During the craziness of the holiday season, one of my favorite things to do is host a fun, easy, yet elegant New Year’s celebration. As a busy chef, I miss most of the holidays throughout the year due to my work schedule, so I really relish in being able to ring in the New Year with family and friends. When planning a festive menu, I look for seasonal favorites that have a “wow” presentation factor, as well as delicious foods that can be prepared quickly, so I can enjoy the actual event. As much as I like to host, I also like to enjoy the party.
One of the best ways to kick off the event is to have a signature drink ready. I created a Southern Sparkler, a great blend of sparkling wine, Southern Comfort, a dash of simple syrup, and to finish the look—a sparkling rim of sugar. The combination of bourbon and sparkling wine is irresistible. Guys like it because it’s not too sweet, and women like the effervescent bubbles. Who doesn’t like bubbles on New Year’s Eve?
As the guests mingle, I want to serve an appetizer that can be prepared quickly and has a fresh combination of flavors. This contemporary take on a classic shrimp and grits dish is the perfect answer. I start with some good, creamy grits and petite shrimp sautéed with chipotle seasoning, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Top the dish with arugula pesto and micro-greens for a pop of color and flavor. This dish is so versatile; you can add any number of your favorite seasonings and make it your own.
After my friends and family enjoy noshing on the appetizers, I serve a simple beef with mushroom sauce dish as a small plate. This can be made with whatever protein you choose and goes together effortlessly. Most of the time, simple ingredients can be beautifully combined to make a memorable dish. To complement the beef, I make Gorgonzola potatoes with caramelized onions and candied walnuts. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different cuts or types of potatoes. Because it can be served either hot or at room temperature, it’s an especially flexible dish. It’s all about getting the basic components right, then building on that to create a cohesive menu.
To finish a sublime evening of catching up with loved ones, nothing says love quite like a sweet dessert. This chocolate pâté, which is a flourless chocolate torte topped with a homemade shortbread cookie and served with fresh berries, is a fitting finish to the meal. You can make this up to four days in advance, so your prep time before the party will be short and sweet.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyed, so grab some fresh, simple ingredients and spend some quality time with your family and friends. They will leave with hearts full of holiday spirit and memories that will last a lifetime.
Petite Gorgonzola-Stuffed Yukon Gold Potatoes
20 small Yukon Gold potatoes
Olive oil to drizzle
8 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1 medium-sized onion (red or yellow)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spread potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet; drizzle with the oil, and toss to coat. Season with salt. Place potatoes in preheated oven and bake until very tender when pierced with a fork, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool.
- Julienne onion and caramelize until golden brown.
- After potatoes are cool, cut crosswise and scoop out centers with a melon baller. Combine caramelized onion and Gorgonzola in a small bowl. Top each potato with a generous spoonful of the mixture; garnish with walnuts. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Shrimp and Grits
Ingredients for the grits:
3 cups milk
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups Parmesan cheese
Directions for the grits: Place a three-quart pot over medium-high heat. Add the milk and cream. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. When the grits begin to bubble, turn the heat down to medium low and simmer, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Allow to cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and thick. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and Parmesan. Thin it with a little extra cream if needed. Season with salt and pepper.
Ingredients for the shrimp:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium white onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 to 3 bay leaves
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on
Pinch cayenne pepper, adjust to personal preference
1/2 lemon, juiced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped
fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 green onions, sliced
Directions for the shrimp: Place a deep skillet over medium heat and melt butter. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for two minutes to soften. Sprinkle in the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to create a roux. Slowly pour in the chicken stock and continue to stir to avoid lumps. Toss in the bay leaves. When the liquid comes to a simmer, add the shrimp. Poach the shrimp in the stock for two to three minutes, until they are firm and pink and the gravy is smooth and thick. Add the cayenne pepper, Tabasco and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped parsley and green onion. Spoon the grits into a serving bowl. Add the shrimp mixture and mix well. Serve immediately. May plate portions individually or serve on a large platter.
Flourless Chocolate Torte
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 1/2 tablespoon
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup espresso
8 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Using the 1/2 tablespoon butter, grease a 9-inch springform pan and line bottom with a parchment round. Cover pan underneath and along sides with foil and set in a roasting pan. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil.
Combine the chocolate, butter, and espresso in a metal bowl set over simmering water or in the top of a double boiler. Melt the mixture, stirring constantly, until smooth and creamy, about five minutes; reserve.
Meanwhile combine eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until frothy and almost doubled in volume, about five to ten minutes. Fold a third of the egg mixture into chocolate mixture using a rubber spatula. Repeat this process two more times until all of egg mixture has been folded into chocolate mixture.
Pour batter into prepared springform pan and place in the roasting pan. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to come about halfway up the sides. Bake until cake has risen slightly and edges are just beginning to set, about 40 to 45 minutes. Remove cake from roasting pan and cool on wire rack to room temperature. Remove foil, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Remove cake from refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving. Remove springform pan sides, invert cake onto a large plate, and peel away the parchment paper from bottom. Reinvert cake onto another large plate or serving platter and garnish with confectioners’ sugar or cocoa powder immediately before serving. May also serve as chocolate “pâté” by cutting into small squares and serving with crisp shortbread.
Mix cocktails to order in a traditional Champagne flute. Pour one shot of Southern Comfort in the bottom of the flute, add a dash of simple syrup and fill the glass with chilled sparkling wine. Enjoy! Note: Glass rims may be garnished with white crystal sugar.