I have been a part of many New Year’s Eve celebrations. The longest lasting tradition was a potluck and costume dance party at a friend’s house in Suttons Bay that we attended at least ten years in a row; the wackiest was probably the night of “danger food.” I am not one to shy away from giving or going to a party. New Year’s Eve is a quintessential night for revelry in my book.
I know many people, however, who spend the evening quietly, staying away from those who have imbibed and may be driving, from the crowds that gather in the cold for hours to wait for the ball drop, from restaurants overflowing with guests and expensive menus. I get it. I have even skipped the festivities a few times: staying at home, watching a movie and going to bed before midnight. This year, our celebration will be a quiet one, as any sort of gathering beyond one’s household is not prudent.
But here are some past celebrations that stand out in my memory.
There was the night we came home from the restaurant down the street after a fabulous meal that included quail eggs and caviar, beef wellington and dense chocolate cake. In front of our house was a display of snow furniture made by our children and their babysitter, Joy, whose apt name brings the same wherever she goes. There was asofa and chairs, coffee table and TV screen, illuminated by the streetlight amidst gently falling snowflakes. Giggling children watched our reaction from the window as we tested the furniture in our party finery.
There was the night of Y2K, when we ate a meal from foods we had gleaned from previous trips to Chinatown in San Francisco, including jellyfish, dried woodear, and thousand-year-old eggs. We awaited our doom when midnight struck and the world’s computers were to go haywire, only to find ourselves drinking more champagne as that disaster was averted.
Another standout was a New Year’s Eve dinner party with our children and their friends, including my son’s studious and shy girlfriend.She surprised us by busting out a playlist of “butt” songs (every song had some reference to that part of the anatomy,) then showed us her amazing moves. We laughed and danced the night away while waiting to head downtown for the ball drop at midnight. I do remember delicious crab cakes for dinner that evening.
The danger food party took place at a friend’s house high on a hill above Lake Michigan. I don’t recall what prompted the theme except that we took to it with gusto. We made steak tartare, a raw minced beef concoction also containing raw eggs, anchovies, Worcestershire, olive oil and lemon juice. So many people recalled their parents serving this dish at their 50s cocktail parties, and many welcomed a taste of the past. There were oysters, of course, and other shellfish, exotic mushrooms and the like. No one got ill.
For many people, New Year is also a time for resolutions. While much is made of the intention, we also know that resolutions often wither away. However, I do believe this ritual is a good one. The nudge of turning the page of the calendar gives us a moment to pause, and to acknowledge a fresh start and the things we could do better.
I am an optimist and hopeful that we will be gathering with family and friends again safely sometime in the New Year. To that end, I have some resolutions for you to consider as it relates to having people at your table:
Try to find a regular date for a meal with family or friends. I have written about our Sunday suppers with our neighbors, which we were able to do outdoors this year, weather permitting. We look forward to getting back on track as soon as we are able. We know we are richer for having this connection.
Use cloth napkins. There is a civility and nicety surrounding this simple cloth. Use it when you are alone (it will make your meal more special) and when you have guests. I like cotton which just gets softer with use. White goes with everything, can be cleaned easily, and does not need to be pressed unless you really want to.
Pie Tins. They are a miracle, multi-use staple! We bought a dozen pie tins to use as plates for outdoor gatherings and they have become so much more. Lightweight metal pie tins, not the disposable ones, are now used as prep bowls in our kitchen and for roasting or toasting any number of ingredients from nuts to croutons, beets to carrots. They go on road trips for eating food in the car, and camping adventures. I LOVE them.
When having a large gathering, I find conversations tend to be limited to the persons sitting nearby. We started a tradition that brings the whole table into one discussion. At the end of the meal, we may ask a silly question, such as what is your favorite cat story? On other occasions, we have asked for a special story about a parent, or your most awkward high school moment. We go around the table, listening as each person takes a turn relating their tale. We have had more fun that you can imagine, and we like how the focus brings everyone together.
Sharing my stories with you has brought home how rich my life as been, and how lucky I am. That indeed is something to celebrate. Wishing you a happy new year in 2021.
How could I not include a steak tartare recipe? My father made it often at the NYC restaurant where he worked in the 1950s. There it was simply finely chopped steak, onion, Worcestershire, salt and pepper and some oil, served with dark rye bread.
1 lb. lean beef, as fresh and red as you can get it, from a tenderloin, filet, or eye of round, fat removed
Salt and pepper, about ½ t. each, plus more for garnish
1 T. finely chopped shallot
2 anchovies, finely chopped (optional)
1 T. capers, drained and chopped
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 egg yolk
1 t. Dijon mustard
1 t. lemon juice, plus 1 t. for garnish
2 T olive oil, plus 1 t. for garnish
Dark bread, crostini, or bread of your choice for serving
Celery leaves and parsley, chopped, for garnish
Freeze meat for a half hour while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
Take meat from freezer and cut into fine thin strips, turn, then cut the strips into very small cubes, almost ground meat but not quite. Place in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, mixing everything thoroughly. Chill mixture until ready to serve, but no more than 30 minutes, to keep the meat red and fresh.
In a small bowl, mix together some celery leaves and parsley, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, lemon juice and olive oil, toss. Set aside.
Divide the tartare into four rounded portions, and place on individual plates. Top each with some of the garnish and an extra grinding of black pepper. Serve bread alongside, which you can accompany with mustard or butter.
- Some recipes show the egg yolk nestled in the mound of meat rather than mixed in; other recipes make a loose mayonnaise with the egg and other ingredients (except meat) pulsed in a food processor, and the oil added last to make an emulsion, which is then mixed into the meat.
— Rose Hollander
Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Serves 4 — 6
I love how the gnocchi are slightly sweet from the squash and lighter than the usual gnocchi. The brown butter and sage are delicious, but you could also serve it in a light tomato sauce or with chicken broth as a soup option.
2 large boiling potatoes (about 1 lb.)
1 lb. butternut squash
1 ¾ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 large egg, beaten
2 t. salt
1/3 c. butter
10 sage leaves
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash and dry potatoes, and place on a baking sheet. Cut butternut squash in half lengthwiseand place alongside the potatoes. Bake until tender, anywhere from 1 – 1 ½ hours.
When cool enough to handle, peel potatoes and the squash, and put them through a ricer or mash them. Place into a large bowl. Add 1 ½ cups flour, egg, and salt. Mix gently by hand, kneading just until dough comes together, adding the extra flour a bit at a time if dough is too wet.
Divide dough into four pieces, and hand roll each piece on a well-floured surface into ¾ inch logs. Cut logs into ½ inch pieces (optional, you can run the tines of a fork over each piece if you’d like.) Lay the pieces on a flour covered baking sheet while you wait to cook them (they can hold in a refrigerator for up to two hours.)
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. While waiting for water to boil, place butter in a large skillet and heat until butter melts and just turns brown. It should smell nutty. Add sage leaves and turn off heat once sage crisps. When water is boiling, add gnocchi a handful at a time so you don’t overcrowd them and cook about 2-3 minutes. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon and place in the butter in the skillet. Continue cooking until all are done.
Warm pan with butter and gnocchi, stirring to coat. Serve gnocchi in a shallow bowl, topped with grated Parmesan.
- Depending on the size of squash, you may only need one half for the recipe.
— Rose Hollander, adapted from Hazel Marcella’s “Essentials of Italian Cooking”
Chocolate Fruitcake Torte
Not your usual fruitcake. This is a rich dense chocolate cake filled with boozy fruit, making it a good New Year’s Eve option. The cake stores well, and is perfect for those little slivers to snack on, so you can keep your resolution to cut back on sweets …
½ C. dried apricots, chopped
½ C. dried figs, chopped
½ C. dried cherries or candied cherries
1/3 C. dried currants
½ C. plus 2 T. bourbon, divided
1 ½ C. whole almonds
1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature.
1 C. plus 2 T.sugar, divided
4 large eggs, separated
½ C. unbleached all-purpose flour
8 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
½ C. hazelnuts, toasted, chopped
Glaze: ½ C. heavy cream, 8 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
For the cake: Combine first 4 ingredients and ½ cup bourbon in a bowl. Cover and let stand at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10” diameter spring form pan with 3” sides. Sprinkle with sugar and tap out excess.
Finely grind the almonds in a food processor and set aside. Melt the chocolate and set aside.
Cream butter and 1 cup sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in flour and salt, then the melted chocolate. Add the fruit mixture followed by the ground almonds and chopped hazelnuts. Mix well.
Beat egg whites until foamy, then gradually beat in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold this into the batter in two stages. Pour batter in prepared pan, smooth top, and bake about 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack about 20 minutes, then brush with remaining 2 tablespoons bourbon. Let cool and release sides of pan, removing sides. Wrap tightly in plastic and then foil and refrigerate at least overnight.
To finish, make glaze: Warm heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Add chocolate and whisk as it melts until smooth. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Unwrap cake and place on a cardboard round, over a wire rack in case of drips. Pour glaze over cold cake, smoothing it with a spatula. Once glaze is set, move cake carefully to a serving plate.
— Rose Hollander, adapted from Bon Appetit