Entertaining on New Year's Eve: Appetizers with a Flair

A New Year's Eve party is the perfect time to serve a tempting array of quick and easy appetizers. These dishes can be served as small "sit-down" courses or as hors d'oeuvres for standing and mingling. Combined, these dishes can make your whole meal.

Consider adding crisp vegetables, sliced fruit, flavored cheeses, spiced meats, nut mixes, bowls of olives and pickles, bread toasts, and/or unique crackers to dress up your tables. You can cut fruits and vegetables into festive shapes or mix together cubes of meat, cheese, fruits, and vegetables on toothpicks for quick and easy bites. Add small bowls of dips, mustards, and sauces for dipping. Enjoy and have a great party!

Pretty Puffs
This classic recipe is made easy by purchasing prepared salads from your local deli. You can also use your favorite ham, tuna, chicken, turkey, vegetable, seafood, or cheese mixture to stuff these delicate puffs. The mixture below is my favorite to serve at parties. Margarine can be substituted for the butter and egg substitute for the eggs with very good results.

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and generously grease several cookie sheets. In a medium saucepan, combine the salt, boiling water, and butter. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Immediately add the flour, stirring vigorously until the dough forms a ball in the center of the pan. Cool slightly. Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until the mixture is smooth and very stiff. Drop the balls onto the prepared cookie sheet about one inch apart by the teaspoonful. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the puffs are lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the puffs comes out clean. Cool completely. Cut the top half from each puff and fill with the salad (recipe below). Replace each top and arrange on serving tray. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Turkey Apple Salad

  • 2 cups minced cooked turkey
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, cored, and diced apples
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • pinch dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • mayonnaise to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together, adding as much mayonnaise as you prefer. Chill for at least 1 hour before filling the puffs.

Mexican Quiche Squares
These quick and easy squares are a breeze to make and are savory hot bites that guests love. I like to serve them with dollops of sour cream and fresh cilantro. Low fat cheese and egg substitute can be substituted in this recipe with great results.

  • 2 tablespoons chopped chile peppers
  • 1/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 4 cups grated monterey jack cheese
  • 6 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the peppers and minced onion in a heavily greased 9 inch square pan. Sprinkle the mixture with the cayenne pepper and shredded cheese. In a medium bowl beat the eggs until thick and lemon colored. Pour the eggs over the cayenne-cheese mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until firm in the center. Cool and cut into 1-inch squares and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Ravioli Appetizers
These savory little bites are a festive way to serve pasta as an appetizer. I like using a chunky fresh tomato sauce if I am having a sit down party. If it is a party where people are moving around and don't have the ability to cut larger sized ravioli I serve mini ravioli with a smooth tomato sauce which makes dipping easier. You can also use tortellini or other filled pasta with this recipe with great results.

  • 1 pound cheese ravioli
  • 1 cup soft bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried parsley
  • olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce

Cook the ravioli according to the package directions until tender. Drain well. Meanwhile, in a flat bowl mix together the bread crumbs, parmesan, and herbs. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Generously spray two cookie sheets with the cooking spray. Roll the wet ravioli in the bread crumb mixture and place on the prepared sheets. Lightly spray the ravioli with some additional cooking spray. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with the tomato sauce, which can be either hot, chilled, or at room temperature.

Garlic Parmesan Broccoli Rabe Bruschetta
This dish is truly Italian in nature. While broccoli rabe is still not used very frequently in the States, it is very popular in Europe. It has a unique taste and appearance that is festive for special occasions. It goes especially well with this mixture of ingredients

  • 1 french baguette
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 5 crushed garlic cloves
  • 2 pounds broccoli rabe, tough stems removed
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • pinch crushed red pepper

Slice the baguette into 1 inch slices. Liberally brush a cookie sheet with some of the olive oil. Arrange the baguette slices on the sheet and brush both sides with the olive oil. Broil the slices for one to two minutes, or until pale brown. Flip the bread over and sprinkle with half of the parmesan cheese. Broil the slices again until the cheese melts and the bread is golden brown on the edges, being careful not to scorch the bread or cheese. In a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, saute the garlic in all of the remaining olive oil until fragrant, but not browned. Add the broccoli rabe, pepper, salt, basil, and crushed red pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, or until the broccoli rabe is tender. Place the parmesan toasts on a serving platter and top with the broccoli rabe. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the bruschetta and serve hot.

Cranberry, Pear, and Brie Pockets
I love this recipe for festive occasions. They look great, are relatively easy to make, and taste divine. It takes a little bit of practice to get used to using phyllo dough, but once you do it is marvelous and most definitely worth the effort. The most important thing to do is to keep the phyllo moist so that it does not dry out.

  • 1 pound phyllo dough
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 large ripe pear, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 8 ounces Brie, cut into 1/2" cubes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Soften the butter in the microwave or over very low heat until it is very soft but not melted. You should be able to easily spread the butter with a pastry brush, but it should not be liquid. Cut the phyllo dough in half lengthwise. Cover one half of the dough with a clean damp kitchen towel. Place a sheet of phyllo dough on a clean dry surface and brush liberally with the butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo and brush with butter. Fold the sheets in half lengthwise and brush liberally with butter. Place a teaspoon of the cranberry filling, a few chunks of pear, and 6 cubes of brie at the bottom of the phyllo layers. Turn the corner over the filling diagonally, forming a triangle. Continue to fold the dough over and over, brushing liberally with butter after each fold and maintaining the triangle shape until the dough is all rolled. Place the triangle on a rimmed pan. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown and flaky. Cool for 5 minutes, then serve hot.

Savory Spinach Balls
I love spinach and almost always serve at least one appetizer with spinach in it when I am entertaining. While you have to worry about your teeth, the bright green color always makes for a bright contrast to other appetizers. You can use fresh spinach in this recipe, but there really is no taste difference when you use the frozen. It is absolutely essential to remove all of the liquid from the spinach for this recipe to work. For a light appetizer, use margarine, egg substitute, and Asiago cheese. One medium onion may be substituted for the shallots if desired.

  • 20 ounces chopped frozen spinach
  • 2 cups bread cubes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
  • pinch dried sage
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 8 minced shallots
  • salt
  • pepper

Thaw the spinach and squeeze thoroughly to remove all of the liquid. Chop the bread cubes coarsely. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until well beaten. Mix in the remaining ingredients until well blended. Chill overnight to flavor. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a rimmed cookie sheet. Shape the spinach mixture into 1 inch balls and place 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, or until firm and golden brown.

Wen's Crabby Tomatoes
I have made these tomatoes for showers, wedding receptions, anniversary parties, New Year's Eve celebrations, birthday parties, brunches, light lunches, and even as birthday presents. They are always snapped up in a hurry and are one of my most requested recipes. Commercial mayonnaise can be substituted for the homemade mayonnaise. Parsley can be used instead of the chervil with similar results. You can use the drained crab liquid for soups or give your cats an unexpected treat.

  • 1/2 pound lump crabmeat, cartilage removed
  • 1/3 cup homemade mayonnaise
  • 2 finely chopped scallions
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil
  • cayenne powder to taste
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 12 small firm plum tomatoes
  • lemon peel curls
  • chervil sprigs

Place crabmeat in strainer and press to remove liquid. Mix all of the ingredients except for the tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the pulp and seeds. Gently stuff the tomatoes and garnish with lemon peel curls and/or chervil sprigs. Cover and chill for an hour before serving.

Caviar Kisses
This traditional party recipe is a fun and festive way to serve caviar. I like including a small dab of minced yellow bell pepper, purple bell pepper, or yellow tomatoes for a startling color combination. I prefer these kisses on hearty dark pumpernickel rounds, although I usually serve them on a rich white bread for guests.

  • 1 loaf cocktail bread
  • butter
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 jar red salmon caviar
  • fresh dill sprigs

Lightly toast the bread slices and butter liberally. Place a cucumber slice on each slice of bread. In a small bowl mix together the sour cream, dill, and black pepper. Spoon a small amount of the sour cream mixture onto each cucumber slice. Place a tiny dollop of the caviar on each cucumber slice and garnish with a small sprig of dill.

Multicolored Rosettes on Belgian Endive Spears
I love using Belgian endive as an appetizer. While it is often times too expensive to use in salads, it makes a stunning tray of appetizers. This mixture of colors and flavors makes for a very appealing tray and the alfalfa sprouts add a whispy touch that adds texture and crunch each pick me up. These are very elegant with the rosette shapes, but you can also just spoon the mixture onto each rosette with wonderful results.

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, separated and softened
  • 3 tablespoons milk, separated
  • 1 ounce minced sun dried tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup skinless and boneless salmon
  • 1 finely minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup finely minced carrots
  • pinch cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 6 medium heads Belgian Endive
  • 1 cup alfalfa sprouts

Split the cream cheese up into three separate bowls. Add a tablespoon of milk to each bowl and beat until smooth and creamy. In one bowl add the minced tomatoes and basil and mix well. In the second bowl beat in the salmon, shallot, and dill until well blended. In the last bowl mix in the carrots and cardamom until smooth. Cover each mixture tightly and refrigerate overnight. At least one hour before serving, remove the cream cheese mixtures from the refrigerator. Separate the large leaves from each endive head. Reserve the very small leaves for a salad or other appetizer. Wash the leaves well and let dry. Spoon one of the fillings into a pastry bag fitted with a large rosette tube. Pipe rosettes onto a third of the endive leaves. Repeat with each mixture. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on the carrot rosettes. Place the leaves in an attractive pattern on a serving dish and sprinkle the cream cheese sections with the alfalfa sprouts, pressing gently if needed. Serve at room temperature, or cover and chill before serving.

Prosciutto, Kiwi, and Melon
This recipe is so very simple. It is almost embarrassing to include a recipe for it. The flavors combine for a terrific taste, and the appearance of these simple items is very elegant. The classic combination of cantaloupe and prosciutto is gently highlighted by a delicate triangle of kiwi.

  • 1 peeled and cubed ripe cantaloupe
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1 kiwi fruit

Peel the kiwi and slice. Cut each slice into 4 triangles. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each cube of cantaloupe. Attach a kiwi triangle to the top of the cube with a toothpick. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Baked Spiced Shrimp
While more often than not I serve a mammoth bowl of peel and eat shrimp with several dipping sauces, this dish is always a popular option. I usually make this dish when there is a sale on large shell on shrimp as it saves me money in the long run. This spicy dish makes a nice addition to a fruit salad, or creamy vegetable dips and crudites. You can adjust the cayenne seasoning to taste.

  • 2 pounds large shell on shrimp, cleaned and deveined
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried chervil
  • 1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried mexican oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and generously grease a baking sheet. Place the shrimp in a large bowl and sprinkle with the seasonings. Gently rub the seasonings into the shrimp with your hands until thoroughly coated. Spread the shrimp out on the prepared sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Carefully flip all of the shrimp over and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve piping hot.

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