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New Year's Eve for all

There are many ways to cross the threshold into 2015, from gala affairs to quiet romantic dinners. But on New Year's Eve, nothing beats a gathering of people of all ages, sharing a toast of something sparkling. Old friends and new, parents alongside children, together between past and future.

Assorted canapes by Anna Herman, as she writes about her family's traditional party on New Year's Eve, started by her parents who eloped on December 31.  ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )
Assorted canapes by Anna Herman, as she writes about her family's traditional party on New Year's Eve, started by her parents who eloped on December 31. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )Read more

There are many ways to cross the threshold into 2015, from gala affairs to quiet romantic dinners. But on New Year's Eve, nothing beats a gathering of people of all ages, sharing a toast of something sparkling. Old friends and new, parents alongside children, together between past and future.

Sparkling, flaming, fancy, and formal can be had in many a venue, or evoked with simple gestures at home. Light all the candles you can find. Create a centerpiece with glittery ribbons and mirrored balls. Serve anything in champagne flutes. Make your first flambé.

For guidance in hosting mixed groups of old and young, I look back fondly on the decades of New Year's Eve anniversary parties thrown by, and then with, my parents, Nancy and Walter Herman. Soon after they eloped 55 years ago, the annual ritual was born.

My three siblings and I came of age at these parties, where as children we were allowed to serve canapes to the grown-ups. Home from college in the mid-'70s, we joined in the planning and invited friends bearing disco music. Through the years, the parties witnessed my friends' life passages, from singles to couples, to newlyweds, to parents.

Each room had a different vibe: dancing and drinking in the darkened dining room; quieter conversation and music in the den; standing-room-only cocktail chatter in the living room; scores of little kids sleeping or playing in upstairs bedrooms.

Year after year, family members and out-of-town friends took on roles setting up lighting and music, moving furniture, stocking the bar, gluing the bases of plastic champagne glasses to the stems.

The largest group of us shopped for and prepared whatever special menu we agreed upon. Some years we did themes - Italian, Indian, Mediterranean. One year was a costume ball. We always had appetizer stations and passed hors d'oeuvres, which kept everyone happy until dinner around 10 p.m.

Aunt Edie played "Auld Lang Syne" on the piano as the grandfather clock in the hall struck midnight.

Such memories inspire my suggestions for your own mixed-age celebration. Cohosting is the easiest way to take on a party but not all the work.

Kids, neighbors, and guests all can be included in ways that suit their talent. Little hands can color place cards or decorative banners; bigger ones can assemble canapes or decorate cookies. Send driving-age teens and younger adults out for groceries and ice. Anyone who likes to cook can contribute a special dish. If every guest brings one tray of finger foods or desserts, you can focus on a simple, elegant main course.

Appetizers such as dips and chips are always welcome, but to really dress up the menu, arrange several variations of canapes and hors d'oeuvres. The youngest among your guests can make a meal of these early-evening edibles and head off to bed.

Toasted slices of French bread and crackers, sliced cucumbers, radishes, and endive spears make great bases for dollops of topping. Small quantities of several pates, spreads, cheeses, relishes, and micro-greens can be mixed and matched to create a dazzling canape selection. Even hummus from a container looks and tastes fancy when spread carefully on a cracker or cucumber with a crumble of feta cheese and a piece of olive. Warm hors d'ouevres can be made or purchased, like mini-pizzas or taquitos.

Buttery phyllo dough rolls or triangles are easy make-aheads. Fillings such as seasoned spinach (a la spanakopita), chopped wild mushrooms and goat cheese, or roasted cumin-garlic squash are flavorful starters.

A substantial and elegant entree that can be prepared in advance and served with fanfare, such as beef Wellington or coulibiac of salmon, works well for a smallish party. For a larger group, consider a casserole or stew that can be kept warm on the stove or chafing dish, with noodles or rice and a big green salad.

Or skip the main course altogether. Go straight to dessert.

A simple dessert buffet can be elevated with a single, dramatic centerpiece. One of my favorites for a crowd is croque en bouche - hundreds of little chocolate-iced cream puffs held together in a pyramid with caramel. It is stunning, delicious, and fun to pull apart and eat.

Another crowd-pleasing dessert is a coffee mousse called "Mexican Cream," the recipe for which was cut out of magazine sometime in the early 1970s. It is a perfect complement to cookies or cake.

But for the most dramatic post-midnight display, what about a dessert featuring ice cream and flames? If that sounds good, make a baked Alaska flambé. Creating a flaming dessert, like so many culinary feats, is easier than it looks. Whipped egg-white meringue insulates molded ice cream, which is briefly baked in a very hot oven to cook and brown the meringue. Warm Grand Marnier or brandy ignites with the touch of a match; these flames are poured on the just-baked confection to dance and continue browning the dessert.

One year, I made baked Alaska for 50 using the largest metal bowl I could find and more than 30 pints of ice cream and six dozen eggs. The project took several days, and required a butane torch and much logistical maneuvering. But years later, it's still a fond memory.

I miss the days when so many of us joined in ringing the midnight bells. I know I can rekindle relationships and resolve to continue gathering new and old friends and family for celebrations in the new year and beyond. More important, I am going to move some furniture, roll up a rug, and find someone who will dance with me (and wish my parents a happy new year!).

Individual Beef Wellingtons

Makes 4 portions


2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 (4-ounce) thickly cut filet mignons

11/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound puff pastry (1 sheet), thawed

Mushroom Duxelles, recipe follows

1 large egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water to make an egg wash


1. Mix the mustard, salt, and pepper together in a medium nonreactive bowl. Add the filet pieces and toss, rubbing the mustard mixture onto all the surfaces of each piece of meat. Let sit for a half-hour to an hour at room temperature.

2. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sear each piece for less than minute on each side for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate till cool.

3. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 14-inch square, and cut into 4 (approximately 7-inch) squares.

4. Spread one-quarter of the mushroom duxelles in the center of each square of pastry. Place the filet on top. Using a pastry brush or your finger, paint the inside edges of the pastry with egg wash. Fold the pastry over the filet as though wrapping a package and press the edges to seal. Place the packages seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Make several slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape when baking. If desired use any pastry scraps to create decorative patterns on top, using additional egg wash to adhere the cutouts. Place in freezer for 1 hour or up to 1 week. (if freezing for longer than an hour wrap well).

5. When ready to prepare, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush egg wash over the tops and sides of each package and bake for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and continue cooking until the pastry is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 110 degrees F for rare, about 25-30 additional minutes depending on the thickness of the meat.

6. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a dish of mustard or with a veal-beef demi-glace (purchase from D'Artagnan) warmed with a splash of red wine as a sauce.

- Anna Herman,

Per serving (based on 4): 894 calories; 41.9 grams protein; 51.6 grams carbohydrates; 1 grams sugar; 57.3 grams fat; 121 milligrams cholesterol; 1574 milligrams sodium; 1.9 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Mushroom Duxelles

Makes 4 portions


1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 shallots, peeled and minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

10-12 ounces assorted fresh mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed, and finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup red wine


1. Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until the shallots and garlic are translucent.

3. Add the mushrooms, salt, and pepper, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are browning but still have some softness, 10-12 minutes.

4. Add the wine and cook, stirring to deglaze the pan, until all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and let cool before using.

- Anna Herman,

Per serving (based on 4): 46 calories; 2.8 grams protein; 3.4 grams carbohydrates; 1.5 grams sugar; 3.1 grams fat; 8 milligrams cholesterol; 316 milligrams sodium; .9 grams dietary fiber.


Flaming Baked Alaska

Makes 4 portions


Molded Ice Cream: 

2 pints of favored ice cream - one to three flavors. If using 2 flavors, use 1½ pints of the main flavor and ½ pint of the contrasting flavor. If using 3 flavors, use 1¼ pints of main flavor, ¼ pint of the second flavor, and ½ pint of the third

Plain pound cake or brownies - enough to cover the base of the ice cream mold


4 egg whites

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (only if not using a copper bowl to mix meringue)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

To serve:

¼ cup Grand Marnier

raspberries, candied orange slices (optional)


1. Select a metal or ceramic bowl to become your mold that has at least a one-quart capacity and a shape you like. Chill this bowl in the freezer for about an hour. Remove the ice cream from the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

2. Working quickly but neatly, add half of the "main" flavor of ice cream to the bottom of the mold. Add the contrasting flavor on top. If using a third flavor, layer it here. Add the remaining main flavor to cover and enclose the contrasting flavor (s) which will now be in the center of the mold. Smooth the ice cream and return mold to the freezer, well covered.

3. A few hours before serving (up to a day ahead) arrange thin brownie slices or slices of pound cake on a plate or platter in approximately the shape of the ice cream mold. Fill a bowl large enough to place the ice cream mold in with hot water. Working quickly but neatly remove the ice cream mold from the freezer, place it briefly in the hot water, run a knife around the ice cream, and unmold the ice cream onto the cake. Return unmolded ice cream and cake immediately to the freezer.

4. Make the meringue. Fill a saucepan sized to hold a mixing bowl double-boiler style with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer. Add the egg whites, cream of tartar if using, and sugar to a very clean mixing bowl (any oil in the bowl will prevent the whites from forming a firm meringue). Whisk continuously over the hot water until the sugar is well dissolved and the meringue is thickening. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla and continue to beat vigorously until the meringue holds its shape and is quite glossy and cool.

5. Remove the unmolded ice cream from the freezer. Trim any cake away as needed. With a spatula spread a layer of meringue around the entire mold, carefully ensuring that all the ice cream is well covered and that the seam between the cake and the ice cream is sealed with meringue. The meringue will insulate the ice cream when the meringue is browned. Make decorative swirls or peaks using a knife or spatula, or place some of the meringue in a pastry bag fitted out with star or shell tip and add peaked flourishes as desired. A simple, swirling, snow-covered mountain looks great and is easily achieved. Return the meringue-covered ice cream to the freezer until just before serving. Ideally, this meringue is completed before dinner, not much more than 4 hours before dessert.

6. To serve: Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place meringue-covered ice cream cake on a cool, heatproof serving plate. Put Grand Marnier in a very small saucepan over very low heat. Turn off the lights in the dining room. Have matches ready. Put the unbaked Alaska into the hot oven for 1-3 minutes until just lightly browned. Bring to the table along with the warmed Grand Marnier. Light the Grand Marnier in the pan and pour this flaming alcohol onto and around the Baked Alaska. The alcohol will burn away quickly as it continues to brown the meringue. Once the flames subside, dig in.

- Anna Herman,

Per serving (without orange slices): 663 calories; 10 grams protein; 97 grams carbohydrates; 93 grams sugar; 23 grams fat; 81 milligrams cholesterol; 1,423 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.EndText

Most Delicious Mexican Cream

Makes 8 portions


1/2 cup of sugar

1 envelope of unflavored gelatin

1/2 tsp of instant espresso

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs

11/4 cups of milk

1 cup cream for whipping


This recipe was cut out of magazine sometime in the 1970's and made with few adjustments (besides tripling and quadrupling the recipe) for dozens of New Year's eve parties. Transcribed here are my mother's notes from the margin. . .

Be careful, plan ahead

Not all sugar at once!

Watch out for gelatin mixture getting hard fast.

1. Combine 1/4 cup sugar, gelatin, instant coffee, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla in top of double boiler (save remaining 1/4 cup sugar for Step 4).

2. Separate eggs, putting whites in medium-size bowl, yolks in a small bowl. Beat egg yolks slightly; stir in milk; stir into gelatin mixture.

3. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until gelatin dissolves and mixture coats a metal spoon; strain into small bowl. Chill, stirring occasionally, until mixture is as thick as unbeaten egg whites.

4. Beat egg whites until foamy-white and double in volume; gradually beat in saved 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each, until meringue stands in firm peaks. Beat cream until stiff in small bowl.

5. Place bowl of meringue in pan of ice and water. Gradually fold in gelatin mixture, then whipped cream. Continue folding, keeping bowl over ice, until no streaks of white remain and mixture holds its shape.

6. Pour into 6-cup mold; chill 4 hours, or until firm.

- Anna Herman,

Per serving (based on 8): 105 calories; 3.6 grams protein; 15.4 grams carbohydrates; 14.9 grams sugar; 4 grams fat; 3.5 milligrams cholesterol; 50 milligrams sodium; 0 grams dietary fiber.