Twelve Under-$20 Ways to Snack Well on New Year's Eve

If you're looking for my advice on whether to eat in or dine out on New Year's Eve, aka the strangest night of the year, I'd rather not, if that's okay.

There's something to be said for going to your favorite neighborhood joint and letting someone else do the work. Such a convenience, however, comes double-fisted with potentially frustrating challenges of ringing in the new year out on the town -- overcrowded dining rooms, overworked servers, crazy drivers on the roads -- plus a hefty price tag.

For me, the key is not whether you curl up at home or venture out into the world -- but that the evening is both simple and cheap. Of course, "cheap" is a relative term, but my point here is to be kind to your exhausted holiday wallet and work within your budget.

Wait, there's one more (well, two more) important pieces: Do what makes you happy and be with someone you love. For many years in a row, I've hosted shindigs at my crib, whipping up a whole bunch of food, but this year, I've decided I'm too tired. Honey, take me out please to that neighborhood place we know and love, the one that's close enough for an easy cab ride and won't break the bank.

As I said, think simple and cheap.

Should we have found ourselves fete-ing at Casa Appetite, the evening's vittle selection would have been decidedly snacky and low budget. Below, I've compiled a list of 12 ways to sup at home in style this New Year's Eve, all for under 20 bucks. Please note this does not include the booze budget -- that's a whole 'nother kitty to deal with. And if you've got something to add to the list, please share in the comments area below.

Celebrate With Pie
My friend Dan has hosted many a get-together using homemade pizza as the evening's centerpiece, and I know of a group of folks out in Washington state who have been meeting once a month for "pizza night" at someone's home for about 20 years. Whip up a few batches of dough earlier in the day, and your guests can roll out their own and add toppings of their choice. Great fun if kids are joining the festivities, and an easy choice in mixed veggie-omnivore company.

A variation on this theme is a savory pie filled with greens and feta, and baked in a springform pan. This can be made in advance and served at room temperature, as can an eggy frittata, a tapas bar favorite.

Dippity Doo-Dads
Party snacks don't get much cheaper than veggie or legume-based purees, all of which can be made in advance and served at room temperature throughout the night. In fact, they're so cheap to make you can make three or four and still have change from that 20-dollar bill.

Homemade hummus is an old standby in my kitchen (even Mister MA knows how to make it now), and it's a good choice for less adventurous guests. Zestier alternatives include a creamy sweet potato dip and a bowlful of zuke-a-mole, a puree of roasted onions and zucchini -- a real treat if zukes are in your midst at this time of year. I might also jazz up a can of pureed white beans with a roasted red pepper or two, both for color (makes it turn kinda pink) and for flavor. Add a little cayenne, rosemary and garlic, and you're in snacking business. All of these dips, by the way, are dairy and egg free.

A few dollars more (and maybe not, as all the ingredients may already be in the cupboard) and you can take the dip spread to another level with a batch of Arab flatbread, which take just a few hours to put together. Your guests will love tearing into these babies.

Fried Frolicking
When I'm entertaining, I love to fry veggie pakoras; in fact, I find them such festive party fare I'll offer to fry at a friend's house. Unless you can enlist the help of a pakora partner, I would recommend doing this for smaller (fewer than 10) groups; otherwise, you'll be frying all night long.

A variation on this theme is beer-batter veggie tempura. This particular batter, made with red rice ale, is a bit fussier than the chickpea flour batter of the pakoras, but fun nonetheless. Do a small batch, then move on to the rest of the evening.

More eating with your hands
Mini-burgers are all the rage on bar menus, and yes, do try them at home. I have had great fun making a vegetarian version, using Gimme Lean "ground beef." Bookend your burgers between toasted English muffins rubbed with garlic, and you won't miss the beef.

Here's a great last-minute, on the fly snack: apple salsa and brie crostini. All you need is a baguette, a few apples, your favorite hunk of French creamy fromage and some honey. This one is a keeper.

If it's warm enough in your neighborhood to grill, you may want to consider firing it up for some Viet-grilled chicken thighs, a winner I discovered last summer. Guests can pick chicken up with their hands or you could thread them on skewers.

More pick-up stick tricks
Grill or no grill, it's fun to sear Halloumi cheese, the briny cheese from Cyprus that doesn't melt when heated. You can serve with toasted hunks of bread, atop pizza dough, with sliced tomatoes and lots of garlic. This one is fun for Halloumi first timers.

For parties small or large, roasted veggies are a saving grace. They're healthy, quick cooking and pack a punch of flavor. I've had great luck playing with both cauliflower and broccoli. It's so simple my mother is now a convert.

And lastly, I offer a tropical suggestion, if by chance you run into a ripe pineapple over the weekend because this pineapple pickle will set you straight of '08. Serve with rice or in a big ole bowl, and let the spice mélange do its magic.

Here's to an even more delicious 2008!


By Kim ODonnel |  December 28, 2007; 10:54 AM ET Entertaining , Winter Holidays
Previous: Momentous Crumbs of 2007 | Next: Peas and Rice Make the New Year Nice

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We did the make-your-own pizza last New Year's eve and it was fun. (we also had a mixture of vegetarian and carnivore guests). Guests brought their own unusual toppings/sauces and we supplied the basics. Also, you can buy pre-made balls of dough cheaply at Trader Joes, in 3 different flavors. We did this rather than make our own.

We are thinking of trying it with quesadillas. Same concept: different fillings, different flavors of tortillas and cheeses, only you can cook on top of stove instead of turning on the oven.

Posted by: CJB | December 28, 2007 11:54 AM

Can you elaborate on the sweet potato dip? I went to the link, but she didn't provide complete directions (how long to bake the onion and sweet potato; whether to peel it afterwards; etc.) Thanks.

Posted by: mibsphil | December 28, 2007 12:25 PM

mibsphil: sorry about that, but thanks for calling attention to the typo.
The missing steps are: Bake onion and sweets until potatoes feel soft when squeezed, about one hour. Open foil and allow to cool. Peel away 2 or 3 tough outer layers of onion, halve it and coarsely chop it. Use other half for another purpose. Scoop out flesh from sweet potatoes. NOW you can proceed with pureeing.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 28, 2007 12:35 PM

I think that I'll be on my own this New Year's Eve, and I'm thinking french onion soup. I'm also thinking "leftovers!"

Posted by: EHE | December 28, 2007 1:31 PM

I like to do potstickers. I've made my own, but it's a lot easier to pick them up at the Asian grocery stores. I do make my own hot and sour soup to serve with it though. Works well if it's just the two of us, or if we have many more over. And you can even microwave some of the dumplings too. Oh, and for dessert, we found what we think was sherbet covered with what might have been mochi but we're not sure on that last part, it was at least rice based (we couldn't actually read the package). They were yummy!

Posted by: JJ | December 28, 2007 2:16 PM

We're serving a Mexican buffet this year. All it takes is a big batch of refried beans, rice, pico de gallo, shredded pork and cheese. Then you pick chips or tortillas to make your own nachos or tacos.

Posted by: AZ | December 28, 2007 3:45 PM

Kim,

To keep the booze bill down, make batches of margaritas, pitchers of red sangria, or any beverage you can make in quantity. Counter it with some fruity mocktails and folks can have their New Year's cheer for less.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | December 28, 2007 4:38 PM

Fondue! It's super cheap, goes a long way and people have fun with it. Melting Pot makes a killing-- this stuff is easy and cheap!

Posted by: Jenna | December 31, 2007 1:54 PM

Recently, vacationing in Rome, we picked up a "pizza" at one of the carts there. It was pizza dough with traditional tomato sauce filling, but folded over and grilled like a quesadilla, so it could be eaten out of hand. Delicious! I'm anxious to try it at home with various fillings.

Posted by: Elaine | December 31, 2007 2:01 PM

Love the idea of having guests bring interesting pizza toppings. I'll have to try that out next year- this year we're all sick!

Posted by: reston, va | December 31, 2007 4:10 PM

Wow Kim, you really nailed it! I have lived in the Chicago area my whole life and that deep dish isn't as popular as everyone thinks! It's just good marketing! Your pizza is the closest I've seen to the one I use. I would recommend using a canola oil or vegetable oil rather than olive oil. I would also give away my secret to perfect crust. Get a 1/4 inch steel plate (new), clean it real good and then season it like you would a cast iron pan. Size it to the dimensions of your oven, leaving room at the sides (say an inch on each side). Then preheat the steel plate with the oven and when ready slide on your pizza (with a peel). When done clean the plate like you would your grill and store it till next time. Also, don't brush on pizza sauce, spoon it on. Anyway try my plate and you'll thank me later!

Posted by: Jim | December 31, 2007 5:51 PM

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