Most of the meal can be made ahead of time so if you stay up late on New Years Eve, this meal is no-fuss and is delicious as a brunch or mid day meal served with a pitcher of spicy tomato juice and freshly brewed coffee with the apple crisp. This menu is intended to feed six people with a few leftovers just in case you sleep late the next day, too.

Oyster Cocktails and Chilled, Steamed Shrimp

This is an easy make-ahead platter that can be ready when your guests arrive. Make sure you have a few more oysters than you need, in case you have one or two that are not servable. For the presentation, plan on serving 6 lightly steamed oysters per person, so break out your pretty little bowls, cups or vintage martini glasses. Lightly steaming the oysters makes them easy to open, so do this ahead of time and chill the oysters and their liqueur until just before service. Just before serving, place 6 chilled oysters and their liqueur in each vessel. Place on a serving tray with cocktail forks, saltines, a pile of chilled, peeled, steamed shrimp and a small bowl of classic horseradish-ketchup cocktail sauce with a spoon and plenty of lemons for squeezing. For 6 people, buy at least 4 dozen oysters and 2 pounds of shrimp. Remember, the cook has to do a lot of tasting.

 

Jumbo Lump Crab Grilled Cheese Squares

1 lb cream cheese

1 lb sharp cheddar, shredded

2 green onions, chopped

1 lb local jumbo lump blue crab

dash of Tabasco sauce

16 slices your favorite real bread

1 stick of butter for grilling sandwiches

Combine first five ingredients and use this mixture as a sandwich fill. Using two pieces of bread for each, make 8 sandwiches. Use one tablespoon of butter per sandwich to grill in the pan. Secret trick: if in a hurry, put the sandwich in the microwave for 30 seconds to pre-melt the inside of the sandwich. You can now spend less time with it in the pan getting a golden crust while still having it hot on the inside. Presentation: Cut into quarters and offer plenty of napkins. You might want to do this in one big batch in the beginning of the party, let everyone get gooey at once, then put away the pan.

Country Ham

Go ahead and do it. Commit to a whole country ham. Take the time to soak it and then slow cook it and carve it. The instructions come on the bag. It is easy and you have country ham to put in the freezer. Imagine the possibilities, all year long, really. It is a lot of ham, but you do save money per pound and your meat isn’t soaked in sodium solutions like most county ham slices you find in the grocery stores. Cook your ham a few days before the end of the year and this will be easy to plate on New Year’s Day.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

This is a recipe from my Nana’s favorite baking cookbook from the 1960’s, still good today and perfect with salty slivers of country ham.

Sift together:

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons salt

Cut in with pastry cutter or your fingers until crumbly:

¼ cup shortening

¼ cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

Add:

½ cup milk

Using a gentle hand, lightly bring all ingredients together and turn onto floured work surface. Knead lightly for only few turns and roll out dough to at least ½ inch thickness. Cut biscuits with 2” round cutter. Flour the bottom of the cutter for easier extraction of biscuit dough. Place biscuits closely together on a greased baking sheet, you want them to touch, and bake at 425 for 25-30 minutes.

 

Hoppin’ John

Served over steamed Basmati Rice

8 cups cooked Basmati Rice, prepared according to package instructions

1 pound dried black-eyed peas, soaked in water overnight

8 cups water

1 ham hock

2 bay leaves

Place all ingredients in medium sized pot and simmer for about 2 hours. When peas are tender, drain and reserve cooking liquid and ham hock. In clean pot add:

½ cup olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

Cook on medium heat for 10-15 minutes until onions start to become translucent. Add beans, ham hock and 6 cups of water. Simmer for 30 minutes and season with a dash of Tabasco, local sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Top rice with peas, garnish with chopped green onion and serve with plenty of local sea salt and pepper alongside a big helping of collards. You might also enjoy the addition of kimchee, a fermented, spicy cabbage condiment that especially popular in northeastern North Carolina.

 

Fire-kissed Collards

1 bunch local collards, organic if possible

2 cloves minced garlic

good olive oil

local sea salt

Clean collards by rinsing them under running water in your kitchen sink. Fold each leaf in half and remove the stalk. You can do this with your fingers or with a knife. Leave the leaves folded together. Select 6-8 leaves at a time and roll them up like you were rolling a big cigar or sushi roll. You will then cut the collards like a giant julienne, or like you were cutting a slice off of a roll of sushi. When you are finished you will have nice long strands of slightly wet greens. Heat the iron skillet until hot then add a tiny bit of good olive oil. Immediately add the greens and move them around quickly in the pan to wilt. Turn off the heat and add the garlic and sea salt. Continue to move the greens around the pan until they are all wilted. This is a super fast dish. Do not overcook. Feeds 2-4.

Easy Apple Cranberry Crisp with Maple Cream

Butter an 8x8x2 baking pan and fill with 5 cups of sliced apples and 1/2 cup dried cranberries. Pour ¼  cup of water and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice over the fruit. Blend together ¾ cup sugar, ½ cup all purpose flour, ¼ cup butter and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Top the apples with this mixture and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Serve warm with a drizzle of maple syrup spiked heavy cream.  (Add 1 tablespoon real maple syrup to 1 cup heavy cream, stir. Store in tight container for 2 weeks.)

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