Entertaining

Image Like most modern day, self-taught chef's I have, of course, heard of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. First published in 1896, it's currently in its' 13th Edition, which is pretty impressive since Fannie Farmer died in 1915. Granted cooking has changed a lot in the century since she first began inspiring young wives and mothers to create lovely meals at home.

She ran the original "test kitchen" at The Boston Cooking School, constantly reworking recipes until they were just right and eventually included in the cookbook. Who knows what she would make of all our fancy gadgets and time-saving devices, but after reading Fannie's Last Supper, I have a feeling she would have enjoyed the relative ease of cooking in a more modern time.

God knows delivering dinner in the Victorian-era was no small task, as was discovered by the book's author Chris Kimball, the founder of Cook's Magazine and host of America's Test Kitchen.

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onastick.jpgWith the holiday party season about to hit full swing we though we'd give you a hand with your preparations. Whether you're a first-time host, experienced party thrower or a guest who can't stand to show up empty-handed, you need the perfect cookbook for entertaining – On a Stick! by Matt Armendariz.

He covers every course from cocktails (Jello Shots and Sangria Pops) to dessert, delivering 80 delicious, fork and plate-free recipes your guests will quickly devour. That is if you can make them look as good as he does. Not only a chef, Armendariz is a food photographer par excellence, so each recipe comes with a gorgeous photo for you to attempt to imitate, which shouldn't be too hard. Some of the nibbles have more ingredients than others, but all of the recipes are clear and easy to follow.

He's a comfort food junkie and these recipes reflect that. Can you say Deep-Fried Mac N' Cheese? But, hey, when has anything you're ever eaten that comes on a stick been particularly good for you? This book is about eating tasty, full-flavored food and having fun doing it.

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1000easyrecipesWith grilling season about to begin in earnest, I was looking for a cookbook that could help freshen up our usual party fare. Sure you can buy salsa and hummus and already pre-marinated meat, but where's the fun – and bragging rights – in that? And though I love true BBQ, there is no grill master in our household. So as much as I yearn for tender, long-smoked ribs or sweet & saucy chicken, what I really needed was a book with simple, impressive, quick recipes to get the party started without days of effort.

Food Network Magazine 1,000 Easy Recipes definitely fits the bill. It covers everything from Breakfast through Dessert (even Cocktails) with clear instructions – some are so short they could be tweeted – utilizing easy-to-find, inexpnsive ingredients. The book is strewn with a fair share of lovely photographs, usually of the more colorful, "labor-intensive" recipes. Seriously though, I don't think many of them take more than a half an hour of prep or cook time. The first recipe I made was Hash-Brown Eggs. I'm a Breakfast whore. It wasn't complicated – I had everything on-hand already – but man did it hit the spot.

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barolojoThe backstory on the three ambitious, talented men that created Barolo Joe, a catering company and dinner club, is that they all work in the “business,” meaning food. Such a breath of fresh Southern California air – they’re not peddling scripts. The driving force behind it, Joseph Baker, originally from Vancouver, made friends with Abraham Lukaczer, born and raised in Seattle, about ten years ago. Then, through Tar and Roses, they met and pitched their idea to a third partner, Eric Grant, born and raised in Maine, who had been touring with a band for years, but had also done stints in food in San Francisco and Nantucket. These three food and wine enthusiasts teamed up. Barolo Joe was born.

Serendipity is my middle name.

All right, not legally. I don’t have a middle name. My parents were too lazy to give me one. But I do have many serendipitous moments. I had a big one a few weeks ago. Huge. I’m sitting at my favorite restaurant -- at least it’s my favorite when they keep balsamic glazed ribs on the menu.

Digression. This happens to me a lot, so I’m pretty certain it’s a plot: when I love something on a menu, the restaurant invariably removes it. Tar & Roses in Santa Monica will usually have the ribs, but then they won’t. Once, when they took it off the menu, I freaked out. They put it back -- briefly -– then scratched it one more time -- and now it’s back. Finally, I can safely order my favorite dish whenever I want. I probably just jinxed it.

So... I sit down at the bar one night -– not a table -- because I was being spontaneous and forgot to book a proper reservation.

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topchefquickfire.jpgOn the TV show Top Chef, contestants create dishes to impress the judges often with limited resources of time or money or ingredients. From a viewer's perspective, the biggest problem with the show is that you can't taste the food. Still I love it. Perhaps it's because I enjoy the challenging aspects of cooking--like every other home cook, I am challenged to use what ingredients I have and the techniques I know, to cook something delicious, day after day, night after night.

Sometimes I wonder if I would agree with the judges. And I wonder how good those cooked-in-a-flash dishes with barely any ingredients really taste. I may never bother cooking something sous vide, break down an entire side of beef or serve 200 guests in one evening, but I'm happy to say I can now duplicate various dishes presented in the quickfire challenges on Top Chef thanks to Top Chef: The Quickfire Cookbook. Top Chef: The Quickfire Challenge Cookbook features mostly recipes that home cooks can easily duplicate.

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