Party like it’s 2016

Say goodbye to 2015, and usher in the New Year with style, pizazz and everyone’s favorite party pleasers — great food and drinks. Here are tips to create a beautiful tablescape, delicious bites for a few people or a crowd, and of course a recipe for a sparkling cocktail and a dessert to remember. Blue Ribbon Cooking’s director and owner Vanessa Volkman shares some of her trade secrets.

20150916_SandersEstate_1176The Table
The key to executing a fabulous, eye-popping New Year’s Eve tablescape is to change up your normal entertaining routine. Your guests will be wowed by the versatility of your décor with lots of gold accents, candles, and dishware in nontraditional ways. For this party I used a mix of shiny, matte, and metallic hues to incorporate varying shades of gold. For contrast, we brought the outdoors inside with a mix of winter succulents and rockcap moss to create an organic-inspired centerpiece using craft store knick-knacks.

Tablescape Ideas

  1. Spray recycled bottles with metallic paint and use as candle holders. Decorate plain candles with sparkles, acrylic diamonds, or other items that twinkle.
  2. Place succulents in galvanized metal boxes to incorporate the organic element with industrial surround.
  3. Fill boxes and vases with rocks. Add rosemary, thyme, and other fresh herbs into your arrangements to add color and scent to the mix. Creating this type of centerpiece is a blank canvas, and you can build it around any unique gem or item you want to incorporate.


  • Recycled glass wine bottles and sparkling water bottles with labels steamed off make good vases. Spray the wine bottles with 3 to 4 coats of gold spray paint to create vases. I like Martha Stewart’s Metallic Finish.
  • Tapered candle sticks: A fun touch is rolling these in glue and glitter! If the candles don’t fit your wine bottle vases, use a vegetable peeler to shave them down to size.
  • Succulent plants from any nursery or floral supply store. Aim for varying sizes and shades of green to add depth and dimension to your centerpiece.
  • Look for industrial-chic touches such as metal orbs from Michael’s craft store or Hobby Lobby.
    Get creative and pick a shape that’s unique and fun! Galvanized metal boxes and containers also work well for this industrial touch.
  • River rocks or stones from any craft store make a nice addition.
  • Scatter champagne or wine corks or other textured touches.

Oysters 101

The best place to buy oysters is through the farmers themselves. Oyster farmers are the keepers of the freshest goods, and tend to offer the lowest prices. Farmers also are intimately familiar with their products so you know exactly where your seafood is coming from, and that is rarely the case at your local supermarket. A downside is that most growers sell only a few varieties, if any at all, to consumers. If you want to sample a variety of oysters, investigate seafood distributors or retailers.

  • Ask to see the bag tag and examine the harvest date.
  • Ask to try a sample to determine its freshness (even if you have to pay for it, it’ll be well worth it).
  • Ask to handpick the oysters if possible, and try to select the heaviest ones.
  • Examine your purchase: Make sure none of the oysters are dead (the shells will be open and won’t close when tapped).

If you’re not planning to consume the oysters immediately after you buy them, store oysters in the fridge, and cover with a wet towel. By keeping them all cup-side-down, they can be kept alive for several days.

Be careful if you chill them on ice. As the ice melts the freshwater can kill the oysters if they’re submerged for an extended period of time and decide to open back up. Fresh and live oysters will glisten in their shells, and should also contain a good amount of liquor. To test its “alive-ness,” scrape a fork prong along its mantle (outermost circumference of flesh). It should slowly shrink back.

You don’t need to be equipped with much to enjoy raw oysters, but it’s important to be safe, and use the right tools. All you need is an oyster knife and some form of hand protection like a kitchen towel or shucking glove.

Serve prepared oysters on crushed ice or over rock salt on a deep plate, platter, or pan. Serve with lemon wedges, mignonette sauce, and freshly ground pepper. Make sure to have a trash area nearby for shells and a towel to wipe off any bits of oyster from the serving area.

20150916_SandersEstate_1310Mac and Cheese Bar

  • 1 pound macaroni
  • 2 cups smoked Gouda
  • 2 cups smoked provolone
  • 2 cups white cheddar
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup shredded fontina
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 quart heavy cream
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender but firm to bite. Drain thoroughly, and place in large bowl. Mix Gouda, provolone and cheddar cheeses together in a medium bowl. Set aside. Mix mozzarella and fontina together in another small bowl, and set aside.
  2. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, and stir until mixture turns golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, and nutmeg.
  3. Into the roux, whisk in 3 cups milk, and 3 cups heavy cream. Simmer until thickened and smooth, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Add Gouda, provolone and cheddar mixture. Stir until melted and smooth.
  4. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni, and toss. Place in an 11-by-13-inch casserole pan. Cover with foil, and bake until heated through, about
    20 to 30 minutes.
  5. While the casserole is baking, slowly heat remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of heavy cream in saucepan. Remove casserole dish from oven. Stir in mozzarella and fontina cheese mixture.
  6. Place the baked macaroni and cheese in the center of a bar flanked by assorted gourmet toppings. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Topping Ideas

  • Maine lobster
  • Fried sage
  • Flambéed wild mushrooms
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Sliced brie
  • Fried basil
  • Truffle oil
  • Mixed sautéed vegetables
  • Bacon-buttered breadcrumbs
  • Fried prosciutto
  • Fried shallots
  • Pulled pork

20150916_SandersEstate_0895Sparkling Cocktail

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 drops bitters
  • 1 ounce gin
  • ½ ounce rosemary-infused lemon juice (recipe below)
  • 3 ounces champagne
  • Rosemary sprig
  • 2 or 3 blackberries

Place sugar cube in bottom of Champagne glass. Add 2 drops of bitters to the top of the sugar cube. Add gin and rosemary lemon juice. Top with champagne. Garnish with blackberries skewered on fresh rosemary.

Rosemary-Infused Lemon Juice

  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 2-inch sprigs of rosemary

Soak the rosemary in the lemon juice overnight. Remove the rosemary sprigs and use.

Midnight Trifle

What is sweeter than a tiny trifle with a sparkler to bring in the New Year? This dessert is festive, delicious, and worth the time to make!

Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

  • 8 ounces chopped bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate
  • 1¼ stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 large eggs, separated cup sugar
  • 3½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides with waxed or parchment paper. Butter sides of pan and paper. Dust pan with flour.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter in top of double boiler over simmering water, stirring until smooth. Cool slightly. Whisk yolks and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow. Mix in flour, then chocolate mixture.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat whites in another bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold into chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.
  4. Run a small sharp knife around sides of pan to loosen cake. Turn cake out onto platter and cool. Using a small biscuit cutter with the same diameter as your serving glasses, cut discs of chocolate cake. Makes 10-inch round cake.

20150916_SandersEstate_0487Basil Mousse

  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 ounce basil leaves
  • ½ pound cream cheese, room temperature
  1. Make simple syrup by dissolving sugar in water in a saucepan over medium heat. Place a medium bowl of ice water nearby. Quickly blanch the basil leaves in the simple syrup, and remove them from the saucepan with a slotted spoon or a spider to the bowl of ice water. (This will allow the leaves to retain their bright green color.) Remove the leaves from the ice water, and place on a cooling rack.
  2. Remove the simple syrup from the heat, and allow to cool to room temperature before continuing.
  3. In a blender, puree the cooled simple syrup with the basil leaves. Strain through a chinois or a very fine sieve. In a clean blender or a food processor, puree the strained simple syrup with the cream cheese. Place in a piping bag.

Port-Infused Goat Cheese

  • 1 cup cabernet sauvignon
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ pound goat cheese
  1. Pour wine in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir in sugar. Reduce heat and simmer until wine is reduced to ¼ cup. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.
  2. Crumble goat cheese into a bowl.
  3. When the wine has cooled to room temperature, use your hands to knead into goat cheese until thoroughly incorporated, and the cheese is the same color shade throughout. Place into a piping bag.

Tip: Do not use an electric mixer or food processor as it changes the consistency of the goat cheese, and it becomes too runny!

Assemble the trifles:

  1. Choose tall narrow shot glasses.
  2. Place chocolate cake disks in the bottom of each glass.
  3. Pipe the remainder of the empty glass about a third full of basil mousse.
  4. Top with a layer of the same size of crushed toasted hazelnuts.
  5. Finish the trifle by piping port wine-infused goat cheese.
  6. Garnish with ¼ sliced fig, and a fresh leaf of mint or basil.

Serving Tip:
Spread a bed of rock salt about ½ inch thick on a small serving tray. Place the trifles on the tray, and serve with a single sparkler in each. Light at midnight to ring in the new year!

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