Whaddya Doin' New Year's Eve?

I got a crew of 10 or so coming over to my place Saturday night and I need to assemble the menu. Guests bring a favorite bottle and I reciprocate with substantial snacks.

I want the lineup to be fun and festive but not too fussy with food that goes with party hats and a pair of jeans. In a way, I want everyone to feel like they're at a picnic . . . but without the ants.

There's no culinary theme that I'm sticking to. I don't care if the dishes don't 'work' together. Instead, these will be a few of my favorite things that are shareable, soulful and probably a bit messy.

I've enlisted my partner in crime to make a batch of grape leaves. It will be his maiden voyage, so all the more reason to embark on the culinary adventure. They are particularly fun to make as a team and can be made at least a day in advance.

I'm also thinking about pakoras, Indian fried vegetable fritters, which are always wonderful with cocktails and a welcome flavor pop in the mouth at a time of year when our winterized taste buds need a spritz. Spinach leaves transform into works of art in their golden chickpea batter coats.

Spare ribs are a likely contender, with some kind of Asian-y spiced rub. At this time of year, braising over grilling is easiest and with a foil cover, fairly moron-proof. I'm looking at coriander seeds, five-spice powder, star anise, fennel seed, cayenne, cinnamon and a wee bit of brown sugar for the rub, and I may whip up a basting sauce of soy, sesame, garlic, ginger and orange for extra points in the flavor department.

Cornbread seems like a good match for ribs or even a pan of spoonbread, but I better reserve some to go with my Hoppin' John on New Year's Day.

I like the idea of polishing everything off with a hunk of chocolate cake and maybe a bowl of oranges, blood oranges, if I can get them. A tray of gingerbread for the road would also work nicely.

Share some of your home-spun fun in the comments are below. I'm sure you all have a few tricks up your sleeves.

Tomorrow: My year in review and New Year's Day thoughts.

By kimodo |  December 29, 2005; 10:37 AM ET  | Category:  Entertaining , New Year's Celebrating
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