Cookbook review: Inventive game plans for feeding a crowd

‘Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others’ by Amy Thielen (Norton, $40)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Lately, it’s become fashionable among food writers to avoid the word “entertaining” in favor of less stuffy-sounding synonyms such as “gathering” and “having people over.”

It’s clear from the title of Amy Thielen’s hefty second cookbook, “Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others” (Norton, $40) that she, too, is not one to bother with place settings and wine pairings. But not because she hasn’t got the will to plan a blowout feast.

Living with her family deep in the woods of northern Minnesota, she writes, “in-home entertaining is more than a way of life — it’s pretty much our only option.” Mismatched thrift store plates, paper napkins and “wine poured into any kind of vessel that will hold it” characterize these sprawling bashes.

The food is just as unpretentious. After leaving her career as a New York City chef to return to her rural roots, Thielen went on to write “The New Midwestern Table,” host its companion Food Network series, “Heartland Table,” and pen a well-received memoir, “Give a Girl a Knife,” sealing her reputation as a champion of gastro-chic, grandma-style Midwestern cooking.

Recipes in this volume also fit that description, organized in menus for holidays, Saturday night get-togethers, birthdays and other recurring celebrations, and “casual walkabouts” such as a Brazilian-inspired buffet centered around an electric “church lady roaster” filled with feijoada (black beans with smoked pork and spareribs).

If you’re ambitious enough to execute the menus in their entirety, she’ll guide you. But you also have her blessing to simplify. For a potluck, you can’t go wrong with the Bok Choy Salad with Ramen-Almond Brittle I tried. Tapas-inspired Cast-Iron Garlic Shrimp with Chorizo and Green Olives intended as a first course for 10 made an exciting impromptu entree for three. For Thanksgiving, I’m hoping to up my game with Lardo-Crisped Roasted Turkey with Mushroom Gravy.

Whatever the menu, Thielen urges us not to stress out in pursuit of perfection. Kitchens, she writes, are creative workspaces meant to be “flexible, chaotic — and fun. And when people start arriving, that’s the vibe they’ll catch and follow.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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