Ringing in the New Year for some means getting dressed up and going to a fancy party; others like to celebrate at home with a few close friends.
Even a last-minute party doesn't have to stress the host or hostess. Choose a time, call friends, and run to the supermarket. It's not necessary to cook all day. You can assemble a hearty antipasto platter, then add quick and easy appetizers.
American Roland Food Corp., importers of specialty foods from around the globe, has some tips for making a super antipasto platter.
Choose an attractive platter and line it with pretty leaf lettuce or other greens if you like. Foods can be layered, stacked and piled high. To create a pattern, start by anchoring the platter with alternating slices of cheese and cured meat around the perimeter, and create a focus in the center of the platter using a brightly colored food, such as grape tomatoes. Alternatively, arrange ingredients attractively next to one another. Vary the colors and textures to add visual interest. Put raw vegetables next to marinated ones; roll slices of cured meats or cheese into cylinders. Scatter chunks of hearts of palm, olives, pepperoncini and capers around the platter. If using a large platter, add small bowls of nuts or tasty dips.
Jazz up the platter with "artichoke flowers." Make them by wrapping 1-inch strips of red and yellow peppers around petite artichoke hearts and topping each with a rolled anchovy filet. Then fill in with fire- roasted red and yellow peppers; hearts of palm cut into short lengths; golden pepperoncini; kalamata and oil-cured olives; capers and caper berries; cured meats such as salami, pepperoni, soppresata and prosciutto thinly sliced and rolled or arranged in an alternating pattern with sliced cheese; rolled or sliced assorted cheeses (provolone, mini mozzarella balls); raw vegetables such as grape tomatoes or celery sticks cut into 3-inch sections; fresh or dried fruits and nuts in small ramekins or pretty cups; and small bowls of hummus, artichoke spread or baba ghanoush.
Serve a basket of breadsticks, crackers and slices of hearty, crusty bread on the side.
A cheese board is an obvious choice for a quick appetizer. Allison Hooper, founder of Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, has written her first book, In a Cheesemaker's Kitchen, and she shares tips on how to choose the right cheese and serving size for your tastes. For an appetizer, allow 3 to 4 ounces per guest. Always buy enough cheese to offer a generous serving. The cheese should look bountiful, and if there is some left over, go to Hooper's Web site, www.vermontcreamery.com, for recipes.
A cheese board selection might include one to five cheeses. You might decide to have a hard cheese, a blue, a washed rind, and a fresh cheese. You also might want to select cheeses according to types: all goat's milk cheese or all blue cheeses, or by region: New England or strictly British cheeses.
Remove the cheese from the refrigerator at least two hours before serving. Unwrap the cheese and place it on a natural material, such as a wooden board or marble slab. Use one knife for each cheese, and choose a board large enough to have space between each cheese. Include a fork to hold the hard cheeses while slicing.
Serve the cheese platter with dried fruits like apricots, pears or figs; fresh fruits such as pears and figs with a drizzle of honey; and fresh berries or fruit coulis.