The end of the year is high season for festive gatherings, which is fine if you're a guest but can be a nightmare if you're the host or hostess. If the thought of throwing a fancy party is enough to dampen your holiday spirit, you may be in the market for the crowd of new cookbooks coming just in time to take the stress out of party planning. Comedian Amy Sedaris, below right, leads the pack with a collection of edgy etiquette pointers and wacky wardrobe suggestions. Among the offerings from chefs and restaurateurs and magazine editors, there's a book to suit your every entertaining need, from intimate gatherings to blowout bashes. Party on.
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Writer, comedian and cupcakemaker Sedaris takes a whimsical approach to entertaining. But mixed in with her retro photos and what to serve if lumberjacks or a rich uncle come to call, she offers sage advice on party planning and dealing with mishaps--managing drunken guests, for example, or removing postparty stains. The recipes are solid, including fabulous cheese balls and her mom's steak with red-wine butter.
DEEP SOUTH PARTIES
Robert St. John
Mississippi-based chef, restaurateur and food writer St. John explores the roots of Southern hospitality with witty essays like "The History of the Party." But the quietly sophisticated recipes--sweet potato nachos with boursin, yellowfin tuna tartar with avocado relish, wonton chips--are what will inspire you to throw a gala of your own.
Like its namesake magazine, Real Simple: Celebrations offers simple, clean, well-organized ideas to take the hassle out of party planning. The book lays out plans for invitations, detailed menus with recipes and decorations for entertainments big (holiday open house, New Year's) and small (dinners, cheese or dessert parties).
Payard is a third-generation pastry chef whose New York City bistro and patisserie is a place of pilgrimage for chocolate lovers. But the chef also caters some of the city's swankiest cocktail parties, and this book adapts some of his favorite recipes for the home cook. Although they can be a little complicated, his signature dishes--crispy polenta with pesto, parmesan eggplant and goat-cheese tarts and microwaved foie gras terrine--are worth the effort.
Founder of the Ballymaloe Cooking School and one of the top chefs in Ireland, Allen offers up approachable and inspiring tips for party planning. Although some of her advice is less than practical (she advises keeping a few hens in the garden so that you will always have fresh eggs), her recipes for everything from ciabatta stuffed with "good stuff" to the bizarre-sounding but amazing roast lamb with chocolate would enliven any party.