31 December 2011

a champagne toast to the end of the world

Here's to the end of 2011.  It's been an interesting year to say the least, one filled with new friends, blizzards, broken bones, broken hearts, hurricanes and hopefulness.  I'm glad it's wrapping up and I am really excited about the prospect that tonight might just be that awesome New Year's Eve that I've craved all my life.  You know, the one that's spent wandering around with your friends, hopping from one awesome party to the next, having an epic kiss at midnight and then stumbling home around lunchtime on New Year's Day, covered in sequins, glitter and smeared lipstick?  Yeah, that's the kind of night I'm hoping for.  A 200 Cigarettes kinda night!  And though my dinner tonight will probably consist of something I rummage out of the back of the refrigerator as a mere sponge for the copious amounts of champagne I plan on enjoying later on in the evening, that won't stop me from providing my lovely readers with a New Year's menu that's sure to cap off 2011 right.

mmm look at paul rudd's side burns... i want to kiss him at midnight!

You see, last year, in an attempt to enjoy a quietly romantic holiday with my special someone and our favorite couple, I pulled out all the stops and made a fancy delicious dinner for four with the theme of the menu being, duh!  Champagne!  The food was wonderful and we had a lovely supper together before kicking off what would turn out to be a messy countdown and 2011 kickoff.  But let's not blame it on the food!  If you're looking for a quiet night in or a bit of pre-party dining with friends, you can't go wrong with this quick and simple meal.

new year's champagne supper
herb salad with walnuts & gorgonzola in a champagne vinnaigrette
creamy rosemary dijon roasted new potatoes
pan-seared asparagus
forty clove garlic roasted chicken
pear champagne sorbet

Everything on the menu is super easy but it's all so flavorful that your guests will rave about it and your belly will be happy and full and ready to start guzzling flutes of sparkly goodness.  I will admit that I did cheat a bit and roasted the chicken in a 40-clove garlic chicken braising base that I found at Williams-Sonoma but instead of slow cooking chicken pieces, I oven-roasted a whole chicken which I constantly basted with a mix of melted butter, homemade chicken stock and the 40-clove garlic braising sauce.  It was one of the most tender, juicy and flavorful chickens I have ever made so I make no apologies for the shortcuts I took.  The asparagus was simple, just a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, nothing too crazy but I wanted more green than just a salad.  The salad on the other hand...

herb salad with walnuts & gorgonzola in a champagne vinnagrette
2 c butter lettuce, rinsed and torn
1 c fresh curly leaf and flat leaf parsley, rinsed and torn
1/2 c fresh cilantro, rinsed and torn
1/2 c fresh fennel leaves, rinsed and torn
2 tbsp champagne vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
fresh ground salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 c crumbled gorgonzola
1. In a large salad bowl, toss greens with cheese and walnuts.  Let chill aside until ready to serve.
2. In a smal dish, whisk together oil, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, s&p until you have reached a dressing-like consistency.  Chill until ready to serve.  Lightly dress the cold greens with the vinnaigrette.

How easy is that?  And let me tell you, it's one of the best salads you've ever had.  Toss in some arugula for a bit of bitter spiciness or maybe chopped chives or fresh sweet basil, a red onion for some zest.  You can get really creative but this recipe is great and crisp and fresh and really pops, even in the dulls of winter.  You'll need something warm and creamy to pair with the crispy, refreshing salad, though.  That's where the potatoes come in.  I can't quite remember where I first saw this recipe for dijon roasted new potatoes, but I've made enough tweaks to it and fixed it up enough times without the recipe that I can safely say I've made it my own at this point.  It's always a hit and will make a great side next to nearly any meat or fish.  This time around I decided to make them a little creamy and toss in the extra bonus of fresh rosemary.  That's the great thing about a simple and basic recipe - it affords itself so easily to tweaking and experimentation once you've got the outline set in stone.

creamy rosemary dijon roasted new potatoes
1 lb new potatoes thinly sliced, like potato chip thin
3 tbsp whole grain dijon mustard
1 tbsp champagne dijon mustard
1/4 c cream
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
1. In an oven-safe casserole dish, toss all the ingredients together so that each potato slice is coated.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and start to brown.

I told you this meal was easy.  It gives you more time to reflect on the past year, consider your resolutions and enjoy time with your friends and family or random strangers that you'll be dining with.  The item on the menu that takes the longest time and is the most difficult is the dessert, especially if you don't have an ice cream maker which I did not.  Thankfully I have one this year, but I haven't busted it out just yet.  However, the meal would not be complete without a little bit of sweet to top it off before you start counting down or counting calories since we all know that tomorrow brings those horrible weight loss resolutions.  So enjoy the sweets now!  You only have a few more hours.

pear champagne sorbet
4 pears, peeled and chopped (I used one of each kind I found in the store - Bartlett, Bosc, Anjou & Starkrimson, kind of like I did with that disaster of a cake)
3 c champagne or prosecco (you can use the cheap stuff but make sure you serve the good stuff to drink)
maybe a cup of sugar (it depends on how sweet your liquid and pears are, it's really to taste I think)
1. It was a year ago so I don't really remember how this was done or exactly what the ingredients were but here's what I can recall.  Puree the pears and sugar in some water on top of the stove until they've reached a creamy consistency.  Mix with the champagne and pour into a metal pan, like one you'd use for brownies.  
2. Place the pan flat in the freezer and scrape the bottom about every 20 minutes for a few hours until all of the liquid is frozen and nothing is left on the bottom of the pan.  Keep frozen and continue to scrape until you're ready to serve.
3. When you're getting ready for dessert, remove the sorta sorbet from the pan and put it in a deep bowl.  Stir the mix until it looks more like a sorbet and serve immediately in pretty dishes with a flute of champagne on the side.

And there you have it - a wonderful meal to end the year on.  With that, I'm off to enjoy the last good day of the year with some wonderful friends.  And when midnight strikes I'm hoping for a big fat smooch, lots of sequins, sparklers, and a toast of real pain for my sham friends and champagne for my real friends.  Happy New Year everyone!  Here's hoping this isn't the beginning of the end of the world and that 2012 is just the beginning!

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