December 29, 2010

By Jenna Weber

New Year's Eve is just around the corner! Celebrate with this all-appetizer menu, perfect for a large spread for friends or a smaller get-together with close family. These recipes are simple, fun, and tasty, and have been a part of my family's festivities for years. The buffalo chicken wontons can be made ahead of time and frozen; just reheat at 350° for a few minutes prior to serving. Wontons may seem like a hassle to make, but I promise that they'll come together quickly once you get the hang of it! All you need now is a bottle of champagne and you are good to go to ring in 2011!

Grocery list:
1 package dry yeast
All-purpose flour
Olive oil
1 large yellow onion
1 large Bosc pear
Crumbled blue cheese
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cloves garlic
Buffalo wing sauce (such as Frank's)
1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese
1 bag shredded cheddar cheese
80 wonton wrappers
Blue cheese dressing
Hot sauce (I love the Texas Pete brand.)
1 wheel Brie cheese (preferably having about 60% butterfat or triple cream)
Granulated sugar
1/2 cup walnut halves

Focaccia With Caramelized Onions, Blue Cheese, and Pear
This simple bread boasts complex flavors and would be perfect cut into tiny slices for a festive New Year's Eve appetizer!

Serves 6

1 cup warm water (about 100°)
1 package dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil (plus more to drizzle)
1 large yellow onion, sliced very thin
1 large Bosc pear, sliced thin
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Stir together yeast, warm water, and honey. Let sit for a few minutes so the yeast and honey can dissolve. Add flour, olive oil, and salt and mix well, using a kitchen mixer or by hand. (I did this by hand and it worked beautifully!) If you’re kneading by hand, knead for about 6 minutes, or until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. If using a kitchen mixer, knead for about 4 minutes on medium/high.

Place dough ball into an oil-rubbed bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour in a warm spot.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Caramelize the onions in a large skillet with a drizzle of olive oil for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. After the dough has risen, remove from bowl, punch down with fists, and form a long rectangle. Dimple dough with fingers and drizzle about a tablespoon more of olive oil over top. Spread with caramelized onions. Layer on slices of pear and finish with the blue cheese crumbles. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden.

Buffalo Chicken Wontons
These are the perfect finger food, loved by kids and adults alike. Make sure to serve with extra buffalo sauce and plenty of blue cheese dressing on the side!

Makes about 80 small wontons

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup wing sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
80 wonton wrappers
Vegetable oil for frying
Blue cheese dressing or sauce for dipping
Hot sauce to top (optional, but recommended!)

Season diced chicken with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned. Mix in the garlic and cook 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and add wing sauce. Let cool.

Once cool, stir in cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Spoon about a teaspoon of mixture into each wonton wrapper. Moisten edges of wrapper and bring together in the middle, forming a little purse (you can seal them more easily if the wrapper edges are moist).

Heat vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven. Fry wontons in batches until golden (about 2 minutes on each side), and then drain on paper towels.

Serve with sauce on the side.

Caramel Brie
Serve this Brie with whole-wheat crackers and fruit. The appetizer is always a winner in my house!

Serves 8-10

1 wheel brie cheese (preferably having about 60% butterfat or triple cream)
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup walnut halves

Put Brie cheese on a rack placed over a parchment-paper-lined sheet tray.

Combine water and sugar in a saucepot. Stir together once, and then do not stir again as you raise the heat to high and boil the sugar. Wipe down the sides of the pot with a wet pastry brush occasionally so that the sugar does not stick to the sides and burn. Boil the mixture for about 6 minutes, until it turns a golden color.

Immediately take sugar mix off stove (and with great care—it will burn badly if it touches your skin!) and pour over wheel of Brie cheese. Scatter walnut halves on top.

Let the Brie cool for about 10 minutes. The hot sugar on top will slightly melt the inside of the cheese and form a hard candy-like shell. When ready to eat, crack top with a knife and serve alongside crackers.