Staff Picks

Cookbook Roundup: Gatherings

Blyth Meier

February 14, 2020


Seven upcoming and recent(ish) cookbooks that will help you plan for your next gathering of any size.

Much of the cooking I do at home on weekdays is—for good or bad—pretty much on auto-pilot. After living with the same person for over twenty years, we have developed a repertoire of meals we like to eat together (tacos, sourdough crepes, empty-the-fridge frittatas) that we can pull off without much thought after returning from a full day of work. But when it comes to more than the two of us, I happily start rifling through my cookbook shelf hunting for vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes or summery big batch-cocktails or brunch ideas for picky seven-year-olds. Here are seven upcoming and recent(ish) cookbooks that will help you plan for your next gathering of any size.


SeeYouOnSunday-web.jpgSee You on Sunday: A Cookbook for Family and Friends by Sam Sifton, Random House (coming 2/18)

If you subscribe to the New York Times’ weekly Cooking email newsletter, Sam Sifton may already be your culinary secret weapon, regularly helping to answer the question: “What, oh what, should I make for dinner tonight?” Out next week, Sifton’s latest cookbook helps us answer that question for a crowd. His long-standing tradition of Sunday dinners with family, friends, and soon-to-be-friends feels like a prescription for fixing so many of today’s ills: “People are lonely. They want to be a part of something, even when they can’t identify that longing as a need. They show up. Feed them. It isn’t much more complicated than that. The point of Sunday dinner is just to have it.” See You on Sunday sits at the perfect intersection of writerly and “fooderly”; the stories that introduce each recipe here are worth the ticket price alone. Many of these you might know from the Times’ archives (I always have a half pan of his sturdy cornbread in my freezer), but seeing them in print and thoughtfully arranged provides a welcomed new way of discovering new favorites. And these new favorites—approachable, affordable, and scalable—are sure to become cornerstones of your entertaining repertoire for however many people show up at your door. I like to think of it as a condensed Joy of Cooking, but for large groups (The Joy of Gathering?). Uncomplicated, hearty, and flavorful, these are “crowd pleasers” in the sincerest sense of the phrase.

Recipes on my radar: A Samin Nosrat-inspired garlic bread slathered in herbed butter, Fairy Tale Eggplants with Goat Cheese and Mint, Pickleback Slaw, Grandma Pizza.

LetsDoDinner-web.jpgLet's Do Dinner: Perfect Do-Ahead Meals For Family And Friends by James Ramsden, Pavilion

While some people love to be the center of attention while they cook, effortlessly working the grill with sturdy tongs and the crowd with a hearty laugh, I prefer to make my Thanksgiving lasagnas a week ahead, alone and listening to David Byrne’s American Utopia soundtrack. For me, cooking is meditation, not performance art. If that’s you, too, I highly recommend Let’s Do Dinner by London chef and podcast host James Ramsden, whose motto is “do-ahead is dinner done best.” Amen! His latest book “eliminates one of the greatest stresses of feeding people—that of being in a deranged flap when it comes to dinner.” Recipes are broken down by timing (1-2 days ahead, 3 hours ahead, etc.), and include suggestions for what to do with leftovers, which is amazing because my fridge is always a hot mess for a week after the holidays. Plant-based friends, I must warn you that Ramdsen’s food is incredibly meat-forward (at least three recipes feature pig cheeks, and many vegetable recipes call for anchovies, chicken stock, or ‘nduja), but you can just pull out your handy vegetarian substitution chart and wing it! 

Recipes on my radar: Smoky Sweetcorn Soup; Fiery Prawn Curry with a Fresh Yogurt and Herb Sauce; Braised Radicchio with Hazelnuts and Sherry Vinegar; Rhubarb, Rose, and Pistachio Pavlova.

NothingFancy-web.jpgNothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over by Alison Roman, Clarkson Potter

If anyone can coax me out of my aforementioned performance cooking aversion, it’s New York Times food writer Alison (#TheStew) Roman, whose pep-talks in her newest cookbook could also find a home on my personal development shelf: Focus on good food and having fun instead of perfection. Ask for help, pick your battles, and never apologize. You’re not entertaining, but “having people over,” which is just making dinner for more people. Sounds easy, right? What I love about Alison’s recipes are, in order: the flavors, the flavors, and the flavors. If you like lemons, celery, piles of fresh herbs and sooo much anchovy, this book is for you! And even though the “main dishes” chapter is 90% meat-based, any of the stunning veg-forward salads or sides can confidently take center stage. Her approachable yet elevated recipes are written for small groups of four to six, but doubled easily if you are hosting in an apartment larger than the size of a dutch oven (New Yorkers, you know the rest of the country thinks your kitchens are ridiculous, right?). “This is not about living an aspirational life; it’s about living an attainable one.” (I thusly nickname this book Attainable Entertaining.) The book ends with a dishwashing party soundtracked by Janet Jackson, and my own copy will inevitably end the year dogeared, annotated and well-loved.

Recipes on my radar: Slightly Sticky Walnuts with Sesame and Sumac, Celery Salad with Cilantro and Sesame, Spicy Caramelized Leeks with Fresh Lemon, One-Pot Chicken with Dates and Caramelized Lemon, Lemony Turmeric Tea Cake (Alison, I am here for all of your lemon recipes).

Mixtape Potluck Cookbook: A Dinner Party for Friends, Their Recipes, and the Songs They Inspire by Questlove, Abrams Image

Even though every Q&A on the planet includes a variation of “Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?”, let’s face it, the vast majority of us will never have dinner with our heroes or anyone remotely famous. But with Questlove’s help, we can pretend! “Did you taste Martha Stewart’s grape focaccia last night? Delicious!” “Mmmmm...not as good as Q-Tip’s mac and cheese!” Well known in celebrity circles for throwing dinner parties, The Roots’ frontman sent songs to a list of friends that criss-crossed industries as a creative prompt for the dish they shared, which resulted in the book on my list with the widest range of culinary traditions: from Korean and Soul Food to Nigerian and Vietnamese. The book is divided by course, including drinks and after-party snacks, and ends with both an ‘ultimate dinner party playlist”...and playlist tips! Did you hear me—playlist tips from Questlove! It all combines into a raucous celebration of food and friends with truly infectious energy. “I wanted, above all, to promote the idea of food as a communal experience.” Turns out Questlove’s dream potluck is, of course, my dream potluck too. 

Recipes on my radar: Mom’s Chicken Curry by Lilly Singh, Tomato/Potato Salad by Jessica Koslow of Sqirl, Coconut Jollof Rice by Yvonne Orji, and Maya Rudolph’s Chocolate Chili.

CookingForGoodTimes-web.jpgCooking for Good Times: Super Delicious, Super Simple by Paul Kahan with Perry Hendrix and Rachel Holtzman, Lorena Jones Books

The latest from Chicago-based chef Paul Kahan (Publican, Blackbird) sets out to capture the convivial spirit of his acclaimed restaurant avec: “It’s kind of like the best dinner party everyone wishes they could have—there’s great music, tons of wine, and the food just keeps coming out in waves, all served family style.” Translate that vibe to the chef’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, and you have Cooking for Good Times. For our team here in Milwaukee, the imagery in the book strikes a familiar chord: grilling in flip flops amongst pine trees and tall grass near an old set of wooden stairs that lead down to a cool lake. Ah, summer in the North country. He starts off with a chapter called “Make some food to eat while you cook”, so you know right away these dishes are going to be leisurely affairs—slow food at its best. Even though Kahan’s style (and the photography here) is casual, this book is more “technique-forward” than the others on this list; you are very much learning from a two-time James Beard Award-winner. For example, he includes an entire chapter of panzanella variations, and incredibly lovely four-page spread encouraging you to ‘buy, butcher, dredge, and roast a whole fish.’ If you like grilled meats of all kinds, charred greens, melted cheese, and only two dessert choices, this is the book for you.

Recipes on my radar: Charred Summer Squash-Sesame Dip; Panzanella with Brussels Sprouts, Grilled Onion, and Crumbly Cheese; Roasted Chicken with Roasted Grapes and Vetri’s Fennel, Green Sauce #2.

CouplesCookbook-web.jpgThe Couple’s Cookbook: Recipes for Newlyweds by Cole & Kiera Stipovich, Ten Speed Press

For gatherings on a more intimate scale, turn to this book from Boston-based husband-and-wife wedding photographers Kiera and Cole Stipovich who celebrate the ritual of cooking for two. Over the years they have spent photographing people on their “big day,” they noticed it was at the wedding meal that the couples seemed most “truly present,” slowing down enough to take in the entirety of this turning point in their lives. With this book, they hope to encourage couples to return to the magic of that moment throughout their marriages as a chance to connect: “Cooking and eating together is one of the most consistent and practical ways we pause our daily schedule in order to have a little ‘date.’” The book includes tips for new cooks in the beginning chapter and throughout the book, including a great primer on stocking and using a pantry, along with a breakdown of essential kitchen equipment (that you might want to consult as you build your wedding gift registry!). The cocktails chapter contributed from drinks writer Kara Newman is a great primer for those wanting to move up from Jack & Cokes to something more sophisticated; walking you through the basics of a home-bar setup and recipes for standard cocktails (Martinis, Palomas, Old-Fashioneds) that you can riff off as your skills grow. While targeted at “newlyweds”, these straightforward and very detailed recipes will shore up confidence for any couple learning to connect over the ritual of cooking and eating together. This book is the perfect gift for the upcoming wedding season.

Recipes on my radar: Overnight French Toast Casserole with Berries, Butter Lettuce with Citrus Vinaigrette, Cucumber Sandwich with Harissa Yogurt, Cheddar Spoon Bread with Lime and Pink Peppercorns.

TinCanMagic-web.jpgTin Can Magic: Easy, Delicious Recipes Using Pantry Staples by Jessica Elliott Dennison, Hardie Grant

And finally, a cookbook for when you find out in the late afternoon that you have guests coming for dinner. Surprise! Take a breath, and grab the latest from Edinburgh chef Jessica Elliott Dennis (formerly of Jamie Oliver’s retail team), whose book is large enough to be helpful but small enough to not be overwhelming. Her approach could not be simpler: open up your pantry, dig out a long-overlooked can, and enter the world of Tin Can Magic. Chapters are broken down by nine different canned ingredients (chickpeas, tomatoes, sweetcorn, cherries, etc.), and recipes list a range of helpful substitutes and “feast tips” to pull off this eleventh-hour entertainment wizardry with literally whatever you have on hand. Most of the recipes here come together in under 25 minutes, which make them unfussy enough for everyday cooking, while still being delicious enough for impromptu gatherings that you don’t want to end with a pile of empty take-out containers.

Recipes on my radar: Garlic mushroom lentils and fried eggs with parmesan and rosemary, Salted coconut sorbet with peanuts, Braised butter beans, three ways (known by her restaurant regulars as simply ‘the beans’).

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