Dino-Chow New Year’s Eve Nibbles

What’s the difference between everyday dino-chow and special occasion dino-chow? The size, shape, and presentation of your food. Make your favorite foods in a tiny, individual serving or roll ’em into a ball or impale ’em on a stick or cut ’em into a fun shape, and suddenly, it’s a party!

I’ve had this little hors d’oeuvre cookbook for ages, and flipping through it I realized there isn’t anything super special about the recipes – except everything is tiny and fussy.

Tiny + fussy = fun!

Dave and I have a long-standing tradition for staying home on New Year’s Eve, so I’m planning to wear an LBD – along with something sparkly and lots of eyeliner – and I’m whipping up some dino-chow that will be cut, rolled, speared, and presented in cocktail party style.

Just in case you’re celebrating at home, too, here are some of my recipes, along with ideas for how you can cocktail-ize them. The only rules: no forks, no poison. Happy 2011!

Little Meatballs
Every meatball recipe instantly becomes party food if you make the meatballs tiny – say, 1/2-inch in diameter – instead of normal sized. To preserve the spherical shape, and thus the fun, bake them instead of frying. Just make your favorite meatball recipe, roll them small, then place in a single layer on a baking sheet and throw ’em in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Line the baking sheet with parchment or foil and save yourself clean-up time! I recommend: Moroccan Meatballs (bake the meatballs and serve the sauce on the side) or Czech Meatballs. Bonus points if you spear each meatball with a frilly toothpick.

Festive Slices with Dollops
A circle topped with something creamy screams ‘APPETIZER.’ Whip up a batch of homemade mayo, and go dollop crazy. An unassuming hard-boiled egg becomes magical when sliced and topped with a touch of mayo and a sprinkle of fresh chopped chives. Or add more protein by slicing Scotch Eggs into rounds, then topping with either mayo or a tiny dollop of mustard (or both!). You can also slice cucumbers into rounds, top with a little touch of mayo, then sprinkle with a tiny amount of chopped black olives and chives. Here’s a trick to improvise a pastry bag so you can pipe the mayo onto your hors d’oeuvre: place mayo in a small plastic baggie, snip off a corner of the bag, then slowly twist the bag to squeeze the mayo out the corner in a thin stream. Pretty little dollops, no fuss!

Chicken on a Stick
Meat on a stick is an instant party! Follow the instructions for The Best Chicken You Will Ever Eat. Ever. but instead of grilling the chicken breasts whole, cut them into 1-inch cubes and grill on bamboo skewers. (Be sure to soak the skewers in water for 5 minutes before threading the meat onto them.) Serve with Moroccan Dipping Sauce or one of the other sauces below.

Finger Food
No forks = 100% fun. This Riceless, No-Soy Sushi is elegant and adds international flair to your spread. Set out tiny bowls of coconut aminos (available at Whole Foods)  or homemade substitute and wasabi for maximum yum factor.

Fancy Cocktail Staples
No self-respecting host/ess would neglect the two party standbys: nuts and olives. But don’t you deserve to make ’em fancy? Of course you do! I recommend: Marinated Olives and Spiced Nuts. (Note: The spiced nuts include a little sugar. I am OK with that if you’re not in the midst of a strict Whole30. If you are eating 100% clean, skip the sugar in the recipe. If you’re a generally clean eater not in a no-cheat phase, the sugar is a very minimal amount.)

Crispy Chips
When I was a kid, we always had a giant bowl of Ruffles on our holiday buffet table. These days, I turn to kale chips. They’re salty, crispy, and a superfood. Win!

Crudite and Dip
Raw vegetables? Boring. Crudité? French and fantastic! With creative chopping and a little imagination (check out some of these fancy platters), you can elevate vegetables to new heights of glory. Include raw, grilled, and blanched veggies in your platter to vary the textures – and garnish with fresh sprigs of parsley, olives, artichoke hearts, or hearts of palm… all of which are delicious dipped in sauces like Tahini Dressing, Sunshine Sauce, Herbed Olive Oil, Baba Ghanoush, or Chimichurri.

Need ideas for the platter?
Raw veggies: carrots, cucumbers, red and green pepper, snap peas, jicama, celery
Grilled veggies: fennel, asparagus, red peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, mushrooms
Blanched veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, green beans (how-to for blanching here)

Here are some other nibbles that require no recipe and very little time – you just need some frilly toothpicks and, perhaps, the ability to cut stuff into cubes.

  • Cut a cucumber into 1/2-inch cubes and a handful of olives in half. Thread half an olive on a toothpick, add a cucumber cube, then top with the other olive half.
  • Arrange canned sardines and/or kipper snacks on a platter in a pleasing arrangement, then garnish with red pepper strips, cucumber rounds, and artichoke hearts. Squeeze a half lemon over the whole thing and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
  • Cut grape tomatoes in half and place in a bowl. Mix with a little olive oil, a clove of crushed garlic, chopped fresh basil, salt, and pepper. Arrange on a platter with black olives and use toothpicks to spear and eat them. Remember: no forks!
  • Mix one can of tuna with some chopped green onions, 1-2 tablespoons of homemade mayo, salt, pepper, and a 1/2 teaspoon of mustard. Cut a green or red pepper into 2-inch wide wedges. Pile a tablespoon or two of the tuna salad onto the end of the pepper wedges (so one end is a handle and one end is like a scoop) and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
  • Grill your favorite high-quality sausage and let it cool. When it’s room temperature, cut it into 1/4-inch thick coins, spear the coins with a frilly toothpick, and arrange on a platter. Bonus points for adding mustard or dipping sauce. Double bonus points if you add a cube of raw apple or grilled pineapple to the skewer. (You can also do this with chicken chunks and mango; add a fresh mint leaf for zing. This is also perfect for dipping in Sunshine Sauce.)

I hope this has inspired you to ring in the new year with your favorite people and your favorite good-for-you foods. For maximum joy, be sure to listen to some appropriate music while preparing your snacks so the good vibes go into the food. Something like this, maybe…

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  • nickjunk1 says:

    Scotch eggs!! Haven't had those since I was a kid! My grandfather was from the UK, and we always had these on picnics and sometimes for other special occassions. Total YUM. Thanks for the reminder/recipe!

    Have a Happy New Year!

  • Richard says:

    I love sushi and generally love snacking on nuts; but today those kale chips are making my mouth water.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    nickjunk1 –> Let me know if you make the Scotch Eggs. I'd love to know how they compare to the 'real thing.' I've never had an authentic one.

    Richard –> The kale chips are the perfect remedy when I'm craving a salty snack. They taste great AND they're KALE. It's pretty hard to beat that.

  • Marcy says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am hosting my little niece and nephew for New Years Eve so their parents can go out and this will make it very festive, plus eliminate the possibility for food arguments in case they're in a picky mood.

  • Anonymous says:

    I love to use belgian endive for "chips" they are so yummy and peppery they go great with any dip, or you can make a rough salsa and serve it like little spoons with the salsa on top!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    That's an awesome idea! I bet an endive chip with baba ghanoush in the "spoon" end would be really good, too. Thanks for sharing that tip!

  • Sigi says:

    Great post – thanks for the ideas!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Happy New Year, Sigi! Best wishes for a kickass 2011.

  • Marcy says:

    My niece and nephew loved the tiny food. We forgot about the kale in the fridge but if we get snacky later, we can throw that in the oven.


    I meant this to be a bit of a cheat, but the only cheats on the table were the chips & hummus, which were totally neglected in face of all the other awesome food.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Marcy! That's such a great photo! Can I post it in a blog post? I'm glad your niece and nephew enjoyed it!

    HAPPY 2011! Wishing you a totally kickass year.

  • Marcy says:

    Mel, I just noticed your new comment on this post. You can post the photo if you'd like. The kids enjoyed the 'fussy' food so much. It really felt like a party and there were none of the usual food battles so it was extra great.


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