Chilled out & cheery – a last-second guide to New Year's Eve
December 31st, 2010
11:45 AM ET
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It's not like you didn't know this day was coming. Same date, every year, as long as there's been a calendar - it's just that the 364 other planning days just happened to flap on by, and you're left with nary a bottle of bubbles in the fridge, and guests set to arrive within the next 12 hours.

You don't need excuses - you have us.

We've got recipes, hosting tips and everything you need to know about buying, speed chilling and opening Champagne to get through tonight.

Your mantra - revised slightly from Thanksgiving
Remember how we said "It's just a's just a's just a meal?" It worked then and it works now - "It's just a night." Unless you've been running around talking up the tremendous culinary adventure upon which you will personally sherpa your guests this evening, you're in the clear.

No one's got far-flung food ambitions for New Year's Eve. They want to be with friends and loved ones, sip something with bubbles in it, and eat simple things that allow them to drink more bubbles. If you wanna get schmancier than that with the menu - mazeltov. We encourage embracing the low bar.

Simply spectacular
But that doesn't mean that you have a free pass to put out chips, dip and jerky strips and call that a party. Your hors d'oeuvres needn't be fussy, but they do have to rock.

We've shared some of these suggestions before, and we stand by 'em:

– Slow cooker pulled pork
You still have time to do this.

1/2 pork shoulder with fat cap attached
Red or white wine
One medium onion, halved
Several dashes Worcestershire sauce
Bottled or homemade barbecue sauce
Biscuits or potato rolls

Place the pork shoulder fat side up in slow cooker with one peeled, halved onion. Pour in some red or white wine (a few cups), beer (a can or bottle or two) or chicken, beef, vegetable or pork stock - whatever you have on hand. The ratio is not crucial, and you may omit any of those.

Add several dashes of Worcestershire sauce and enough water to nearly, but not completely cover the fat cap. Turn the slow cooker on high for 6 hours, remove the shoulder from the braising liquid and set aside to cool.

When the pork has cooled, remove and discard the onion, fat cap and bones. Shred the pork with your hands or two forks and coat with your favorite barbecue sauce. Serve it on biscuits or potato rolls and watch your guests freak the heck out.

– Pimento Cheese
If your guests are from the South, they may appreciate the nod to their homeland. If they've never had the pleasure, they're in for a major taste delight. The store-bought stuff has a deservedly bad rap; it's often gluey and cloying. The homemade versions - and there are MANY permutations - tend toward the piquant and slightly pickled, and can be tweaked to accommodate palates that appreciate more or less spice, smoke and sweetness.

As our associate editor Sarah says, "Ritz Crackers are the Rolls-Royce of pimento cheese carriers," but this spread of cheese, mayonnaise and pimento peppers is also a hit with cocktail rye, slathered into celery sticks or as a dip for other crudite. Here's a recipe for a big ol' batch (it keeps well and your guests will insist on toting some home) of pimento cheese from Chef John Currence.

Tip: Make enough so you can leave some stashed in the fridge for later. You won't come home with any leftovers, and you'll be very cross with yourself.

– Bacon Candy
I've never hosted a party or brought this to an event where it wasn't the very first thing that was wolfed up. I've doubled, or even tripled the batch, and realized that people would rather ruin their dinner than miss out on crisp, sugar-baked pork. It's not me - it's the recipe. The only way you can screw this up is by letting it burn. Keep an eye on it, and you'll be fine. Chef Linton Hopkins shares his fool-proof method and recipe for bacon candy.

Tip: If you don't have a Silpat or parchment paper, lightly crumpled aluminum foil will provide channels for the excess grease to run off.

– Chorizo, Manchego and Membrillo
Sounds schmancy, right? It's not. This combo of Spanish staples just sings together - smoky, soulful sausage with nutty, crumbly cheese and tart quince jelly. All you've got to do is slice and serve. It's a tiny tapas party - just slice and serve.

Tip: Smoked almonds and small glasses of Sherry round out the appetizer and the Sherry makes a fabulous, simple cocktail when it's topped with Champagne, Prosecco or Cava.

– Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs
Yeah. That's basically it. Get the prosciutto (that's air-dried ham) as thinly-sliced as possible, wrap it around individual figs (fresh if you can find them, dried if they're out of season in your neck of the woods) and secure with a toothpick. Stop guests before they start gnawing the toothpicks.

Tip: If you're feeling ambitious, slit the figs and pipe or spoon in a little bit of soft, creamy goat cheese.

– Smoked Salmon Spread
We overheard style editor Steven Cojocaru taping a segment for a CNN show, waxing rhapsodic about smoked salmon. We know better than to buck anything Cojo says.

The level of effort is quite negotiable. It can be as simple as 4 ounces of chopped, smoked salmon whirred in a food processor with 8 ounces of cream cheese, or it can get a tad more nuanced with the addition of 1/2 a cup of sour cream or mayonnaise, as well as capers, dill, horseradish, Kosher salt, lemon juice, chopped scallions, fresh dill or pepper to taste. Serve it with triangles of cocktail rye.

Tip: We prefer Norwegian salmon for this particular spread, but Nova, Gravlax and Scottish hold their own. Heck - anything but AquaBounty will do the trick.

You can't possibly have enough...

Bread or crackers

If someone asks what to bring - say one or more of those things. You may be tempted to go the whole, "Oh no! I've got it covered - just bring your lovely self!" route. Resist the urge. Remember - you're a host, not a martyr and people love to feel like they're helping. Let 'em.

Bubbles, bubbles - no toil, no trouble

Your guests will likely expect Champagne or some analogue thereof. Now is not the time to defy expectation. Here are a few tips for not breaking the bank.

– If you wanna go big with the Dom Perignon or vintage Veuve, do that for the first glass. Raise a toast, make a fuss - then switch to the less expensive (but just as delicious stuff).

– Less expensive, you say? Oui. It needn't be capital-C Champagne, which to be labeled as such, must come from the Champagne region of France.

There's some smashing stuff out there to be sure. Master sommelier Richard Betts swears by Champagne Krug as the "pinnacle" and says "Their entry-level Krug M.V. Cuvée is rich, round, complex and a great partner to food, family and friends." Associate editor Sarah and I had our socks knocked clean off by a glass of Vilmart & Cie Grande Reserve gifted to us by The Modern captain and wine rapper Jdollasign (a.k.a. Justin Warner). If there are just a few of you and you care to live large, we surely are not going to stop you.

But back to the price point. There are plenty of other just as appealing and infinitely cheaper sparkling wines from other parts of the world.

My personal favorite is Prosecco - especially my house favorite Villa Jolanda, which I dig enough to have served at our wedding. It's an Italian sparkling wine that offers serious bang for the buck, and often retails for between $9-$13. It's every bit as festive as Champagne and hey, if you're worried your guests will feel slighted, pour it in another room and come out bearing a festive tray of flutes or coupe glasses. Chances are they'll never know the difference and if they do judge you - well, that's just bad manners on their part.

Cava, from Spain is another excellent, budget-friendly option and I've had excellent luck with Marques de Gelida. It comes in a big, festive yellow-wrapped bottle and just pops with the tapas-inspired appetizers I mentioned above.

Plenty of other domestic sparkling wines abound - and I can't encourage you enough to have a chat with your local wine store owner to figure out the best solution for your needs. They're in the business of making sure you come back, so don't be sheepish about not knowing exactly what offerings each vineyard has, or even what country you'd care to embrace. Come in armed with a price point and the list of tasting terms I'm about to share, and come home popping with pride over your wine shopping smarts.

– A few tasting terms:

– Extra Brut: "Extra" dry, meaning least sweet
– Brut: Dry, and the most common
– Extra dry: Weirdly, this means dry, but not as dry as brut
– Sec / Demi-sec: Fairly sweet
– Doux: Very sweet

– Chill out

Forgot to chill the bottle? No biggie. If you have space in your yard or on a balcony or porch and it's chilly out, take advantage of Mother Nature's largesse. Stash bottles in a dark corner or even in a snowbank - just don't forget to haul in extras if you have any when the night ends.

But – while those are on deck, resist the urge to pop the bottle in the freezer; that'll only lead to heartbreak. Grab a tall pot or even a pitcher, place your bubbly in there with water and as much ice as will fit and spin that bottle 'round and 'round to expose as much of the liquid as possible to the chilly conditions. It'll take a few minutes, but it's infinitely more festive than serving warm Champers.

– You'll shoot your eye out

Caution is called for - no one needs a New Year's Eve ER visit. Aim the bottle's neck AWAY from you or any other person or breakable, tilt it to a 45-degree angle, firmly grasp the cork and twist the bottle. A popping cork is the happiest sound in the universe, but you don't want it to go flying - and waste all your precious bubbly in the process.

Ring it in, kid

Ya know what's really cool and oughtn't be overlooked? Your friends and loved ones picked YOU to shepherd in their 2011. That's a wonderful vote of confidence and it also shows that they're rooting for you and trust that you know what you're doing, host-wise. And that's worth a toast, I think.

Cheers! (And get your guests home safely.)

Previously – a killer Champagne cocktail and a 200-year-old bottle of Champagne

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Filed under: Bubbly • Cheese • Chilled Out and Cheery • Feature • Holiday • Holidays • HolidayShopping • Make • New Year's • Pimento Cheese • Recipes • Sip • Wine

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Laney

    I hate to disagree with Sarah, but as a pimento cheese-a-holic (I make 2 or 3 batches a month), I can tell you Olde Cape Cod crackers by Westminster are the "Rolls-Royce of pimento cheese carriers." Homemade pimento cheese with a box of Olde Cape Cod crackers will rock your world and knock your socks off.

    January 6, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  2. Wow

    I love it – great tip for a last minute party – 6 HOUR SLOW COOKED PULLED PORK!

    December 31, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      In my defense, it was posted this morning. Set it & forget it. So long as it's in by 6, you're eating at midnight.

      December 31, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  3. Brian

    Cool video on how to saber a bottle of champagne:

    I tried this the first time a couple of weeks ago and it was a hit at the party!

    December 31, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  4. Gaines

    I have a love/hate relationships with setting New Year's Resolutions. What are your strategies for setting and keeping New Year's resolutions?

    December 31, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  5. Sam Meyer

    And if you're trying sabrage, use the BACK of the blade (aka the spine), not the sharp end. Failure to do so means not only a ruined knife, but possible injury and definitely a mess.

    December 31, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Baby steps, dollface. We ain't going anywhere near a sword this evening, but if you do – I totally, totally want video.

      December 31, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
      • Sam Meyer

        Some of my friends are, but I'm not; I've a hot date with NYC's largest musical instrument. (And that's not a euphemism.) Perhaps a celebratory Manhattan afterwards, at home.

        December 31, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        Oh – going to see the pipes, perhaps?

        December 31, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
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