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How to create your own New Year's Eve party with DIY recipes and easy cocktails

Here's our plan for New Year's Eve: Beat the crowded bars, (expensive) ticketed events, and last-minute scrambling this year and throw your own party. Your celebration will undoubtedly include closer friends, tastier food, cheaper drinks, and a lot more dancing when you're the one coordinating.

Katherine Rapin presents a how to for a casual New Year's cocktail party with simple food and fun cocktails.
Katherine Rapin presents a how to for a casual New Year's cocktail party with simple food and fun cocktails.Read moreKatherine Rapin

Here's our plan for New Year's Eve: Beat the crowded bars, (expensive) ticketed events, and last-minute scrambling this year and throw your own party. Your celebration will undoubtedly include closer friends, tastier food, cheaper drinks, and a lot more dancing when you're the one coordinating.

Yes, throwing a party can be daunting, but this won't be a fancy-shmancy, sit-down dinner. New Year's Eve calls for a serve-yourself, shake-your-own-cocktail, and hang-in-the-kitchen type of party. Getting all the food out and looking gorgeous still requires work and planning, but you can minimize stress with prepare-ahead recipes, simple-assembly cocktails, and a few good friends to help you.

My plan starts with tortilla Española, served with zesty tomato sauce for an appetizer and continues with a winter squash soup that can simmer on the stove for as long as the party lasts. Throw in a simple salad, some show-stopping cocktails, and a dessert you can put together at the end of the night - even if you're tipsy: a tin-roof sundae with homemade hot fudge and Spanish peanuts.

Whether you take on the challenge yourself or persuade a friend who has a bigger kitchen to host, here are some tips and recipes to ensure you're toasting along with your guests at midnight.

Give yourself plenty of time. A bit of last-minute scrambling is inevitable, but there's no reason to go through a pre-party meltdown if you can avoid it. And you can. Do most of the shopping two days before the party, and prepare most of the menu the day before. Make the simple syrups for the cocktail; prep your salad toppings and make the dressing; whip up a simple sauce and some hot fudge; and cook the soup. If you want to get it all out of the way, you can make the tortilla the day before, too.

Have a co-host. On party day, you'll be busy with last-minute assembly, table decor, and cocktail prep, but it's more fun if you're not doing it alone. Plus, you need someone to tell you if the soup needs more salt or if you went too heavy on the gin in your punch. (And to remind you to change into your party outfit before guests arrive.) You can also tag-team front of house, back of house; you greet guests at the door while your co-host keeps an eye on things in the kitchen, or vice versa. Especially if you're a novice, having a co-host is probably the most crucial step in avoiding a pre-party meltdown.

Delegate. You've got the food covered. And you've got the cocktails covered, too. Your friend with great musical taste should curate a playlist. If people ask what they can bring, alcohol (or a festive nonalcoholic beverage) is always the answer. It's New Year's Eve, after all - people are in the mood to celebrate. Asking your guests to bring beverages ensures you'll have plenty, and you can skip the trouble of remembering everyone's drink of choice.

Prepare for late-night second round. You've toasted at midnight, and the party is so much fun everyone wants to linger. Keep the festivities rolling (and lessen the New Year's Day hangover) with a few late-night snacks. Simple quesadillas are a winner, especially if you use fresh corn tortillas and an unconventional cheese blend (see shopping guide for details). A big batch of stovetop popcorn is great for a lighter savory snack. Try topping combos such as sriracha, black pepper, and coconut oil, or dried thyme, salt, and olive oil.

Avoid not-having-enough-food panic. The recipes that follow provide a good menu outline, but you should plan to fill out the spread with an assortment of meats, cheeses, and breads. Spanish chorizo and manchego pair well with the Spanish omelet. Slice the cheese and marinate it in olive oil and rosemary overnight - the herby richness will soak deliciously into a baguette slice. Make a simple toast topping with orange segments, black olives, strips of Serano ham, and chopped almonds, drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh mint. Of course, cheese, with sweet seasonal pairings, is a must (see shopping guide for recommendations).

Tortilla Española


Makes 12 servings


1 cup olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 pounds boiling potatoes (red skins or Yukon gold work well)

Salt and pepper to taste

5 eggs


1. Slice potatoes in half crosswise, and then into quarter-inch half-moon shapes.

2. Pour olive oil into a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, preferably with slanted sides, and heat over medium-high heat for two minutes. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium; add potatoes and fry until just fork-tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Drain oil and reserve for later. Dump potatoes and onions into a bowl lined with a brown paper bag to drain and cool slightly.

4. Whip eggs in a large bowl. Season generously with salt and fresh-ground pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon of each). Add potato and onion mixture and stir gently. Let sit for 5 minutes.

5. Wipe out pan and add two tablespoons of the reserved oil. Heat on high, add egg mixture, and cook for 30 seconds, shaking the pan quickly to distribute potatoes evenly. Turn heat down to low and cook until barely set, about 15 minutes.

6. Finish the omelet under the broiler until the top is golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes before flipping onto a plate. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing into bite-size diamond shapes. Serve with toothpicks and spicy tomato sauce. - From Katherine Rapin

Per serving: 226 calories, 4 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 19 grams fat, 68 milligrams cholesterol, 81 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Spicy Tomato Sauce


Makes 12-15 servings


1 cup canned tomatoes

1 small clove garlic (roasted if you like milder garlic flavor)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (optional, or to taste)


1. Puree all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor until smooth.

2. With the blender running, add olive oil in a steady stream to emulsify.

3. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

- From Katherine Rapin

Per serving (based on 15): 11 calories, trace protein, trace grams carbohydrates, no sugar, 1 gram fat, no cholesterol, 78 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.EndText

Roasted Winter Squash Soup


Makes 1 gallon, or 12-16 servings


Olive oil

5 pounds assorted winter squash (acorn, butternut, delicata, and/or kabocha work well)

3 baking apples (like Empire, Jonagold, or Braeburn)

1 small head of garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 large onion, diced

6 cups vegetable or chicken stock

11/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Chop squash into quarters. (Leave seeds - they'll be easier to scoop out later). Core and halve apples. Cut a thin slice off the bottom of the head of garlic so the cloves are barely exposed.

2. Arrange squash, apples, and garlic cut side down on an oiled and salted baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for an hour, or until very soft and slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool.

3. Meanwhile, put butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot until butter melts. Add diced onion and cook until soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Add stock and bring to a bare simmer.

4. Scoop the flesh from apples and squash into a bowl and discard seeds and skins. Peel garlic cloves and add to squash and apples. Add the mixture to the broth, add chopped sage, and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. I like to leave this soup thick and chunky, mashing the squash with a potato masher to just break down large chunks and garlic cloves. If you prefer a smooth soup, puree with an immersion blender or food processor. Serve with slices of crusty bread. - From Katherine Rapin

Per serving (based on 16): 142 calories, 3 grams protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams sugar, 6 grams fat, 4 milligrams cholesterol, 302 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.


Simple Salad with Maple Rosemary Vinaigrette


Makes 12 servings


For the salad:

11/2 pounds fresh salad greens (a mix of spicy mustard and mizuna greens is nice)

1 small red onion, cut into half-inch slices

1/2 cup chopped fennel bulb

1/4 cup dried cherries, rough-chopped

1/4 cup toasted walnuts, broken into small pieces

Seeds of 1/2 pomegranate (optional)

2 ripe but still firm fuyu persimmons, peeled and sliced in thin wedges

For the dressing:

1/4 cup apple cider vinaigrette

1/4 cup rosemary-infused olive oil

1/2 tablespoon maple syrup

Salt and fresh pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 400° F.

2. Oil a baking sheet and roast onion slices for about 20 minutes, until soft and slightly blackened at the tips. Let cool.

3. Shake dressing ingredients in a jar to emulsify.

4. Toss greens with toppings in a large salad bowl and dress just before serving.

- From Katherine Rapin

Note: You can substitute a sweet, crisp apple for the persimmons, but wait to chop it until just before serving.

Per serving: 112 calories, 2 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, no cholesterol, 17 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Rosy Gin Cocktail


Makes 8 servings


12 ounces gin

3 cups high-quality grape juice

1/4 cup rosemary simple syrup (see note)

1 bottle of dry champagne

2 lemons, sliced into thin rounds and frozen

Rosemary sprigs for garnish


1. Pour the first three ingredients into a large punch bowl and mix well with a spoon. Add frozen lemon slices.

2. Have ice, champagne, and rosemary springs on hand and leave a ¾-cup ladle (or measuring cup) in the bowl.

3. To assemble a cocktail, put a ladleful of punch over a glass of ice. Top with champagne and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Note: To make the simple syrup: Bring one cup sugar, one cup water, and three sprigs rosemary to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir until sugar has dissolved; remove from heat and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Remove rosemary springs, pour into a jar, and store in the fridge until ready to use.

- From Katherine RapinEndText

Grapefruit Brûlée Sour


Makes 12 servings


750 ml vodka

1 bottle fresh grapefruit juice (Simply brand works well)

1 cup simple syrup

One dozen egg whites, yolks reserved for another use

For garnish:

2 grapefruits



1. Add a shot of vodka (1½ ounces), 1 ounce simple syrup, 3 ounces grapefruit juice, and one egg white to a shaker or glass jar.

2. Shake - without ice - for about 30 seconds. If you use a glass jar, you'll be able to see the egg foam develop. Add ice and shake for 10 seconds more to chill. Strain over a martini glass and garnish with a brûléed grapefruit slice. (See next step.)

3. To make the garnish: Use a mandolin or very sharp knife to slice grapefruit into thin rounds. Lay out on paper towels to dry slightly. Arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet and sprinkle one tablespoon of sugar over each slice. Place under broiler for 8-10 minutes, or use a torch to caramelize until golden.

- From Katherine RapinEndText