Your New Year's Eve Handbook
Essential advice for December 31, from the right way to pop a cork to the best strategy for handling tipsy guests.
How to Open a Bottle of Champagne
An airborne cork usually comes with a gush of Champagne, which is the quickest way to waste half a bottle and soak anyone in the vicinity. Tom Tiburzi, the head sparkling wine maker for Domaine Chandon, explains how to avoid this scenario: To get a room-temperature bottle cold, chill it in a bucket of ice and water. By submerging the bottle up to its neck and keeping it out of the fridge, you can keep the cork from getting too cold—which is key to easy opening, since the stopper is treated with paraffin, and chilly temps make it stiff and difficult to remove. When you're ready to open, remove the foil and wrap one corner of a dry kitchen towel around the top of the bottle. With your hand on top of the towel, feel for the muselet (that's the wire hood covering the cork). Fold down the screw tab and make six half-turns to loosen it. Grip the cork and the muselet (with your hand still on top of the towel) and tilt the bottle 45 degrees—this gives the wine more surface area and the gas more space to move around so that when it does shoot out, it will do so with less force. Give the cork a little twist. If it's not budging, grab hold of the bottom of the bottle and turn that (it's bigger, giving you a mechanical advantage). You'll start to feel the pressure pushing the cork out. Very slowly, ease it out. You won't hear a "pop"—it'll be more like what Tiburzi calls "a sigh."
Photo: Jules Morgan
How to Make a Fancy Appetizer
Finger foods don't get much classier than Gougères, the splendid hot cheese puffs from the Burgundy region of France that go well with Champagne and are popular with pros from Ina Garten to Thomas Keller. As Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic, hosts of the OWN show Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag, explain in this recipe, they're actually a cinch to make. They consist of just milk, butter, flour, eggs and cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Gruyère, and they freeze well: Spoon mounds of uncooked dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide them into the freezer. When the dough is completely frozen, remove the balls from the baking sheets and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and a zip-top bag. You can store them frozen for up to two months and don't even have to defrost them before baking (though you may need to add a minute or two to the baking time; just remove them when they're light golden).
How to Make Fondue
Warm, decadent, fun to eat and easy to prepare, fondue is the ultimate December 31 party food. A few tricks: For the smoothest, creamiest fondue, keep the cheese in large chunks instead of grating it; and before you add anything, rub the inside of the pot with garlic for extra flavor. While it's traditional to use Gruyère, since its stickiness helps it adhere to bread and other dippers, Rachael Ray's recipe also calls for the nutty-sweet, mellow Swiss Emmentaler. You can get creative with dippers: For cheese fondue, Mitchell Rosenthal, who serves seasonal spins on the dish at his San Francisco restaurant Town Hall, likes slices of fried sausage and soft pretzels. Other ideas: cocktail franks, mini meatballs, steamed broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, toast points and bread sticks. If you're making chocolate fondue, try pretzel rods, cubes of pound cake, potato chips (thicker ones work best), marshmallows and virtually any fruit.
How to Make Sure Guests Have Fun
Actually enjoy killing time in the hours between guests' arrival and the ball dropping by setting up a photo booth—and send them home with fun souvenirs of the night. Photographer Marko Metzinger says a light (or white), solid-color background works best; you can use a bedsheet, piece of poster board, curtain or tablecloth. Place a camera such as the Polaroid PIC-300R Instant Analog Camera nearby; they take instant color photos about the size of a business card. Fresh batteries are key, and to guarantee the best shots, take the flash off auto and set it so it fires every time. The finishing touch to your photo station: props like fake mustaches, funny hats, glasses and boas.
How to Play the Right Music
If you aren't going to create your own playlist ahead of time (here's how to DJ your own party) and would rather not put your entire iTunes library on random play, log on to an Internet radio station like Spotify, Jango, Live365 or Pandora to stream any style music all night long. Pandora has even created 12 specific stations with a New Year's theme that will be available from December 20 to January 31. They'll play top hits from the year in genres such as Latin, alternative rock, country, dance, R&B and hip-hop.
How to Handle a Guest Who's Had Too Much to Drink
Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of EtiquetteExpert.com and author of Poised for Success, has been in this sticky situation herself, both when hosting parties at home and dinners out. Take the inebriated person away from the group and out of hearing range of the other guests, Whitmore suggests. If it's a close friend who's clearly not able to drive home, offer a bed. Otherwise, say something like, "I want to make sure you get home safely, and I would really feel better if I called you a cab," or "John has offered to drive you home." (Whitmore says people are often more receptive to accepting a ride from a friend.) The important thing is to address your guest as discretely as you can—they'll be more likely to accept your offer and less likely to feel embarrassed.
Appetizers you can whip up in just 10 minutes
Appetizers you can whip up in just 10 minutes