Upgrading your New Year’s party is easy with imagination, planning |
Food & Drink

Upgrading your New Year’s party is easy with imagination, planning

Celebrate the new year in style.
Celebrate the new year in style.

Celebrate the end of the year with a new approach to entertaining.

“The trend of in-home parties is becoming more common — spending more time together and less out in the mainstream,” says Bill Chisnell, owner of Bill Chisnell Productions in the Strip District. “New Year’s Eve should be a fun evening with favors like top hats, boas, noisemakers and champagne — a reason to have corks popping and a feeling of abundance.”

Last year, Chisnell created a “Tie a Bow on It” party that got things off to a festive start. As guests arrived, they were presented with accessories they could tie on — bow ties, boas, jewelry and ribbons.

He turned an empty porch into a temporary ballroom by enclosing it in curtains and filling the ceiling with balloons.

Themes are an asset in turning an average get-together into an event, says Ashley Moss, owner of Hello Productions in Lawrenceville.

She suggests a masquerade theme with guests wearing homemade or purchased masks; a ’70s disco theme that encourages guests to dress in period garb and wigs, or a “Mad Men” theme with a martini bar and an outdoor cigar bar with heaters.

“If you want an event (with) glitter and glam, roll out a red carpet in the entry and bring in glittery linens,” suggests Shari Zatman, owner of Perfectly Planned by Shari in Fox Chapel.

Whether you go with a full-blown theme or not, adding some new activities into the evening can increase the mingling and merriment.

“New Year’s Eve is supposed to be about fun rather than gathering around the TV,” Chisnell says.

If watching televised celebrations is a must for some guests, Chisnell proposes stationing the TV in a separate room so others can go about socializing.

He suggests acquiring a large or ornate antique clock that guests can use for a group countdown to midnight.

Several planners recommend bringing in entertainment, such as a magician, a strolling musician or a pianist who can organize a sing-along, if your budget allows.

Organized games can also be fun, Zatman advises. You may think your friends are too sophisticated, but Zatman says, “Guests really get into that after some cocktails.”

For new ideas, check out websites such as

Create a bulletin board and encourage guests to post New Year’s resolutions or hopes and predictions for the coming year, Zatman suggests. It helps spark conversations.

She suggests inviting guests to bring a jug of their own specialty cocktail to the party to share with guests.

“It’s fun because everyone has different tastes, and people like to try things,” she says.

Be sure to stock up on noisemakers such as party horns, clackers, tiny cow bells and confetti poppers.

But don’t abandon the old ways entirely, Zatman says.

Remember to set out some pots, pans and wooden spoons for traditionalists.

Pull-Apart Cheese Bread

When you cut the loaf, make sure not to cut all the way through so that the individual pieces of bread are still attached at the bottom. Slice the loaf in one direction first, and then turn it 90 degrees and slice the other way. It can get tricky to hold the bread together when you make the second set of cuts; just do the best you can, and if any pieces fall out, just pop them back into place like puzzle pieces.

The bread can be stuffed a few hours ahead of when you plan to serve it. It will be fine on the counter for an hour, or, you can refrigerate it (wrapped in foil) for a few hours. Wait to pour the butter over the top until just before you put it in the oven.

From Emma Christensen, recipe editor at

1 round loaf artisan bread (16- to 20-ounce loaf)

1 12 to 2 cups (6 to 8 ounces) shredded cheese, like Monterey jack, mozzarella, provolone, cheddar or a mix

Optional mix-ins: cooked bacon or sausage, minced chives or sliced green onions, crushed red pepper, chili powder

14 cup unsalted butter

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the bread in a grid pattern. Make one set of cuts at 1-inch intervals. Do not slice all the way through the loaf — leave bottom of the loaf intact with the bread pieces still attached. Then rotate the loaf 90 degrees and make another set of cuts at 1-inch intervals, perpendicular to the first set of cuts. Viewed from above, the crust will appear to have been cut into 1-inch cubes.

Toss the cheese and mix-ins together in a small bowl. This helps ensure that the ingredients are evenly distributed when you stuff the bread.

Gently stuff the cheese into the bread between the slices. Stuff between the slices going one way first, then go back and fill in the spaces between the cuts going the other way — it’s a bit easier this way. It also helps to have someone hold the slices apart while you stuff.

Transfer the stuffed loaf to a sheet of foil. Melt the butter in the microwave, then pour it evenly over the loaf.

Wrap the loaf tightly in foil.

Bake the loaf for 20 minutes. Uncover the top and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cheese is totally melted and the top of the loaf is crispy.

Serve the loaf while still hot from the oven.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Winter Orchard Scotch

Not everything for New Year’s Eve needs to be fussy, bubbly or frilly. It’s OK to ring in 2015 with something richer, smokier and deliciously darker.

So, we started with a stiff pour of Scotch whisky. To dress it up for the occasion — it is a celebration, after all — we spiked it with ice cider, apple brandy and a splash of lemon juice. The result is a bold, lightly sweet indulgence that is just right to set a festive mood.

Can’t find ice cider? Substitute ice wine.

From Alison Ladman of the Associated Press.

1 12 ounces scotch

1 ounce ice cider

12 ounce apple brandy

12 teaspoon lemon juice

Ice cube, optional

Combine all of the ingredients in a double old-fashioned glass. Stir, then add an ice cube, if desired.

Makes 1 serving.

Slow Candied Bacon

To go with the Winter Orchard Scotch, we slowly candied some bacon. This is bacon so good it will haunt you. The process is slow but effortless. The bacon also can be made ahead of time and kept at room temperature for three days (you are essentially making bacon jerky, so it won’t spoil). Just be sure to get thick-cut bacon. You want meaty and bold for this.

1 14 cups firmly packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon ground mace

20 ounces thick-cut bacon

Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, crushed red pepper and mace. Arrange the bacon in a single layer in the prepared baking sheet. The bacon pieces can touch but should not overlap. Spread the brown-sugar mixture evenly over the bacon, covering all of the the slices. Bake for 2 hours.

Allow the bacon to rest for 10 minutes in the pan before transferring it to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store the bacon in an airtight container between sheets of kitchen parchment or waxed paper.

Makes 10 servings.

Chocolate Dipped Figs With Sea Salt

Dried figs are a sweet and easy treat any wintery day, but dip them in chocolate and sprinkle with a little sea salt, and they become a treat worthy of anyone’s holiday party. The quantities in this recipe divvy up evenly, and are, therefore, easily multiplied.

From Regina Yunghans, a writer for

One chocolate bar (3.5 ounces, 70 percent dark was used here)

12 dried figs

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Break or cut the chocolate bar into pieces and melt it over a water bath. Gently mold each fig back into its natural shape if it has been tightly packaged.

Holding them by the stem, dip each fig in the melted chocolate and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the figs with sea salt while the chocolate is still liquid. Allow the chocolate to cool and harden completely before packaging.

Figs will keep at room temperature for several weeks.

Makes 12 figs.

Passion Fruit Bellini

We’re firm believers that almost any party can be improved by serving sparkling wine. While you could make this drink with the usual peach nectar or frozen peaches, passion-fruit pulp is an unexpected and delightful change.

Passion-fruit pulp can be found in the frozen-foods section, often with the Goya brand products.

From Elizabeth Karmel for the Associated Press.

1 cup unsweetened passion-fruit pulp, thawed

2 tablespoons maraschino liqueur


750-milliliter bottle prosecco, chilled

Maraschino cherries or fresh raspberries, to garnish

In a large cocktail shaker, combine the passion-fruit pulp and maraschino liqueur. Stir to combine. Add a handful of ice, then shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into wine glasses, dividing it evenly. Stir each glass gently, then top each with the prosecco. Add a cherry or raspberry to each glass. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Spiced Prosecco

Looking for a simple way to dress up your New Year’s Eve bubbles? May we suggest spiking them with a spiced liqueur? It’s fast, simple, delicious and flexible.

From Alison Ladman of the Associated Press.

12 ounce Sorel liqueur

3 ounces prosecco, chilled

Orange twist

Pour the Sorel into a sparkling wine flute, then top with prosecco and an orange twist. Stir gently and serve immediately.

Makes 1 serving.

Honey-Broiled Persimmon Tarts

Serve these tarts alongside the Spiced Prosecco. The individual puff-pastry tarts are spread with brie (or any soft cheese) mixed with chopped fresh basil, then topped with persimmons that have been brushed with honey, then broiled until lightly browned and tender.

From Alison Ladman of the Associated Press.

14 cup sugar

Hefty pinch salt

1 package (17.3 ounces) puff pastry, thawed (each package contains 2 sheets)

Nonstick cooking spray

2 fuyu persimmons, sliced into thin wedges


8 ounces very soft cheese, such as brie

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Balsamic glaze, to drizzle

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with kitchen parchment.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and salt. Cut each sheet of puff pastry into nine 2-inch squares. Discard any edges. Arrange the pastry squares on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle them all over with the sugar-salt mixture. Set a second sheet of kitchen parchment over the pastry squares, then place a second baking sheet over it. The second baking sheet should set into the first, resting directly on the pastry squares.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the pastry squares are deep golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Increase the oven to broil. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat it with nonstick cooking spray.

Arrange the persimmon wedges on the prepared baking sheet and drizzle them lightly with honey. Broil for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the are lightly browned.

In a small bowl, mix together the cheese and basil. Season with black pepper. Spread a small amount of the cheese mixture onto each pastry square. Top the cheese with a warm persimmon wedge, then a light drizzle of balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.

Makes 9 servings.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs

These bite-size sweet-and-sour meatballs, drizzled with a pineapple- and soy-based sauce, make a great appetizer. Shredded carrot and finely diced pineapple keep the meatballs moist, while fresh gingerroot and Chinese five-spice powder amp up the flavor.

From, a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating.

Active Time: 1 hour

Nonstick cooking spray

1 can (20 ounces) pineapple chunks, divided

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons ketchup

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

14 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 large egg

1 medium carrot, shredded

14 cup finely chopped green onions, whites only

2 tablespoons minced fresh gingerroot

1 12 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder

34 teaspoon salt

8 ounces ground turkey breast

8 ounces ground pork

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 large sweet red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

12 cup sliced green-onion greens

36 short skewers or toothpicks

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat it with nonstick cooking spray.

Drain the pineapple juice into a small bowl. Whisk in the vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, cornstarch and crushed red pepper. Set it aside.

Finely chop enough pineapple to yield 12 cup. Press out the excess moisture with paper towels. Reserve the remaining pineapple chunks for the sauce.

Lightly beat the egg in a large bowl. Stir in the carrot, whites from the green onions, gingerroot, five-spice powder, salt and the finely chopped pineapple. Add the turkey and pork; gently mix to combine (do not overmix). Using a scant 1 tablespoon each, make 36 small meatballs. Bake on the prepared baking sheet until the meatballs are just cooked through, for about 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and cook for 1 minute. Whisk the reserved juice mixture and add it to the pan. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the remaining pineapple and the cooked meatballs.

To serve, thread a meatball and a piece of pineapple and/or red pepper onto a small skewer or toothpick. Transfer the meatballs to a platter, drizzle with the sauce and sprinkle them with the green-onion greens.

Makes 36 meatballs.

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