5 books to inspire your holiday entertaining

Entertaining friends and family in your home is supposed to be an enjoyable experience — or at least it would be if there wasn’t so much pressure to be the perfect host. From invitations to clean-up, there’s a lot of planning, timing and hard work behind the perfect celebration — and it looks so easy on TV and in magazines.

If you’ve ever wondered “how do they do it?” there are ways to master the secrets of celebrity chefs and hosts. You’ll find ideas, inspiration and tasty fare among the pages of these entertaining books.

Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations by Martha Stewart

Just in time for the holidays, the first lady of all things domestic is back with her latest book. Part how-to, part inspiration, this book invites us into her world of perfectly executed parties and celebrations. It isn’t just for Christmas, and it isn’t just about elaborate feasts. You’ll find tips, menu plans and recipes for everything from a “Blueberry Breakfast” to Christmas dinner (and all the occasions in between). The ideas and personal stories are intended to inspire your own daydreams and planning.

If you live by the mantra that “presentation is everything”, you won’t be disappointed by the full-colour photos that make the book worthy of the coffee table, not to mention your library. (Read the introduction here.)

The Neely’s Celebration Cookbook: Down-Home Meals for Every Occasion by Pat Neely and Gina Neely

You’ve seen them on TV — now bring this celebrity chef duo into your home. Restaurateurs and stars of the Food Network’s hit series Down Home with the Neelys, the couple offers their best entertaining secrets and recipes. Among the pages you’ll find menu ideas catering to the occasions for which we traditionally gather around the table (like Easter and Christmas) — not to mention some twists on holiday favourites.

However, the Neelys firmly believe that life — and food — should be celebrated regardless of what the calendar says. Among its pages you’ll find ideas like One-handed Turkey Burgers and Mint Tea for “Spring Cleaning” and Smothered Pork Chops and Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes for “Welcome Home, Baby”.

Want to see a sample? Try their recipe for Shelbi’s Shrimp Egg Rolls.

Easy Entertaining at Home: Cocktails, Canapes, And Creative Ideas by Sandra Lee

Okay, so you don’t have the endless time and energy to be the ideal host — or the cash to hire a caterer. Sandra Lee knows all the short cuts to home cooked , as evident in her previous titles including Money Saving Meals and Round 2 Recipes and her “Semi-Homemade” series. Like many entertaining guides, this book takes you through special occasions from February to October.

If you’re a fan of her previous books, don’t worry — this one offers something new. While you won’t find multi-course meal plans, you will find easy-to-make canapés and themed cocktails for just about any occasion. (Not to mention some decorating ideas too!)

The Reluctant Entertainer: Every Woman’s Guide to Simple and Gracious Hospitality by Sandy Coughlin

In our efforts to impress, are we focussing too much on appearances and not enough on relationships? This down-to-earth book by blogger Sandy Coughlin takes some of the stress out of entertaining by showing would-be-hostesses how to be gracious hosts without giving in to intimidation.  In fact “avoid perfectionism” and “it’s okay to make mistakes” are among her Ten Commandments of Hospitality.

While not as plentiful when it comes to recipes, the choices are ideal for hosts — using ingredients around the house, for example, and make-ahead ideas that let you spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your guests. The book is geared towards women who don’t have endless free time or bottomless budgets rather than experienced hosts.

Curious to read more? Visit the blog from which the cookbook developed, The Reluctant Entertainer.

Emily Post’s Great Get-Togethers: Casual Gatherings and Elegant Parties at Home by Anna Post and Lizzie Post

Not looking for a coffee table tome? Leave it to the etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute to come up with a handy guide to all things entertaining. This guide is a fresh take on Emily Post’s Entertaining with singles and young couples in mind. The first part of the book covers everything from how to be “party ready” (like what to have on hand, and what to do when) to “setting the stage”. Of course, chef-developed recipes and menu plans help build an entertaining repertoire.

The second part of the book focuses on themes and celebrations, including how to host a signature dinner party, cocktail party and holiday party. (There is even a section on hosting house guests.) Of course, there’s a healthy serving of etiquette thrown in from “social musts” to “no-nos”, plus a Frequently Asked Question section at the end.

Again, this book isn’t necessarily for the experienced host, but would make a great gift for anyone new to entertaining.

Of course, this is just a small sampling of the many books on cooking, entertaining and decorating. What’s your go-to guide for gatherings? Add to this list in the comments below.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Sean Locke

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