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The Cookstr 10: Ten Dishes to Celebrate the New Year

December 28, 2009

2009 was some ride, huh? Bumpy to say the least, roller coaster-ey for many of us, and we think it’s fair to say that we are all looking to embrace 2010 with open arms. As in, “Hey, 2009, don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

But the good news is that it feels like the world is moving again. We’d like to celebrate that forward motion with a welcome dinner. If you’ve chosen to celebrate at home with some friends, maybe take a moment to dust off the good plates and splurge a bit. And no one ever said you had to buy the best beluga (unless you want to; then go right ahead) or the most expensive champagne–the point is to make things that make you and your guests feel festive. A white chocolate martini, Champagne risotto, maybe a big honking cassoulet to wow your friends.

We wish we could clink classes with each of you, but we’ll have to settle for doing it virtually. Salut, cheers, sláinte, prost, skál, chin chin, l’chaim, and here’s mud in your eye. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

1. Nick Mautone’s White Chocolate Martini. Sweet but not too sweet, flavorful and maybe a little over the top, this drink is festive and fun, and ridiculously simple (even making the chocolate shavings, which is awfully fun. The ones that don’t come out as pretty are snacks for the mixologist).

2. Peggy Knickerbocker’s Caviar and Creme Fraiche on Cornmeal Blini. The blini are the size of silver dollars, with the lovely texture and flavor of cornmeal through and through. If you’re going for classy, you can’t do much better than this. Any caviar that’s in your budget will be just right.

3. Sarah Leah-Chase’s Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Puffs. Pretty wedges of red pepper are the foundation for these two-bite apps, mounded with a mixture of artichokes, prosciutto, cheeses and basil. You can prepare the peppers and the filling ahead of time, then heat them under the broiler until they become puffed and bubbly (sigh).

4. Dave DeWitt’s Gravlax with Spicy Mustard Sauce. This delicate salt- and sugar-cured salmon takes two days to make, but then all that’s left to do the day of the festivities is unwrap it, slice it as thinly as you can, and drape it over slices of black bread. A tiny spoonful of the traditional dill-flavored mustard sauce, and your gravlax is complete.

5. Jody Adams’ Minted Romaine Salad with Grapes, Ricotta Salata, and Toasted Almonds. The beginning on a new year calls for a special salad, and this is an “oh my” salad. An Italian technique of steeping mint in vinegar and water brings a fresh, bold flavor to the dressing. The surprising play of texture, flavor, and color adds a bright note to a wintery meal.

6. Nigella Lawson’s Champagne Risotto for Two. If you’re popping open bottles of bubbly anyway, this is a perfect reason to stir up a pot of New Year’s-worthy risotto. And you can drink the other half of the bottle as you cook and eat, as a wallowing-in-luxury way to welcome in 2010.

7. Rick Rodgers’ Fresh Gruyere and Onion Fondue. Are you one of those people whose favorite part of a bowl of French onion soup is the melted cheese on top? This is like getting to slurp the top off of a few bowls of soup, using toasted bread or the dippers of your choice as a vehicle. The shot of cognac makes it amazing.

8. Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso’s Cassoulet. Fussing with individually plated main courses and arriving at the table flushed and out of breath is not the way most of us want to herald in the new year. Which is why a make-ahead one-pot meal is such a good idea. But this being the dawn of a new day and all, we feel like making a dish that is as special as the occasion. Cassoulet is one of the most festive and exceptional casseroles in the pantheon. The various cooking steps can be spread over 3 or 4 days.

9. Sally Sampson’s Egg Nog Ice Cream. Eggnog usually makes its appearance in a glass, but because we love to play with our food, we’re very much attracted to this very adult ice cream version of the holiday classic. This creamy concoction, laced with nutmeg and liqueur, is a rich and heady end to a meal.

10. Laura Werlin’s All American Cheese Strata. Do you know what’s better that waking up on New Year’s Day with a song in your heart and the flush of optimism only a brand new year can bring? Waking up with breakfast already made, and in the fridge. Layers of cheese and bread, bound together with eggs and milk; this is like a baked French toast.

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