There's no shame in staying put on New Year's Eve. If "as-much-champagne-as-you-can-drink" sounds less like a temptation and more like a headache, or the usual event you go to is on hiatus, or, as in my own case, there's a new baby to cozy up with - partying right where you are could well be the most attractive option.
Home on New Year's Eve with a small table of loved ones might even be an ideal for those who especially enjoy cooking, hosting, and the ease of never having to figure out where to park. "If I had my way, I'd maybe have a few friends over," says Nicholas Elmi of Laurel. "I like to get drunk in my own house, away from the crowds."
Chef Marshall Green of Jerry's Bar would also choose to stay home if he could. "It's an overblown night," he says. "The last couple of years I was able to stay in, and I had people over for a '50s cocktail party one year. Another year I did a traditional English-style meal with beef Wellington."
While there are plenty of excellent restaurants around town that are putting together thoughtful menus and wine pairings, it's no secret that New Year's Eve can often be a kind of amateur night with extra-high per-head costs, quality-sapping kitchen volume, and revelers who view the prix fixe as a five-course sponge for their bubbly.
Let them have their coveted reservations, while you break out the good china. Spend the money that would have gone for bottle markups on luxury ingredients - truffles, seafood, Kobe beef.
"Why not go for something extravagant?" Green suggests. "Lobster or oysters - the ingredients you might not use in your home kitchen the rest of the year, but you don't have to go too far outside of your comfort zone. My ideal meal would be a chilled lobster salad, followed by a prime rib and maybe chocolate pot de crème or berries macerated in sugar with champagne and sorbet."
Since time is the greatest luxury for busy households, the New Year's event could be devoted to a more elaborate menu, an opportunity to delve into aspirational recipes that have been drooled over and bookmarked but never undertaken. (Paging Thomas Keller.)
Project meals could include homemade pasta with or without a sprinkling of caviar, pâte, tenderloin en croute, or all-day endeavors like cassoulet and dacquoise pastry. On our potential menu: guinea fowl - mostly because we've never tried making it, and it seems exotic enough for a special occasion.
If spending the day in the kitchen isn't an option, there's always the simple yet elegant approach. If he could stay at home on the Night of Ridiculous Expectations, Konstantinos Pitsillides of Kanella says he would err on the side of lower cost, lower effort, and mostly lighter fare in favor of bigger flavors.
"My approach in the restaurant is to keep prices reasonable and give customers more value for the menu, and that can be the same for you at home," he says.
His ideal menu might start with a smoked salmon plate with traditional accompaniments (crumbled hard-boiled egg, capers, chopped onion or shallot, gherkins, and horseradish cream) or extremely easy-to-make crab and grapefruit canapes on sliced baguette or prebaked tartlet shells.
"People have been eating rich meals for Christmas, so by New Year's Eve they might want a contrast, something more delicate," he says.
This could be followed by roasted Cornish hens with festive spices and a rich red wine sauce, and finally, his killer dessert of the moment, a salted caramel tart whose 11 egg yolks are the definition of last-night-of-the-year indulgence.
Another approach is to look to personal or international traditions for inspiration. Elmi would probably stir up a pot of his father's cioppino if he were home on New Year's.
"If we don't spend Christmas with my family, I like to make this dish around this time of year - it's essentially a very good tomato sauce and we throw scallops, calamari, shrimp, lobster, cod, clams, and anchovies in it." Alongside, he says they'd serve plenty of champagne, and probably some good rose or vinho verde.
Because he and his wife are both half Italian, they might also make something like cacio e pepe or gnocchi, which their young kids would eat, allowing them to participate in the festivities. Homey and accessible - but special enough to warrant a tablecloth.
With some planning, New Year's at home doesn't have to feel like any other night. (Unless of course, that's exactly what appeals. In which case, pajama bottoms and pizza are OK.)
Crab and Grapefruit Canapes
8-ounce can of good-quality lump crabmeat
1 tablespoon shallot, finely minced
25 to 30 cilantro leaves
Salt, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
2 pink grapefruits, segmented
Baguette or tartlet shells (optional)
1. Combine crab, shallot, cilantro, and seasonings, tossing lightly.
2. Mound some crabmeat on baguette slices, pre-baked tartlet shells, or simply on small plates, setting the grapefruit segments on top.
3. Serve immediately.
- From Konstantinos Pitsillides of Kanella
Per serving (without baguette or tartlet): 53 calories; 8 grams protein; 4 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams sugar; 1 gram fat; 38 milligrams cholesterol; 203 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.EndText
Spiced Cornish Hens With Root Vegetables and Red Wine Sauce
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1½-pound Cornish hens
Peel of half an orange
Peel of half a lemon
1 thyme sprig
4 cups any combination of root vegetables (carrot, parsnip, yam, rutabaga, turnip), cut into ¼-inch cubes
½ cup chopped shallot
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup substantial red wine such as merlot or burgundy
1 cup halved green grapes
Greek yogurt or crème fraiche (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl combine spices and oil. Toss hens in the spices to coat evenly, and stuff their cavities with orange and lemon peel and thyme. Arrange vegetables in a roasting pan or ovenproof skillet and set hens on top. Roast until the temperature in the thickest part of the leg reads 165°, about 1 hour. Remove pan from oven and set hens aside, tented with foil.
2. Add the chicken stock, red wine, and grapes to the pan and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to dissolve the brown bits. When the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Plate the vegetables, dividing them across four plates and setting half of a hen on top. Drizzle with sauce and serve with a dollop of yogurt or crème fraiche if desired.
Per serving: 617 calories; 81 grams protein; 20 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams sugar; 4 grams fat; 361 milligrams cholesterol; 960 milligrams sodium; 4 grams dietary fiber.
Salted Caramel Tart
For the crust:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
1 egg, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
For the filling:
10 ounces granular sugar
1½ ounces port
4¼ cups heavy cream
A few pinches of kosher salt
3 ounces dark brown sugar
11 egg yolks
Ginger ice cream or gelato to serve (optional)
1. Pulse the flour, sugar, butter, and whole egg in the bowl of a food processor until it comes together to form a ball. (If dough doesn't come together, add cold water by the teaspoon until it does.) Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead to make sure butter has been incorporated. Form a thick disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Roll out dough on floured surface and drape it over a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, pushing it into the sides and corners. Set a piece of foil on top, then fill the covered crust with uncooked beans or pie weights and blind-bake the tart, about 18 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, brush the crust with the egg yolk, and bake for 3 minutes longer.
3. Reduce oven heat to 250 degrees F. As the crust cools, make the filling. Arrange the sugar in an even layer in a large stainless steel saucepan over medium-high heat. As it melts, stir gently with a rubber spatula until the sugar turns dark brown and liquefies. Stir in the port and allow mixture to boil vigorously.
4. Immediately pour in cream (taking care not to burn yourself) and whisk over low heat to dissolve sugar. Add salt and whisk again, then remove from heat and set aside.
5. In the bowl of a mixer, combine brown sugar and egg yolks until creamy. Gradually add still-warm (but not hot) caramel and whisk to combine. Pass mixture through a fine sieve and then let rest for 10 minutes.
6. Pour mixture into tart pan and bake for 45 minutes until set but still wobbly in the center. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before serving. (Store in refrigerator if not serving within an hour.) Slice and serve with a scoop of ginger ice cream.
- From Konstantinos Pitsillides of Kanella
Per serving: 662 calories; 8 grams protein; 64 grams carbohydrates; 46 grams sugar; 24 grams fat; 427 milligrams cholesterol; 128 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.