"The Holidays Cookbook," Virginia and Robert Hoffman

Pros: Simple; delicious; easy
Cons: Could use some timing suggestions; narrow focus; no pictures
Rating: 4 out of 5

This cookbook is organized by holiday menu. Included are three Thanksgiving menus, four Christmas menus, one Chanukah menu, three New Year’s menus, a selection of holiday beverages, and an index. (This book is just 79 pages, and it’s quite small – about 6″ tall by 7″ wide.)

Obviously this is a fairly American/Christian-centric book in its organization, although I do think you could use many of the recipes under alternate circumstances.

The Menus

The first menu is a “Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner (For Eight)”, with such dishes as creamed corn soup, oysters on the half shell, roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, spiced apples, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, nuts, fruit, coffee, and a few other things. Wine suggestions include champagne or a California sparkling wine (with the oysters); “an earthy pinot noir or spicy Gewurztraminer” (with the main course); and a fine cognac or brandy (with coffee and dessert). Unfortunately I’m not qualified to judge the quality of the wine selections.

There’s a New England Thanksgiving Dinner for 8 (with such dishes as carrot bisque and a classic New England cider pie), a Southern Thanksgiving Dinner for 8 (cheddar cheese biscuits, sweet potato apricot bake, country green beans, and so on), a New England Christmas Dinner (pumpkin soup, broccoli with hazelnuts, chocolate butterscotch pie, etc.), Southern Christmas Dinner (lobster bisque, gingered carrots, cinnamon chocolate pie with whipped cream…), Roast Goose Christmas Dinner (a different pumpkin soup recipe, apple and mince tart, roast goose with port giblet gravy…), Southwest Christmas Dinner (cool cucumber soup, jicama-orange salad, peppery succotash, etc.), Traditional Chanukah Celebration (coleslaw, tzimmes, potato latkes, applesauce, apple strudel, chocolate coins…). All of these menus are for 8 people.

The Elegant New Year’s Dinner is for six, and includes such things as sherried carrot soup and hearts of palm salad. We get back to the 8-person menus with the Southern New Year’s Dinner (corn chowder, orange sweet potato casserole, cranberry mold with grapes…), and the Super Bowl Buffet (mustard glazed ham, chunky applesauce, Boston baked beans, pecan tarts…). The chapter of holiday beverages includes cold drinks (claret cup, classic eggnog, brandy milk punch…) as well as hot drinks (mulled wine, hot spiced apple wine, hot toddy, mulled port…).

Timing?

The one thing that seems conspicuously missing from this delicious line-up is any sort of timing instructions whatsoever. Cooking a meal for 8 is not a snap, and if you don’t have some sense of how to make it easy on yourself, it can drive you a little nuts trying to make everything come out at the right time.

Some decent instructions regarding which things can be made in advance, and how far in advance, as well as how to get things to come out at roughly the right times, would have been very welcome. Because the book lacks these things, inexperienced cooks might want to skip this cookbook – or also pick up a copy of Thanksgiving 101 as a helpful adjunct to it.

The Recipes

The recipes themselves are very simple. So simple, in fact, that many of them come two to a page! They’re just a title, a quick list of ingredients, and a couple of very short paragraphs of instructions. Despite this, the recipes have never left us confused or frustrated, or feeling as though instructions were left out.

As if that weren’t enough, the recipes are delicious! We’ve made the cranberry relish with pears and apples repeatedly (and we don’t make much of anything repeatedly). The cheddar cheese biscuits were easy and wonderful. The cinnamon chocolate pie melted in our mouths, and the eggnog passed my finicky eggnog tastes (it’s the custardy version, not the one where you fold in whipped egg whites – I don’t really like that type of eggnog).

For taste this cookbook gets a full five out of five. For selection of menus and amount of helpful information, it fares less well. The simplicity of the instructions does help to make up for this, although, as always, make sure you read the full recipe before you buy your ingredients and plan things (for example, that cinnamon chocolate pie mentions in the instructions that you should have a crust for it, but the ingredients for the crust aren’t in the list of ingredients). Only a few of the recipes use exotic ingredients; you should be able to find almost everything required in these recipes.

In all, it’s a wonderful little book to have when the holidays come around!

Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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