Award-winning author Pam Anderson has whipped up another masterpiece with her latest cookbook, Perfect Recipes for Having People Over. Anderson is true to the book’s central theme—that entertaining is about inviting people to your home to socialize and enjoy life rather than just to consume delicious food—which is incredibly ironic, since the book offers dozens of wonderful recipes appropriate for both casual and formal entertaining.
I readily admit to have mastered only the most rudimentary cooking skills, but in spite of this, I found each and every recipe a project I could tackle. While the names of many of the dishes resemble what is offered in top restaurants, I was familiar with virtually all of the ingredients, kitchen tools and techniques necessary to prepare each. Most of the ingredients can be found in your local supermarket and, in instances where this is not the case, Anderson offers substitutions that are universally available.
The book starts with “The Big Stuff,” revolving around main courses, followed by “All the Rest,” which is appropriately titled and includes recipes for everything from appetizers to soups, salads to side dishes, breads to desserts and drinks. The main courses vary widely and are categorized based on the event where they would be most appropriately served. For example, there are recipes for kitchen gatherings, outdoor affairs, dining room occasions, and even breakfast entertaining. For kitchen gatherings, the recipes range from chicken soup for cozy nights to classic lasagna and a boneless coq au vin which is simple but results in a decadent treat. I tried the recipe for white chicken chili (which became red chicken chili with only a slight variation), and it not only received rave reviews but fed my friends and family all week. I also liked the simple breakfast recipes (such as the big fat Greek frittata) which led me to have a few friends over for Sunday brunch---a welcome change from our usual restaurant gatherings.
For appetizers, I enjoyed the classic deviled eggs as well as the more exotic (but, consistent with her theme, simple) crab-stuffed artichokes. For a wonderful soup, try the creamy rosemary-scented potato soup. For a salad that is satisfying enough to be served on its own, the salmon cucumber salad with sour cream and dill dressing is a great choice. The sautéed cherry tomatoes with garlic and basil are a great accompaniment for any main course, not just because of the intense flavors but because of the bright colors. For dessert, there is a wonderful apple crostata or even a simple scone, depending upon how much room your guests have to spare. And, as for alcohol, a pitcher of mojitos or sparkling wine cocktails will top off any meal.
What I love about this book (aside from the user-friendly recipes and bright photographs of the completed treats) is that there are recipes appropriate for a variety of circumstances. For example, there are many foods you can prepare in advance if you have a tiny kitchen, as well as deserts you can throw in the oven prior to the dinner dishes being cleared so they will be ready for consumption by the time the coffee is fully brewed.
What sets this book aside from the countless others is that you can really benefit from Anderson’s vast expertise. Each recipe is followed by some basic questions and answers, such as when a particular dish should be served, what it should be served with, how far in advance it can be made, and what to do with leftovers. She also provides numerous shortcuts that, she readily admits, may take away slightly from the flavor of the dish but may be a welcome trade-off to save precious time or money.
The premise of Anderson’s latest collection is that by acknowledging that food is only one element of a successful social gathering, the chef is relieved of the intense pressure associated with entertaining, and everyone benefits from a more relaxed and warm gathering. The book suggests you cancel those dinner reservations and invite some friends into your home for some good conversation and simple but elegant food. The result will be an enjoyable evening for everyone involved and, really, isn’t that what having people over is all about?