Perfection is usually impossible to attain, but a perfect New Year's Eve party is actually pretty easy to have.
First, you need a critical mass of people, so your guests can freely circulate among themselves without any one of them having to spend too much time stuck talking to the guy whose only interest is antique telephones.
If you drink, you need to have enough champagne for everyone to have a medium-sized glass of it at midnight. It doesn't even have to be good champagne. If it has bubbles, it will feel festive.
And most important, of course, you need good food, and plenty of it. New Year's Eve is not a time for popcorn and Dr Pepper (though that is what my brother and I traditionally ate to ring in the New Year when we were teens).
As it happens, I used to be locally famous for my New Year's Eve parties. People would come from far and wide — which is to say both the city and the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia — to partake in the convivial conversation, the nearly decent champagne and the better-than-average food.
We served hors d'oeuvres, but enough of them that our guests could make a full meal out of it. It was a huge spread: my world-famous carrot cake, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, slices of grilled standing rib roast, bacon-wrapped dates, black and white cookies, homemade hummus and much, much more.
We started cooking four or five days before the party, working on a schedule that depended upon how long the different items would stay fresh. By the night of the actual party we were utterly exhausted. But everyone else had a good time, and that's all that mattered, mostly.
I don't necessarily recommend working that hard on your party (then again, ours really were quite successful). But I definitely recommend making as much of your own food as you can. Your guests will appreciate the effort, the flavor and the quality.
To get you started, I made six party-friendly dishes, both savory and sweet, to help count down the new year.
To begin, I made Best-Ever Marinated Shrimp (not my name), a dish I made every year for our parties. This irresistible appetizer takes more time and effort than you would probably guess, but it is worth it. It truly is the Best-Ever Marinated Shrimp.