Friday, December 31, 2010

Out with the Old and In with the New

the beginning of the blizzard in northern Connecticut
snow tunnel made by wind
...year, that is.

the day after the blizzard
New Year's Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays. For a few reasons, I have always liked this holiday that some find overrated and some go completely wild with.  New Year's is a holiday of personal preference.  Every family and group of friends has their own take on how they like to do it and it changes.  Far from being a stodgy holiday with the same old afternoon dinner, it's a holiday of being 'in the spirit', of letting go, and of having fun.  As if that wasn't enough,  I also love it because it's different every year, there is no menu or theme set in stone (other than fun, of course),  and it's perfectly festive to have a quiet night or a wild one.   On a meaningful level, New Year's represents an end and a beginning.  It makes us think and reflect on what the old brought us, and what the new has in store.

It seems we all have different ways we reflect on this beginning and end.  Some people resolve to practically do the impossible with their exercise habits, diet, or in managing/quitting their addictions.  Some people assess their short-term and long-term life goals and judge how they are coming along.  I am not a 'resolutions' gal, per-say.  I am more of a 'change what isn't working' kind of gal.  It doesn't have to be New Year's for me to assess and change things, but I haven't just sat around and thought about myself for awhile, so today will be a great day for a bit of that.  Nothing wrong with being reminded to check in with yourself, to see where you are, how you are feeling, and touch base with your goals.

my first food styling shoot happened this year!
creative energy at work
On a culinary note, tonight is wide open.  There is no required roasted bird or hunk of meat, there isn't classic Americana on the table, unless you choose it.  No, tonight we can serve whatever we want in whatever fashion we like, no holds barred.  Barbecue for a crowd, dainty canapes, bisques laden with butter and cream, cheese and crackers, appetizers, ethnic main dishes, a splurge on the good seafood/shellfish, decadent desserts, champagne, festive martinis, whatever you want!

Some traditions require certain things at the table such as cabbage (in New England) or black-eyed peas (in the South) on New Year's Day for good luck in the new year.  In Ohio, pork and cabbage is not only a New Year's requirement, but turkey and chicken are out.  Apparently, turkeys and chicken 'scratch backwards' and on New Year's, we want to move forwards, such as a pig would do, i.e. 'snouting forward'.  (I hope I'm getting this right.)  Regardless, it's bound to be a great party!

This year, my friend, Melissa, is hosting the party and making her famous vodka sauce baked with penne and mozzarella.  Decadent and delicious, yet simple.  Perfect.  She is from Ohio and so crumbles pork sausage into her sauce for the 'snouting forward' segment of the night.  I'm bringing restaurant style broccoli rabe.  Blanch it, saute it in garlic oil, add fresh lemon.  Because I love spicy stuff, I think I will fry some jalapeno slices in cornmeal breading and toss them on top as garnish.  I'm also bringing a baked appetizer inspired by classic Southern-style pimiento cheese spread.  Instead of being a cold spread like the classic, I'm baking it and serving it with wedges of crusty baguette.  I will prep it all so the hot dip only needs to be baked when I arrive at the party.  Recipe below!

Well, hope you all have a fun and safe New Year's Eve and spend some time pondering the meaning it has for you.  I will do some reflecting while I prep tonight's appetizer and veggie side dish and drink my last cup of coffee of 2010.  It's a great cup, by the way. 

Baked Pimiento Cheese

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 (4 oz) jar diced pimientos, drained
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp finely grated onion
1/4 t cayenne
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese (get an extra sharp if you can find it), grated
1 T chopped fresh parsley (opt.)
Country Bread Boule, cut into wedges or good baguette, sliced

In a mixing bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, pimientos, worcestershire, grated onion, and cayenne.  Fold in the grated cheese.

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased small casserole or oven-to-table-type dish.

Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Let rest for a few minutes and warm bread in the oven.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.

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