A head start for hosts: Recipes for a totally do-ahead holiday gathering

The holidays are a happy time. But they can be stressful, too, especially when it comes to entertaining and planning meals. Several new cookbooks take on those tasks by offering tips for hosting with recipes that simplify cooking for a crowd.

A current favorite is "The Art of the Host: Recipes and Rules for Flawless Entertaining" by Alex Hitz (Rizzoli, $45).

Hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “the very best host in the world,” Hitz grew up in Atlanta, where his love of cooking began in his mother’s kitchen. And he later co-owned the Patio by the River, the restaurant that became Canoe.

But his culinary journey took him from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, and Peter Kump's New York Cooking School to kitchens in New York City, France and Beverly Hills. Hitz's first cookbook, "My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking With a French Twist" (Knopf, $35), propelled him further into the life of a celebrity chef.

Nowadays, he’s best known as speaker, columnist, event designer, and traveling bon vivant who cooks and hosts some 40 weeks a year. In “The Art of the Host,” Hitz puts together menus and recipes for all kinds of occasions, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Boxing Day.

Calling from the road recently, Hitz answered the question: How do you become the very best host in the world?

“My first cookbook garnered so much attention, and a lot of, lot of press, and that’s when The Wall Street Journal did that big story,” Hitz said, laughing and quickly adding, “The New York Post called me ‘the Ralph Lauren of food and wine.’ It was great. I couldn’t have written it better myself.

“But what I’ve found is that it’s the exact same thing for all the people I consider to be really great hosts all around the world. It is straightforward, simple, oftentimes very indulgent food. Something so delicious and simple and bursting with flavor that each bite is an occasion, and elegantly and casually presented.”

When it comes to tips, Hitz has two categories: Always and Never.

“I always use salted butter and table salt in my recipes, because they were written for it,” he says. “Number two is never stop smiling. Everything is going to go wrong sometimes, and it’s going to be OK if it goes wrong, if you don’t stop smiling.”

The recipes for “A Totally Do-Ahead But Super Swanky Christmas Eve Dinner” go back to Hitz’s childhood in Atlanta, when it was all about Christmas concerts, because his stepfather, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Robert Shaw, “conducted at least 12 of them every December.”

“Everything in the book is do-ahead, which is essential,” Hitz said. “There’s so much stress around the holidays, so why not just do it ahead, and get it out of the way? Then you can enjoy the whole thing.”

Another recent favorite, written from a very different perspective, Jordan Zucker’s debut cookbook, “One Dish — Four Seasons: Food, Wine, and Sound — All Year Round” (Home Sauce Publications, $45), takes a base recipe and builds four different versions for winter, spring, summer and fall.

Zucker hosts “Girls Guide to Sports,” appeared on the Food Network’s “Grill It!” with Bobby Flay, and played a recurring character on the TV series “Scrubs.”

The lavish, coffee table-size cookbook is a breezy, can-do collaboration with Zucker’s home cook mom, Betti Zucker, and former sommelier dad, Jim Zucker, and each recipe has a suggested wine and music pairing.

Most of the winter and fall recipes will work well for the holidays, and many can not only be made ahead, but often take less than an hour from prep time to table.

With Zucker’s Vodka, Caraway and Dill Lox and Miso-Maple Cookies, and Hitz’s Beverly Hills Egg-Nog and Louise’s Seafood Pot Pie, you can put together an easy do-ahead holiday dinner, and still have time to celebrate.


These four recipes from “The Art of the Host” by Alex Hitz and “One Dish — Four Seasons” by Jordan Zucker can be made ahead and served to a crowd for a Christmas Eve buffet or just about any holiday gathering.

Beverly Hills Egg-Nog

This classic eggnog calls for “excellent-quality bourbon” and heavy cream, making for a potent and decadent holiday libation.

 — “The Art of the Host: Recipes and Rules for Flawless Entertaining” by Alex Hitz, Rizzoli New York, 2019

Louise’s Seafood Pot Pie

This rich and easy pass-along recipe can be made up to 3 days ahead and baked before serving. But it may be even better reheated the next day.

 — “The Art of the Host: Recipes and Rules for Flawless Entertaining” by Alex Hitz, Rizzoli New York, 2019

Vodka, Caraway and Dill Lox

This make-ahead holiday crowd-pleaser takes only 15 minutes to prep, but it needs 24-36 hours to cure, so plan ahead.

 — “One Dish — Four Seasons: Food, Wine, and Sound — All Year Round” by Jordan Zucker, Home Sauce Publications, 2019

Miso-Maple Cookies

These simple but scrumptious cookies take only about 30 minutes to make, and they’re perfect served with tea or coffee, or decorated for the holidays. Double the recipe to make two batches.

 — “One Dish — Four Seasons: Food, Wine, and Sound — All Year Round” by Jordan Zucker, Home Sauce Publications, 2019


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