The New Year

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Go gourmet for your New Year’s soirée

New Year's celebrations wouldn't be the same without food and, of course, drinks. But while you may already have the champagne on ice for when the clock strikes 12, you may not already have plans in place with regard to feeding your guests as you ring in a new year.

If you really want to send the year out in flavorful style, consider the following recipe for "Cocktail Dates" from Bob Blumer's "Surreal Gourmet Bites: Showstoppers and Conversation Starters" (Chronicle Books).

Cocktail Dates

Yields 12 bites

12    large dried Medjool dates

1    4-ounce chunk Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6    slices bacon, cut in half widthwise

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Insert a bamboo skewer or a similar facsimile in the bottom of the date until the pointy tip rests on the bottom of the pit. Push the pit out of the stem side. Reserve dates.

Using your sharpest knife, cut Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into 1⁄4-inch slices. Cut those slices into 1⁄4-x-1-inch pieces (the resulting 1-inch pieces should be approximately the same diameter as a pencil). Cut the tip of each piece at a 45-degree angle.

Leading with the pointy end, stuff a stick of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese into the pit hole of each date.

Wrap each date with a slice of bacon. Set dates on a baking sheet, seam-sides down, and skewer each with a toothpick to hold bacon in place.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until bacon is crispy. Caution: These cocktail dates are like molten lava when they come out of the oven. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Note: Mejdool dates or any other dried date can usually be found in Mediterranean stores or specialty food stores.

Note: Dates can be stuffed and wrapped up to 24 hours in advance.