Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve: Appetizers Galore

I personally feel that New Year’s Eve is a slightly overrated holiday.  If you enjoy paying a cover charge to go to a crowded bar, where you have to fight to get the bartender’s attention, the more power to you.  It’s just not for me.  I do, however, enjoy any occasion where it is socially acceptable to eat excessively and decadently.  So for that, New Year’s Eve, I tip my proverbial hat to you.  I spent the holiday with my food-loving cousin, Shell, and her food-loving fiancé, Micah.  We decided we would each make 2 appetizers, and watch bad TV.  Shell has a penchant for referring to things by their initials, thus the event has been dubbed “N.Y.E.” 

My aunt Debbie has a NYE motto:  no New Year’s is complete without shrimp.  Being an obedient niece, I abide by this motto, and made shrimp cocktail.  This is a simple, yet delicate culinary feat.  I think the quality of this shrimp is crucial, and your best bet is to buy frozen, raw shrimp.  Unless you live a stone’s throw from the ocean, “fresh” shrimp are truly frozen shrimp that have been thawed for who knows how long.  Defrost the shrimp yourself just prior to cooking by running cold water over them for a few minutes, or letting them sit in a bowl of cold water for those who are environmentally-minded.  I heard through the family grape vine that my aunt made a dangerously delicious cocktail sauce.  It ends up being a fairly traditionally recipe with the addition of a wild card ingredient:  butter!  As fate would have it, the recipe is the brain baby of one of my favorite food writers, Mark Bittman.  It sounds bizarre, it sort of smells bizarre while it cooks, but it tastes divine.  It makes the sauce silky and rich.  And let’s be serious: butter doesn’t exactly have a reputation for hindering flavor.  In the words of Micah, I want to dip my life in that sauce.    
Shrimp and Cocktail Sauce (adapted from Mark “the man” Bittman’s recipe)
1 pound of shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left on
1 small onion, quartered
1 carrot, chopped in thirds
3 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
20 peppercorns
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
About 2 ½ to 3 quarts of water (this approximate: I used a 6 quart pot and filled it about half way with water)

·      Add onion, carrot, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, and water to a large pot.  Bring to a boil and add salt.  [Note: a halved lemon would be lovely here, but I forgot to add it.]
·      Allow the mixture to boil gently for 20-30 minutes so the flavors infuse the water.
·      Add all of the shrimp, remove the pot from heat, and cover.  Allow the shrimp to steep in the hot water for 4-5 minutes.  (I used medium-sized shrimp [26/30 per pound] and it took 4 minutes).
·      Drain mixture in a colander.  Remove shrimp and place on a plate, preferably in one layer.  Pay dry with paper towels, and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Delicious Cocktail Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons (or to taste) prepared horseradish

·      Combine ketchup, vinegar, and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
·      Stir frequently and take off heat once butter has melted.
·      Add horseradish, and chill.

My second food contribution was stuffed mushrooms.  Please don’t judge me, but I adapted the recipe from one of Rachael Ray’s creations.  I have mixed feelings about Ms. Ray: I understand why people are critical of her, but I kind of like watching her show.  Yes, her “cutesy-isms” are pretty tired, as are her stories about her husband and her in-laws, and she has a vicious hyper-functional voice disorder.  Nonetheless, sometimes she makes some pretty tasty food.  Artichoke and cheese stuffed mushrooms?  Yes, please!  I have changed the recipe a bit, but I would never have dreamed up this combination if Rachael Ray had not planted the seed in my head.

Artichoke and Cheese Stuffed Mushroom Caps (adapted from Rachael Ray’s recipe)
1 lb. button mushrooms (20-24 mushrooms)
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and patted dry with paper towels, and chopped
1 ½ cup shredded Monterey jack cheese (Any mild white cheese will do.  I’ve used Gouda [not smoked] in the past, and it’s great)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
Freshly ground pepper to taste

·      Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
·      Wipe mushrooms clean, and remove stems.
·      Place mushrooms in a 9x13 inch baking dish.  Drizzle with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and toss to coat.
·      Arrange mushrooms so the rounded side is facing up.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until they are starting to soften and give off some liquid
·      Remove mushrooms from oven.  (Optional, but recommended:  Remove mushrooms from baking dish to a plate lined with a few sheets of paper towel.  Wipe remaining liquid from baking dish.  This will prevent your final product from being too wet.)
·      Mix artichoke hearts, breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, and pepper (about 15 grinds).  No salt is necessary: between the artichokes, the breadcrumbs, and cheese, you’re covered. 
·      Mound filling into the hollow portion of the mushroom cap (a rounded tablespoon should do).  Don’t be afraid to pack it in there with your (clean) fingers. 
·      Place mushrooms in baking dish.  Bake for 10-15 more minutes, or until cheese is melted and filling is heated through.

Last, as an act of complete compulsion, I decided to make deviled eggs.  I love deviled eggs.  They are like miniature boats of egg salad.  Seeing as there are only so many egg yolks a person should eat with a clean conscience, I refrain from making them often.  But I felt that NYE’s inherent decadence was a perfect excuse.  If you search "deviled eggs" on, you will find the craziest ingredients: chipotles, pickapeppa mayo, salmon roe, etc.  Come on, people!  I know that in European countries they can get a little frilly, but here in America, deviled eggs are picnic food for Midwesterners and Southerners alike, not exactly a froufrou ordeal.  I kept mine simple, but I could not resist adding a touch of lemon zest and a pretty garnish.  Please forgive my hypocrisy. 

Deviled Eggs
8 large eggs, hard-boiled
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
16 small whole parsley leaves for garnish (optional)

·      Peel eggs and remove all shell fragments.  Cut eggs in half, and compile yolks in a bowl.  Set aside hollow egg whites. 
·      Mash together yolks, mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Mix until smooth.
·      Distribute yolk mixture between egg white halves, and garnish with parsley if desired. 

Post Script:  As an amateur food blogger, my New Year's resolution is to post more pictures, hence the great increase on this post.  Thoughts?


  1. wow a bounty of deliciousness for NYE! sounds like a PARTEEEEEEE. great recipes - Pscyho you are coming out in a blast for 2010. Thanks!

  2. those shrimp are picture perfect

  3. Thanks for reading, anonymous and DK!