Ring in the new year with a hands-on party

Cook together with close friends for an epic blast

Shrimp Shiu Mai and Chef Mike’s spring rolls. Photo by Justin Sorensen.

A recent cooking class has inspired my plans for this year’s New Year’s Eve celebration. In years past, I’ve had visions of a grandiose evening of merriment with champagne toasts, beef wellington, Bellini with crème fraîche and caviar, men in black ties and women in glittery evening dresses. Then the sexy background music in my head stops and I am left watching the ball drop over Times Square on the television with my three sons and a take-out pizza. “Epic fail” as the boys would say. All the fabulous food magazines and elegant living magazines make a glamorous New Year’s Eve party look so attainable. If Martha Stewart can do it, why can’t I?

This is when the sexy music in my head either speeds up triple time and sounds like the Chipmunks are serenading me or starts playing backwards to warn of the serial killer that is about to jump out of the shadows. I am convinced it is my brain trying to remind me that in the real world — or at least in my world — Martha Stewart isn’t an actual person and glamorous New Year’s Eve soirees don’t really exist.

Chef Mike Simpson from The Clipper Inn in Clayton has given me a whole new outlook on entertaining. Chef Simpson came to my kitchen in Sackets Harbor and taught a class on Thai cooking. It began like a standard cooking class. It quickly turned into a hands-on social event, where everyone helped create the final product — dinner. After a brief lecture, Chef Simpson divided the peeling, chopping and sautéing tasks. Then we set to work recreating the Clipper Inn’s spring rolls. It’s very common for cooking class students to bond over the culinary subject and go from total strangers to fast friends, but this was different. It was easy, stress free and fun — even for me, the hostess. We prepped, we cooked, we ate and there was laughter and camaraderie. It felt like a party.

I have yet to read an article in a food magazine that tells you, the hostess, how to create a glamorous soirée and work full time, parent the little darlings, stay on top of the laundry, feed the little darlings, look fabulous at all times, and, well, the list just goes on. It could be that Chef Simpson is on to something with his divide-and-conquer-style cooking class. It was fun — everyone was involved and it felt like a party. This year, my New Year’s Eve party is going to be a hands-on party where we create all different small bites. I will buy the ingredients and provide the recipes, but instead of doing all the preparing and cooking myself, my guests and I will do it all together. We will cook together, eat together and toast the New Year together. It may not be a celebration worthy of Bon Appetit or Martha Stewart Living but it will be a huge step up from take-out pizza. Food is love.

[For the recipe and instructions for making delicious shrimp shiu mai and Chef Mike Simpson’s spring rolls, please subscribe or purchase a copy of NNY Living at your local Big M Supermarket.]

Boo Wells is chef and owner of the Farm House Kitchen, a catering company and cooking school in Sackets Harbor. Contact her at sacketsfarm housekitchen@gmail.com or www.thefarmhousekitchen.com.