For New Year's Eve, my husband and I will be inviting a few friends and neighbors over to watch the ball drop in Times Square on our big-screen TV. The folks are in walking distance, which makes it all the better.
On New Year's Eve, it's best to heed the warning about not drinking and driving. Invite guests to come at 9 or 10 p.m., in casual dress. All that's needed then are irresistible homemade nibbles, wine, soft drinks and champagne to toast.
Set a casual, relaxed scene. Let guests help themselves to wine or soft drinks and get comfy on armchairs and sofas. If you have a fireplace, toss in a few logs and light up. Place a tray of flutes on a side table ready to pour the Champagne to the strains of "Auld Lang Syne." An assortment of mini-desserts can be prepared ahead -- delicious tiny portions of cookies, cakes or trifle. I rarely use my pretty demitasse cups but they make perfect containers for mini-trifles, as do stemmed wine glasses. If you like, tie narrow bows of ribbon onto the handles and stems.
For a whimsical, edible centerpiece, pile clementine oranges high in a glass bowl, then tuck in peppermint bark, little cocktail umbrellas and chocolate kisses.
Chestnut Pumpkin Tartlets
1 package (1.9 oz.) frozen filo
dough tartlet shells
1/2 cup chestnut puree
2 Tbsps. canned pumpkin
1 cup whipped topping or whipped cream
2 tsps. superfine sugar
1/4 tsp. pumpkin spice, or to taste
3 roasted chestnuts, finely chopped
Arrange the tartlet shells on a serving plate. Set aside.
In a bowl, whip together the chestnut puree, pumpkin, whipped topping, sugar and pumpkin spice until smooth and blended.
Spoon into the tartlet shells, dividing evenly. Or use a piping bag fitted with a large star pipe. Sprinkle with the chopped chestnuts to garnish. Chill 1 hour before serving.
Makes 15 tartlets.
Crystal Shortbread Cookies
This is the easiest way to make the crisp Scottish delicacy. Use a good, unsalted butter. May store in an airtight container in a cool place (not the refrigerator).
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 tsp. almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 Tbsps. raw sugar
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a small mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the almond extract, then the flour gradually, about 1/4 cup at a time. Beat until all the flour is thoroughly blended before adding the next 1/4 cup. With a spoon, work in the ginger.
Press into a baking pan (approximately 11x4 inches). Sprinkle with the raw sugar.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the edges are beginning to brown. While hot, cut into squares. Cool thoroughly before serving.
Makes 30 to 36 cookies.
Texas Fudge Fingers
To make dairy, substitute unsalted butter for the margarine and dairy marshmallows for pareve marshmallows.
2 sticks (8 oz.) margarine, cut in pieces
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
13/4 cups plus 2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
11/2 tsps. vanilla extract
1 cup golden or dark raisins
1/2 stick (2 oz.) margarine
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup non-dairy vanilla creamer
1 box (1 lb.) confectioner's sugar
2 cups miniature pareve marshmallows
Preheat oven to 325°. Spray a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray with flour. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt the margarine. Remove from heat and stir in the cocoa powder. Cool slightly. Whisk in the sugar, eggs and 1/2 cup flour. Add the remaining flour, vanilla extract and raisins. Mix well. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until cake is almost firm in center. Fifteen minutes before cake is done, prepare the frosting.
To prepare frosting: In a small saucepan, melt the margarine. Stir in the cocoa and vanilla creamer. Add the confectioner's sugar gradually and stir to blend.
Spread over the warm cake. Scatter the marshmallows over the cake. Return to the oven and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until the marshmallows are puffed up and beginning to turn a golden brown. Spread with a knife to give a marbled effect. Cool thoroughly. Cut into fingers with a hot knife.
Makes 48 pieces.
So easy, they may be fixed at the last minute. Instead of strawberry gelatin, may substitute a layer of thinly sliced banana.
1 package (3 oz.) cook-and-serve butterscotch pudding
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsps. whipped topping, divided
4 gingersnap cookies, finely crumbled
3 Tbsps. sherry or apple juice
1/2 cup prepared strawberry gelatin, diced
Prepare the pudding according to package directions using 1 cup whole milk and whisking in 1/2 cup whipped topping. Cool.
Divide half the pudding mixture equally between the 6 demitasse cups. Top with 3/4 of the crumbled ginger cookie crumbs and drizzle with sherry or apple juice. Spoon the remaining pudding over.
Garnish with remaining whipped topping and remaining ginger cookie crumbs. Refrigerate until needed.
Cinnamon Chocolate 'Petticoat Tails'
I developed this quick and easy recipe when I didn't have time to make turnovers. These are cut into wedges, in Scotland called petticoat tails, a name that dates back to the 12th century. The triangles were fitted together to resemble a gored petticoat worn by the elite of that time.
1 package (2 9-inch) refrigerated rolled pareve pie crusts
1/3 cup raspberry or other red preserves
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup roasted sunflower seeds
11/2 Tbsps. cinnamon sugar
Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Unroll one pie crust and lay it on the prepared cookie sheet. Spread evenly with preserves to within 1/4-inch of edges. Scatter the chocolate chips, cranberries and sunflower seeds over. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar.
Dampen the edges with water. Unroll the remaining pie crust. Place over the chocolate mixture. Seal edges with a fork or crimp with fingers. Prick two or three times with a fork for steam to escape. Brush with water and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar.
Bake for 25 minutes or until pastry is golden and brown at edges.
Cool on the cookie sheet before cutting into 20 thin wedges.
Cinnamon Sugar: In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, shake together 11/2 teaspoons cinnamon with 1/4 cup sugar until thoroughly mixed.
Brandied Date and Walnut Bars
(Dairy or Pareve)
8 oz. pitted dates, halved
11/4 cups orange juice
1/4 cup brandy
21/2 cups all-purpose flour
11/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
3 sticks (12 oz.) chilled unsalted butter or margarine, cut in chunks
2 cups walnuts
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup granola confectioner's sugar to sprinkle (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°.
Place the dates, orange juice and brandy in a small saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce to lowest heat to keep simmering slowly.
Cook 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often, or until mixture is thickened. Remove from heat.
Spray an 11x14-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
In the food processor bowl, place the flour, brown sugar and butter or margarine. Pulse a few times until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Add the walnuts, oats and granola. Pulse a few times to chop walnuts.
Press half the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Pat flat and evenly with fingers. Spread the date mixture over, coming to within about 1/2-inch of the edges.
Top with the remaining flour mixture. Flatten slightly with a wooden spoon.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely.
Cut into 11/2-inch squares. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar (optional).
Note: These keep well in a tightly sealed container at room temperature for several days or may be frozen. Remove from freezer about 11/2 hours before serving.
Makes 48 pieces.