There are many reasons why James Beard is considered one of the great gastronomes in modern history; great food of course, but also a really practical approach to great food.
Back in 1954 when he was known as Jim Beard, he wrote a simple, soft-cover book called Jim Beard’s Complete Cookbook for Entertaining. In it are many complete entertaining ideas and suggestions hosting great occasions. Most of them are utterly simple and straightforward.
After all the dinners, buffets and parties which I have hosted for Christmas, it is with welcome relief I turn to his little book for New Year’s Eve. I like to entertain a few friends on New Year’s Eve for an evening of good music, good conversation, sometimes a few games or cards, but usually just the fun of being together to bring the new year in. Even so, it seems daunting. The usual festive food seems too rich for this evening, yet it should be substantial enough to satisfy and to absorb any alcohol people might be drinking.
James Beard’s book is uncompromisingly masculine. Practical, hearty, delicious, without unnecessary frills it nevertheless hits the mark as outstanding party fare. His New Year’s Eve Party is perfect.
It sounds do-able, doesn’t it? The cheese tray should have an interesting assortment of cheese including a blue cheese, a piece of good aged cheddar, a wedge of Swiss or Gruyere and a soft ripe cheese such as Camembert or Liederkranz. Serve crisp rolls and crackers and have a substantial chunk of butter to accompany the tray.
Salami, liver sausage or Thuringer would be good, or whatever smoked sausages you see and want to try. Add rye bread and pumpernickel, a bowl of good pickles and several different types of mustard.
The chicken chile recipe is a great do-ahead dish
For 10 persons, buy 2 large or 3 medium chickens, cut up. Place the chicken in a large kettle. Add an onion with 2 whole cloves inserted, 3 cloves of garlic, ½ bay leaf, 2 or 3 hot peppers (such as jalapeno), 1 tablespoon salt and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is just tender. Remove from the broth and cut the meat from the bones. Return the bones to the broth with 2 tablespoons chili powder and another clove of garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for an hour. Strain and remove excess fat.
Chop 2 large onions very fine. Sauté in 6 tablespoons chicken fat or butter until lightly browned. Add 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon oregano and ½ teaspoon cumin. Add this to the broth and let it cook down rapidly for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning; you may want more chili powder. Add the chicken pieces and 1 can of tomato puree mixed with a little of the broth. Heat thoroughly. If needed, add a little butter and flour kneaded together to thicken the sauce. This butter-flour mixture is known as beurre manie. Serve the chili in a large tureen or bowl, with a goodly sprinkling of chopped toasted almonds on top. Note: This can be made a day or two ahead and heated at the last minute. Steam the tortillas at the same time and serve them hot with plenty of butter.
This can be made in advance and kept refrigerated. For 10 persons, cook 2 cups of rice until just tender. While still hot, add ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon tarragon. Cool.
When this is thoroughly cooled, add ½ cup each finely cut green pepper, pimiento, parsley, 1 cup chopped onion, 1 cup chopped ripe tomato and 1 cup chopped seeded cucumber. Blend well; just before serving, dress with additional dressing and arrange on lettuce leaves. Garnish with sliced hard-boiled eggs and sliced olives.
Arrange a plate of any holiday goodies you may have: cookies, fruit cake, stuffed dates, and any sweets available. A large bowl of fruit is also nice to serve.
The beauty of the menu is that you can fill in with any other foods or interchange the specific sausages, cheeses, sweets, etc. It’s an extremely versatile menu plan that has the delicious and unusual chicken chile as its center and allows the host to have a happy new year, too.