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Quick bites for a last-minute New Year’s Eve party

By J.M. Hirsch

AP Food Editor

It probably was a moment of weakness. You offered to host a New Year’s Eve gathering, but — as usual — you lack the time and energy to pull together anything company-worthy.

Got you covered. All it really takes is a couple of items that show a little love combined with some purchased goodies and you’re set. It’s easy to get stressed over food and drink at the holidays, but it’s good to remember that most people set the bar pretty low and a little — very little — effort can go a long way.

Here’s my formula:

Head to the grocer and hit up the olive bar. Get yourself a selection of marinated olives, some mixed, some straight up. Also grab some marinated peppers (Peppadews are awesome), maybe some marinated mushrooms, too. Next, meander over to the deli counter and grab some prosciutto, some roast beef and perhaps a hard salami.

Over in produce, you want a bag or so of tiny red potatoes and a few thin, red chili peppers. Down the condiment aisle, you want to snag some fancy mustard, a good mayonnaise and hot sauce. Go with whatever inspires you. At the bakery, pick up a baguette or two and a loaf of rustic sourdough.

At the cheese counter, you want a couple aged cheeses, maybe a gouda and a Parmesan. Also get a couple 4-ounce logs of chevre (soft goat cheese).

For drinks, keep it simple. Pick up a few bottles of bubbles (kind of mandatory given the event), a couple bottles of red wine and a bit of craft beer. It’s a combination that should keep everyone happy. If you feel the need to offer a cocktail, pick something that can be assembled ahead of time by the pitcher (you can do lots worse than a blend of bourbon and apple cider topped with prosecco).

Now, assembly time. Slice the bread and put that in baskets or on platters. Each of the olives and marinated goodies should get its own bowl with toothpicks or serving spoons. The meat can be rolled like cigars and arranged on a platter. Spoon a little of the mustard over each roast beef roll.

Toss the potatoes in a bit of olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper, then roast them at 350 F until tender, about 30 minutes. If you feel inspired, toss some fresh rosemary on them, too. Serve the potatoes (cooled) with a dipping sauce made by spiking the mayonnaise with a bit of hot sauce.

Finally, the cheese platter. Set out the hard cheeses (be sure to break them up a bit with a knife, otherwise guests will hesitate to be the first one to dig in). The goat cheese? That’s where we get a little fancy.

A day or so before your event, you’ll marinate the goat cheese in olive oil and a few other delicious things. This will take about 5 minutes. When ready to serve, let the goat cheese warm to room temperature for about 30 minutes, then remove from the oil and set on a serving plate. The result? A full and impressive New Year’s Eve feast with almost no effort.

Rosemary-Chili Marinated Goat Cheese

Canning jars are ideal for marinated the goat cheese, but any container large enough and with a tight-fitting lid will work. Also, be sure to save the oil you marinated the cheese in. It’s great for dipping bread, sauteing vegetables or tossing with warm pasta.

Start to finish: 2 days (5 minutes active)

Servings: 8

1/4 cup honey

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic

2 thin, red chili peppers

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Two 4-ounce logs chevre (soft goat cheese)

1/4 cup crushed pistachios

In a small, microwave-safe bowl, combine the honey, olive oil and garlic. Use a paring knife to cut a slit down the length of each chili pepper, then add those, the rosemary, salt and pepper to the oil and honey. Microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds, or until just warm. Stir well. The honey will not mix with the oil, but it will become much smoother and easier to stir.

Place the cheese in one or two airtight containers with tight-fitting lids. The containers should be just large enough to hold the cheese and some liquid. Pour the honey-oil mixture over the cheese, dividing it evenly if using 2 containers. The liquid should cover the cheese. Insert a garlic clove, chili pepper and rosemary sprig (trimmed to fit) into each container. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours.

To serve, drain the cheese and arrange the marinated logs on a serving plate. Sprinkle each log with some of the pistachios. Serve with bread or crackers.

J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM—Hirsch . Email him at jhirsch@ap.org

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