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Party Food and Sparkling Wine for the New Year

Two terrific recipes from chef Edward Lee's new book, plus 16 recently rated sparkling wines to match

Laurie Woolever
Posted: December 20, 2013

Another year has come and gone, and it's time to gather with family and friends to ring in 2014. No matter how you celebrate New Year's Eve—an enormous house party, an intimate dinner, or something in-between—food-friendly sparkling wine is a must.

Chef Edward Lee, whose cooking at his Louisville, Kentucky restaurants 610 Magnolia and MilkWood reflects his Korean heritage, New York training and adopted Southern sensibilities, has shared two recipes from his new cookbook, Smoke & Pickles, that pair well with sparkling wine and will please a party crowd. The spice in Lee's Curry Pork Pies will be tamed by sparkling wine's acidity and residual sugar, and the bubbles and acidity will cut through the richness of the Kabocha Squash Mac 'n' Cheese, with the wine's light sweetness playing off the sweetness of the squash.

These are home recipes, tested in Lee's own kitchen and drawn from the arsenal of dishes he prepares for his own friends and family—although, like many chefs, Lee, whom TV fans may recall as a late-season contender on season 9 of Top Chef, will have his hands full with restaurant duty on December 31.

"New Year's Eve is always a late service at my restaurants," says Lee. "I will often shuttle between restaurants, making sure all is smooth and saying hello to my favorite customers. Somewhere in between all that, just before midnight, I'll sneak away and get a burger at a local greasy spoon and just sit in my car and have a quiet five minutes to myself to reflect on things. Then it's back to the festivities. We work hard on New Year's Eve, and if we have a good service, we pop open a bottle of Champagne for the kitchen."

For those feeding guests and keeping their glasses full on New Year's Eve, Lee has some suggestions to round out the table. "Oysters are a must this time of year. Raw, poached or fried, they make the mood more festive. And duck: I love serving a platter of sliced duck breasts with an assortment of condiments and Chinese pancakes and let people help themselves. In addition to sparkling wine, this is a time for rare spirits like vintage Bourbons, Armagnac, Calvados and good Jamaican rum. Also, I'm a fan of vintage colheita Ports, which is a great way to finish off the evening."

See below for a list of recently rated sparkling wines that would do well on the New Year's Eve table. Happy New Year!

Curry Pork Pies

Recipes and text excerpted from Smoke & Pickles by Edward Lee (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Grant Cornett.

"When I was a kid, there was a shop on Bayard Street in Chinatown where they used to sell tiny crescent-shaped pork pies for something like 60 cents. The bakery was in an amazing storefront that had been built in the 1960s and never changed. I would sit there with a 50-cent cup of tea and eat their buns and pies until I was stuffed, and it cost me maybe $3. I missed that place so much I created my own version of their pork pie, except I use a Southern piecrust and bake the pies in muffin tins. I make a dozen at a time, and while that may seem like a lot, believe me, these pies don't last very long. Times change; the place on Bayard Street got a makeover, and I think the pies now sell for a dollar."

For the filling:
• 1/2 cup chopped bacon
• 3/4 pound ground pork
• 3/4 cup chopped onions
• 1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
• 1/4 cup diced carrots
• 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
• 1 garlic clove, chopped
• 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
• 3/4 cup chicken stock
• 2 teaspoons curry powder
• 2 teaspoons soy sauce
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. To make the filling: Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add the bacon and cook for 3 minutes, or until the bacon is lightly crisped and some of the fat has rendered out. Add the ground pork, onions, bell pepper, carrots, ginger, and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables have started to soften and the pork is cooked through.

2. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and pork and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, curry powder, soy sauce, salt, and pepper, stir well, and cook for about 2 minutes. Has the liquid cooked off but the filling still looks moist? Good. Transfer it to a bowl and let cool in the refrigerator while you make the crust.

For the piecrust:
• 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled, plus softened butter for the muffin tin
• 4 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 2/3 cup cold vegetable shortening
• 8 to 10 tablespoons ice water
• 1 large egg
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
• 2 tablespoons whole milk

1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with a little soft butter. Keep chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2. To make the piecrust: Measure the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the shortening and butter and, using a fork or your fingers, work them into the flour until you have a granular texture (like cornmeal). If the butter starts to soften, stop and chill the mixture in the refrigerator. Add the water gradually and work it in just until the mixture clumps together to form a wet dough; don't overwork the dough. Dust with a little extra flour and divide the dough in half. Shape into 2 disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 30 minutes before rolling out.

3. Remove one disk of dough from the fridge and put it on a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 15-by-20-inch rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter or a glass jar, punch out twelve 5-inch rounds of dough, rerolling scraps if necessary. Line the prepared muffin tin with the dough rounds. Make an egg wash by whisking the egg with the oil and milk in a small bowl. Brush the inside of each crust with some of the egg wash to seal it, reserving the remaining egg wash for the top crusts.

4. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the chilled filling into each piecrust.

5. Roll out the second disk of dough on the floured surface about 1/2-inch thick. Using a slightly smaller biscuit cutter or a 3-inch ring mold, cut out 12 rounds. Drape a round over each pie and use your fingers to crimp the edges together. Brush the tops with the reserved egg wash. Use a fork to poke holes, or a sharp paring knife to cut an X, in the top of each pie.

6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the pies are puffed and golden; you should see a little bit of the juices bubbling up through the holes. This will make you hungry, so take them out of the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tins to prevent them from crumbling. Serve immediately. Makes 12 individual pies.

Make-ahead tip: If you're making these ahead of time, Lee suggests popping the pies out of the tins, letting them cool to room temperature, and transferring them to an airtight container with a lid. Chill in the fridge and, when ready to serve, heat the oven to 375° F, transfer the pies to a sheet pan, and heat in the oven until the filling is just hot, about 10 minutes.

Kabocha Squash Mac 'n' Cheese with Pork Rind Crust

"Who doesn't love mac 'n' cheese? My version is satisfyingly familiar but elegant enough that you won't have to share it with your kids. If you don't like pork rinds, you can substitute bread crumbs for the topping. But if you have any sense of what is good in this world, you'll never reach for bread crumbs to make a crunchy topping again."

• 1 small kabocha squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 12 ounces elbow macaroni
• 1 1/2 cups whole milk
• 1 cup chicken stock
• 3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
• 3 ounces Colby cheese, grated
• 3 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
• 5 tablespoons crushed pork rinds (see note)
• 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 4-inch-deep 9-by-12-inch baking dish or casserole.

2. Peel and halve the squash. Scrape out the seeds and membranes and cut into rough 1-inch cubes. Place them on a baking sheet, toss with the olive oil, and season with a little salt and pepper. Spread them out on the baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is fork-tender.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the elbow macaroni and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked but still with a slight resistance to it. Drain the macaroni in a colander and cool under cold running water. Set aside.

4. Transfer the cooked squash to a blender, add the milk, chicken stock, three cheeses, and the butter, and blend on high to a smooth puree. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 3/4 teaspoon pepper, and the nutmeg and pulse to mix. Transfer the squash puree to a bowl, add the elbow macaroni, and mix thoroughly.

5. Transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the pork rinds and sesame seeds over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

6. Remove the foil, and continue baking until the mac 'n' cheese is lightly browned and crisp on top, another 25 to 30 minutes. Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish.

Make-ahead tip: Let the mac 'n' cheese cool to room temperature. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill. When ready to serve, heat the oven to 375° F, take out of fridge, remove the plastic and heat until hot and bubbly.

RECOMMENDED SPARKLING WINES

Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More wines can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.

DOMAINE CARNEROS Brut Carneros 2009 Score: 93 | $28
A gorgeous sparkler, showing effortless balance, with floral lemon and brioche aromas that lead to elegant but complex flavors of creamy raspberry, vanilla and spicy almond. Drink now through 2014. 45,000 cases made. —T.F.

ROEDERER ESTATE Brut Rosé Anderson Valley NV Score: 92 | $28
Sleek and rich, with floral strawberry and sugar cookie aromas and elegant, layered citrus, tart cherry and mineral flavors that linger toward the vibrant, lightly spicy finish. Drink now through 2015. 5,200 cases made. —T.F.

GLORIA FERRER Brut Carneros Royal Cuvée Vintage Reserve 2005 Score: 91 | $32
A bubbly with broad shoulders and a crisp, minerally backbone. The aromas balance apple and citrus notes with accents of fresh ginger and rubber. The structure suggests that the flavors will blossom with food. Drink now through 2015. 4,900 cases made. —T.F.

SCHRAMSBERG Brut Blanc de Blancs North Coast 2010 Score: 91 | $38
Enticing aromas of Asian pear and spiced cinnamon lead to rich, layered flavors of lemon curd, mineral and fresh almond. Drink now through 2014. 25,331 cases made. —T.F.

ARGYLE Brut Willamette Valley Vintage 2010 Score: 90 | $27
Light, crisp and expressive, with a prickly fizz underscoring the lively pear and citrus flavors, finishing long, with a light toasty note. Drink now. 18,043 cases made. —H.S.

J Cuvée 20 Russian River Valley NV Score: 90 | $28
Crisp and lively, with green apple, cream and fennel aromas and vibrant tropical fruit. The lemon and spice flavors finish on a clean mineral note. Drink now. 30,000 cases made. —T.F.

MONTHUYS Brut Champagne Réserve NV Score: 90 | $29
A streak of smoky mineral drives this sleek version, offering lively acidity and flavors of poached apple, whole-grain toast and black currant, with hints of toasted almond and lemon zest. Drink now through 2018. 20,000 cases made. —A.N.

SCHARFFENBERGER Brut Mendocino County Excellence NV Score: 90 | $20
A delightfully racy sparkler, with tart apple and floral anise aromas leading to zesty lime and lemon flavors, presenting accents of cinnamon and spicy ginger. Drink now. 25,000 cases made. —T.F.

CAVE DES PRODUCTEURS DE VOUVRAY Brut Vouvray De Chanceny Excellence 2011 Score: 89 | $20
A racy style, with ginger and cardamom notes leading the way to bracing flavors of white peach, pear skin and green almond. Delivers a fresh, minerally finish. Drink now. 20,000 cases made. —J.M.

ALFREDO BERTOLANI Reggiano Lambrusco Rosé Delicato e Fresco 2012 Score: 88 | $15
Vibrant and well-knit, offering an appealing mix of ripe and candied strawberry, red licorice, ground clove and aromatic rose petal flavors, with tea leaf notes. Drink now through 2015. 60,000 cases made. —A.N.

DESIDERIO BISOL & FIGLI Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Crede 2011 Score: 88 | $25
Featuring a note of roasted nut, this smoky, tightly knit version is refined in texture and mouthwatering, offering yellow apple, kumquat and lemon wax flavors, with a hint of toasted almond on the finish. Drink now through 2018. 250,000 cases made. —A.N.

NINO FRANCO Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore NV Score: 88 | $18
This elegant version boasts a fine mousse, with a firm backbone of acidity framing the flavors of fresh-cut quince, crunchy white peach, ground ginger and chamomile. Mineral-tinged finish. Drink now through 2016. 25,000 cases made. —A.N.

MUMM NAPA Brut Napa Valley Prestige NV Score: 88 | $22
Unabashedly California in style, with appealing flavors of raspberry and tropical fruit, showing notes of spicy cinnamon and cream. Drink now. 150,000 cases made. —T.F.

DE CHANCENY Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire NV Score: 87 | $18
Soft and open, with light strawberry and white cherry notes accented by a floral hint on the finish. Drink now. 25,000 cases made. —J.M.

KORBEL Brut California NV Score: 87 | $14
Lively and appealing, offering citrus and raspberry fruit, with spice and cinnamon accents. Drink now. 850,000 cases made. —T.F.

JAUME SERRA Brut Rosé Cava Cristalino NV Score: 87 | $10
A vinous version, showing an array of ground spices, with well-meshed flavors of sun-dried cherry, macerated plum, toasted almond and subtle balsamico. Lively, with a creamy bead. Drink now. 150,000 cases made. —A.N.

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