Twelve Under-$20 Ways to Snack Well on New Year's Eve
If you're looking for my advice on whether to eat in or dine out on New Year's Eve, aka the strangest night of the year, I'd rather not, if that's okay.
There's something to be said for going to your favorite neighborhood joint and letting someone else do the work. Such a convenience, however, comes double-fisted with potentially frustrating challenges of ringing in the new year out on the town -- overcrowded dining rooms, overworked servers, crazy drivers on the roads -- plus a hefty price tag.
For me, the key is not whether you curl up at home or venture out into the world -- but that the evening is both simple and cheap. Of course, "cheap" is a relative term, but my point here is to be kind to your exhausted holiday wallet and work within your budget.
Wait, there's one more (well, two more) important pieces: Do what makes you happy and be with someone you love. For many years in a row, I've hosted shindigs at my crib, whipping up a whole bunch of food, but this year, I've decided I'm too tired. Honey, take me out please to that neighborhood place we know and love, the one that's close enough for an easy cab ride and won't break the bank.
As I said, think simple and cheap.
Should we have found ourselves fete-ing at Casa Appetite, the evening's vittle selection would have been decidedly snacky and low budget. Below, I've compiled a list of 12 ways to sup at home in style this New Year's Eve, all for under 20 bucks. Please note this does not include the booze budget -- that's a whole 'nother kitty to deal with. And if you've got something to add to the list, please share in the comments area below.
Celebrate With Pie
My friend Dan has hosted many a get-together using homemade pizza as the evening's centerpiece, and I know of a group of folks out in Washington state who have been meeting once a month for "pizza night" at someone's home for about 20 years. Whip up a few batches of dough earlier in the day, and your guests can roll out their own and add toppings of their choice. Great fun if kids are joining the festivities, and an easy choice in mixed veggie-omnivore company.
A variation on this theme is a savory pie filled with greens and feta, and baked in a springform pan. This can be made in advance and served at room temperature, as can an eggy frittata, a tapas bar favorite.
Party snacks don't get much cheaper than veggie or legume-based purees, all of which can be made in advance and served at room temperature throughout the night. In fact, they're so cheap to make you can make three or four and still have change from that 20-dollar bill.
Homemade hummus is an old standby in my kitchen (even Mister MA knows how to make it now), and it's a good choice for less adventurous guests. Zestier alternatives include a creamy sweet potato dip and a bowlful of zuke-a-mole, a puree of roasted onions and zucchini -- a real treat if zukes are in your midst at this time of year. I might also jazz up a can of pureed white beans with a roasted red pepper or two, both for color (makes it turn kinda pink) and for flavor. Add a little cayenne, rosemary and garlic, and you're in snacking business. All of these dips, by the way, are dairy and egg free.
A few dollars more (and maybe not, as all the ingredients may already be in the cupboard) and you can take the dip spread to another level with a batch of Arab flatbread, which take just a few hours to put together. Your guests will love tearing into these babies.
When I'm entertaining, I love to fry veggie pakoras; in fact, I find them such festive party fare I'll offer to fry at a friend's house. Unless you can enlist the help of a pakora partner, I would recommend doing this for smaller (fewer than 10) groups; otherwise, you'll be frying all night long.
A variation on this theme is beer-batter veggie tempura. This particular batter, made with red rice ale, is a bit fussier than the chickpea flour batter of the pakoras, but fun nonetheless. Do a small batch, then move on to the rest of the evening.
More eating with your hands
Mini-burgers are all the rage on bar menus, and yes, do try them at home. I have had great fun making a vegetarian version, using Gimme Lean "ground beef." Bookend your burgers between toasted English muffins rubbed with garlic, and you won't miss the beef.
Here's a great last-minute, on the fly snack: apple salsa and brie crostini. All you need is a baguette, a few apples, your favorite hunk of French creamy fromage and some honey. This one is a keeper.
If it's warm enough in your neighborhood to grill, you may want to consider firing it up for some Viet-grilled chicken thighs, a winner I discovered last summer. Guests can pick chicken up with their hands or you could thread them on skewers.
More pick-up stick tricks
Grill or no grill, it's fun to sear Halloumi cheese, the briny cheese from Cyprus that doesn't melt when heated. You can serve with toasted hunks of bread, atop pizza dough, with sliced tomatoes and lots of garlic. This one is fun for Halloumi first timers.
For parties small or large, roasted veggies are a saving grace. They're healthy, quick cooking and pack a punch of flavor. I've had great luck playing with both cauliflower and broccoli. It's so simple my mother is now a convert.
And lastly, I offer a tropical suggestion, if by chance you run into a ripe pineapple over the weekend because this pineapple pickle will set you straight of '08. Serve with rice or in a big ole bowl, and let the spice mÃ©lange do its magic.
Here's to an even more delicious 2008!
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