Bookshelf: Holiday entertaining help is on the way

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When cold weather meets a stubborn economy it's time for a party at home. A bevy of new books on entertaining offers tips, techniques and recipes for elegant meals, glamorous tables, and fetching cocktails. Many of the ideas are worthy of the holidays that lurk just around the corner.

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- "Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home" by Martha Stewart (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

Martha has done it again. In a new book filled with gorgeous photographs, the domestic diva offers plans of attack for 52 enticing seasonal menus designed to take no more than an hour.

Among the more than 200 recipes is a fall feast of watercress-cauliflower soup and roasted pork followed by a dessert of pears with candied walnuts and gorgonzola. In winter, chocolate truffles cap a meal of spice-rubbed beef filets, port-glazed pearl onions and potato puree.

A specific and well-laid preparation schedule accompanies each menu and makes it look easy. The book is also stuffed with Martha-esque tips - creating the perfect cheese platter, making caramel, selecting an appropriate chocolate - to fine tune your entertaining skills. As always, the approach is simple: good ingredients, well-prepared and beautifully presented, will elevate any meal.

- "The Comfort Table" by Katie Lee (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009)

Cookbook meets party guide in this little ditty from celebrity hostess Katie Lee. More than 100 recipes are organized according to event, from a retro cocktail party and Super Bowl to Thanksgiving and Cinco De Mayo.

This is straightforward comfort food: meatloaf sliders made with ketchup, bacon-wrapped dates, pot roast with chive-buttered egg noodles. For each menu, Lee suggests appropriate wine or cocktail pairings and a party-fueling playlist. What to dial up for Steakhouse Night? Why Sinatra and Dean Martin, of course. For a Sunday supper of tomato and Vidalia onion salad, fried chicken and simmered collard greens? Lynyrd Skynyrd.

- "Casual Entertaining" by Ross Dobson (Ryland, Peters & Small, 2009)

Australian food writer Ross Dobson has created a party passport that's actually organized the way many people entertain. A chapter on "Grazing" offers easy finger foods like phyllo cigars with halloumi, chili salt squid and a smoked trout salad that inspire stand-around munching (cocktail recipes included).

His "Cheap and Cheerful" chapter drains the stress - and expense - from dinner parties with dishes like fresh mussels with fennel aioli, coq au leftover red wine, and a spicy pork curry with lemon rice.

"Food in a Flash" promises easy weeknight entertaining, while "Chic Eats" features slow cooked lamb shanks, Spanish bouillabaisse and truffled egg linguine for those extra special events. Lots of inventive ideas here for putting on a tastefully tasty party.

- "Stonewall Kitchen Winter Celebrations" by Jonathan King, Jim Stott and Kathy Gunst (Chronicle Books, 2009)

This collection from specialty food producer Stonewall Kitchen was made for a cold night and that bottle of good Pinot you've been saving. In dozens of recipes designed for entertaining, the authors make excellent use of winter's bounty, from mashed parsnips and pears to acorn squash and beet salad, fennel and potato gratin, and sauteed Brussels sprouts with pancetta breadcrumbs.

Organized in traditional fashion according to appetizers, main courses, sides and desserts, recipes combine common ingredients in inspired ways: think beef tenderloin with horseradish crust, butterflied lamb with Swiss chard-pine nut-Parmesan stuffing or roast salmon and scallops with orange-Champagne beurre blanc.

Many items can be prepared ahead of time, and a selection of pantry-ready appetizers like tarragon crab canapes on toasted white bread, mini lobster cups with frozen phyllo shells, and smoked salmon with red onion-caper sauce on store-bought wasabi crackers promise to make last-minute entertaining a snap.

- "The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion" by Maria C. Hunt (Clarkson Potter, 2009)

Who said Champagne is just for New Year's Eve? Maria Hunt proves any time is bubble time with more than 50 recipes for sparkling cocktails. Inspired by trends at cutting-edge bars around the world, Hunt recreates classics like kir royale and conjures new concoctions like bubbletinis (martinis lightened up with bubbly) and fruitful fizzes that take advantage of seasonal fruits.

Muddled cocktails like il sorrentino - a mash of lemon, lime, tangerine and lemon balm combined with prosecco - sound fresh and inviting. Hunt also offers tips like how to avoid the infamous Champagne headache (conclusion: moderation is key) and a guide to buying both domestic and international bubbly in a variety of price ranges.

Roasted side of salmon an easy crowd pleaser

A side of salmon is an easy and elegant way to serve a crowd. Total prep time is about 10 minutes. Another 20 minutes in the oven and this flavorful dish from Katie Lee's "The Comfort Table" is ready to go. Lee suggests serving any leftovers chilled in a salad.

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HERB-ROASTED SALMON

Start to finish: 30 minutes (10 minutes active)

Servings: 12 to 14

3 cups loosely packed mixed fresh herbs, minced (such as parsley, thyme, chives and mint)

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Two 3- to 3 1/2-pound whole sides of salmon with skin (should be about 1 1/2 inches thick at the thickest part)

2 lemons, thinly sliced

Heat the oven to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the herbs, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper.

Place the salmon on the baking sheet, skin side down. Spread the herb mixture evenly over each piece of salmon. Top the salmon with lemon slices. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the salmon is just opaque at the center.

Use the parchment paper to help transfer the sides of salmon to a serving platter.

(Recipe from Katie Lee's "The Comfort Table," Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009)


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