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New Year's Eve Crowd-Beater Dinner

If you don't feel like battling big crowds on New Year's Eve or paying big bucks to dine out, why not entertain at home?

Invite some friends over for a sophisticated, tasty, easy-to-prepare meal or, if you're not up for throwing a dinner party, consider an intimate dinner for two!

On The Early Show Wednesday, cookbook author and cooking teacher Tori Ritchie suggested a crowd-pleasing menu to usher in the New Year with a fun meal you can enjoy in the comfort of your home.

Ritchie was in the flagship store in Manhattan of specialty home furnishings retailer and Early Show partner Williams-Sonoma.

The menu is one of Ritchie's personal favorites -- something she really does like to prepare and serve on New Year's Eve to her friends and family. She says it's suitable for a large crowd or a romantic meal for two.

The main event it crabs. The type of crab you use depends on where you live, but even if you're far from the sea, fresh crab is really special on New Year's Eve. On the West Coast, Ritchie likes feast on Dungeness, but stone or blue crabs work, too. Be sure to order fresh, crabs in advance from your fish monger. If you want, they will cook, clean and crack them for you. She serves her crabs with her own, freshly-made mayo. You can use a bottled one, but it's simple to prepare yourself. You can serve the crab cold or re-warmed over a steamer. Ritchie likes to serve these family-style on a big platter, along with all the tools.

Another key: artichokes, which are just coming into season now and can be prepared easily in a sauté pan.

The dessert is lemon tart. Ritchie loves it because the lemon flavor is a great way to end a seafood meal. This tart can be prepared the night before. You need it to chill, so it sets.

RECIPES

Ritchie's Favorite New Year's Eve Dinner:

Cracked Crab with Horseradish Mayonnaise
Pan-Roasted Artichokes with Garlic and Lemon
Lemon Curd Tart

Cracked Crab with Horseradish Mayonnaise

Cracked crab makes a simple, yet elegant main course for a celebratory meal. Blue or stone crabs can be used if Dungeness are unavailable; adjust the cooking time accordingly. If time is short, purchase freshly-cooked crabs and ask your fish monger to do the cleaning and cracking.

For the horseradish mayonnaise:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable, corn or safflower oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
3 Tbs. prepared horseradish
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. warm water

For the crabs:
4 quarts water
1 Tbs. salt
3 live Dungeness crabs, each 2 to 2-1/2 lb.

To make the horseradish mayonnaise, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, mustard and 1 Tbs. of the olive oil until an emulsion forms. Combine the remaining olive oil and the vegetable oil in a cup with a spout. Drop by drop at first and whisking constantly, gradually add the oil mixture to the emulsion. Stir in the garlic, the 1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice and the horseradish. Season with salt and pepper and add more lemon juice, if needed. Whisking constantly, add the warm water to thin the mayonnaise slightly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To prepare the crabs, in a large pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, add the salt and the crabs, immersing them completely. Boil until the crabs are cooked and the shells are red, about 12 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the crabs to a plate and let cool slightly.

Working with 1 crab at a time, place the crab on its back. Pull off the small triangular apron-shaped shell flap and discard. Turn the crab over and lift up and snap off the large top shell and discard. Remove the dark gray intestines and the feather-shaped white spongy gills from the body and discard. Rinse the body well. Using a large, heavy knife, cut the body in half from the head to the tail. Cut each half crosswise into thirds. Using a lobster cracker or a mallet, crack the claws and legs. If the crabs have cooled, warm them on a steamer rack over boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes.

To serve, arrange the crabs on a platter and serve with small forks or lobster picks for extracting the meat. Offer the horseradish mayonnaise on the side.

Serves 6.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Winter," by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997)

For recipes for Pan-Roasted Artichokes with Garlic and Lemon, as well as Lemon Curd Tart, go to Page 2.

Pan-Roasted Artichokes with Garlic and Lemon

A seasonal favorite, these garlic and citrus-spiked artichokes are delicious as an appetizer served with country-style bread and shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

3 lemons, quartered
4 large artichokes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 to 6 peeled garlic cloves, crushed

Fill a large bowl with water. Squeeze the juice from the quarters of 1 lemon into the bowl.

Working with 1 artichoke at a time, remove the tough outer leaves to expose the light yellow core. Peel the stem end of the artichoke, keeping about 1 inch of the stem intact and exposing the pale, tender core. Trim 1 inch off the top of the artichoke and cut the artichoke in half lengthwise through the center. Using the tip of a spoon, scoop out the furry choke. Add the cleaned artichoke halves to the lemon water. Keep the artichokes in the water until ready to cook; they may be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Just before cooking, spread the artichokes on paper towels, sliced side down, to drain and pat dry.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until nearly smoking. Sprinkle the pan generously with salt and pepper. Carefully place the artichokes, sliced side down, in the pan, making sure they lie flat. Season with salt and pepper and slip the garlic into the spaces between the artichokes. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the artichokes from sticking, until they are evenly browned underneath, 6 to 10 minutes. Using tongs, lift 1 or 2 artichokes up to check for doneness.

Add the quarters of 1 lemon to the pan, place a piece of foil over the pan and cover with a lid. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat and keep covered. Let the artichokes cool to room temperature, 30 to 45 minutes.

Transfer the artichokes to a serving platter. Squeeze the juice from the cooked lemon wedges into the pan and whisk to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the pan bottom. Pour the juice over the artichokes, garnish with the remaining lemon quarters and serve.

Serves 4.

Williams-Sonoma Kitchen

Lemon Curd Tart

Acidic ingredients, such as citrus juice, tomatoes, vinegar, wine, and many vegetables, will react with certain metals, including aluminum or cast iron. Although the reaction is harmless, it may turn a mixture gray or leave behind a metallic aftertaste. The same reaction occurs when eggs are cooked in aluminum or cast-iron pans. Therefore, recipes that include these ingredients, such as lemon curd and pastry cream, call for the use of non-aluminum pans. Stainless-steel and enamel-lined pans are excellent choices.

1 rolled-out round of basic tart dough
3 whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained (about 6 large lemons)
2 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
Sweetened whipped cream for piping

Fold the dough round in half and carefully transfer to a 9 1/2-inch tart pan, preferably with a removable bottom. Unfold and ease the round into the pan, without stretching it, and pat it firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim off any excess dough by gently running a rolling pin across the top of the pan. Press the dough into the sides to extend it slightly above the rim to offset any shrinkage during baking. Refrigerate or freeze the tart shell until firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 375°F.

Line the pastry shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or raw short-grain rice. Bake for 20 minutes, then lift an edge of the foil. If the dough looks wet, continue to bake, checking every 5 minutes, until the dough is pale gold, for a total baking time of 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the weights and foil. Continue to bake until the shell is golden, 7 to 10 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

In a non-aluminum saucepan over medium heat, combine the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and butter. Cook slowly, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, until the butter melts and the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spatula and leaves a clear trail when a finger is drawn through it, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a coarse-mesh sieve placed over a bowl.

Spread the curd evenly in the fully baked tart shell and refrigerate until chilled, 2 to 3 hours. Using a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip, pipe whipped cream around the edge of the tart. If using a tart pan with a removable bottom, let the sides fall away, then slide the tart onto a serving plate. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving, to take the chill off. Makes one 9 1/2-inch tart.

Serves 8.

Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Pie & Tart," by Carolyn Beth Weil (Simon & Schuster, 2003) (Simon & Schuster is part of CBS, as is CBSNews.com.