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Saturday, August 5th, 2006
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Simple Soirees: Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties


Peggy Knickerbocker: Simply Entertaining

A review by Ann Ellenbecker

Peggy Knickerbocker's Simple Soirées is a testament to good food and entertaining. Each menu includes tips for table decorating and a handy party planning guide, which details what can be done days or hours ahead of time. But the real treasure here are Knickerbocker's gorgeous recipes and her inimitable talent for marrying flavors. For example, "An Impromptu Salmon Supper" brings together Warm Figs Wrapped in Serrano Ham, Grilled Salmon Smothered in Peas and Mint, Corn on the Cob, Heirloom Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette, and Blackberry-Peach Crisp -- simple, beautiful, and satisfying. And check out the line-up for her "Spring Has Sprung" menu: Sautéed Morel Crostini; White Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce; Penne with Peas, Pancetta, and Fava Beans; Bowl of Chilled Cherries; Lavender and Lemon Zest Cookies -- delectable!

There are also menus for more formal or especially special occasions, like "The Liveliest Birthday Dinner" with Chilled Radishes with Sea Salt and Sweet Butter, Provencal Beef Stew on Pappardelle Noodles, Escarole Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette, and finished with Dark Chocolate Molten Cakes; along side, Knickerbocker recounts the history behind this menu, as she wanted to have a distinctive celebration for a dear friend whose birthday falls on a very busy December 23. You can practically feel the warmth and laughter of their yearly gatherings bubbling off the page. The "Old-Fashioned Family Thanksgiving" is a somewhat traditional but no-less-mouthwatering menu that would work well for Christmas or other cool-season festivities. And, the section on cocktail parties includes brief but helpful tips on what to serve and how to set up the bar, as well as an array of recipes to mix and match, perfect for extravagant or simple entertaining.

Of course, one is not limited to following the menu suggestions provided; any foray into individual dishes should prove rewarding, like the recipe for Alice B. Toklas Chicken, a simple but utterly stunning roast chicken, the photo of which makes my mouth water every time I lay eyes on it. I'm also currently in love with Knickerbocker's adaptation of a Pierre Hermé chocolate cookie recipe — well, I should clarify: I'm in love with these cookies now that I have the proper ingredients list. I had a feeling that the amount of flour in the recipe was too small, and after two failed batches, my theory proved correct. Thankfully I work at a bookstore, so was able to contact the publisher directly and ask if they knew of a typo. Lo and behold, Peggy Knickerbocker herself responded with profuse apologies! Yes, indeed, instead of 1/4 cup flour the recipe should have stated 1 1/4 cups. She was utterly gracious, and the exchange only solidified my esteem for her work. Further, I've reprinted the corrected recipe for Crispy-Creamy Chocolate Cookies as an excerpt on our site. Give them a shot -- I'm sure they'll prove the first step in a long, rewarding relationship with Peggy Knickerbocker's delicious recipes.

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