If you're not baking cookies for the kids at Christmas, you may be entertaining on a larger scale. And, naturally, there are many authors hoping to help you fill this void.
This is a genre that often attracts celebrities, but in the case of band leader Skitch Henderson and his wife, have no fear. "Ruth and Skitch Henderson's Seasons in the Country: Good Food for Family and Friends" by the Hendersons with Judith Blahnik (Viking, $24.95) "comes straight from the heart," says Jacques Pepin, one of the many celebrity chefs who teaches at the Henderson's bustling Silo School, Store and Gallery in Litchfield Hills, Conn. The text and recipes reflect the authors' personalities and their beloved Hunt Hill Farm.
Former New York restaurateurs, the Hendersons celebrate the seasons with full-bodied, country-style dishes touched by the flavors of Ruth's native Germany and the New England traditions of the surrounding countryside. Exciting menus for informal and formal, large and small, indoor and outdoor entertainments are combined with personal anecdotes and glorious photographs of farm and food.
In "Enchanted Evenings: Dinners, Suppers, Picnics & Parties" by John Hadamuscin (Harmony Books, $27.50), Hadamuscin (author of two other cookbooks on entertaining) provides an all-around guide to nighttime soirees. He includes complete menus for entertainments ranging from birthday, wedding rehearsal, pre-theater, ski lodge, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to finger-food, cocktail and holiday dessert parties to rainy night, campfire, hayride, farmstand and potluck suppers. And a chapter on tantalizing after-dinner treats includes recipes for making wine, liqueurs and brandies, dressing up cheeses and producing homemade candies.
Uncomplicated recipes for delicious food, practical schedules for advance preparation, suggestions for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to serve with each menu and elaborate photographs showing how to set the table and the mood are inspiration for inviting friends over.
The home cooking of peasants, farmers and laborers is the source of inspiration for "Feasts: Menus For Home-Cooked Celebrations" by Leslie Newman (HarperCollins, $25), a collection of 25 menus from around the world. Newman uses the simple, tasty, economical and satisfying food that is her specialty to calm the fear of cooking caused by the "gastronomic revolution" of the last decade and to entice restaurant groupies back into their own kitchens.
Cocooning and dinner parties go together like, well, like young couples and babies. With its insights on planning menus, setting the scene and the table, serving beverages and managing the details of a sit-down dinner, "Dinner Party: The New Entertaining" by Jane Freiman (Harper and Row, $27.50) offers doable yet sophisticated recipes from around the world and tips for making small dinner parties work.
Time-saving techniques and appliances, healthful ingredients and cooking methods and a casual approach to mixing and matching foods from various cultures are Freiman's forte. The recipes are divided into traditional chapters by course and sidebars explain everything from the importance of homemade stocks, pastry-making techniques and tricks for garnishing to locating and understanding unfamiliar ingredients.
"Great Entertaining: 1,001 Party Tips and Timesavers" by Bettie Berden Pardee (Peachtree Publishers, $11.95) is a guide to feeling like a guest at your own party. Aimed at young, novice party givers, the emphasis is squarely on having "Fun." Despite repetitiveness and bad puns, the book offers useful but basic information on giving successful parties.
CHICKEN ENCHILADAS VERDES (8 servings)
1 pound fresh poblano peppers (4 medium)
1 pound skinned, boneless cooked chicken, room temperature or warm
1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
Salt, to taste
1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed, or drained, rinsed, canned tomatillos
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas (6-inch diameter)
2 ounces Chihuahua or Muenster cheese, chilled
1 medium tomato, peeled and seeded
About 1/2 cup sour cream
Char, peel, and seed the poblanos, and set the poblanos aside.
Shred the chicken by pulling it apart with your fingers or by processing it with the medium (4-mm) food-processor slicing disk. There should be 3 to 4 cups, set aside.
To make the green salsa, mince the cilantro in a dry food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the roasted poblanos and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and process until minced. Add the tomatillos and process until the mixture is pure'ed, slowly adding 1 cup of stock. Process until smooth.
Transfer the salsa to a nonreactive skillet large enough to hold a flat tortilla. Add 2 tablespoons oil and 3/4 cup stock. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning, adding 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more as needed. Set the sauce aside in the skillet. (Can cover and refrigerate the sauce in a bowl for 48 hours.)
Heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy skillet to 325 degrees. Layer paper towels on a baking sheet with additional toweling nearby. To seal each tortilla, slip it into the hot oil for 15 to 20 seconds, turning it once. With tongs, transfer tortillas to paper towels, blot to remove excess oil. Repeat to seal all tortillas by frying.
Adjust oven rack to middle position. Heat oven to 350 degrees. To assemble the casserole, work on tortillas one at a time as follows: warm the sauce and dip a sealed tortilla into the sauce, coating each side. Rest the torilla in a 15-by-10-by-3-inch baking dish (use glass, porcelain, enamel, or earthenware, as sauce is acidic). Put generous 1/2 cup chicken on each tortilla, roll it up, and put it seam-side down in the dish, starting at one end. Place rolled tortillas snugly, side by side in the dish and work on top of the rolled tortillas as the dish fills up so that sauce is not lost.
Shred the cheese. Stir the remaining broth into the remaining sauce, and heat it to simmering -- sauce will thicken slightly. Adjust the seasoning, and spoon all remaining sauce over enchiladas. Sprinkle with cheese, and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake until the tip of a sharp knife inserted into the enchiladas is withdrawn hot, about 18 to 20 minutes.
Coarsely chop the tomato. Serve the enchiladas by spooning them out of the dish. Garnish each portion with a generous spoonful of sour cream and some chopped tomato.
Per serving: 458 calories, 26 gm protein, 35 gm carbohydrates, 24 gm fat, 6 gm saturated fat, 62 mg cholesterol, 300 mg sodium.
From "Dinner Party" by Jane Freiman (Harper&Row, $27.50)