A Toast to Toast

New Year's Eve is Sunday night. Perhaps you're like me and still have no idea how you'll ring in 2007. Unlike years past, I'm going to pass on hosting a dinner party and cooking a bunch of food, as I'm too tired, still full from Christmas and a perhaps a wee bit cash poor.

Fancy toast made from your everyday larder. (Kim O'Donnel)

If you're feeling my vibe, join me on the toast trail. Yeah, that's right, I'm thinking of toasting the new year with toast. Before you dismiss my proposal as no better than a bowl of Chex Mix, hear me out.

Toast need not be breakfasty slabs of bread from the toaster, spread with butter and jam. It can get all spiffed up for nighttime revelry, taking on the flavors and nuances of elegant party fare. All it takes is a little creativity and some rummaging through your pantry.

I'll never forget one of the very first What's Cooking chats from early 1999, when a reader from Alexandria, Va., a self-described culinarily challenged, 26-year-old single guy, asked for ideas for a romantic dinner for two. I suggested toast "all spiffed up"-- aka bruschetta -- and in a chat a few weeks later, he shared his toast success story, giving himself the moniker "Fancy Toast." Eight years later, "Fancy Toast" is married (he occasionally checks in with the chat and says hello), and I believe that those first pieces of evening toast were instrumental in the blossoming of his love life.

Now, back to that New Year's Eve toast. The fixins are all staring at you right in the kitchen -- olives, anchovies, canned chickpeas, cheese, jarred artichokes, canned salmon, mustard -- all those fun condiment-y antipasto accoutrements that you always have on hand. Then scrounge around the fridge and see what's in that crisper drawer -- apples and pears make excellent toast toppers and love to be married with cheese and greens, from herbs to watercress. Oranges and lemons are useful for their rinds, aka zest, which spritz up chopped olives or smoked fish. Even an egg, boiled or fried, can be topped on toast. The combinations are endless, and at the bottom of this page, I share my toasty topping ideas.

But what about the toast, right? Do I just pull out a few slices of bread and call it a fete accomplis?

To party-proof your toast, here's what you can do:

Slice up a baguette on the diagonal. This is the most direct route to fancy toast. Small enough to hold in your hand, the baguette slice is a perfect foundation for toppers and loves to be toasted. One of my favorite things to do with baguette toasts is to immediately rub them with a whole clove of garlic before adding other ingredients; the garlic rubdown lends tons of flavor without much work.

Slice up some stale bread and remove the crusts. Using a round cookie cutter (I used one with scalloped edges), make bread cutouts and place on a baking sheet. With a pastry brush, dab a little olive oil on top of those parched bread circles and toast at 300 degrees until softened a bit. You can also make free-hand triangles or any other shape that comes to mind.

Round or oblong bread such as pita, lavash or naan is another formidable toast contender. Cut into triangular slices and they crisp up quickly, even more so than baguette slices.

Toppings, as I mentioned earlier, can be as creative as you want to be. The more you can draw from in-house cupboard reserves, the better, in my opinion. There's something satisfyingly thrifty about making fancy toast from the everyday larder.

Below, the combinations I came up with (and shown in the photo above), based on what was already in my kitchen:

Pepperoni and pickled pepper, anchovies and grape tomatoes, tapenade, chopped olives, garlic, oregano and orange zest, watercress, butter and pecan, smoked trout and parsley, melted cheddar and apple, gorgonzola, apple and honey

Better still, I didn't spend an extra cent to make these beauties! Other combinations that come to mind are hummus, silken tofu pureed with herbs, white beans, rosemary and garlic, goat cheese and sundried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms and herbs, roasted garlic, wilted spinach and pinenuts. I could keep going.

One important note: Many toppings do best when "glued" with some kind of culinary adhesive, such as a smidge of butter, cream cheese, or mayonnaise. The extra layer helps to minimize spillage and fancy toast falling into your party frock.

Unless you're making dozens of these babies, there's no need to make in advance. In fact, if you're a small group of pals feteing together, why not make this toast-building a collaborative activity?

Here's to being a cheapskate -- in the best possible way -- and a most delicious 2007! See you back in this space on Tues., Jan. 2, with New Year's resolutions of a culinary sort.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 29, 2006; 10:50 AM ET Entertaining , Winter Holidays
Previous: The White Chili That Wasn't | Next: Cooking Up a New Year


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Toast. Very wise, indeed. Helps to soak up some of the alcohol that will be consumed.

Posted by: slm | December 29, 2006 12:39 PM

What a great blog entry and ideas, Kim.

As you probably know, there are actually cookbooks devoted to toast. (Not so surprising, I guess, since there are cookbooks devoted to just about everything.) There's a fun book (which I own) by Jesse Ziff Cool called Toast: 60 Ways to Butter Your Bread & Then Some. There's also a newer book called On Toast by Susanna Blake, but I don't own that one--seems a little more upscale than the JZC book.

Sometimes, tho, just a plain piece of toast w/ a cup of tea is the perfect pick-me-up on a winter day.

Posted by: sen | December 29, 2006 4:59 PM

Nut butters also make a great "glue". A personal favorite is plain old peanut butter and a fruit like bananas, sliced apple or pears.

Posted by: julie | December 29, 2006 6:21 PM

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