Holiday survival kit: 5 cookbooks that make entertaining easy

The holidays can be a stressful time of year. Not only do you have to shop and wrap everything, you also have to cook and entertain. It can feel like such a chore and become so stodgy and stuffy. It's supposed to be a celebratory time, but it often doesn't feel like it. How does one do infuse it with cheer and let's face it, as effortlessly as possible?

With a ton of help. 

These 5 books will infuse the fun back into your holiday gatherings this season and make it easy to cook for a crowd, while leaving you time to enjoy the party as well.

Now that's more like it!

1. Get your drinks sorted with Winter Cocktails: Mulled Ciders, Hot Toddies, Punches, Pitchers, and Cocktail Party Snacks by Maria del Mar Sacasa and Tara Striano.

Stand out from the crowd with stunning drinks such as Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, the Kentucky Baby and how cool is a winter Sangria?

Get it as an e-book to keep things moving quickly. This way, you can have your iPad in one hand, a drink in the other…

2. Instead of boring appetizers that everyone serves all season long, take your party up a notch withPintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition by Gerald Hirigoyen and Lisa Weiss.

Just two categories alone – Skewers and Bites on Bread – will get the party started.

Dishes such as Roasted Beets with Moroccan Spices, Grilled Ham and Cheese Bocadillos and Oxtail Empanadas with Spicy Mango Dip don’t take a ton of time to whip up and your guests will most certainly return next year (if not tomorrow for leftovers).

3. Celebrate in Southern Style with Christmas with Southern Living 2014: Our Best Guide to Holiday & Decorating by The Editors of Southern Living Magazine.

This book has truly got it all. Not only can you plan a Bluegrass Brunch (p. 10), it has sections on Mains in Minutes (p. 124) and Slow-Cooked Sides & Starters (p. 116) for those wanting to get the food out fast without a lot of prep.

But you might just want to make a Mint Julep and make time for Pull-Apart Pear & Walnut Loaf, Cornbread Sausage Dressing and Bourbon Apple Sticky Toffee Pudding. These recipes will no doubt be worth it.

4. The mains of the holidays are pretty rote – turkey, ham, lamb, chicken – but when it comes to the sides, it seems all creativity goes out the window and in the rush to get everything done, veg get roasted or boiled and barely dressed, and we call it a night.

That’s where The Big Book of Sides: More than 450 Recipes for the Best Vegetables, Grains, Salads, Breads, Sauces, and More by Rick Rodgers comes in. It makes it easy to come up with new ways to do sides. And the best part? Mr. Rodgers has thoughtfully laid out the perfect sides for the holidays in pre-set menus.

So go ahead and copy his classic Roast Beef Christmas Dinner spread with Brussel Sprouts Chiffonade with Pancetta and Parmesan, Classic Glazed Carrots Vichy, Potato and Fennel Gratin, and Herbed Yorkshire Puddings. Or change it up this year and go with the Christmas Goose selections of Italian Red Cabbage with Red Wine and Chestnuts, Braised Kohlrabi and Carrots with Lemon and Caraway, German Potato Dumplings and Pumpernickel Ale Rolls

Either way, you’re going to look like a star and all you have to do is follow the instructions. 


5. For dessert, it is difficult to choose just one cookbook. On the one hand, you want something fast and easy, that will also somehow wow the crowd, and on the other, you might want to make something pretty spectacular. After all, if you’re just going to quickly pop the bird in the oven with some veg to roast, you’ve got some time to make a drink (see above, book no. 1) and whip up some fantastic sweets.

So why not go all out and use The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines?

After all, how can you go wrong with classics such as Sybil's Ginger Nut Biscuits, Decadent Chocolate Almond Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Icing and Very Vanilla Rice Pudding? Of course, all you truly need for after dinner is Mrs. Patmore's Christmas Pudding.

There’s nothing like a theme to help celebrate the holidays. Why not a British aristocratic one?