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An Intimate New Year's Feast for Four

December 24, 2009 By:
Linda Morel, JE Feature
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 On New Year's Eve, I don't enjoy chic parties or fancy restaurants, although for decades I wouldn't admit to it. At parties, most people try too hard to have fun. Restaurants are overcrowded, and tend to charge twice as much that one evening for the same food and drinks they serve during the rest of the year.

For that reason, my husband David and I spend New Year's Eve with one special couple. But because Dec. 31 must end with a crescendo at midnight, the evening can feel awfully long, if eating is the only thing on the agenda. Therefore, we first attend a concert or play, an opera or even just a movie.

Afterward, we take turns hosting a late supper. This year is our turn to throw an elegant dinner for four. Because 10:30 p.m. is not an ideal hour to start making a meal from scratch, I select recipes that can be prepped ahead of time.

As soon as we arrive home, David opens a bottle of champagne, while I put out tidbits like olives and cashews. I don't go overboard with hors d'oeuvres because soon we'll be eating dinner.

At the table, I start with an appetizer of cerviche -- diced fish mixed with tomatoes and peppers that have been marinating in lime juice for 24 hours. To be festive, I present this colorful medley in martini glasses. It is followed by roasted salmon fillets, sautéed escarole and scalloped potatoes.

For dessert, I treat everyone to a decadent pastry. Loaded with whipped cream, butter and eggs, Malakoff torte was invented long before anyone heard about cholesterol. My mother-in-law brought this recipe with her in 1939 when she emigrated from Vienna, the pastry capital of the world. Although these tortes traditionally call for rum or maraschino liqueur, I prefer using amaretto.

After the meal, we turn on the television and watch the ball drop in Times Square before sneaking back to the table for one last taste of dessert and another sip of champagne.

Red-Snapper Ceviche

(Pareve)

1 lb. red-snapper filets (skinned and bones)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsps. yellow pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
kosher salt to taste
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper (or to taste)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice, about 2 limes
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. cilantro or fresh parsley, chopped (garnish)

Freeze the red snapper for two days to kill all organisms. Defrost 24 hours before serving it. Rinse defrosted snapper under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Dice the snapper the same size as the cherry tomatoes. Place in a non-metallic medium-sized bowl.

To the bowl, add the remaining ingredients, except the cilantro or parsley.

Gently mix ingredients together until well-blended.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours, stirring a few times to evenly coat ingredients.

Present ceviche in a crystal bowl or in martini glasses, garnished with chopped cilantro or parsley.

Serves 4 (as an appetizer).

Soy-Roasted Salmon Fillets

(Pareve)

4 salmon fillets (6 oz.), 1-inch thick and skinned
2 tsps. soy sauce
2 tsps. dark-brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsps. orange liqueur
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine
oil for greasing pan

Arrange fillets in a shallow dish.

Whisk together the remaining ingredients (except oil) in a small bowl.

Pour the soy mixture over fillets. Marinate fillets for 15 minutes, turning over after 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450°.

Coat a small roasting with oil.

Place the marinated fillets in pan, skinned-side down. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until fillets are browning on top and cooked through. To serve, turn over fillets, presenting the skinned-side up.

Serves 4.

Sautéed Escarole

(Pareve)

1 head of escarole
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 Tbsps. olive oil
kosher salt to taste

Tear off coarse white ends of escarole leaves and discard. Rinse leaves under cold water and shake off. Place between layers of paper towels. To prepare to this point one day in advance, move escarole in paper towels to a large plastic bag and refrigerate. Place the minced garlic in a small zippered bag and refrigerate.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on a medium flame. Add garlic and escarole leaves. Sprinkle with salt.

Stir escarole constantly until wilted, about 3 minutes.

Serves 4.

Malakoff Torte

(Dairy)

31/2 pint containers of heavy cream
11/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 Tbsps.) at room temperature
4 egg yolks at room temperature
7/8 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp.
1/4 tsp. vanilla, plus 2 drops
11/4 cups blanched almonds, finely chopped
2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup Amaretto
3 packages (7.5 oz.) of hard lady fingers (used in Tiramisu, they can be purchased at gourmet food stores and some supermarkets)

In a small pot, bring one container of cream to a slow boil. Remove from flame, cover pot and cool to room temperature. If a skin forms on top, lift it with a fork and discard.

In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat together the butter, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and almonds.

Add the cooled cream and lightly beat, until just combined. Mixture will be a yellow custard. Reserve.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the milk and amaretto. Two at a time, submerge lady fingers in milk mixture for several seconds. Lift them and let excess milk drain back into the bowl. They should be slightly soft, not soggy.

In a large-sized bowl -- preferably with a somewhat flat bottom -- line up lady fingers with no space between them. Break some, if necessary, to entirely cover the bottom of the bowl with them.

Cover the lady fingers with a layer of custard. Repeat this two more times, creating three layers of lady fingers topped with custard. Then end with a final layer of soaked lady fingers. Layers should not reach the top of the bowl.

Cover the top layer with waxed paper.

On the waxed paper, rest a small plate nearly the size of the bowl's circumference. Over the plate, place two to three cans of soda -- or something of equal weight. This forces the lady fingers to absorb the custard. Refrigerate for 48 hours.

When ready to serve, place remaining two containers of cream in a large mixing bowl with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 2 drops of vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer until firm peaks form. Stop the mixer every 1 to 2 minutes, lift the beaters, and check for firm peaks. Do not overbeat, or you'll turn the cream to butter.

Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Slide a table knife around the edges of the bowl to loosen the torte. Place a serving plate larger than the bowl's circumference over the bowl. Turn bowl upside-down onto the plate; tap the bottom.

The torte should release, sliding onto the plate. It will be dome-shaped, but very soft. If some of it sticks to the bowl, scrape it off with a spatula and smooth it onto the dome.

With a clean spatula, frost torte with the whipped cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

Serves 6.

Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. E-mail her at: [email protected].

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