Chef’s corner: Create an appetizing New Year’s Eve party

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You and your partner have decided to entertain on New Year’s Eve this year, inviting old friends and new to welcome 2013 in style.

Not a bad plan, but what will you serve to make your event memorable? After all, New Year’s Eve is just not a chips-and-salsa event, and it’s too late to hire a caterer or personal chef.

But if you have some rudimentary kitchen skills, a little imagination and any kind of food sense, you can prepare some award-winning appetizers that will keep your friends talking well into the New Year, promises Sami Fgaier, owner of the Madison-based Le Personal Chef.

“When preparing appetizers for a party, you need to have a variety of options,” Fgaier says. “I always recommend offering some seafood, vegetarian, poultry, red meat and sweet options. This will give you a chance to please everyone’s palate.”

Always use fresh ingredients for the best taste and appearance. Above all, make sure you are aware of any potential food allergies your guests might have. Nothing throws a wet blanket over a party more than a visit from the EMTs.

“One touch that makes appetizers exceptional is good presentation,” Fgaier says. “I like white platters because they make your food the focus rather than the platter’s pattern or color.”

A good garnish, such as chives or rosemary sprigs, adds dimension to the presentation, he explains. Meat dishes shine with a garnish of micro greens. Adding a dash of balsamic glaze, available at most supermarkets, makes the appetizers look like a professional hand was at work.

Two things you want to avoid have to do with the timing of the appetizers’ preparation. In most cases, you want to prepare the appetizers as close to serving time as possible in order to avoid having the dressings run and the bread get soggy.

On the other hand, if your recipes involve indoor searing or grilling, do it early in the day to eliminate any lingering smokiness at party time. You don’t want your home smoke alarm to drown out the festive sound of your guests’ noisemakers.

Fgaier offers the following recipes to help make your New Year’s Eve memorable.


Prosciutto-wrapped Asparagus with Neufchâtel cheese

Makes 12


24 sprigs of asparagus

6 slices of Italian aged Prosciutto

2 tbsp. Neufchâtel cheese

Cracked black pepper

Drop asparagus in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove the stalks and immediately transfer them to an ice water bath. This is called shocking, which will stop the cooking process and keep the bright green color.

Spread ½ teaspoon of Neufchâtel cheese on a half-slice of Prosciutto, then add a little cracked pepper.

Wrap the ham around the asparagus.

Spray a baking sheet with oil and add the wrapped asparagus.

Bake for about 15 minutes at 350°F.

Let cool for about 10 minutes and serve.

Crimini mushroom caps stuffed with lump crabmeat

Makes 12


12 medium-size Crimini or white mushrooms

1 cup lump crab meat

1 cup backfin crab meat

2 tbsps. grainy old-fashioned mustard

1 tbsp. fresh chopped chives

1 tbsp. mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the stems of the mushrooms and clean them. Soak mushroom caps in hot water for about 2 minutes until soft.

Mix all ingredients and stuff mushrooms. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350°F.

Garnish with chives and serve.

Mac & Cheese bites

Makes 12


2 cups of pasta (elbow shape works best)

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup of milk

1 cup of grated Gruyere cheese

1 cup of grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

½ cup of breadcrumbs

Boil 2 quarts of water and add a pinch of salt; add pasta, cook for about 8 minutes and drain.

Chill pasta under cold running water and mix with 2 tablespoons of olive oil so the pasta doesn’t stick.

Melt butter in a medium pan, add flour and whisk constantly to create a light brown roux. Add milk and cheese and cook for about 10 minutes. Add pasta and breadcrumbs and mix well.

Spray a mini-muffin tin with cooking spray, spoon small amount into muffin cups and sprinkle tops with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350°F for 5 to 10 minutes or until the tops begin to brown and crisp.

Allow dish to cool slightly before removing from pan.