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New Years Party Menu - please critique!

A very good friend and neighbor has is hosting a New Year's Party and I volunteered to do the food. I'm planning the menu, helping with the shopping, and will do the preparation; he and his co-host will assist final preparations and fund it. I love cooking and when he told me he wanted to do something different this year (this is the 3rd year he's had his party) I offered my help - they do a great party, but neither of them can cook!

I figure there will be at least 50 people dropping in over the course of the night, maybe more. The party is casual dress although I'm sure some will come dressed up. We want it to be elegant but we'd all like to enjoy ourselves during the party and not worry about cooking once it's started. Furthermore, his house is fairly small and the party generally centers around the baby grand piano (the hosts and their friends are musicians) - which is right next to the kitchen area. In prior years running the oven to heat up the horderves has been annoying since it heats up the area where folks are mixing drinks and hanging out - we could do it again, but I think it'd be best to avoid

In prior years he's had a hodgepodge assortment of dips, spreads, salsas etc bought pre-made, boiled shrimp, mini eggrolls. My thought was to have a big crockpot with a savory stew that the guests can dip into when they need something hearty and warm, plus an assortment of cold appetizers that we can prepare in advance. I didn't want to have too many dishes nor too much variety - both to keep the preparation more simple and because there isn't a tremendous amount of serving space. This is my tentative menu... please tell me what you think. Is a beef stew really appropriate for this setting? Is there enough variety in the offerings?

Assorted cracker tray
Cheese balls/logs - I thought we would prepare 3, one with blue cheese, one with a little smokey/spicy flavor, and one "classic"
1-2 seafood spreads or dips

Relish tray with assorted olives, various kinds of little pickles, pepperocini, celery, radishes

Beef stew made with potatoes, carrots, shallots, wine

Candied nuts
Assorted cookies

There will be an open bar

Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. Perhaps a charcuterie platter, several cheeses and interesting mustards with cocktail size rye bread. Also, maybe Boston clam chowder rather than stew. These with the veggie relish tray and some dips would all be easy and should satisfy all guests.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Gail

      I'd thought about a bisque or chowder, but how well would that hold up in the crock pot throughout the course of the night?

      If it works, that definitely sounds better.

      1. re: Helvella

        I'm not a frequent crock pot user, so maybe others could answer that. I have kept chowder hot on my lowest burner heat for at least 2 hrs and will do so again this Friday for a company dinner. I would think it would work fine in the c p on low with occasional stirring.

      2. re: Gail

        If you do that you need to adjust the amount of seafood you have going on the cold side. I like the charcuterie and cheese idea. Put your little pickles and olives along side that. make two smaller plates so you can have carry by hand food at other places besides the gathering place. 50 people all at the gather zone is no good. Crab bisque might be ever so lovely. If you have two pots (and for 50...) you could do something non creamy and non seafood like tomato with yummy things to top it with like super crispy crouton, basil, parm, fried prosciutto nibs. You could do small cups - disposable or compostable if you want - for easy clean up. Litle roll or bread bites to go with the soup would be nice. Or like cheddar or angel biscuits or sweet potato rolls. Yum.

        Don't forget the PILES of ice, using your tub (for ice and drinks/ champagne storage (since the place is small) and making sure to have plenty of trash bind available.

        1. re: Sal Vanilla

          like Sal and just_M I too was thinking cups so a spoon isn't required, although that rules out most chunky things in the soup it does make it so much more wieldy and cuts down on splatter. I always lay out the spread with a drink in hand in mind, so I scatter the cold nibbles around the room as much as possible so there's always something within a few feet. and if it's a buffet setting, I put the napkins and utensils at the end of the line after the food (why mess with carrying stuff you don't know if you'll need - if you're a guy in a sports jacket you can use the breast pocket, but not everyone wears those)

        2. re: Gail

          Don't forget that there a likely to be a few folks who cannot eat seafood. I'm always awarre of that since one of my daughters is highly allergic to seafood. (can you say epi pen??).

        3. How about chili for your hot/hearty item? Chili will hold up fine in a crock pot. It seems easier to eat than beef stew. A nice array of toppings on the side could make it more festive!

          1. I really like beef stew and the other suggestions made up thread and (depending on the type of chowder) they should all hold well in a crockpot. My concern is in serving 50+ people and some might like seconds. Are you planning bowls w/spoons or ? To me a bisque or something that could be sipped out of a cup would be easier then juggling a bowl. Also the scent of fish or clam might become too strong over that length of time.

            With the lovely cheese balls, spreads and relish tray it reminds me of a 50's ish cocktail party with martinis around the grand piano :-) With that in mind I'm thinking a tomato bisque and perhaps a spiral sliced ham with those little party breads or a platter of rolled thin deli meats w/toothpick centerpiece. On the other hand, Sweedish meatballs would be great fun and do very well in a crock. Have a great party and New Year!

            3 Replies
            1. re: just_M

              Yes, a ham and small rolls or biscuits and good mustard so people can make little sandwiches. And some warm mulled cider.

              1. re: Pia

                mmm, mulled wine is nice too, but mulled cider has the advantage of being able to add a little something or not ;->

              2. No raw oysters? ~~~ No spicy "boiled" shrimp??????

                1. Your one-dish main is a good idea; anything consumable standing or on your lap, one utensil to heft, etc. Beware things that drip. For chowder of any sort, leave out the seafood until the final reheating, or it will be tough. And I think a big pot of upscale vegetarian minestrone would be a good provision. I'd also make one of your dips vegetarian (spinach dip, or carmelized onion dip) or even vegan, like an oil/vinegar/herb dip for dipping chunks of French Bread in.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mamachef

                    i heartily second mamachef's suggestion (as always!) for a vegetarian dip...and i'll simply add that you should really consider offering crudites in addition to crackers/bread for dipping in case some guests can't have gluten or would just prefer something lighter or less starchy.

                  2. The "soup, stew, chowder idea is a great one! It comes down to whichever you prefer. Myself, I plan on doing a chowder at my party and yes, a good crockpot set on low is perfect for this, but check on it and give a stir every so often. With my corn chowder I serve oyster crackers, shredded cheese, chives or chopped green onions and warm corn bread. It can be made vegetarian or not, I always add bacon to mine. A relish tray, dips and crackers all compliment each other. I might add a homemade dessert, maybe a fresh apple crisp, made ahead and then served at room temp., along with the assorted cookies. I usually serve fresh shrimp with a cream cheese/cocktail sauce. People love it and it's a great walkaround dish. I've found if you set up several smaller platters with everything on it, people are less likely to congregate in one location, by placing them around the room people disperse evenly. Sounds crazy but it works.

                    1. i know you're trying to keep it simple, and i tend to always go overboard, but i might suggest adding another hot thing for the veggie/chicken/fish eaters... satay skewers with chicken and/or veggies served alongside some satay sauce...

                      agree re dessert... perhaps a big sheet cake or assortment of bars, or choc dipped strawberries. oh and def a fruit plate. (for those of us who might not be able to eat the other goodies).

                      1. Thanks for all the suggestions! just_M a 50's cocktail party around the grand piano is exactly what I had in mind! I'll have to digest all these other ideas and will post more after work :)

                        1. My inlaws used to do a soupy Christmas Eve gathering. There were usually three soups on hand, and we ate them out of cups. They were typically hearty without being particularly chunky, just so they were easier to sip. There was always a vegetarian option (not a vegan option, but they were catering to me, an ovo-lacto). My favorite was a spicy pumpkin soup. It was warming and satisfying.

                          1. Do all your guests eat meat for a main course? I would make a large salmon gravlax which folks could slice for themselves. Perfect as an appetizer and excellent as non-meat choice for those who don't eat meat. You can serve with flatbread assortment, thinly sliced red onion, capers and creme fraiche. Very little prep work, but make sure you start it 3-4 days in advance to let flavors "marinate"/cure the fish.

                            1. I'll be contrarian and say that soup/stew is a challenge for a cocktail party style event. If nothing else, you will have to clean 50-100 mugs of soup. And eating soup with a spoon requires two hands and is much easier when you are sitting down in front of a table. If you want to do it, think of the soup shooter idea - that would allow people to carry them around without needed a spoon. Definitely do the vegetarian dip. And as a touch of elegance, what about serving the seafood in endive leaves - shrimp or crab salad. You can have the leaves and salad prepped ahead of time. Along with the cheese ball theme, what about pigs in blankets? It's great party food that tastes great room temperature.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                soup shooters: I think that's what we were aiming at, just not exactly saying, yes for that many people it would be a pain to wash that many, so I'd say the heck with it and go with disposable and either try to recycle them or just be that much more diligent for the rest of the year.

                                if one rents dishes or glasses from a party supply place, does one have to return them clean?

                                1. re: hill food

                                  The resto I worked for used to rent from a party supply all the time for big events; they didn't wash the dishes but did wipe them out.....some places require in the contract that the dishes be clean, others probably just charge you in the initial price to cover the dirty dishes (which is why they don't require they be clean).

                                  I don't see where the OP specifies "cocktail party".....I read party, which usually means cocktails will be served but it's not specifically just a drinking party. On that note, I see nothing wrong with serving your stew out of clear little plastic cups with plastic spoons. If there are going to be at least a few tables around, people can gravitate to these spaces if they need two hands to eat. Keep several garbage cans around the space where guests can toss the paper goods once finished. Love the beef stew idea and love chili with beef stew meat better. Serve with assorted mini biscuits (sour cream & chive, sweet potato, etc). You can set out bowls of toppings as mentioned so guests can customize.

                                  Dips at a large party are not my thing...too many people dipping (and some may double dip) into it once they get their drink on. I like platters of apps better...this past weekend, I did a Christmas party where they had an antipasti spread of meat & cheese trays with herbed flatbread that I baked on pizza screens & cut into triangles, multi roasted peppers/olives/carrot pickles and I made a blue cheese/black peppercream cheese mix that I piped onto crostini & topped with roasted red grapes. It went over big. If you want to do seafood, I suggest Ina Garten's roasted shrimp or maybe bacon wrapped shrimp on skewers with roasted figs. For one of your cheese balls, try mixing shredded smoked gouda with cream cheese & roll in toasted chopped walnuts. You'll get that smoky flavor from the cheese & toasty flavor from the walnuts. Toast some crostini to spread it on. Make a lot...it won't last long.

                                2. re: Dcfoodblog

                                  I agree with Dcfoodblog. Although stew or soup can be terrific for some parties, if you're doing an
                                  event where people stop by during a stretch of time....especially to and from other places....small elegant bites always seem to work. And that means you can have lots of things that you can prepare ahead, so you can enjoy the party. It's kind of like a big tapas party with small bites that are easy to manage.

                                3. Thank you for all the great ideas! I'll need to bring some of them back to the host. I really like the idea of a charcuerie platter, and of having two different things going in crockpots, and making a vegetarian dip. One thing I forgot to mention is there will be a cake, it's the co-host's birthday so there has to be a birthday cake, we will probably order it from a local bakery. Cake and champagne at midnight!

                                  1. It's the day of the party and this is the final menu we settled on. After much reflection on the comments here and from friends we decided not to do a soup or stew after all - considering the inconvenience for guests with a drink in their other hand. Instead, this is what we're having:

                                    Pulled pork - this is what we finally decided to do for the hearty crock pot dish. I made a huge batch that cooked all night Wed night and will just reheat at the party. I'm making a batch of creamy coleslaw right before the party to go with and we have slider rolls and BBQ sauce for the side. Maybe not as "classy" as the original intention, but hearty, easy for the guests, and apparently pork is tradional for New Years.

                                    Cheese balls: sharp cheddar with roasted bell pepper, blue cheese, and smoked Gouda with chipotle. They're all made and ready to go, but I'm a little concerned about the appearance of the smokey/spicy one since I rolled it in paprika and the surface is not smooth and pretty. I might just re-roll it in pecans today.

                                    Texas Caviar - traditional black eyed peas for New Years, plus this gives us a veggie dip.

                                    Mexican style shrimp cocktail - or should I call it Bloody Mary shrimp cocktail? I've got different sized shrimps and they will marinate in Zing Zang Bloody Mary mix with some red onion, cucumber, and avocado starting about 3 hours before the party. Served with a spoon on the crackers. I tested this out last week and it was delicious.

                                    Relish tray - we've got olives, pickles, pepperocini, radishes, celery, and grapes for it, I just need to finish the prep today.

                                    Assorted crackers, candied nuts and assorted cookies.

                                    Some other friends will be bringing cake and Irish coffee.

                                    Thanks again for all the suggestions - looking forward to tonight!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Helvella

                                      That menu sounds fantastic. And I love reading follow-ups like yours, even when I haven't contributed to the discussion! Happy New Year!

                                      1. re: Niblet

                                        Thanks, a Happy New Year to you too! The party was great and the food was a hit!

                                      2. re: Helvella

                                        Sounds fabulous, Helvella. I do love a good cheese ball. Can you share yours with us?

                                        1. re: darklyglimmer

                                          Sure! I'd never made them before. For all the recipes I tried, I cut the recipe in half and I still made two balls of each, and kept one in the fridge until the first was almost gone.

                                          Sharp cheddar with roasted bell pepper
                                          I used this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Aprils-R...
                                          I didn't add cayenne because there was in enough spice in the other dishes. This was my favorite of the three. I used an 18 month "Special Reserve Extra Sharp" white cheddar from HEB that I really liked for the cheddar. I drained the bell pepper a bit after chopping on a paper towel. I used about half a bunch of fresh flat leafed parsley for the rolling so the coating was pretty complete.

                                          Blue cheese
                                          I used this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/blue-che...
                                          Same cheddar as above, no Worcestershire. About 1 tsp onion power instead of fresh. I ended up adding more blue cheese since the one I got was mild. Next time I'll try to find a more memorable blue cheese for it. Some people really liked it but this was the only cheese ball that was not entirely gone by the end of the party.

                                          Smoked Gouda and Chipotle
                                          I started with this recipe: http://www.bhg.com/recipe/eggs-cheese...
                                          Instead of steak sauce, I used the sauce from a jar of chipotles in adobo - I used 2 tsp of the sauce in my batch, which was 1/2 the amount of the linked recipe. Also, first I rolled this ball in paprika. It looked awful, especially the next day when the paprika looked almost greasy. So I let it come back up to close to room temp, worked the paprika back into the cheese, and re-rolled it in finely chopped pecans. I think the paprika was a good flavor addition.

                                          1. re: Helvella

                                            I'm not sure how it happened that I'm just seeing this six months after you posted it, but thank you! Those sound great.