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Published: Monday, 12/27/2010

Plenty of planning to do before you pull that first cork

As the song "Auld Lang Syne" puts it so memorably, "We twa hae run aboot the braes/And pou'd the gowans fine."

Whatever that means.

But it sure is celebratory, especially when sung at midnight on New Year's Eve, when the great cosmic odometer turns over. New Year's Eve is a time of reminiscence and hope, when we look back at the year that has ended with fondness, or regret, or relief, and we look forward to the year to come with anticipation tinged with concern — what will the new year bring?

But mostly, it's just a good excuse for a great party.

If you're lucky enough to be hosting a New Year's Eve party this year, remember that the secret to success is in the invitations. If you have a critical mass of guests who are interesting, entertaining, and lively, everyone will have a good time — even the folks who are dull, shy, and staid.

And as a host, you don't have to run aboot the braes to have a good time. Get as much cooking done before the party as possible. Make sure that the platters are full and the drinks are poured. Be certain to chat with everyone. And at midnight, have plenty of champagne ready for a toast.

Or not.

"In my unbiased opinion, champagne is overrated," said Sandy Daum, general manager of SamB's restaurant and catering service in Bowling Green.

No champagne? But it's a ritual!

"It's OK to break tradition. You can do anything with food and drink. People can go away from a New Year's Eve party and say, ‘Wow, I've never been to one like that,'?" she said.

Ms. Daum is a proponent of having fun with food and drink, of experimenting and coming up with new ideas. It doesn't have to be something brand new; just a novel twist on an old favorite will do. For instance, she said that while hummus is always popular at parties, she suggests giving it a little extra flair.

"Add something to it. Add jalape os, add green chile sauce, add some roasted red pepper. Make it Mexican style — add some cilantro to it. If you want to make it easy on yourself, buy some hummus and add whatever you want to it," she said.

Hummus is a good start, but what else should you serve? And, more important, how much?

Judy Lodes, general manager of Gladieux Catering, suggests that hosts of a party featuring heavy hors d'oeuvres should plan on each guest eating about six pieces of food during each hour. She recommends serving three hot items and perhaps three cold side items, such as fruit platters, cheese platters, and layered dips.

And let's be honest here. If a lot of men are going to be present, she said, they'll probably want to eat heavier food, such as small tenderloin sandwiches, or a side of smoked salmon, or shrimp cocktail.

According to Ms. Daum, "Here's the key: Know your guests, know what they're like. If you don't know them, be safe — make sure you have some vegetables and a little bit of protein.

"My family loves seafood, so I know I would have more seafood than most other people would. If you know you have a bunch of vegetarians, there are a number of things you can do. You can do a take-off — let's not do the carrots and the celery and the tomatoes. Why not do asparagus?"

And it is important to take into consideration people's dietary restrictions, Ms. Lodes said. Some don't eat red meat or pork, some eat no meat at all, and some are allergic to such things as seafood and nuts. With a variety of offerings, everyone will find something to eat.

And don't forget dessert: "There are always those who want something sweet, or fancy candies or truffles, something to finish your palate with," Ms. Lodes said.

One rule to keep in mind is that guests always crave what they get the least of at home, Ms. Daum said. That means the jumbo shrimp, or the sliced tenderloin, or the mini crab cakes.

"You can make it as cheap or expensive as you want, but the thing that is going to go first is the expensive stuff, because people don't get it enough," Ms. Daum said.

So if you're serving both marinated shrimp and chicken skewers, be sure to have more of the shrimp.

If the party is going to extend well past midnight, some hosts like to serve a continental breakfast, said Ms. Lodes. Pancakes and eggs are too much last-minute work, but a casserole or an egg bake is often welcome. If you don't want to do any cooking during the party at all, consider a tray of danishes or bagels and cream cheese.

Even if breakfast is not served, if the party goes on long enough some of the guests are going to go back to the platters to eat again.

How much alcohol to have available is always a difficult question. If all you are serving is wine, Ms. Lodes suggests figuring on a half-bottle per person, which is two drinks. At the same rate of consumption, that works out to one fifth of liquor serving about 10 guests. And don't forget to stock a good supply of non-alcoholic drinks, too.

For the traditional champagne toast —no matter what Ms. Daum says —one glass of champagne per guest should do it. Because champagne is poured into smaller glasses, each bottle should serve about six guests.

Most of all, Ms. Lodes said, respect your limitations. Remember that setting up a party takes time, from shopping to preparing the food. Don't plan to make a lot of foods that have to be finished at the last minute, and don't spend all your time cooking and cleaning.

"What you want to be is a guest at your own party," she said.

Contact Daniel Neman at dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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