T’is the season for getting together with friends and family and those gatherings inevitably involve food! There’s no doubt that food = community but with today’s busy lifestyles, it’s more important than ever to make sure we stop and gather around a table and share a meal with family and/ or friends – and not just for special occasions! For many people though, hosting a get-together (even a casual one) might be a little stressful – when do I send the invites, how much food should I prepare, how many beverages should I have available, should I play music – if so, what kind, how can I decorate the house if I am not super crafty etc.. Personally, for me, making the food for a large gathering is the easy part – it’s all the other pieces that go along with entertaining that stress me out a little. Yet modern entertaining is less and less about fancy dinner parties and more about the act of getting together with the people we care about to have a good time (and enjoying some good food along the way). So there’s really no reason to stress, right?
Well maybe a little but here’s where Jan Scott and Julie Van Rosendaal’s new book, Gatherings, comes into play. Full disclosure here – both Jan and Julie are friends of mine but all my opinions on this book are 100% my own. Gatherings provides not just recipes for your get-togethers but also serving, decor and presentation suggestions to reassure even the most novice host worried that despite their skill level or the size of their kitchen, they will be able to host an amazing gathering. It’s a book to turn to before planning any gathering – large or small – to ensure a successful event. For the inexperienced host(ess), Gatherings makes get-together planning easy and approachable and for those with a little more experience, it offers new ideas to help make your parties succeed on a grand scale!
It’s a book you will want to read as well as cook from – there are a lot of stories intertwined with the recipes and entertaining tips – it’s thoroughly enjoyable to read yet it offers practical, real-life advice for planning get together. For someone who has a handle on the food part of a get-together but not so much on all the other bits and pieces that go hand in hand with entertaining (that would be me!), it’s an invaluable resource. So, what did I learn?
Top entertaining tips from “Gatherings”
1. A DIY anything bar (tacos, burgers, salad bar, sundaes etc..) is a great way to get guests interacting with each other and it caters to picky eaters or those with dietary restrictions.
2. Don’t try to offer a full bar. Instead, offer a few wine and beer choices and perhaps one specialty cocktail or holiday-inspired drink. Who has the room (or $$) to offer infinite drinks options?!
3. It’s better to serve large amounts of a few items than smaller amounts of a lot of different things (in every sense – planning, shopping, cooking and serving).
4. When the first guests arrive, they should feel like the party is already in full swing – have music playing, make sure your house smells delicious, greet them at the door with a drink in your hand (and get them one quickly afterwards!).
5. It’s perfectly acceptable to use mismatched dishes and serving items (yes!) – they can add charm to any table setting so don’t stress out if you don’t have everything matching!
(see what I mean? Sensible, do-able advice. Love these ladies!)
I’ve written a full review of the book over on Recipe Geek so pop on over to check that out (and enter to win a copy!) and as an added bonus, I’m beyond excited to announce that this week, a group of Canadian bloggers have joined forces to write about Gatherings for your reading enjoyment!
#GatheringsBook – the blog tour!
Check out all the #GatheringsBook bloggers who will be writing about the book through the week (I’ll be updating this during the week with live links to everyone’s posts!):
Mardi from eat. live. travel. write. Top tips on entertaining from Gatherings.
Mairlyn Smith chose Gatherings as one of her top new Canadian cookbook picks.
Charmian from The Messy Baker is writing about the Pecan Bourbon Blondies.
Isabelle from Crumb Blog made Nenshi Pie
Jenny from The Brunette Baker made pear and cardamom cream cheese tart
Stephanie from Clockwork Lemon made sweet and spicy mixed nuts
Valerie from A Canadian Foodie made “man candy” (bacon wrapped dates!)
Britt from My Daily Randomness made pulled pork with real baked beans
Robyn from Planet Byn made peanut butter honey granola
Libby from Libby Roach Photography made braised beef short ribs and Yorkshire pudding
Meg from Sweet Twist of Blogging made peanut butter balls
Louisa from Living Lou made prosciutto-wrapped prawns
Liliana from My Cookbook Addiction made simple French onion soup
Rhonda from Olive and Ruby made sticky cocktail meatballs
Jenn from Chocolate Shavings made roasted brussels sprouts with a grainy mustard sauce
Christina from Strawberries for Supper made “the best chicken fingers ever” 🙂
In the meantime, since we all need a “go to” beverage for the holidays, how about a spiced mulled wine? I served this at my holiday party yesterday and it was the best mulled wine we’ve made in recent years!
Spiced mulled wine or cider
This is my friend Shannon’s famous mulled wine. She recommends using a dry red wine over a fruity variety, and feels the flavours really pop when some of the wine is reduced to a syrupy consistency, a tip she learned from Jamie Oliver. Feel free to replace the wine with apple cider for a non-alcoholic version of the same drink.
- 1 navel orange
- one 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece lemon peel (for mulled wine only)
- one 1-inch (2.5 cm) piece lime peel (for mulled wine only)
- 6–8 whole cloves
- 3–4 small (or 2 large broken) cinnamon sticks
- 3 fresh bay leaves
- 1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- 2–3 whole star anise
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1 cup (250 mL) sugar (1 1/2 cups [375 mL] if using 3 bottles of wine)
- two or three 25 oz (750 mL) bottles red wine
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) orange-flavoured liqueur or even brandy (for mulled wine only)
- cinnamon sticks and orange slices, for garnish
- Peel and juice the orange.
- In a large pot, combine the citrus peels, the juice of the orange, all of the spices and the sugar.
- Set the mixture over medium heat and give it a few stirs, lightly toasting the ingredients to release some of the flavours.
- Add 1 cup (250 mL) of wine and stir continuously until the sugar is dissolved; add a little more wine, if needed.
- Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil, letting it bubble for 5 minutes, or until it becomes thick and syrupy.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the rest of the wine.
- Stir and heat until warmed through. Add the liqueur, if using, and mix well.
- Turn off the heat and strain into glass tumblers.
- Serve with a cinnamon stick and orange slice.
- Party Pointer Both variations of this recipe can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. Gently rewarm just before serving.
Disclosure: Jan and Julie are my friends. I received a copy of Gatherings from Whitecap for review purposes. I have not received compensation for writing about it or organising the “blog tour”. I love the book, am proud of my friends and think everyone should own a copy. All opinions 100% my own!
Canadians – win a Lampe Berger prize pack valued at $200! Closes December 9th 2014 6pm EST. Details here.