Are we tired of cooking yet?

Between the stay-at-home orders this year, constant daily meals with limited access to restaurant fare, and of course, fixing food for all the recent holidays, it’s hardly surprising that many of us are burning out on cooking.

Yet, with New Year’s Eve fast approaching, there’s good reason to prepare one more holiday celebration. If you’re anything like me, you’re more than ready to bid farewell to 2020, with fervent celebratory wishes for better days ahead.

Assembling a New Year’s Eve spread, especially since it’s just for our own families or pods, can be simple and relatively quick. When I’ve reached the limit of my culinary creativity, I usually fix a few favorite, tried-and-true dishes and supplement them by visiting Trader Joe’s; a gourmet grocer such as Gelson’s, Whole Foods or Bristol Farms; or the gourmet or deli section of my regular market.

This year for New Year’s homemade fare, I decided to indulge my craving for crabmeat by making Chesapeake Bay Hot Crab Dip, which I’ve “slimmed down” with lower-calorie ingredients, served with crackers or thinly sliced French bread. I’ll also roast a batch of spiced walnuts and prepare a tray of stuffed mushrooms.

The beauty of stuffed mushrooms is the dish’s versatility: You can vary the filling however you please. I’ve always preferred using a modified French duxelles mixture, made of chopped shallots or onions and mushrooms, plus a little garlic, butter, chopped parsley and seasoning. To make the filling more substantial, you can incorporate chopped ham or even sausage. Replacing the butter with olive oil renders the dish vegan.

Those three dishes on their own aren’t enough to make a meal. Since my husband and I are seafood eaters, I’ll add a plate of shrimp, which I either buy raw and boil with salt and seafood seasoning or purchase precooked from the fish counter or freezer chest. Serve them with purchased cocktail sauce — which I often enhance with extra horseradish — and lemon slices. Or try romesco sauce (sometimes available in the market among the chilled dips and sauces) or make your own.

If shrimp is not your thing, consider serving a bowl of hot meatballs along with your favorite sauce. Again, find meatballs in the freezer section.

This year, we’ve socialized via Zoom for both wine tastings and happy hours. That’s how I discovered the bounty of the hors d’oeuvres section in my local TJ’s. Some of my favorites include pork or chicken shu mai, gyoza (available filled with shrimp, chicken, pork or vegetables), plus spinach-filled spanakopita. Many stores also offer special prepared dishes just for the holiday season, fresh or frozen.

You can also assemble a tray of meats and cheeses. Prosciutto is always an appealing option, along with salamis, Parma ham and other cured meats. Arrange your cheeses either with the sliced meats or on a separate platter, depending upon the size of your spread. Choose three or four different types of cheeses. Include a hard cheese, such as a good-quality cheddar, a Toscano or Asiago; a soft cheese such as a Boursin or goat cheese, either flavored or plain; a blue cheese, such as gorgonzola, Cambozola (an excellent blend of Camembert and gorgonzola) or an English Stilton; plus a cheese with an edible rind, such as Camembert or Brie. Chunks of French baguette or other good quality bread or a basket of crackers, with a generous garnish of fresh fruit, make perfect accompaniments.

Other options include any of the many flavors of hummus or store-bought dips such as salmon, tapenade or bruschetta, accompanied by pita, French bread or crackers, along with a selection of cut vegetables.

Prosciutto also forms a delicious salty contrast to fresh vegetables or fruits when wrapped around lightly cooked but firm asparagus spears or chunks of fresh cantaloupe or honeydew melon.

For snacking, if you don’t make spiced nuts, delicious store-bought options include Marcona or guara almonds or lightly salted mixed nuts. And don’t forget to add a bowl of pitted olives, perhaps a festive mixture of green and black.

Three recommended bottles of bubbly to toast the new year: Mumm Napa and Piper Sonoma sparkling wines and Henriot Campagne.

Three recommended bottles of bubbly to toast the new year: Mumm Napa and Piper Sonoma sparkling wines and Henriot Campagne.

(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Now, what to drink? Bubbly is always appropriate for the midnight toast. We often drink sparkling wines for special occasions, or even to accompany a meal. Most wine and liquor stores and supermarkets offer plentiful choices. You don’t need to buy French Champagne to experience a good sparkler.

If you do want a true Champagne — legally made only in the Champagne region of France — expect to spend at least $40 and upward. Vintage Champagne costs considerably more. Reliable choices include Taittinger, Joseph Perrier, Louis Roederer, Bollinger, Henriot or Veuve-Clicquot.

California produces excellent sparkling wine, many from French Champagne houses’ California vineyards, with the better quality wines made using the traditional methode champagnoise technique. Best of all is the price: You can buy a good California sparkler for under $20-$25, sometimes less than $15. Our favorites include Chandon and Mumm Cuvée Napa (both of which produce appealing brut rosés that pair well with a wide range of foods), Piper-Sonoma, Roederer Estate, Domaine Carneros and Gloria Ferrer. Other excellent choices include Schramsberg, Iron Horse, Scharffenberger and J Vineyards.

For a dry bubbly to drink with food, be sure to look for the designation “brut” on the label, whatever the origin of the bubbly. “Extra Dry” in sparkling wine parlance means sweet, which is fine to accompany a dessert, but not for general drinking.

This has been a tough year for most of us. That’s ample reason to celebrate the arrival of a fresh year with a tasty but easy spread of good food and a refreshing bottle of bubbly.

Spiced Walnuts are mixed with rosemary, salt and cayenne or ground red pepper.

Spiced Walnuts are mixed with rosemary, salt and cayenne or ground red pepper.

(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Spiced Walnuts

Makes 6 to 8 servings

4 cups (about 1 pound) shelled walnuts
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 to 6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary or 3 to 4 tablespoons dried
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ to 2 teaspoons cayenne or ground red pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix olive oil, salt, rosemary and cayenne. Add walnuts and mix until coated. Adjust seasoning as needed. Spread on a baking sheet and bake 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted. Let cool before serving.

Chesapeake Bay Hot Crab Dip

This dip can easily be doubled. Amounts of ingredients for the larger (4 cups) version are in parentheses. Serve on thinly sliced French bread toasts or mild crackers.

Makes 6 (or 12) servings 2 (or 4) cups

8 (or 16) ounces light cream cheese, softened
4 (8) ounces fat-free sour cream
2 (4) tablespoons mayonnaise
½ (1) teaspoon lemon juice
1 (2) teaspoon dry mustard
2 (4) cloves garlic, finely minced
8 (16) ounces backfin crabmeat
2 (4) ounces (½ or 1 cup) grated cheddar or mixed Italian cheeses
Paprika for dusting top (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a blender, place all ingredients except the crabmeat and half the grated cheese and mix well. Place in bowl and fold in the crabmeat. Adjust seasoning. Put into a 6-by-6-inch (or 9-by-9 for the larger version) baking dish and top with remaining grated cheese. Bake 35 to 45 minutes at 325 degrees. Remove from oven and sprinkle with paprika (optional).

Stuffed Mushrooms With Duxelles, which incorporates shallots or onions and parsley, can be adapted to your own taste.

Stuffed Mushrooms With Duxelles, which incorporates shallots or onions and parsley, can be adapted to your own taste.

(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Stuffed Mushrooms With Duxelles

Break out your food processor to chop the mushrooms, shallots/onions and parsley very finely. White mushrooms provide a milder flavor, wild mushrooms a more distinctive flavor. Vary this recipe to your own taste, adding a quarter to half a cup finely chopped ham or even sausage for a meaty option. Or substitute olive oil for butter to make it vegan. You may have filling leftover. It freezes well and can be served on toast point as an appetizer.

Makes 20 hors d’oeuvres, with about 1 cup of duxelles filling

1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds mushrooms, white button or mixed with cremini or other wild mushrooms, washed and dried, 20 caps reserved
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra to oil baking pan
1 large shallot or half a small onion, very finely chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, to taste, very finely chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, very finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove stems from 20 mushroom caps. Place mushroom caps, stem side down, on a lightly oiled shallow baking pan and bake in the middle of the oven about 10 minutes, until the caps expel liquid. Remove from oven. Chop the stems and remaining mushrooms very finely. Melt butter with oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Add the shallots or onion and garlic and cook until softened, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until mushrooms have softened and released their liquid, about 7 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and cook about 3 minutes until liquid has cooked off. Mix in parsley, ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper and pinch of nutmeg. Turn mushroom caps over and fill with duxelles mixture, mounding and pressing gently. Bake in the middle of the oven until the filling is golden brown and the mushrooms tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Romesco Sauce

This sauce pairs well with boiled shrimp, white-fleshed fish, poultry or pork.
Makes about 4 servings

1/3 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted
1 slice firm white bread, crusts removed, in pieces
2 large cloves garlic
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
½ cup bottled red or mixed red and yellow roasted peppers, drained and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a food processor or blender, grind almonds, bread, garlic and pepper flakes. Add roasted peppers, vinegar and salt and process. Slowly add oil and season with black pepper.

— Adapted from

Sours Larson is a San Diego freelance writer.