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Entertaining: New Year's Eve Dinner
Ring in the new year with an elegant dinner
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Plenty of things went right for Mary McDonald in 2010. She secured a spot on an upcoming design show and finished her first book, Mary McDonald Interiors: The Allure of Style (Rizzoli, 2010), a compendium of the bold and glamorous interiors that demonstrate her aesthetic soul. So when it came time to sign off on 2010, she shed the idea of a party in a swanky hotel or trendy restaurant and decided to pay tribute to the year by hosting an elegant dinner in a dining room that she designed for friends and featured in her book. .
Using the chic icy-blue-and-tangerine room as the stage for her intimate dinner, Mary emphasized the clean and contemporary sensibilities with a black, white, and silver table scheme that mixes expensive antiques with simple wares from big-box stores.
"Black and white always connotes the famous Capote black-and-white ball to me," says Mary. "It's convivial, festive, and full of great expectations. The combination also varies from clean and modern to the most traditional applications, all expressing a certain amount of theater. In a way, black and white are the tuxedo for the table, and who doesn't look good in a tuxedo?"
Mary interrupted the dark espresso finish of the sleek, modern table by laying a vintage remnant textile end to end. The quilted matelassé fabric with the slightest tint of blue served as a runway for Mary's fashionable centerpieces of silver objects holding whimsical items.
In the middle of the runner, a footed glass bowl held a sumptuous arrangement of white tulips and black calla lilies. Next in line were two silver compotes, each held aloft by a base of tall, architecturally styled silver columns. In the compotes, frosted white Christmas balls from the tree were paired with feathers and repurposed as table decor before being stored until next year's holiday season.
At the table ends, silver champagne buckets served as befitting receptacles for the buoyant and feathery plumes symbolizing the hoped-for highs of the coming year.
Simple white plates showcased the entree of squid ink fettuccine with clams, and Mary discovered vintage glass salad plates and stemware with silver bands that glamorized the dinnerware ensemble.
"New Year's is really a chance to be grateful for your blessings and to leave the past burdens behind," says Mary. "After all, everyone needs a clean slate."
Photography: Luca Trovato
Resolve to entertain with ease and elegance in the coming year with these simple tips.
There's no need to stock a full bar for an intimate, at-home gathering. Introduce your guests to interesting wines, or create a signature cocktail to simplify the event.
Vintage Dorothy Thorpe glassware and plates are from Dragonette (310/855-9091). .
Food for Thought
The same is true for the menu. Create a custom recipe for one course-such as this salad-that will make the cuisine memorable.
Go with basic white or glass plates that will make a sophisticated background for well-presented food.
At the head of each place setting at Mary's party, miniature silver boxes filled with chocolates are adorned with a spiffy black bow.
Say It with Silver
New Year's Eve begs for plenty of sparkle and shine. Gather silver elements such as vases, bowls, and trays, and use them to tie the color scheme together.
A chic arrangement of three varieties of black-and-white feathers was displayed in an antique silver container from Mary's personal collection.
Niçoise Olives with Fennel Seeds and Thyme
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
• 4 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme
• 1 cup good quality Niçoise olives, pitted
In small saucepan combine olive oil, fennel seeds, and thyme; stir in olives. Heat over medium heat until oil bubbles and is fragrant. Cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 8 servings.
Baby Potatoes with Crème Fraîche and Caviar
You'll need at least 2 to 3 ounces of caviar for this hors d'oeuvre. However, recipe developer Julia Turshen says, "Use as much as you like."
• 1-1/2 pounds tiny new potatoes or baby Dutch yellow potatoes (about 16 potatoes)
• 1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
• Fresh dill, snipped into small fronds
Wash potatoes. In medium saucepan, cook potatoes, covered, in small amount of boiling salted water 12 to 15 minutes or until tender. Drain; let stand until cool enough to handle.
When potatoes are cool, cut in half lengthwise. If necessary, cut thin slice from bottom to keep potato upright. Top each half with crème fraîche, caviar, and dill frond. Makes 8 servings.
Arugula and Pear Salad
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon honey
•1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
• 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
• 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 8 cups baby arugula
• 2 medium pears, cored and thinly sliced
In large bowl whisk together lemon juice, vinegar and honey. Slowly whisk in oil, then mayonnaise and poppy seeds. Whisk in salt and pepper. Reserve 2 tablespoons vinaigrette; set aside. Add arugula to remaining dressing in bowl. Gently toss to coat arugula with dressing.
Transfer dressed arugula to serving platter or to individual serving plates. Add pears to bowl and toss with reserved dressing. Top salad with pears. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.
Squid Ink Fettuccine with Clams
Find squid ink pasta at a specialty grocer or online at amazon.com. It's slightly salty, briny flavor complements seafood recipes. For another twist on black and white, use 1 pound of squid ink fettuccine and 1 pound plain semolina fettuccine.
• 4 pounds clams, cleaned*
• 2 pounds dried squid ink fettuccine
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
• 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
• Crushed red pepper
Soak and clean clams.
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain well. Return to hot pan; cover and keep warm.
In heavy 12-inch skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Cook and stir 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add clams; gently stir to coat with oil. Carefully add wine. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover; cook about 5 minutes or until clams open (discard any unopened clams). Use slotted spoon to transfer clams to bowl. Add butter to sauce in pan. Stir to melt butter. Add cooked pasta to sauce; toss to coat with sauce.
Spoon pasta into individual serving bowls. Top with clams; sprinkle with chives and additional crushed red pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.
*To clean live clams, scrub shells under cold running water. In 8-quart Dutch oven combine 4 quarts cold water and 1/3 cup salt; add clams. Soak 15 minutes; drain and rinse. Discard water. Repeat soaking, draining, and rinsing twice.
Black and White Pot de Crème
Bring eggs to room temperature and separate them as you use them. Milk chocolate may be substituted for white chocolate or dark chocolate layer.
• 2 cups whipping cream, divided
• 3 ounces 60- to 70-percent dark chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
• 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
• 4 egg yolks, divided
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
• 3 ounces white chocolate, chopped
• White chocolate shavings (optional)
For dark chocolate layer, in small heavy saucepan combine 1 cup cream, dark chocolate, and 3 tablespoons sugar. Cook and stir over medium heat about 5 minutes or until mixture comes to full boil and thickens. Remove from heat. In medium bowl lightly beat 2 egg yolks with fork. Gradually stir about half of the hot mixture into egg yolks. Return egg yolk mixture to saucepan. Cook and stir 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; cool slightly..
Divide dark chocolate mixture evenly among eight 2- to 3-ounce glasses or pot de crème cups. Cover; chill 2 hours or until firm.
For white chocolate layer, in another small heavy saucepan repeat directions for dark chocolate using remaining cream, the white chocolate, and remaining sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla. Spoon cooled white chocolate mixture over chilled dark chocolate mixture. Cover; chill about 4 hours or until firm. Garnish with white chocolate shavings before serving. Makes 8 servings.