A new cookbook for gatherings large and small
As we enter the season of family and friend gatherings, coming up with recipes that can feed a crowd and also enable us to enjoy the event ourselves can seem like a tall order. Enter Amy Thielen, a two-time James Beard award-winning writer and chef who has a new cookbook called Company: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others.
After completing culinary school and working as a chef in New York City, Thielen returned to her Minnesota roots. Her cooking show, Heartland Table, aired from 2013-15 on the Food Network. She is a former contributing editor at Saveur, and has written for or been featured in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among many others. And now, with her latest book, Thielen is writing for you: the home cook who wants to create special foods and memories with friends but also doesn’t want to be tied to the stove.
Company is organized by whole menus, but by no means does Thielen suggest that making everything on them is required. She wants to celebrate the gatherings rather than the foods themselves. As she notes in her introduction, “A meal with friends or family is nothing more, and nothing less, than a fleeting event that fills a momentary spiritual need. If you think about it that way, nearly every inconsequential occasion calls for one. The sweet corn’s hit peak ripeness? Let’s get together and eat it. It’s the shortest day of the year? Let’s roast a chicken and talk about the spooky velvety depths of the 4 o’clock darkness.”
To that end, Thielen admits she’s a buffet fan. Make it ahead, put it out and then enjoy your own food with your friends. Who wants to spend an evening with their favorite people stuck in the kitchen while the fun happens elsewhere? Thielen also suggests ways home cooks can imitate restaurant chefs by cooking ahead IRL. Need rice for a pilaf? Double what you cook and use the leftovers later in the week for fried rice. Her Thanksgiving menu helpfully begins tasks five days out.
She is also a fan of cooks amending the menus and the recipes as they see fit. While her recipes are precise, Thielen encourages experimentation and amendment. “[I] give you permission to tamper with these recipes to fit your own needs, tastes, resources, and moods,” she writes. “I organized them as menus, with main courses, a starch, and a couple of flanking vegetable sides, to reflect the way we actually eat; but they’re just a guide.” Those who want to build their own menus can check out the individual recipe index at the back of the book. It sorts recipes into more traditional cookbook categories such as dips and spreads, meat, fish, vegetables, and dessert.
Thielen also has your back as a longtime frugal cook. As she notes, “In the grand tradition of cooking and giving it away, the rules remain the same: serve the best you can afford, with plenty of cheap starches and simple seasonal vegetable sides to pad it out, and always err on the side of too much food. You want to hide your thrift behind a multicolored facade of surplus.”
Chapters are divided into categories of potential gatherings. The Saturday Night section, for instance, includes menus for 6-8 with titles like “a creative more-time-than-money sort of menu,” “pent up winter grilling” and “all-you-can-eat fish fry.” The Holidays section assumes larger gatherings, so the recipes serve 8-12.
For just two of the many enticing recipes from Company to help you celebrate family and friends, check out Cast-iron Garlic Shrimp with Chorizo and Green Olives and Nightshade Confit. Happy eating!
Top photo: iStockphoto.com/YakobchukOlena.