New Year’s Eve comes with baggage. It promises fun, romance, and excitement, but rarely delivers anything but a hangover. I much prefer the stay-at-home party with friends and family. Pick a theme and create a mood!
Whether you want to channel a members-only supper club, a Swiss ski lodge, or your favorite British TV aristocracy, here are some books to help with your menu and your vibe.
My husband and I were lucky enough to have dinner the other night at Palizzi Social Club, the much-vaunted private dining club in South Philly. Founded in 1918 and originally only open to male expats from the town of Vasto, Italy, the club was where birthdays, funerals, and business deals were celebrated.
Today, it’s open to people of all sorts — as long as they’ve secured a $20 membership. You’re screened by the doorman, who speaks to you through the Prohibition-style peek-through slot. Upon entering (usually after a wait), you feel like you’ve won the lottery. There’s an overwhelming feeling of comfort and familiarity, as if you’ve been transported to another era, replete with tinsel Christmas decorations and Formica tables.
“Eat a lot, drink more, and most of all, be social” is one of the club’s house rules. It delivers with food and cocktail recipes from third-generation member/owner/chef Joey Baldino’s family recipes in the recently published Dinner at the Club: 100 Years of Stories and Recipes from South Philly’s Palizzi Social Club (Running Press) by Baldino and fellow son of South Philly Adam Erace.
The well-written recipes are thoughtful and thorough. Try the capesante — a mélange of chopped scallops and mushrooms blended with truffle paste, shallots, brandy, and cream — or the skillfully grilled octopus with salsa verde and marinated olives. The octopus is simmered in wine and herbs, marinated in lemon and bay leaves, then charred on the grill, yielding a tender result, and one of the best I’ve ever had.
My only resolution this year is to use kitchen gadgets languishing in the basement. I will break out the unused pasta maker for the giant raviolo Vasto with brown sage butter, a ricotta-and-spinach-filled square of pasta with a hidden egg yolk inside that melts into the brown butter when you cut into it, creating a delectable rich sauce — so worth the effort.
For dessert, make the ricotta pie, an Italian cheesecake brightened with lemon and orange zests, baked in an almond-cookie-like crust. This book is a gift to Philadelphia: the recipes, the stories, everything.
But maybe you’ve been dreaming of a Swiss ski lodge this winter instead. Don’t have the budget? I am going to dig out my never-used raclette grill to use with Meredith Erickson’s Alpine Cooking: Recipes and Stories from Europe’s Grand Mountaintops (Ten Speed Press) to channel my inner Euro-ski bunny.
Erickson’s book takes you to the quaintest winter wonderlands of Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and France. Included are maps, logistical information, and gorgeous photographs, as well as authentic recipes for a cozy Alpine adventure, organized by country.
From Switzerland, choose between a classic fondue Neuchâtel laced with garlic, white wine, lemon, and kirsch, or raclette, a heated, melty cheese served with cornichons, pickled onions, boiled new potatoes, and cured meat. Erickson provides hot tips for fondue; apparently, there are lots of rules, which is so very Swiss. Among the rules: Pair it with warm or room-temperature beverages. And no double-dipping!
Speaking of warm beverages, there’s a recipe for hot chocolate with alpine herbs using chopped chocolate, milk, and heavy cream, infused with dried lemon verbena, dried chamomile, and fresh mint, a delightful twist on this family-friendly elixir.
Looking for a dressed-up meat-and-potatoes meal? Make the Toggi-schnitzel with apple-chive slaw, a spin on the original cordon bleu. It’s thought to originate in the Swiss town of Brig, where veal or pork loin is pounded thin, then stuffed with speck or ham and Alpkäse (hut cheese) or Gruyère. The mustardy slaw adds a snappy bite to cut through the richness.
There are other salads to choose from — carrot remoulade, beet and arugula, and cucumber among them — and plenty of carbs, too. Rösti is a potato dish synonymous with Switzerland. Yukon gold potatoes are partially cooked in salted water, drained and rested overnight, then peeled and grated to be fried in butter into one glorious round of hash browns. The Swiss use a seasoned cast iron pan, but a nonstick pan will ease the process.
Finish your meal with the unusual and distinctively flavored Ricola ice cream. Crushed lozenges may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to ice cream, but they lend a subtle herby note. Herbs listed in the lozenges include sage, linden, mallow, thyme, elder, hyssop, and peppermint. REE-COOOO-LAAAA!
If you miss seeing the Crawley family or simply want to dress up like Lady Mary, why not transport yourself to Edwardian or 1920s England? Browse through the thoroughly researched recipes in The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook by Annie Gray (Weldon Owen), divided by occasion and social status.
The Upstairs chapters, full of refined ritual, include Breakfast, Lunch & Supper; Afternoon Tea and Garden Parties; Picnics, Shoots & Race Meets; Festive Food; and Upstairs Dinner. Downstairs chapters are more basic: Downstairs Dinner; Supper & Tea; the Still Room. The recipes are meticulously and authentically written, but more convenient modern instructions are noted. Gorgeous photographs pepper the text.
Much-needed advice and direction is given in How to Host a Downton Dinner. With most of us doubling as our own “staff” these days, concessions are suggested for a more manageable menu than the traditional eight courses. (Where are my footmen??)
Oysters au gratin topped with a creamy sauce and Parmesan bread crumbs make an extravagant starter — and a great reason to use my grandmother’s oyster plates. A choice of two mains would follow: filet mignons lili, butter-sautéed tournedos served atop artichoke bottoms, crowned with pommes Anna; or the duck with apples and calvados (on the menu at Lady Edith’s ill-fated wedding breakfast!). The Queen of Trifles, with its layers of ladyfingers, whipped cream, jam, and fruit, would be the perfect finish to this elegant celebration.