Take a deep breath: You’ve survived another grueling round of holiday merriment. Feasts have been devoured and mountains of torn wrapping paper lay in ruin. It may very well look like a bomb went off in the living room, complete with tinsel shrapnel and carpet stains that will haunt you for the rest of your days, but the deed has been done, the festivities successfully completed.
But before you lock the doors tight, entering into full hibernation mode, don’t forget that one last hurrah remains. In less than one week’s time, the calendar mandates yet another grand celebration, demanding every last iota of enthusiasm remaining following the Christmas craze. With dishes still stacked precariously in the sink, it’s a lot to consider. For the New Year, however, it’s time to give yourself a gift if you’re bold enough to take the reins as host or hostess once again, and just take it easy.
Skip the elaborate dinner menu in favor of simple, snackable small plates. Your guests are undoubtedly worn out from holiday excesses as well, happily munching at a slower pace while enjoying each others’ company. Crostini (or bruschetta, if you prefer) are the ideal vehicle for any sort of sweet or savory toppings, so for my festive suggestion, I would like to raise a literal and figurative toast to both ends of the taste spectrum.
A golden platform of crusty bread supports a creamy, rich schmear of cream cheese, contrasted by the tender, sweet, and slightly tart bite of pomegranate-infused pears. Sturdy enough to withstand advanced prep and a full evening at ambient temperature, these understated yet spectacular little morsels are your ideal party guests. They’re guaranteed to never overstay their welcome, either.
Pomegranate and Pear Crostini
Pomegranate Poached Pears:
3 Cups 100% Pomegranate Juice
1 Cup 100% Apple Juice
1/3 Cup Maple Syrup
1 Whole Vanilla bean, Split and Scraped
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
4 Firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc Pears, Peeled, Halved, and Cored
Combine the pomegranate juice, apple juice, maple syrup, vanilla bean seeds, and black pepper in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Serve the spent vanilla bean pods for making vanilla sugar, or another recipe.
Bring the liquid bring to a gentle simmer and add the pears. Cover and cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the pears are just fork-tender. Remove the fruit from the saucepan and chill thoroughly before slicing. Don’t toss the excess poaching liquid- It’s fantastic mixed with a bit of chilled champagne for your New Year’s toast.
To assemble, spread the slices of toasted baguette generously with cream cheese and top each one with a slice of poached pear. Finish with a sprinkle of pomegranate arils and serve chilled or at room temperature.
Makes 16 – 24 Servings
(Happy Chinese New Year! Let’s feast in the name of the rooster.)
To everyone who survived 2016 in more or less one piece: You deserve a drink. Each passing year seems especially intense right as we prepare for the next, the most news-worthy events still fresh, stinging wounds that have yet to heal. It’s the immediacy, the fact that we’re still so close to it all, that each lurid detail snaps to mind with painful clarity. That said, this one struck me as a particularly difficult slog, through all the losses, ugly politics, and general malaise that the entire world is still struggling to overcome.
Impossibly, inexplicably, some facets of these tragedies give me hope. The worst can also bring out the best in people, and I’ve seen some incredible acts of kindness, courage, and inspiration as a result. There’s still so much to celebrate, and I sure as hell am not going to let anyone stop me from moving forward with optimism, no matter the situation. The key here is community, supporting one another in the darkest of days, which is why my festive drink of the season is one made for a crowd.
Beets sound like a terrible idea for a cocktail, granted, but their natural sweetness and mellow earthy flavors ground the mixture in a comforting, satisfying way. Brighter citrus flavors lift up the taste buds, singing with unexpected harmony, elevated by the effervescence of champagne. The essential inspiration for the combination came from Stirrings, in the form of a challenge to use their mixers in new and innovative ways. This is my entry into the contest, and I’m looking forward to raising a glass with all of the other celebratory entries sure to come. You can keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Stirrings can be found at Bevmo, Total Wines & More, Draegers, Mollie Stones, Hi Time Liquors, Pacific Ranch Market, Daniels Market, and Bristol Farms stores.
In the face of these challenges and unresolved, unsettling cliffhangers, I turn to 2017 and say: Bring it on. Do your worst. If we could manage this past year, we can tackle anything. So join me in raising a glass to celebrate the successes and failures alike, to move forward to a brighter New Year. After all, I have faith that with such perspective underneath our belts, it can only get better from here.
Beet to the Punch
1 Cup Stirrings Lemon Drop Cocktail Mix
3/4 Cup Golden Beet Juice*
2/3 Cup Orange Liqueur
3 Cups Hard Apple Cider
3 Cups Champagne or Sparkling White Wine
Spiralized Golden Beets, to Garnish (Optional)
*To make the beet juice without a juicer, start with at least 2 cups of raw, peeled golden beets. Chop them roughly and place them in a high-speed blender with just enough water to allow the blades to spin freely. Puree completely, until entirely smooth. Pass the resulting blend through a very fine-mesh sieve or nutmilk bag and extract as much liquid as possible. Discard or reserve the pulp for another use.
Combine all the ingredients in a large punch bowl with a ladle for guests to help themselves. Serve over ice. Garnish individual glasses with spiralized beets, if desired.
Makes 10 – 14 Servings
Defined by drunken revelry and proverbial open bars of debauchery, it should come as no surprise that New Year’s Eve has never been greeted with much enthusiasm in the BitterSweet household. A whole family of teetotalers and working people, it’s frankly a miracle that anyone even stays awake long enough to watch the ball drop on TV. It’s true; we’re just that exciting. I should really just speak for myself though, given that not even the finest glass of sparkling champagne would strike my fancy, while others would gladly partake.
Why on earth is it that fewer people are interested in making non-alcoholic cocktails for us lightweights and cheap dates over here? Seems to me a gross oversight, excluding such a large portion of thirsty consumers when it takes no more effort to just exclude the booze. Inspired by Zevia‘s call to arms, I wanted to take this opportunity to try out their new Tonic Water and lift a glass to 2015 in style. Bitter, astringent stuff by itself, this stevia-sweetened bubbly brew makes an uncanny substitute for the traditional mix of cognac and champagne typically found in a French 75. Authenticity be damned, I’m just happy to finally have a respectable drink to toast with when the clock strikes midnight.
With that, I want to wish everyone out there in all corners of the world a very Happy New Year! May it be the best one yet.
Zevia Faux 75
Adapted from The New York Times
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Fresh Lemon Juice
1 (12-Ounce Can) Zevia Tonic Water
2 Strips of Lemon Zest (Optional, for Garnish)
Shake the agave and lemon juice vigorously in a cocktail shaker until thoroughly blended. Divide the mixture between two champagne flutes and top with equal amounts of the tonic water. Garnish with lemon zest for some extra festive flair, if desired.
Makes 2 Drinks
Standing outside on the first cold, crisp day of 2014, I could have sworn I heard the distinctive “don…don…don” of a kine (wooden mallet) striking an usu (stone mortar), far off in the distance. Though unlikely, the tradition of making mochi for oshogatsu is so ubiquitous in Japanese culture, it would be unthinkable for anyone immersed in the culture to ignore it. Pounding sweet glutenous rice into submission is no simple task, typically requiring a whole village to pitch in and churn out enough mochi to ring in the new year. Celebrations are based around the ritual and everyone gets something delicious as their reward. Though ozoni soup is the most authentic way to commemorate the turning of the calendar, ensuring good luck and prosperity for the coming months, mochi is the perfect blank canvas for any flavors sweet or savory. Naturally, my inclination is to play up its capacity for creating unique sweet treats.
Forget pounding stubborn grains of rice until your arms ache and your hands throb. This is mochi for the modern baker, dressed up in a rich cloak of chocolate, no less. Mochiko, otherwise known as finely powdered sweet rice flour, makes the process move along much more smoothly- literally. Crossing cultural boundaries and incorporating some unconventional ingredients, the resulting brownies are a curious hybrid of Japanese and American tastes. Shockingly decadent in comparison to the plain white spheres produced from typical methods, these mahogany brown squares are a definite indulgence, which strikes me as a fitting way to kick off a joyful new year. For anyone expecting a standard brownie though, the texture may come as a shock. Chewy with a delightfully bouncy, sticky texture between the teeth, it makes no secret of its glutenous rice foundation. To some who struggles with anything that isn’t either crispy-crunchy or pudding-soft, these may not be the most winning recipe.
For the rest of you adventurous eaters and bakers though, it’s a stunningly simple mash-up that’s long overdue. Have your mochi and enjoy it too, without any of the hard labor (or choking hazards) associated with the original. As a side bonus, these rice flour-based treats are “accidentally” gluten-free, so everyone can start their year on a sweet note!
2 Cups Mochiko
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
9 Ounces (1 1/2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 1/2 Cups Plain Vegan Creamer
1 14-Ounce Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Plain or Vanilla Vegan Yogurt
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the mochiko, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and powder, and salt. Stir until all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the mixture and set aside.
Place the margarine and 6 ounces (1 cup) of the chocolate chips in a large, microwave-safe container along with half of the creamer. Microwave for a minute, stir well, and then continue heating at 30-second intervals, mixing thoroughly in between each new cycle, until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the remaining measure of creamer plus the coconut milk, yogurt, and vanilla. Stir until smooth.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry and stir thoroughly with a wide spatula. Don’t worry about over-mixing, since there’s no gluten here that might form. Go ahead and beat the tar out of that batter! Toss in the remaining 3 ounces (1/2 cup) of chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Once there are no lumps remaining, transfer it into your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until dry and slightly crackled on top. The toothpick test won’t be particularly helpful for this brownie, so just trust your intuition when it appears to be done on the surface.
Let cool completely before slicing into bars.
Makes 16 – 24 Brownies