RECIPES: Make-ahead dishes for your holiday cocktail party

Known as a chef, author and consummate host, Alex Hitz recently released his third cookbook, “Occasions to Celebrate: Cooking and Entertaining With Style” (Rizzoli, $45).

Rooted in his childhood in Atlanta, and his family’s travels in France, Hitz’s style combines Southern and French cooking with a storied sense of hospitality.

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Credit: Iain Bagwell

During a phone call, Hitz talked about his early days as the chef at the Patio by the River in Atlanta, and how a return to the city of his birth sparked “Occasions to Celebrate.”

“I worked at the Patio by the River when I was in high school. In those days, you did absolutely everything, from dishwashing to the saute station and the pantry, and the front of the house,” he remembered.

“Later, I bought half the restaurant, then we sold it to Canoe. But my education was the Patio by the River, Peter Kump’s Cooking School in New York City, and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. So that’s about as Southern and French as it gets.”

ExploreMake-ahead recipes for easy holiday entertaining

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Credit: Iain Bagwell

In the introduction to “Occasions to Celebrate,” Hitz digs through old family photos, and savors magic moments, dining and traveling with his mother, Caroline Bryans Sauls, and his stepfather, Robert Shaw.

“I went deep into my family in the second and third books, and there seems to be an appetite for that,” he said. “People like them. I liked them. Had they not been my family, they still would be really interesting people. It was an exciting time, and an unusual time.”

Fast-forward to March 2020, and Hitz was in Atlanta, again, for “five days on business.” But he writes that he “ended up staying solidly in a hotel for most of the global pandemic, the longest period of time I had ever spent anywhere in my entire life.”

“My first book took 32 years,” Hitz noted. “My second book took six years, and this one took me a year-and-a-half. I was there. I had nothing to do, so I went to work every day, and wrote this book living at the St. Regis.”

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

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Asked for the secret to cooking and entertaining, he didn’t hesitate.

“The biggest secret to entertaining, and being a successful host is to do everything ahead of time, make a huge effort, and then when the guests come, never stop smiling,” Hitz said. “That’s the formula. Oh, and turn the lights down, light some candles, and never run out of wine.”

RECIPES

Altogether, these recipes selected from Alex Hitz’s new cookbook “Occasions to Celebrate” make for an easy way to entertain during the holidays. You can double or triple the ingredients for bigger gatherings. Just add your favorite beer, wine or batched cocktails to ring in the season.

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Artichoke Heart Skewers

“Any easier and they would make themselves,” Hitz remarked about this artichoke appetizer. There will be leftover dill vinaigrette and Dijon mustard vinaigrette. Use them on salads or to marinate other vegetables. “Put it on a Reebok and it will be delicious,” joked Hitz.

Remove the artichoke hearts from the heat, let them cool slightly, thread each one on a skewer, arrange the skewers on a platter, and serve.

Recipes from “Occasions to Celebrate: Cooking and Entertaining With Style” by Alex Hitz (Rizzoli, $45).

Essential Dill Vinaigrette

Per tablespoon: 92 calories (percent of calories from fat, 99), trace protein, trace carbohydrates, trace fiber, 10 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 109 milligrams sodium.

Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Mary Louise’s Country Pate

Serve this easy, savory pate on toasted baguette rounds topped with cornichons and sliced mission figs.

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Mini Croque-Monsieurs

“I mean, come on,” Hitz proclaimed. “They are just so addictive.”

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Credit: Iain Bagwell

Super-Decadent Butterscotch Bourbon Blondies

Hitz recommends Maker’s Mark or Wild Turkey for this bourbon-based recipe.

ExploreThe ultimate guide to metro Atlanta food halls

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