New Year’s Noshing
The Christmas holiday was different. There was no house hopping. No loud boisterous parties.

What wasn’t different? We ate too much. I mean, we ate well, but with all of the focus basically on the food we definitely ate too much. For that reason, New Year’s Eve is going to be on a much smaller scale. Instead of something fabulous like lobster, or *sigh* crab, our plan is to do a bunch of small bites—a variety of appetizer-sized portions that we can set out on the kitchen island and grab as needed.

Appetizers have this way of making things feel festive even when they are not. This is especially true when you are in your sweats sipping champagne on the couch. There are multiple categories of appetizers. You have your dips, your cheese balls, crostini, hot appetizers, crudités and, of course, the Cheese Plate. My plan is to do at least one from each category.

Crostini are a no-brainer because you can pretty much do anything with them. Just slice up a baguette, toast the slices and finish with your favorite toppings. I like using fresh ricotta as a base because it works well with anything. One of my summertime favorites starts with fresh ricotta and some freshly cracked pepper, then I top it with a ripe peach slice and some lightly dressed arugula. It’s December though so I am going to try it using a sweet slice of Honeycrisp apple and see how it goes. A sprinkle of toasted, chopped hazelnuts would take it to another level.

For a dip, I am going to make a hot crab dip for a couple of reasons. The first is because I love crab and the second is because I am impatient and can no longer wait for the fisherman to bring in the crab. So, I will rebel and go with crab meat. I’m planning to try this artichoke version because adding a vegetable automatically makes it healthy, right? And, don’t forget the array of fabulous dips and spreads from our cheese department.  They add great variety to the flavors you serve. As a bonus you can use the same sliced and toasted baguettes to eat the dip.

For the hot appetizers, I am torn—which means I may just end up making both recipes. The first possibility is this recipe for cranberry brie bites. I still have leftovers of both cranberry sauce and brie so it would be an easy way to use those up. All I would need would be some puff pastry from the freezer and we’re good to go. I’m not a fan of walnuts so those will be left out. (Another variation is our recipe for Baked Brie, its easy to make with your choice of savory jam and herbs.)

The second recipe requires a bit more effort, but the result is worth it. If you have never had French Gougères you are missing out. They are essentially cheese puffs that are made everywhere in France and are served with a local aperitif but also go extremely well with champagne—which makes then perfect for New Year’s Eve. I like Dorie Greenspan’s recipe the best. You can use any cheese you prefer like Gruyère, Emmentaler, Gouda or to make things super easy, extra sharp cheddar. The recipe makes approximately 36 Gougères but they go fast so plan accordingly.

I think it goes without saying that we are all looking forward to a new year. I wish you a very happy, very healthy, full of hope and laughter New Year! Bring on 2021!

Gougères Recipe
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan and Epicurious
Yields about 36 gougères

Although you must spoon out these little puffs onto the baking tray as soon as the dough is made, they can be frozen and baked straight from the freezer at a later time (see below). This makes a great do-ahead for a busy day.

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups coarsely grated cheese, such as Gruyère or cheddar (about 6 ounces)

Position the oven racks so they divide the oven equally into thirds and preheat it to 425º F.

Make the dough
Place the milk, water, butter, and salt in a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized sauce pan over high heat and bring the contents to a rapid boil.

Add all of the flour at once, lower the heat to medium low, and immediately begin stirring the batter energetically with a wooden spoon or strong whisk. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring (with vigor!) for another minute or two to dry out the dough. The dough should now be very smooth.

Fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or grab a big mixing bowl and a heavy wooden spoon) and turn the dough into the bowl. Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one at a time. Continuously beat the dough until the it is thick and shiny. Be certain to completely incorporate each egg before you add the next. (Don’t be concerned if the dough separates—it will come together again. Beat in the grated cheese.

Form the gougères
Once the dough is made, it should be spooned out immediately.

Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicon liner.

Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each gougères, drop the dough from a spoon leaving about 2 inches of space between the mounds.

Bake the gougères
Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375º F. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom.

Continue baking until the gougères are golden, firm, and puffed (about another 12 to 15 minutes).

Serve the gougères
Gougères are good straight from the oven and at room temperature. They are best appreciated when still warm. Serve with kir, white wine, or Champagne.

To store gougères shape the dough, freeze the mounds on a baking sheet, and remove them from the sheet and pack them into plastic bags removing as much air as possible.

Bake them straight from the freezer (no need to defrost) just give them a minute or two more in the oven. Leftover puffs can be also kept at room temperature overnight and reheated in a 350º F oven, or they can also be frozen and reheated before serving.


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