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New Year's Eve Party!
By Joyce Goldstein

This New Year's Eve, rather than go out, why not celebrate the New Year at home with good friends and family. If ever there was a night to splurge, New Year's Eve is it. Fortunately dining at home costs considerably less than dining out, so your budget doesn't have to be stretched too far.

Mix and Match for More Fun

Although ritual may be rewarding in that it connects us to tradition, I am suggesting that you break out of your routine this year. Instead of giving an extravagant formal seated supper, with all of the attendant performance anxiety, why not have a casual buffet and serve an assortment of plates that can be mixed and matched easily. Your guests will be more relaxed, and so will you. As opposed to formal plated service, the buffet format allows people to eat as little or as much as they like. If they don't eat meat, there still will be enough interesting items for them to try. Yes, eating healthy is important, but this is a once a year indulgence, so a bit of dietary lenience is probably justified.

Planning Makes Perfect

Plan the menu well ahead of time. Allow yourself sufficient time to shop and enough time to cook so that you're not overwhelmed. And don't be afraid to ask for help! Remember that the host or hostess is entitled to enjoy the party too. It's wise to do things in stages. Do a reverse countdown; list what is last minute and what you can do one or two days ahead. See what you can purchase already prepared from a purveyor whose style and taste buds you can trust. If you're not a baker—buy dessert. Don't forget champagne and wine selections, and juice or bottled water for those who don't drink alcohol.

What follows are some delicious and not too difficult dishes. Most can be prepared ahead of time and hold well in the refrigerator. Just remember to bring "cold" food to room temperature for maximum flavor and to cook or warm "hot" food sufficiently for it to heat through. Accompany these prepared items with a big tossed salad, a good selection of breads, some fruit or fruit salad, cheese and a few selected sweets or cookies. Light some candles, put on some celebratory music and hug your friends and family. May we all have a Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year!

Ring in the New Year with friends, family and Joyce's fantastic hors d'oeuvres:

Fava—Greek Yellow Split Pea Spread
This spread offers a nice change of pace from the traditional hummus spread, as it has no tahini. Although the puree is called "fava" it isn't made with fava beans, but with yellow split peas. This may seem like an odd spread, sort of a very, very thick pea soup, but you will find it quite addictive. Top with a good drizzle of virgin olive oil, very thinly sliced red onions and serve with lemon wedges and warm pita bread.

Turkish Roasted Eggplant Puree with Yogurt and Walnuts
Here is a yummy eggplant spread with a crunch of walnuts. The tang in this case comes from yogurt and lemon. Pair this Turkish eggplant puree with pita bread and you have the makings of a good party hors d'oeuvre or part of a meze platter.

Lahmacun—Lamb "Pizza"
Pizza in Turkey? Lahmacun, an open-faced meat pie is popular cafe food in Syria, Lebanon and Israel, as well as Turkey. The dough is a cross between classic pizza dough and pita bread.

Ratatouille Pizza
This is a vegetarian pizza par excellence. I gave it a French name as most people recognize the classic Provencal "ratatouille." Provence and the Cote d'Azur merge into the Italian Riviera, and share many similar flavors and food combinations. Bon Appetit or Buon appetito, you'll love it no matter what you call this pizza.

Gambas al Ahillo—Garlic Shrimp
These garlicky shrimp are brought to the table sizzling in a little metal pan. Have plenty of bread on hand to sop up the delicious juices.

Chicken Kabobs in a Middle Eastern Marinade
Most supermarket birds can benefit from an intense marinade before cooking. Here the yogurt acts as a tart flavor component as well as a tenderizer.

Briam—Greek Style Baked Mixed Vegetables
This versatile baked vegetable casserole is easy to prepare and can be served hot or at room temperature. Whether you cube or slice the eggplants, or dice or slice the peppers is up to you. It's an aesthetic decision rather than a culinary one.

About Joyce Goldstein

Joyce Goldstein is a consultant to the restaurant and food industries. For 12 years she was chef/owner of the ground- breaking, award-winning Mediterranean restaurant SQUARE ONE in San Francisco. In addition, she taught cooking for 18 years. Joyce is the author of many cookbooks, including Back to Square One: Old World Food in a New World Kitchen, winner of both the Julia Child and James Beard Awards for Best General Cookbook of 1992 and Cucina Ebraica, Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen. Two more books on Mediterranean Jewish cooking are in the works.


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