New Year’s Eve seems like it’s just designed for a meal made out of appetizers, or heavy hors d’oeuvres. Everything I’ve heard about how other people spent New Year’s Eve suggests that everyone seems to be of the same mindset. I guess when people throw New Year’s Eve parties, they tend to be more mix-and-mingle affairs, with some people possibly attending multiple functions. Well, this year we were no exception. We had another couple over with their kids, let the kids run around until they dropped (8:30 p.m. for mine, closer to 11:30 p.m. for theirs, possibly because of the unfamiliar environment), and ate lots of nibbly things through the evening.
Alex made the whole menu because, he insisted, I did all the cooking when his brother and sister-in-law were here, so it was his turn. Unlike me, he managed to have only one minor disaster when he burned a couple of batches of pot stickers, which he blamed on the cooking method given in the recipe (instead of on the fact that he was cooking on a gas stove instead of on the electric ones he’s been using for the last 12 years).
In choosing the menu we tried to pick things that would be easy to eat if you were forced to run after a child mid-bite. Pot stickers aren’t really in that category, but everything else was: empanadas, asian slaw lettuce wraps, white bean spread on baguette toasts, meatballs.
While there were no major disasters this time, I think we could safely title the whole experience The Improvisational Menu—with one or two exceptions, every item had some ingredient that was swapped out for another one because of lack of planning on someone’s part. I name no names, but I would merely point out that if you demand to do the cooking, it is at least in part your responsibility to ensure that you are familiar with the recipes and know what needs to be bought to prepare them. That’s all I’ll say.
I’ve said before that I don’t like to deviate from a recipe the first time I make it, because if for some reason I don’t like it, it’s impossible to tell if it was the recipe itself that was flawed, or if my changes were the cause of my dislike. Alex feels no such compunction to follow recipes to the letter, the first or the fiftieth time he makes them. As a result, he decided to “wing it” in a couple of the New Year’s Eve recipes.
As an example of a modification that I feel was only partially successful, I submit to you the empanadas. When I make these, I use ground beef, and season it with sort of Mexican seasonings. They are, after all, of South American origin. The version that was made for New Year’s Eve used lamb and more Indian spices. They were OK, they were just a little odd to me. Of course our guests, never having had empanadas made by us before, wouldn’t necessarily think there was anything odd about them. Also, they weren’t salty enough. This is an argument that we’ll probably have until the day one of us draws our last breath—I just like things saltier than he does.
All of this is really just a very roundabout way of getting to the white bean spread that we served with toasted baguette slices. Our guests, who are far less critical than I am (or at least, much more polite, or possibly both) enjoyed everything, and since the white bean dip was tinkered with successfully (in my opinion), as opposed to some things which were not, I thought I would provide the recipe for everyone's reasonably healthy snacking pleasure.
This comes from Eating Well magazine. Not the version that’s being published today, but the one that was published back in the 1990s. I tore out recipes and saved them in notebooks, and still have a great many of them. Now I wish I’d just saved the magazines, but I guess we all have these culinary regrets. Of course, the “Eating Well” aspect of this spread was completely negated by the three slices of crumbled bacon that were added to it, but since the bacon added a great deal in terms of flavor, and hell it was New Year’s Eve, I’d say that was a successful addition. If you leave the bacon out, you have a spread that's pretty good for you, and tasty as well.
White Bean Spread with Sage
Eating Well magazine c. 1997
1 clove garlic, crushed and peeled
½ teaspoon salt
1 15 ½ or 19-ounce can cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
With the side of a chef’s knife, mash garlic with salt
Transfer mashed garlic to a food processor. Add beans, oil, lemon juice, cayenne, and black pepper. Puree until smooth. Scrape into a bowl and stir in sage
Will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to four days, or frozen for up to six months. Makes about 1 ½ cups.
We added three strips of cooked crumbled bacon with the sage.