Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Stress-Free New Year's Eve Celebration for Two...Featuring Creamy Shrimp Polenta Bites

Now that Christmas is over, it's time to focus on the next celebration on the calendar: New Year's Eve! Some years we go out for a late dinner at a fancy restaurant and ring in the New Year with a big crowd of festive guests. Other years, we take a low-key approach and watch the Times Square ball drop on TV just the two of us. If you're planning to celebrate at home this year, I've got a fabulous no-stress menu for you featuring a festive bubbly cocktail, a lovely array of chocolate-based treats...and an elegant appetizer that's so simple to whip up. Who says elegant has to be complicated?!?!?

My Creamy Shrimp Polenta Bites feature two products from my friends at Frieda's Specialty Produce: Organic Basil & Garlic Polenta and Tomato Pesto. The polenta is pre-cooked and formed into rolls that you simply slice and pan saute before topping with your favorite ingredients. The flavorful pesto is made with dried tomatoes and herbs. To keep the Italian theme going, I topped each polenta round with flavored cream cheese. I purchased pre-cooked boiled shrimp, which also saved me time. The cream cheese mixture can be prepared a day ahead, which means you can whip up these appetizers in less than 30 minutes on New Year's Eve. I'll tell you all about my Ruby Sparkler cocktail and simple chocolate plate immediately following the appetizer recipe. If you're planning to go out for New Year's Eve, this menu would also be perfect for a romantic Valentine's evening as well. Just saying.

Creamy Shrimp Polenta Bites
a Weekend Gourmet Original
  • 1 tube Frieda's Organic Basil & Garlic Polenta
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tbs. chopped basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 tbs. Cajun seasoning [NOTE: I used Paul Prudhomme's Seafood Magic.]
  • 8 large boiled shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup Frieda's Tomato Pesto
Step 1: Make the cream cheese topping by combining the cream cheese, basil, garlic, tomato paste and Cajun seasoning. Stir well to thoroughly combine and refrigerate until it's time to assemble the appetizers. NOTE: This can be done up to a day ahead.
Step 2: Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over med-high heat. Slice 8 1/2 -inch slices of polenta from the tube. Add to the hot pan and cook until golden brown on both sides. This took about 5-6 minutes per side for me. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Step 3: Let the polenta rounds cool slightly. Spread with 1 tbs. of the cream cheese mixture. Top the cream cheese with a boiled shrimp and a teaspoon of the tomato pesto. Plate the bites on a pretty serving plate and serve. I opted to alternate the polenta rounds with extra boiled shrimp topped with a bit of cocktail sauce.
These appetizers are amazing...full of flavor and gorgeous too! The basil and garlic in the cream cheese works perfectly with the seasoning in the polenta, and the tomato paste works well with the tangy tomato pesto. These two-bite appetizers are the perfect combination of simplicity and elegance.

I created a simple and fun Ruby Sparkler cocktail to pair with my polenta bites. It features Mumm Cuvee M sparkling wine...because you MUST have bubbles on New Year's Eve! We first discovered Mumm sparkling wines during a visit to Napa Valley a few years ago, and they've been some of our favorites since. Cuvee M is slightly sweet and selected by Mumm as being an ideal pairing for hors d'oevres and spicy food. It has notes of strawberry and vanilla in its flavor profile. It's delicious on its own, but I wanted to create a fun drink for us to enjoy. To make my Ruby Sparkler, simply add equal amounts of pomegranate juice and well chilled Mumm Cuvee M to a wine glass. Then, float 3-4 frozen organic raspberries in each glass. That's it...simple and sweetly tart, it's a refreshing way to celebrate!
I wanted to round out my celebration menu with something sweet, but I wasn't in the mood to spend hours baking. Luckyfor me, Godiva and the local bakery came to my rescue! Godiva recently introduced a fantastic line of truffle flights. Each flight contains six truffles that center on a flavor theme, including: Ultimate Dessert Truffle Flight, Nut Lovers Truffle Flight and Cake Truffle Flight. Each flight features six flavors that progress from lighter flavors to stronger flavors and textures. I added a couple of truffles from the Ultimate Dessert and Cake flights to my dessert plate: Birthday Cake, Chocolate Lava Cake, Creme Brulee and Salted Caramel. The truffles were so flavorful and decadent! I rounded out my simple dessert plate with classic chocolate-dipped strawberries and small shortbread cookies from a local bakery...I even dipped some of them in chocolate too!
There you have it...a delicious celebration menu that tastes great, looks festive and is guaranteed to be 100% stress free! I hope you'll give my celebration menu a try for New Year's Eve...or perhaps another celebration-for-two that's on your calendar for 2014. It's sure to be a hit!!

Disclosure: Frieda's Specialty Produce, Mumm Napa and Godiva provided me with products to facilitate this article. I received no further compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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