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Meat-free New Year's eve for 14: Need advice!

In a small NYC apartment, I'm cooking a sit-down dinner for 14 New Year's Eve. (Buffet style would be MORE crowded and crazy than sit-down in our cramped space.) Our dining table plus my work desk, moved into the living room, will be our dining surface; we'll have appetizers standing around in my small study, sans furniture.
So: What to serve? Among the 14 are 6 non-meat eaters, so it would be best to make a fish dish. I'm thinking a pasta course (veggie), then a fish stew, maybe, with crusty bread, then a crisp salad. But what fish can be mostly prepared in advance so as not to cause last-minute tiny-kitchen chaos (not to mention cooking pasta after all guests have arrived.) I welcome menu suggestions (even highly alternative ones, as long as meat plays no role.) Thanks!

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  1. A nice veg main course is the mushroom bourgignon from Smitten Kitchen http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/0...

    I made it for a dinner party last year and it was a huge hit. I used a combination of sliced portabellos and halved criminis to mimic the traditional meat version. I served it with egg noodles, so maybe that could be your pasta course.

    1 Reply
    1. re: LisaPA

      I made this tonight after reading this thread yesterday. It was delicious and would be very nice for a dinner party!

    2. I've always had success with this butternut squash, garlic and rosemary lasagna. I've brought it to potlucks and served it at informal dinner parties at my own place, and always get raves. It's rich and very filling.

      http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

      1. I'd be tempted to go with Indian food. A raita and some chutneys or pickles, some papadums, a hearty chickpea curry, a vegetable dish (maybe saag paneer) or some dahl, a salad of sliced cucumber, tomato and onion, rice to go with it.

        If you can borrow an extra rice cooker or two you can set up the rice to cook nicely without any attention. The curry, chutney and raita and dahl can be made ahead of time, even the day before. The papadums can be cooked just before people arrive, and the salad can be assembled in advance. All you would need to do is heat up the cooked dishes, and serve stuff out after people arrived.

        1. I would go with the cliche, which none the less remains excellent particularly in the winter: a spicy vegetarian and bean chili with lots of bowls of add-ins that make a table pretty like grated cheddar, sour cream, chopped cilantro, two kinds of salsa with different chips, guacamole, and a culce de leche cake for desert. everything can be made ahead except the guac which should be finished before serving.

          1. I would make a gorgeous rich thick soup and have platters of crostini, smoked salmon and this olive artichoke one from Smitten Kitchen
            http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/0...

            1. you have to have beans and greens for good luck.

              to make untraditional "greens," try using some mixed greens -- say, frozen chopped spinach, collard, and turnip greens….and make them like an indian saag dish. vey satisfying. two recipes:

              http://usmasala.blogspot.com/2012/02/...

              http://www.acurryofalife.com/palak-pa...

              black eyed peas made into "texas caviar" is one of my favorite ways to eat them, and there is no meat needed. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/classic-...

              i'd use fresh garlic and probably add some diced cukes and sliced scallions. feta cheese makes this a really substantial and satisfying meat-free dish.

              1. Pasta prepared ahead could be a lasagne, or simpler a casserole of frozen tortellini baked in a sauce - no need to boil ahead just bake for an hr or so.
                A thai curry with shrimp, monkfish - or any firm fish would hold well and be able to be prepared ahead of the guests.

                4 Replies
                1. re: ElsieB

                  Trader Joe's frozen meatless meatballs are outstanding and can fool even a committed carnivore. Make a hearty vegetarian pasta sauce, then put the meatballs in at the end just to warm them through. Alternatively, using eggplant instead of meat when making tomato sauce provides a "meaty" and satisfying texture. I really like CHOW's Red Pepper, Eggplant, and Tomato Sauce. It's great for lasagna, too.

                  If you go with fish instead, I'd make bouillabaise or cioppino as the main course.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    Thanks, Greygarious. I was thinking about a cioppino. But will I be fussing with clams and mussels and everything while the guests are crowding over the appetizers? I doubt it should be cooked in advance . . .right? It would be an ideal dish if the logistics are manageable.

                    1. re: simkhele

                      It can be largely cooked in advance. Clean the shellfish ahead of time, then dump it and the fish into the reheated broth. Ideally it would all be done just before serving but you do the best you can in light of your limitations. Any chance of enlisting a neighbor's kitchen for the evening?

                      1. re: greygarious

                        Yeah. That's what I was thinking (all cleaning and broth in advance; fish in at that last minute while we eat a first course). A neighbor's kitchen is not an option, but I think I can make this work. Thanks again and happy new year.

                2. I have wanted to try this leek and sweet potato roulade with chestnut and cranberry stuffing for quite awhile but haven't gotten around to it yet:

                  http://lilyandchew.blogspot.com.au/20...

                  I think it looks quite amazing!

                  1. Wait a minute! Are the 6 non-meat eaters vegetarians of some sort? If so, forget the fish. Is there gonna be meat available for the carnivores?

                    I have not read the previous replies, so I may be repeating some of the other suggestions. Vegetable lasagna is a possibility or some other pasta course. Salads made with romaine lettuce, raw aromatic vegetables, nuts if no one is allergic to them, dressed with wine vinegar and olive oil. Store bought cole slaw. Soup made with tofu, mushrooms, aromatics and ramen noodles. Three bean salad is another possibility. There are a myriad vegetarian possibilities.

                    These suggestions come from a devout carnivore.

                    In bocca al lupo e mangiate bene! (Good luck and eat well, the Italian 2nd person plural imperative)

                    Buon anno 2013

                    1. This what I served recently in honor of my veggie BFF-there were 10 of us.

                      Appetizers were light and meant as nibbles during cocktails-marconi almonds, assorted olives, asian snack mix with wasabi peas, cheese sticks.

                      The dinner consisted of:

                      Roasted pumpkin and butternut squash soup with dollop of creme fraiche (easy to make in advance and the reheated)

                      Endive, arugula and fennel salad dressed simply with fresh squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Can be made in advance and dressed before serving.

                      Hearty tomato sauce based veggie lasagna made with spinach, rainbow chard, mushrooms and a few different cheeses. Served with crusty garlic bread. Lasagna can be assembled in advance and then place in the oven about an hour or so before you want serve it.

                      Dessert was a simple chocolate tray and coffee. (there was some booze for those that wanted coffee drinks)

                      The key to this menu was that it can be done in advance, items to be reheated use different tools (stove top and oven) and the garlic bread can be in the oven along with lasagna. I served champagne with the soup, some people stayed with that for the salad but I had a nice pinot grigio for those that didn't. I opened a couple bottles of good Barolo for the lasagna.

                      Good luck and have fun!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: foodieX2

                        Great menu! Even a devout carnivore like me would enjoy a meal consisting of these courses. I especially like the use of lemon juice as a dressing for the salad. I often request lemon and olive oil for salad dressing when dining in a restaurant. The lemon usually comes as slices from the bar.

                        Buon appetito e buon anno.

                      2. Thanks, everyone. Great suggestions all around. In answer to ChiliDude: Yes, the non-meat eaters do eat fish. (And one guest is allergic to legumes, so I won't go the chili route, though it's a good idea.) Looking to be festive and even a little fancy-shmancy. Last year I made the Barefoot Contessa salmon with fennel (using arctic char) -- a big hit. (There were 10 of us last year -- somewhat more manageable than 14.) Still contemplating . . . and open to more ideas.
                        Thanks and Happy New Year!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: simkhele

                          along with LisaPA's suggestion of a mushroom bourgignonne, I served a mushroom ragout over soft polenta for a visiting vegetarian, and the carnivore teenager who was visiting at the same time raved about it and has his mother call me for the recipe. (I found the recipe in Joy of Cooking, btw)

                          could *easily* be made ahead of time and reheated.

                        2. I recently hosted dinner and we're meat free. It was a huge hit.

                          Cocktail time:
                          alcohol
                          baked goat cheese topped with pomegranet seeds and some EVOO (made it up, it was a hit). Used crostini, endive, and pears as options to dip.
                          Olives
                          Nuts

                          Main:
                          Salad with roasted beets and toasted walnuts, homemade citrus vinnegratte
                          Butternut squash lasagna (http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/201...) which is awesome
                          roasted asparagus (I wrapped some in bundles of proscuitto when I roasted so they'd crisp up, so there was some meat for the others who did eat meat
                          )rolls
                          citrus and herb compound butter

                          Dessert:
                          apple and pear crisp
                          homemade salted caramel ice cream.

                          It was a HUGE hit. It did take a while, but we live in a small apartment too and I managed just fine. The lasagna is HUGE. It was a menu I'll stash away for sure.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Jeserf

                            One of my favourite vegetarian meals is a baked polenta with roasted veggies on top and goat cheese. hearty, warm, gourmet and delish!

                          2. I agree with the cioppino idea. That would be lovely. Or a lobster bisque, if budget is not an issue. I am making a deconstructed baked stuffed shrimp dish for my family, probably the night before NYE, but that may be more work than you want.

                            For a primi piatti of pasta, that will be difficult to accomplish unless it's a baked one. We really enjoy a wild mushroom lasagne with a bechamel sauce. Not sure if the lasagne & cioppino really go together, however. There are lots of recipes for baked pastas with veggies, or you can even add the shellfish to the pasta. Baked ziti with shrimp & feta come to mind. Good luck!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                              If you want to serve a pasta course, you can cook it the day ahead (just barely al dente) then refrigerate it. Have a pot of hot water on the stove and when time to serve, drop the pasta in to warm up. That way you don't have to worry about the timing at the last minute with other stuff going on. That's how many restaurants do it.
                              I think a fish stew of some type would be a great idea. I think I'll do that!

                            2. Paul Prudhomme's seafood gumbo is always a wintertime crowd pleaser.

                              1. i'm going to echo some of the sentiments above, so please bear with...

                                Indian Menu
                                Raita with Naan
                                Palak Paneer
                                Tofu Tikka Masala
                                Rice

                                Mediterranean Menu
                                Hummus
                                Baba Ghanoush
                                Skordalia
                                Pita
                                Greek Salad
                                Spanokopita
                                Stuffed Dolmas
                                Avgolemeno Soup
                                Provencal Green Bean over Spaghetti
                                Falafel if you're feeling up to it

                                Italian-ish Menu
                                Broccoli al Limone
                                Vegetarian Minestrone
                                Polenta Lasagna or Polenta Seared with Mushroom Eggplant Tapenade or Ragu
                                Arrancini
                                Ratatouille
                                Bruschetta with Roasted Garlic Spread

                                1. I 2nd the black eyed peas (or beans and greens).

                                  Also, I would think about a big batch of mussels. I do mine in garlic, Butter, Shallot, Fennel, hard cyder (like Ace) and Saffron.

                                  Served with some bread they Rock. You could can prepare them in 10 minutes or less. Have lots of crusty bread on hand - the broth is amazing.

                                  I also had a baked Ziti - with Pumkin (canned is fine) Sage, Nutmeg and cheese for x-mas it was a big hit.

                                  Good luck

                                  1. Relatively firm fish will hold up better to cooking for a crowd. Something like Sable (black cod) or halibut. If you want to go more elegant than fish stew, and are not serving the main course buffet style, you could serve individual filets atop a broth. Make a nice fish stock based consomme, add some baby vegetables. Poach the fish separately and keep just barely warm in poaching liquid (so you can control the temperature). Then plate the consomme in large soup bowls, with the filet centered in the middle (maybe atop some polenta).