T’is the season for holiday entertaining, right? Here are four books you might like to pick up for the entertainer on your holiday list – or hey, just for yourself to help you through the season!
Apéritif, Cocktail Hour the French Way
Paris-based writer Rebekah Peppler has written one of my favourite books of the year. If you follow my travels that take me to France pretty often, you’ll know I LOVE l’heure de l’apéro more than anything. It’s something that doesn’t quite exist in North America; it’s certainly nothing like a Happy Hour or even a party with passed hors d’oeuvres – it’s actually part of the way of life and it’s something to embrace whole-heartedly if you get the chance!
From the publisher:
“For the French, the fleeting interlude between a long workday and the evening meal to come is not meant to be hectic or crazed. Instead, that time is a much needed chance to pause, take a breath, and reset with light drinks and snacks. Whether it’s a quick affair before dashing out the door to your favorite Parisian bistro or a lead-up to a more lavish party, Apéritif is about kicking off the night, rousing the appetite, and doing so with the carefree spirit of connection and conviviality. Apéritif celebrates that easygoing lifestyle with simple yet stylish recipes for both classic and modern French apéritif-style cocktails, along with French-inspired bites and hors d’oeuvres.”
The book includes a primer on some of the apéritifs (bitter liqueurs, fortified wines and low alcohol spirits like Vermouth, Suze, Lillet, Dubonnet, Byrrh, Picon, Sherry, Pineau de Charente, Pastis, Campari, Apérol and St Germain) which outlines a description of the drink, its history and how to drink it. This is SUCH a fascinating section, you might be hard pressed to move on and it means the book will have a place on your coffee table forever (as well as in your kitchen and bar) because it’s the kind of book you’ll pick up again and again and learn something new each time! Peppler suggests each time you use the book to make a cocktail, flipping to the history section to read about it. You’ll be the most interesting drinks mixer your friends know!
There’s also a section about setting up your kitchen or bar with the right equipment (it’s pretty basic so don’t worry – you won’t need anything outrageously expensive or hard to find), followed by the recipes. Organised into five chapters (Warm, Hot, Cold, Cool – not the temperature of the drinks you are enjoying, rather the atmosphere they are to be enjoyed in! – and Apéritif Shots), the book offers suggestions for what to eat and drink at apéro hour that are year-round appropriate. Her drink recipes (apart from the shots) are for one serve (reminding us that “having an apéritif alone isn’t sad or bad” but also making it easy to batch up for a few people) which I think is mighty civilised (much like l’heure de l’apéro itself).
The recipes for the small bites are all about ease and accessibilty and twists on French classics (think Savoury Clafoutis, Radishes with Poppy Butter, Gougères, Ratatouille Dip, and Buckwheat-Sel Gris Crackers, Salmon Rillettes or Fried Olives). There are also suggestions for great places to enjoy an apéro in Paris but also Brooklyn and Los Angeles (and some suggestions for where to buy the various drinks online if you’re having a hard time finding them at your local liquor store). With gorgeous images by Joann Pai, this is as much fun to look at as it is to read. It will have you dreaming of Paris, that’s for sure.
This is a book for lovers of French tradition and culture as much as it is a book for those who enjoy entertaining and for those who enjoy eating and drinking. So, basically everyone on your list, including yourself!
The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter
This book from Nigel Slater actually came out last year and I received it too late to include in my book roundups, though it strictly is not just a book about Christmas, rather it deals with “midwinter” (1 November to the end of January) – definitely a time when cozying up with good books and cooking good food is an excellent way to pass the time!
From the publisher:
“‘The Christmas Chronicles’ is the story of Nigel Slater’s love for winter, the scent of fir and spruce, ghost stories read with a glass of sloe gin, and beeswax candles with shadows dancing on the ceiling. With recipes, decorations, fables and quick fireside suppers, Nigel guides you through the essential preparations for Christmas and the New Year, with everything you need to enjoy the winter months.
Taking you from 1 November all the way to the end of January, The Christmas Chronicles covers everything from Bonfire Night, Christmas and New Year to Epiphany. Throughout the season, Nigel offers over 100 recipes to see you through the build-up, the celebrations and the aftermath.”
If you’ve read any of Slater’s work before, you’ll know what a masterful storyteller he is so it will be no surprise to you that this book reads like a novel (and a page turner at that!) – it’s how I read it! This is a beautiful book to have out at any time of year but particularly during this “midwinter” time of year when you can follow along each day of the season with a story and recipes.
With classic seasonal recipes (goose, turkey, mincemeat pies, Christmas cake) and all the folklore, traditions and myths surrounding them, this is a wonderful book for those who cook through the season but just as appropriate for those who are simply interested in the British midwinter seasonal traditions. Part memoir, part cookbook and part “how to”, this is a book you’ll want to have on hand every winter.
For the Love of Cheese
There’s noone more passionate about cheese than Cheese Boutique‘s Afrim Pristine which is why he’s the perfect person to teach you all about it. From how to select, store and serve cheese to how to make the most of it in recipes, Afrim’s written the perfect book for cheeselovers that just happens to be a wonderful guide to all that holiday entertaining we’re about to do!
From the publisher
“Afrim Pristine may possess the most distinguished professional title a cheesemonger could ask for–maître fromager–but if you ask him what business he’s in, he’ll tell you he sells happiness. That’s because cheese is inextricably linked to wonderful memories and celebrations for so many of us. No matter the occasion, cheese and cheesy dishes are always greeted with a smile.
In his first cookbook, Afrim is here to teach you the basics of more than 55 cheeses. You’ll learn about the best ways to buy and store cheese, how to pair different cheeses with different beverages and how to create the cheese board of your dreams. And with his signature sense of humor and warmth, Afrim offers 60 easy and enticing recipes for every mealtime, including a bonus chapter called Low Risk, High Reward, for those moments when you’re looking to simply eat cheese with the perfect accompaniment. Alongside Afrim’s best dishes are 20 masterpieces from the world’s top chefs–everyone from Daniel Boulud, Claudio Aprile, Anthony Walsh, and Rob Gentile to Chuck Hughes, Anna and Michael Olson, Bob Blumer and more.”
The book includes:
“Cheese 101” – all you need to know about buying cheese including the sorts of questions to ask the cheesemonger – this will be helpful for many as I don’t find we’re as accustomed to asking questions about things like cheese, fruits and vegetables as our European friends. Quite often in France, I’ll hear someone ask a cheesemonger for a certain cheese that they want for a specific day of the week and they will be sold a piece that will be perfectly ripe on the exact day they want it.
“55 Cheeses” – a breakdown of the cheeses used in the recipes in the book (I’d actually have loved even more info on more cheeses, not just the ones in the book but that’s a different type of guide!). For each cheese listed, there’s information about the country of origin, what type of milk is used, the lavour profile, a fun fact and the page reference for the recipe it’s used in
Recipes – Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert, Snacks and the aforementioned Low Risk, High Reward recipes which has got to be my absolute favourite chapter as it showcases cheese in very simple, yet ingenious pairings – and includes a “recipe” (actually a prep and serving suggestion) for Epoisses that I’m going to have to try next time I have one!
Written in an easygoing style (if you know Afrim, you’ll recognise his “voice”), this is not only a useful guide to many cheeses and a cookbook for cheeselovers, it’s a fun coffee table book as well that you’ll learn something from each time you pick it up!
Set for the holidays: Recipes to Bring Comfort and Joy
Fans of Anna Olson have been eagerly awaiting this one! Anna is perhaps better known for her baking, but this book includes cooking and baking for holidays (and “almost every day”).
From the publisher:
“When does the festive season begin for you? For Anna, it’s with the first pumpkin pie of the year. Pumpkin pie isn’t something she bakes on any old evening, so it signifies something very special when she does: the start of the holidays! In Anna’s house, the holidays are a time for coming together with family and friends, celebrating traditions, and making some new ones, too. In this festive cookbook, Anna shares the recipes she most loves to make during the holiday season–for occasions like a festive brunch, entertaining a crowd, a cozy supper, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, an elegant New Year’s evening–and sensational sweets such as holiday cookies, celebratory centerpiece cakes, festive pies and tarts, fancy bars and slices, and much more!”
The first part of the book focuses on Menus and Meals for the Holidays (and almost every day) with tips and recipes to help you plan almost any occasion or party during the festive season. There’s a helpful section to get you set up to cook and bake through the holidays (from prep ideas right through to stocking the pantry so you’re ready to get cooking at any time!) and menu plans and recipes for Festive Brunch, Entertaining for a Crowd, a Cozy Supper with Friends, An Elegant Evening, The Main Event, When it’s All Over (leftovers) and Savoury Supporting Acts (recipe like cranberry sauce, vinaigrette and the like). Really, any entertaining you might need to do in the holidays or beyond is there!
Of course, holidays = baking and Anna’s got you covered in the second part of the book with recipes for Seasonal Pastries and Sweet Breads, Holiday Cookies, Fancy Bars and Squares, Classic Chocolates and Confections, Festive Pies and Tarts, Centrepiece Cakes, Plated Puddings and Sweet “Supporting Acts”.
Anna’s recipes are reliable and easy to follow and the book includes a few step-by-step pictures for some of the more complex recipes (Bûche de Noël for example). Throughout the book, Anna includes “Helpful Hints” which offer suggestions for changing up ingredients or ideas for how to make components ahead or to store the finished dish). This is a really comprehensive book for entertaining both during the holidays and year-round. It might just become your go-to for anytime you’re hosting!
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Disclosure: I purchased Apéritif for myself. I was sent review copies of For the Love of Cheese, Set for the Holidays and The Christmas Chronicles by the publishers. I was not asked to write about these books and am not being compensated for writing this post. All opinions are my own