Though fads in entertaining come and go, the books on the subject that have staying power seem to emphasize simplicity and instill readers with confidence. The past 20-some years have seen a few stalwart books dominate the category, from Lee Bailey’s Country Weekends (1983) to Entertaining by Martha Stewart (1988) to Barefoot Contessa Parties by Ina Garten (2001). This spring, at least five new books will enter the marketplace. Some are personality-driven, others focus on themed occasions, but all attempt to give readers the tried-and-true assurance that throwing a great party is within reach for even the most inexperienced novice.
Sandy Gilbert, a senior editor at Rizzoli, edited Recipes for Parties by Michael Leva and Nancy Parker, which the house will publish in April. Her hope is that the book, with its menus for a Moroccan Buffet (which the authors say is a “cheat” because guests serve themselves”) and a Dusk Cocktail Party (for which they advise readers to buy antipasto items from a specialty food store) appeals to “the Domino crowd,” referring to the now-defunct Condé Nast shelter magazine beloved by its young, energetic readers. Gilbert said that in general, entertaining books “tend to be more approachable than in the past,” and that the youthful spirit of Recipes for Parties should resonate with a younger audience. Its authors are certainly younger than Stewart or Garten; Parker is in her early 30s, and Leva is in his mid 40s.
Attorney-turned-restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, who owns three New York City restaurants and one in Miami, is aiming for that young demographic, too, with Donatella Cooks: Simple Food Made Glamorous, which Rodale will publish in April. Arpaia described her reader as a woman “between 25 and 45. It could be my assistant, who lives in a studio apartment, or a society woman. She’s extremely bright and passionate about what she does. She’s extremely busy, and when it comes to the kitchen she has a great fear. I talk to her in a language she understands.” Arpaia’s book, originally titled Cooking in Heels but now renamed to Donatella Cooks, features easy party snacks like popcorn dressed up with truffle oil, rosemary and Pecorino Romano cheese; as well as show-stoppers like filet mignon with gorgonzola sauce (“I have yet to meet a man who doesn’t love a good steak,” Arpaia writes).
Lulu Powers, a Los Angeles caterers whose clients include Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, Madonna, Arianna Huffington, and Bill Clinton, also cites the fear factor many people have in entertaining. Her book, Lulu Powers Food to Flowers, which Morrow will release in April, has recipes that Powers promises are easy and can (mostly) be made ahead-of-time, such as mini wild mushroom risotto cakes and burger bites with “Lulu’s Special Sauce.” “People have forgotten that entertaining is supposed to be fun—it’s not supposed to be a chore,” Powers told PW. “When you have a party, you should be able to enjoy it alongside your guests—it’s a party, after all.” Powers hopes her book will “inspire people to enjoy themselves in the kitchen and to entertain at home again. I want to share with people that there is no mystery in entertaining, and there shouldn’t be any fear.”
Smaller in scope are two March entertaining titles from Ten Speed Press, Burger Parties: Recipes from Sutter Home Winery’s Build a Better Burger Contest by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr, and Gourmet Game Night: Bite-Sized, Mess-Free Eating for Board-Game Parties, Bridge Clubs, Poker Nights, Book Groups, and More by Cynthia Nims. Burger Parties gives burger-oriented menus for a New Orleans jazz brunch and other parties, while the recipes in Gourmet Game Night cover a wider range, and include mini shepherd’s pies, and shrimp cakes in shiso leaves. Still, the spirit of Nims’s book echoes that of her colleagues: “When the economy pinches, entertaining at home beats an expensive (and frankly often less fun) dinner out.”
This story originally appeared inCooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.