.
Roasted almonds: Sauté raw almonds in a hot skillet with a tiny bit of olive oil until they are fragrant. Remove from the heat and season with coarse salt and a dash of smoked paprika or minced fresh herbs.
Charcuterie plate: Slice a dried sausage fairly thick and a fatter dried sausage as thinly as possible. Arrange them on a platter with sliced prosciutto or Serrano ham.
Tapenade with crostini: In a food processor, purée pitted Greek-style black olives with an anchovy or two, chopped fresh garlic and a few tablespoons of capers. Season with a pinch of cayenne and thin as desired with olive oil. Serve with baguette slices brushed with olive oil, lightly seasoned with coarse salt and toasted.
Roasted pepper hummus with pita triangles: In a food processor, purée drained canned garbanzo beans with peeled roasted red peppers, chopped fresh garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of cumin. Thin with olive oil and adjust the seasonings and flavorings as desired. Serve in a bowl alongside toasted pita chips.
Bacon-wrapped dates: Slice dates open lengthwise and remove the pits. Stuff with a chunk of good blue cheese. Wrap with a quarter strip of bacon, skewer with a toothpick and bake at 350 degrees until the bacon is crisp and the cheese is melted.
Marinated jumbo shrimp: Marinate cooked shrimp between layers of thinly sliced onion, garlic, lemon and fresh herbs (such as tarragon, parsley and/or dill) with olive oil drizzled over just to cover. Refrigerate one day before draining and serving.
Roasted squash bruschetta: Top grilled or toasted baguette slices with seasoned roasted squash purée topped with slivered Parmesan and sliced prosciutto.
Frittata: In an oven-proof frying pan, sauté sliced onion, garlic and peppers with fresh crumbled sausage, pour over eggs beaten with a little grated or crumbled fresh cheese, cook gently on the stove until almost set, then run under a broiler until puffed and browned on top. Mix up the flavorings as desired. The frittata can be served hot or made ahead and served at room temperature.
Quick-pickled carrots: Simmer equal parts of vinegar and water with crushed garlic, toasted fennel seeds, sliced lemon and a little salt. Pour the liquid over peeled, sliced and blanched carrots. Set aside to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.
Seasoned breadsticks: Roll prepared pizza dough through a fettuccine cutter on a pasta machine, or cut it by hand as thinly as possible. Brush lightly with beaten egg white and season with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of chile pepper or chopped fresh herbs. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.
Fried tofu with dipping sauce: Cut extra-firm or packaged fried tofu into cubes. Pan-fry in vegetable oil until crisp on all sides and drain on paper towels. For the dipping sauce, whisk together soy sauce with a little rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, minced fresh garlic and sliced green onion (add a little crushed dried pepper for heat).
Cheese platter: Gather a few assorted cheeses (semi-soft, firm, aged; goat, sheep and cow's milk) and serve alongside fresh or dried fruits, honey or toasted nuts.
Smoked salmon mousse: Purée smoked salmon in a food processor with just enough softened goat cheese to make a silky smooth consistency (lighten the consistency if desired by folding in a little whipped heavy cream). Serve on toasts garnished with fresh dill sprigs.
Gingered crabcakes: Combine lump crab meat with grated fresh ginger, cilantro, green onion and tobiko (fish roe). Fold in a little mayonnaise and season to taste. Form into small crabcakes, then toss first in flour, then beaten eggs, then seasoned panko crumbs (panko with a little salt and cayenne pepper). Pan-fry in vegetable oil or place on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until golden.
Fried sage leaves: Rinse whole fresh sage leaves and pat them dry with a paper towel. Dust with flour and fry in 2 inches of hot olive oil.
Herbed puff pastry sticks: Thaw frozen puff pastry, butter one side and top with chopped fresh herbs. Use a pizza cutter to slice into thin strips, twist them and bake at 375 degrees until puffed and golden.
Frico: Grease a parchment-lined baking sheet with a little olive oil. Spread finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano into small flat rounds and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is golden brown. Loosen the frico and cool on a wire rack.
Poached pear slices on toast: Peel and poach pears in spiced red wine until tender; cool, then core and thinly slice. Top toasted baguette slices with the pear, then spread over a layer of goat cheese. Top with micro or coarsely chopped bitter greens and sprinkle over crumbled bacon bits.
Harissa with flatbread: Rehydrate a few ounces of dried red chiles in hot water until softened. Drain, seed and stem the chiles and grind them in a food processor with a few cloves of garlic, a generous teaspoon of salt and ground caraway, cumin and/or coriander to taste. Thin the paste as desired with olive oil and serve with flatbread.
Baked brie: Sauté thinly sliced apple in butter with a little cinnamon and sugar. Cool the slices, then fan them over a small wheel of brie. Cover the cheese with a sheet of puff pastry (cut a hole in the center, and decorate with the puff pastry trimmings). Brush with beaten egg, then bake at 400 degrees until the pastry is puffed and golden brown. Serve warm.
Stuffed dried stone fruits: Fill pitted dried apricots or prunes with marzipan or almond paste.
Chicken satay with peanut sauce: Thinly slice boneless breasts of chicken crosswise into strips, thread onto skewers and bake at 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine a cup of peanut butter with a little coconut milk, brown sugar, soy sauce, lemon juice, sesame oil and chile paste (optional), tasting and adjusting as desired. Thin the sauce with hot water and serve while the chicken is warm.
Fingerlings with anchovies: Steam fingerling potatoes. When cool, halve them lengthwise and top with salted anchovy fillets that have been rinsed and patted dry. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and fresh-cracked black pepper.
Spiced candied walnuts: Simmer whole walnuts in simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) until tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the nuts and toss in sugar spiced with a pinch or two of cayenne pepper. Shake off the excess sugar, then spread them out on a sheet pan and place in a 250-degree oven until dried and toasted, 20 to 30 minutes.
Prosciutto and Fuyu persimmons: Quarter persimmons and remove the core if woody. Cut in thin wedges and wrap with prosciutto or Serrano ham. Spear with a toothpick to hold in place and make serving easier.