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This New Year’s Eve, think small (plates)

The Champagne bottles are in the fridge, the noisemakers are at the ready and the confetti is just waiting to be tossed. But what to serve, food-wise, to New Year's Eve guests as the clock ticks toward midnight?

According to some of Canada's top entertaining experts, small plates of tapas-style fare and bite-sized mealsin– a-mouthful are the hottest options this season, replacing the spinach dip and canapés of yore. If such food sounds too substantial for a cocktail party, remember that it's important to counteract all the alcohol being consumed with a rib-sticking supply of edibles. In any case, the best recipes only seem complicated, the experts say, adding that any party fare should be easy to make and to consume.

Portability is key, says Elana Kochman, director of special events at Toben Food by Design in Toronto.

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Her very festive case in point: Crispy Panko Turkey Lollipops with Port– Orange-Cranberry Relish, "a neat spin" on the traditional holiday bird and the perfect finger food.

Another hearty and healthy take on turkey: croquettes featuring roasted herb-rubbed breast meat and mini Yukon Gold potatoes with chive.

Popular among Kochman's catering clients, they're served with a red-wine gravy and port-cranberry relish on small five-inch-square side plates and passed around to guests about halfway through a party.

"Passing around these slightly more substantial items helps convey to guests that this is, in fact, dinner," says Kochman. "It also adds to the sociability of the occasion. People might not be sitting down next to each other, but they are still eating together."

Of course, no meal is complete without dessert, which also comes in big-tasting small packages this year. As part of its holiday lineup, Indigo Books & Music released a new line of cupcake mixes developed by the company's gourmet-category manager and buyer, Kathleen Holian, who previously worked on culinary product development for Martha Stewart in New York.

The cupcakes, featuring traditional flavours such as Gingerbread with Lemon Glaze, are meant to invoke warm seasonal memories at the same time as being quick and easy to make.

"In my house," Holian says, "the holidays are not the time for molecular gastronomy and precious entertaining.

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The holidays are a time for comfort, nostalgia and delicious, soul-warming food, for remembering the old and celebrating the new."

To that end, "these cupcakes are familiar but elevated, reminiscent of a simpler time while celebrating our more modern one."

To wash down all that circulating food (both sweet and savoury), the savviest hosts offer a range of beverage options, including seasonal cocktails boasting new hues and flavours.

One elegant way to jazz up tipples is with fresh herbs. For example, the Crisp Winter Cocktail, a Kochman concoction, includes sprigs of fresh rosemary. Tarragon and mint also work well with a variety of spirits.

After enjoying a couple of bracing new cocktails, however, guests may regard Champagne as old hat, but serve some at midnight anyway.

After all, New Year's Eve is, as Holian suggests, about celebrating the old as well as the new.

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About the Author

Deirdre Kelly is a features writer for The Globe and Mail. She is the author of the best-selling Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection (Greystone Books). More

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