New Year's Origin
New Year's is our oldest holiday! Many, many years ago, before there even WAS a calendar, New Year's happened in early spring. Its occurrence was a natural phenomenon dictated by the position of the sun, stars, and earth which is now known as the vernal equinox.
Long ago, people were not always sure that winter would end and that a new growing season would begin. They thought that various gods had the power to make the earth fertile, to allow the sun's return, which would cause the plants to grow again.
The people felt the need to perform rituals and make offerings to gain the gods' favor so that the growing season would begin again. Of course this was a good excuse for lots of partying – eating, drinking, dancing and singing (just like today!)
“Seeing” out the old year, as well as “seeing in the new was very important. The primitive belief was that as the old year weakened and died, evil spirits grew stronger and more dangerous. They needed to be frightened off before a new year could be born – often with a great amount of noise! The people beat drums and tin pans, blew whistles and horns, exploded firecrackers, rang the church bells, and shouted at the top of their lungs; all hoping to scare away the evil spirits. Hence, that is why noise- makers are popular at New Year's Eve parties today.
Our traditional January 1st celebration was established by the Roman Senate when the Catholic Church came to power in the Middle Ages. January, the first month of the new year, was named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings; of planting and harvesting. Janus was thought to have 2 faces: one looking back at the old year, and the other looking forward to the new year.
Today New Year's Eve has evolved into an evening for adults dressed in their elegant finest; a night full of glitter & glitz, paper hats & confetti, bubbly champagne and staying up past midnight. But, OUR celebrations, with all our sophisticated equipment, is still so much the same as the ancient pagan rites way back hundreds of years before Christ was born – drinking, feasting, dancing, singing, and blowing on noisemakers.
Many of us love to turn on the television to watch as thousands of people gather in Times Square in New York City to see a big lighted ball (weighing over 200 pounds) slowly slide down the pole. It reaches the bottom just as midnight strikes. Symbolically speaking, the old year, disguised as a withered old codger, hobbles out of sight while an adorable baby in a diaper crawls in to take its place.
People all over the world welcome the new year. For everyone it is a time of hope for the future. At the beginning of the new year we all get a fresh start – we can try to do things better next time around!
Toast in the New Year with a Glass of Champagne!
How to store it:
Champagne does NOT get better with age! Sparkling wine is fermented in the bottle during a 3-year process and is then released to the stores. It is not meant to be stored, but should be consumed right away. If you must store it, store your unopened bottle of champagne on its side (so the cork stays moist) in a cool dark place. It can be stored 6 months to 3 years – but no more than that!
How to chill it:
Champagne should be served VERY cold! Some connoisseurs recommend chilling it as low as 36 degrees – which is colder than most refrigerators. So if you want to serve it right, (the best it can be), stick it into an ice and water filled container for 30 minutes before it is served.
How to open it:
There is only ONE RIGHT WAY to open a bottle of sparkling wine. A popped champagne cork can be very dangerous! It can seriously hurt someone. It can fly as far as 177 feet (as proven by a Guinness record-breaker in 1988). It can also waste precious bubbly!
Here's how to do it: The bottle is under pressure, and can pop off at any time without warning, so keep the top of the bottle pointed away from yourself, as well as everybody else.
Remove the foil wrapper from the top part of the neck.
While stabilizing the cork with one hand, untwist (but don't remove) the metal cage that holds the cork in place.
Lay a towel over the top of the bottle.
Hold the top firmly, then gently twist the bottle out from under the cork.
You will know if you have succeeded if, when the cork is removed, the bottle lets out a little sigh.
How to pour it:
Pour a bottle of champagne very slow and steady. Tilting the glass will help keep it from foaming up.
How to keep leftovers bubbly:
You can use a champagne corker, or if you don't have one put a silver spoon into the bottle, handle first, and let it dangle uncovered. For some odd reason this keeps the champagne, or other sparkling wine, fizzy.
I named this drink Midnight Blue because of its beautiful deep blue color Drink it at midnight, or all night long! It's very simple to make, and it's absolutely delicious!
Serve this drink in clear glass so that the lovely blue color is accentuated. I found an ice-cube tray at Target in the shapes of little stars. These star ice-cubes would be a perfect addition to the “Midnight Blue” sky of a drink!
1 (12 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 ½ cups blue curacao
2 bottles champagne or sparkling wine
Using 2 pitchers, pour ½ the can of lemonade concentrate into each. Stir ¾ cup blue curacao into each pitcher until thoroughly combined.
Just before serving: Pour one bottle of champagne into each pitcher and stir gently. You could pour the Midnight Blue drink into a punch bowl and add ice, or fill glasses with ice and pour in the drink from the pitchers.
Hot Artichoke Dip
I make this several times a year. It's a tradition at our house for New Year's Eve, but makes a great appetizer to take to any party. You can even wait and bake it there! It is very easy to make, and is jam-packed with flavor! I serve it on slices of French bread which I have buttered and toasted in the oven. It's also good on crackers or pita chips.
8 ounces cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a small baking dish.
Place cream cheese into a medium-sized bowl and beat with electric mixer until smooth.
Beat in mayo, Parmesan, garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce.
Set electric mixer on low; mix in artichoke hearts.
Spoon mixture into buttered baking dish and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly.
Serves 8 to 10 people.
This is my very favorite dip! I could make a meal out of chunks of chewy French bread dunked in spinach dip! This dip needs to be made about 2 to 4 hours ahead of your party so the flavors can meld together. Store in the refrigerator till serving time. Don't make it too far in advance, though, because the spinach gets soggy and dark-colored.
This dip looks really cool served in a hollowed-out round of sourdough bread. Pull apart the bread into pieces to use to dip in the spinach dip and eat. Break up a 2nd loaf of bread also, because you will need a lot of bread. Break up bread ahead of time, if you like, and store in a plastic bag till serving time.
1 (1.4 ounce) package vegetable recipe mix (It's found in the soup section.)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 (16 ounce) container sour cream
1 (4 ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, with water squeezed out
1 round sourdough loaf of bread
1 regular French or sourdough loaf of bread
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the vegetable mix, mayonnaise, sour cream and mix well. Stir in water chestnuts and the spinach. Store, covered, in the refrigerator until party-time! When ready to serve, hollow out the round loaf of bread and fill with Spinach Dip. Break the insides of the loaf (along with the 2nd loaf) into pieces for dipping.
Layered Greek Dip
This would be a great dip for your vegetarian friends, but delicious for all!
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese with chives
1 ½ cups hummus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cup peeled and diced cucumber
1 cup diced tomato
½ cup sliced, pit-free Kalamata olives
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
green onions, thinly sliced (including the green part)
Place the 2 bricks of cream cheese side by side in a serving dish. Spread with hummus, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with oregano.
Add layers of cucumber, tomato, olives and feta. Scatter green onion slices over the top.
Refrigerate until serving time, but don't make this dip too far ahead; it needs to be served as fresh as possible!
Serve with pita chips.
Sausage Cheese Balls
My husband, Ray, asks for these every year for New Year's Eve. Even though some of our friends are vegetarian or eat only fish, he feels we need something hearty and meaty for the rest of our group. And I have to admit I absolutely LOVE these sausage cheese balls also!
My husband and I look forward to heating them up in the microwave the next day and eating them alongside scrambled eggs and toast.
2 pounds Italian sausage, uncooked
1 ½ cups all-purpose baking/biscuit mix (such as Bisquick)
16 ounce sharp cheddar cheese, grated (4 cups)
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix all ingredients together. (I use my hands)
Form the mixture into 1 inch balls, and place them in a baking dish. Note: Don't use a cookie sheet because fat from the sausage comes out while they bake and could drip off the edges and mess up your oven. Use a baking dish with edges. Line pans with parchment paper if possible. Then you can just throw the used papers away when they have finished baking. It saves a lot of pan scrubbing!
Place balls at least one inch apart in a non-greased baking dish.
Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool slightly before serving because they are HOT and could burn your mouth if you bite into one too quickly.
Note: You can also make these balls up ahead of time, freeze them in pans in the freezer, and pop them into plastic bags and keep them frozen until you are ready to bake them for your guests. Let them thaw a little in the baking pans before putting them in the oven, or make sure you bake them a little longer if they are frozen when you put them in the oven.
Oven Barbecued Wings
These chicken wings turn out so moist, tender and flavorful. Serve with lots of napkins cause they are messy on the fingers!
4 pounds uncooked chicken wings
1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce
¼ cup mustard
¼ cup honey
Place the barbecue sauce, mustard and honey into a large bowl and mix together well. Add wings and stir until they are well coated.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap, refrigerate, and let wings marinate in sauce for 8 hours or so.
When ready to bake, line your baking sheet or pans with aluminum foil, or cleanup will be gruesome!
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. (Bake for 30 minutes, then turn over and bake another 15.)
Note: Discard the remaining marinade. It is not safe to eat because it had raw chicken soaking in it.
I've always loved bruschetta in Italian restaurants where it is usually topped with olive oil, fresh sliced tomato, and herbs. When I came across this recipe and tried it, I was blown away! It was SO delicious that I made my entire dinner out of it. Even though I ate it for dinner, it is more traditionally served as an appetizer.
Serve with a lovely Chianti!
2 medium-sized tomatoes; (ripe, but firm), chopped
1 avocado; pitted, peeled and chopped
½ sweet yellow or red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or fresh basil
2 tablespoons lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
French or Italian bread, cut into ½ inch slices
garlic powder or garlic bread sprinkle
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly brush both sides of bread slices with olive oil. Sprinkle top side of bread with garlic powder or garlic bread sprinkle. Toast on baking sheet for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, toss together tomato, avocado, onion, Parmesan cheese, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the bread.
Top each bread slice with around ¼ cup tomato mixture, spread evenly, and serve.
Makes around 10 to 12 slices of bruschetta. Divine!
Olive Cheese Balls
An old friend gave me this recipe over 40 years ago and I'm still making it! The thing I like best about these cheese balls (besides them being delicious) is that you can make them up ahead and freeze them in plastic bags until you are ready to bake them at party-time. These taste best when served hot!
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
jar of pimento-stuffed olives
Drain olives and dry them with a paper towel; set aside. Mix all the ingredients (except the olives) together till well combined. (I just use my hands.)
Using your hands again, coat each olive with the cheese mixture, rolling each ball between your palms until evenly coated.
Place the balls in greased pie tins or other similar containers and freeze until hard. When frozen, store in plastic bags in the freezer until ready to bake. Do not thaw before baking.
Bake the Olive Cheese Balls at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. (No need to grease the pan since the balls contain so much butter that they won't stick.) Serve warm.
Savory Party Tarts
These yummy tender morsels remind me of mini quiches! You can make the filling a day or 2 ahead of your party, and fill and bake them as guests are arriving. Using the phyllo mini pastry shells found in the frozen foods section of your supermarket makes these tarts an easy to make, but elegant, addition to your party!
This recipe makes filling for around 40 tarts.
3 tablespoons butter
2 large leeks, chopped (use only the white and light green parts)
2 egg yolks
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups shredded Swiss cheese
frozen miniature phyllo tart shells
dried thyme to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the tart shells on a large cookie sheet.
In a medium-sized skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the chopped leeks and saute until tender. (about 7 minutes) Allow to cool while making the rest of the filling.
Place egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Stir in cream, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper until well combined. Mix in leeks and Swiss cheese.
Spoon filling into tart shells. Sprinkle with thyme.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.